Law & Order ran for 20 seasons, from 1990 to 2010, and the Dick Wolf procedural that launched a thousand spin-offs — and imitators — is set to make its big return to the small screen on February 24. When viewers tune in to the revival, they’ll recognize a number of faces, including Sam Waterston (81) as District Attorney Jack McCoy and Anthony Anderson (51) as Detective Kevin Bernard. Sadly, not returning is the iconic, wisecracking NYPD Detective Lennie Briscoe; his portrayer, Jerry Orbach, died of cancer at the age of 69 in 2004. As we look ahead to the 21st season of one of the most influential shows in television history, let’s stop to remember some of Detective Briscoe’s greatest moments, from his most memorable cases to his pun-filled one-liners.
Note: Trying to find Law & Order episodes streaming online is almost as tricky as cracking one of the show’s murder cases — different seasons live on different sites, and some aren’t available at all. Where possible, we’ve included the best places for you to watch the episode in question.
Briscoe has a very busy day (1994)
The episode: “Mayhem,” March 9, 1994
The premise: Briscoe and Mike Logan (Chris Noth, 67) have the shift from hell as they investigate a slew of unrelated homicides over the course of 24 hours — all while Briscoe is just trying to get to a Knicks game that night. This episode rips so many stories from the headlines that it practically leaves the newspaper in shreds, with cases inspired by Lorena Bobbitt (shudder), Son of Sam and the Zodiac Killer. There’s also a crazed man who tries to use a burrito as a weapon and plenty of Briscoe’s sarcasm: When his partner says he eventually wants to leave New York City to move to New Hampshire, Briscoe replies, “I spent a year there one weekend.”
Watch it: “Mayhem” clip on YouTube
Briscoe deals with the aftermath of an execution (1996)
The episode: “Aftershock,” May 22, 1996
The premise: The Season 6 finale is an emotional doozy that’s gone down in history among L&O fans for the way it bucks the show’s format conventions: The episode dispenses with the usual case of the week and instead follows four detectives as they deal with the aftermath of watching an inmate’s execution. Briscoe meets with his estranged daughter, and after their talk doesn’t end well, the recovering alcoholic falls off the wagon at a bar. As Assistant District Attorney Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennessy, 53) drives him home, tragedy strikes, and Orbach delivers one of his most wrenching scenes in the show’s history.
Watch it: “Aftershock” on TNT Drama
Briscoe is investigated for corruption (1996)
The episode: “Corruption,” October 30, 1996
The premise: Briscoe’s ethics are called into question when a former partner accuses him of having taken seized drugs from the precinct years before. When it seems like his job and his reputation might be on the line, he’s saved by an airtight alibi: On the night in question, he was having a tryst with a married fellow police officer, and she agrees to testify on his behalf.
Watch it: “Corruption” on Dailymotion