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Anthony Anderson Brings the Heat to the New ‘Law & Order’

The return of the multi-hyphenate star of 'Black-ish' puts this iconic reboot at the top of our watch list

spinner image Anthony Anderson as Detective Kevin Bernard in the NBC series Law and Order
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

In the Super Bowl commercial hailing the revival of NBC’s Law & Order, Anthony Anderson, 51, strode alongside Sam Waterston into the august foyer of One Hogan Place. Wearing a thick beard and a take-no-(okay, a few)-prisoners gaze, Anderson’s Det. Kevin Bernard looks more than ready to carry out the order responsibilities of the equation. And his shoulder-to-shoulder pose with Manhattan District Attorney Jack McCoy suggests that the detective, who arrived on the scene reluctantly working an internal affairs case, has risen in the ranks of the ripped-from-the-headlines police procedural.

And why not?

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​​From Bernard to Black-ish

Anderson has only grown in stature since NBC’s surprising cancellation of TV godlet Dick Wolf’s flagship show 12 years ago. He has been nominated eight times for Primetime Emmys, as an actor or a producer on Black-ish. And at the same time that Det. Bernard will begin reading Miranda warnings to suspects on the classic show, Anderson’s successful ad exec and L.A. family man Andre “Dre” Johnson will be cracking wise in the eighth and final season of ABC’s groundbreaking comedy (2014-22).​​

Don’t miss this: How Black-ish Changed TV for Good

For his role in the success of Black-ish — and spin-offs Grown-ish and Mixed-ish — Anderson was named 2021’s television producer of the year by the Critics Choice Association. Other producing credits include a food series, an animal series (Animal Nation) and the reboot of the game show To Tell the Truth.​​

Filling Jerry Orbach’s comedic (gum)shoes

The child of a single mom (and his game show cohost) and a proud son of Compton, California, Anderson has sharpened his comedic timing portraying Dre, which should serve him well in his return to the New York City-set drama. Not because policing is a laugh riot but because Anderson’s character already had a nuanced sense of the world’s absurd twists from previous seasons. And let’s face it: Someone’s gotta carry on the tradition of Jerry Orbach’s sharp little asides.

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Bringing Law & Order into a post-George Floyd world

Given the social justice upheaval the nation has experienced since Det. Bernard last worked cases, it will be intriguing to see what Anderson and the writers bring to his conservative-minded character and the reboot of a show so instrumental in shaping what viewers thought of criminal justice and policing. On The View in 2020, Anderson recounted being attacked by police officers during a peaceful protest against the Ku Klux Klan in Washington, D.C., in 1989. He said that story became “part of our storytelling here on Black-ish.” Intriguingly, the first episode of Law & Order Season 21 is titled “The Right Thing.” ​​

As for “leaving one great show to go back to another,” it was the right thing, Anderson said recently. “I jumped at the opportunity to do it. I thought it would have been a foolish move for me not to come back to a show that I’m such a fan of. … And, you know, to know that Sam [Waterston] was coming back and I would be back, and we would be the two familiar faces on the show and to welcome all the new people that we have on the screen right now was definitely a plus.”​

So sit back and watch what the slightly older, socially conscious, television-savvy Anderson brings to the iconic show. Dun-dun!​​

Lisa Kennedy, a regular AARP film critic, is a former Village Voice editor (1986-96) and Denver Post film critic (2003-15) who writes on popular culture, race and gender for Variety, The New York Times, Essence, American Theatre, the Denver Post, and others.

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