Known for its "ripped from the headlines" stories and rotating cast, Law & Order blended police and courtroom drama to create a hugely popular franchise for Dick Wolf and NBC. The original series ran for 20 seasons, racking up over 450 episodes, and creating five spin-offs (some successful, some not). This DVD set is equally impressive as the run of the show, weighing nearly 10 lbs, and holding 104 discs. While this is certainly the largest region 1 TV-DVD set, it's eclipsed by the Australian release of Prisoner: Cell Block H, which contains 174 discs and 692 episodes.
As I mentioned before, this is one heavy set! While the box set is massive (1' x 6" x 8"), it's also a testament to excellent packaging design. Open the top of the foil-embossed case, depicting images of the L&O cast, and you'll find 20 individual cases inside, one for each season. These are the same size as a standard Amarary case, but they hold 5-6 discs each. The cases aren't perfect, as they have overlapping discs inside them, but they do save a lot of space. There's also a nice booklet that contains episode listings and synopses for every season.
These 104 discs contain every episode of the series, all 456 of them. You'll also get all three Homicide: Life on the Street crossover episodes from the 6th, 8th and 9th seasons. Unfortunately the set doesn't include any of the other Law & Order crossovers (one from Trial by Jury, and two from Special Victims Unit, which are available separately), nor does it contain "Exiled", the Law & Order movie. I find that confusing, and disappointing, because it prevents this from being a "complete" documentation of the show and storylines.
The most significant feature of this set would be the unreleased seasons. While Universal has released seasons 1-8, and season 14 already, and has season 9 scheduled for early December, seasons 10-13, and 15-20 haven't been released, or even announced, yet. This is a huge draw for the set, as it allows fans to own everything right now instead of waiting years for the seasons to trickle out.
The specs for the episodes for seasons that have already been released are exactly the same as the previous sets. That means seasons 1-4 and season 14 are in Full Frame, while seasons 5-9 are widescreen. Obviously seasons 10-13 and 15-20 are also in widescreen, since these are new transfers. I knew to expect season 14 in Full Frame when the set was announced, because I was fairly certain they would just reuse the previous DVDs, but I also hoped that they would do a new widescreen transfer to have some consistency. Keep in mind Full Frame isn't the "wrong" way to see the season; it was broadcast in both Full Frame and widescreen, I just think it's a bit odd to flip back to Full Frame episodes after having watched the previous 9 seasons in widescreen.
Since the previous discs are repurposed for this set, that also means you'll find all the bonus material from the 14th season on this set.
To Upgrade, or Not to Upgrade?
That's always the question, isn't it? Is this set worth buying? The answer for fans of Law & Order is a definite "Yes," assuming you have enough spare cash to afford the set. The set has a suggested retail price of $700, which is a lot more than you'll find buried between the cushions of your couch, but it's still an incredible deal when you break down the actual costs. First of all, no one will ever pay the suggested retail price. Amazon.com is currently selling it for $451, but we'll call it $450 to make the math easier. That's just $22.50 per season, or roughly $4.33 a disc, or just under a dollar an episode. Season 9, which is coming out on December 6, has a suggested price of $50, and a retail price of $35. That works out to $7 a disc, and $1.46 an episode. If you already own the previous seasons, and plan on buying the rest, you'd spend $385 to buy seasons 9-13 and 15-20 (11 seasons at the street price of $35 a set). Yes, it's cheaper for you to wait and buy the remaining seasons, except you can sell the seasons you already own (9 seasons), and even if you only get $10 a season, that's still $90, leaving you with a profit of $25, and you get to own everything now, instead of collecting the seasons over the next 10 years. Why am I pushing so hard on this set? I've read a ton of complaints online (mostly Amazon "reviews") that say Universal is ripping people off with this complete series set. That's completely untrue; they're offering a great value for fans of the show, and even if you already own everything that's been released, you can still come out ahead by purchasing this set. Yes, it's an expensive set, but it's also a ton of content; it would take you about 42 days to watch everything in this set if you spent 8 hours a day watching episodes.
Law & Order: The Complete Series is a great set for the die-hard fan, but I feel as though it's 99% of the way there. I wish those three episodes, and the movie, were included, because their lack of inclusion is a little smudge on a really nice set. It would be great if Universal could make a "crossover disc" available to purchasers of this set that includes the three crossover episodes from the other shows. In my opinion, "The Complete Series" should include everything that's been produced.
If you want to impress someone with a great Christmas present, this would be the gift to give.