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Friday, November 28, 2008

George Clooney having a bad day on a bender

I had a lot of fun reading Richard Belzer's new novel I Am Not a Cop!. The novel is a riff on what it's like playing Det. John Munch on Law & Order: SVU--a character he's played on ten different television shows, he notes proudly in the afterword and on the jacket flap--and what would happen if he had to use his fake cop skills in order to solve a real case. The clues will be familiar to anyone who's seen a few episodes of any of the police procedurals Munch has been on, but that's part of the fun. We see Belzer on the set of SVU, practicing his lines, feeling good about nailing a scene, enlisting his personal assistant to be his Gal Friday, and, weirdly enough, practicing (and deploying) martial arts. One of the running jokes is that New Yorkers recognize him from somewhere, but they keep mixing him up with other TV cops and actors. He gets mistaken for William Petersen, James Woods, and, he imagines, "George Clooney having a bad day on a bender." (I've seen him around the Upper West Side a few times.) Belzer's fictionalized self has a penchant for referring to other fictional detectives--everyone from Gil Grissom on CSI: to Jimmy Stewart in Rope. In the afterword, he writes,
So perhaps it's appropriate that as I started writing, a Chandleresque voice kept echoing inside my head. It was like Philip Marlowe telling the literary version of myself how to proceed. (I figured that since Altman cast Elliot Gould as Marlowe in his movie version of The Long Goodbye, I was in good company.

Homicide: Life on the Street is my favorite television show of all time, and my favorite Law & Order episodes are the crossovers between those two shows. I turned on an episode of Law & Order one afternoon and was puzzled to see such a weirdly angled, lengthy shot of Jack McCoy looking puzzled and exhausted; I realized almost immediately that it was a crossover episode just by the filming style--and the convention that McCoy usually looks more righteous than puzzled on Law & Order. It's on one of those crossovers that Munch decides to file a Freedom of Information Act request for his government file from his days as a campus radical. He's disappointed to find out that the government has labeled him a "dilettante" of no real threat.

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Blogger Katy on Fri Nov 28, 11:49:00 PM:
I remember that episode with Munch and the FBI file. Great stuff.
Anonymous Anonymous on Mon Dec 01, 10:47:00 PM:
I want to read the book. Thanks! I just started watching *The Wire.* Yes, I know, super late. But it's interesting to see the differences between L&0 and TW. Same genre but, to use one of your favorite words, the procedures are much more elaborate on TW. L&W is the Disney police/legal drama. TW me fill in the blank here.