Law & Ordocki Season 2 #8 (#19): Monkeyboned
Animal rights is a good bedrock topic for Dick Wolf shows because it’s an issue that shows no signs of being resolved anytime soon, like environmentalism, civil rights, abortion and so on. Every one or two seasons you can do an episode on it. I’m of the opinion that animal rights deserve consideration; animals shouldn’t be used to test dangerous products, but we also shouldn’t give dolphins the right to vote. See, I followed up my reasonable position with decrying an insane position no one actually has. That’s how Law & Order tackles most left wing topics. “We all want clean drinking water, but following the precepts of environmentalist icon Poison Ivy is going a bit far!” This false dichotomy is alive and well in Season 11’s “Whose Monkey Is It Anyway”. I won’t lie: I did pick “Whose Monkey Is It Anyway” because of its title. Why the fuck wouldn’t you? It’s a misnomer, however; there’s never a question of to whom the titular monkey belongs, so those hoping for a monkey custody case akin to Kramer vs. Kramer will be disappointed. I myself expected Jack offering the two claimants half monkey each, cut down the middle. When the true owner revealed themselves, Jack would look up and say “this one’s for you, King Solomon”. EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: DICK WOLF. Still, that doesn’t mean the episode doesn’t have a lot to offer. For one thing, Jerry Orbach asks a monkey a question. That it doesn’t answer is indicative Law & Order still wanted to be a real television show.
It’s a stereotypical role to be sure, but the monkey really wanted that SAG card.
At a research facility, shit is bananas because someone freed all the monkeys, taking all but one and leaving that one to bite a scientist, Ronald Lee. As Briscoe points out, these spider monkeys “weren’t here to learn how to ride unicycles”. Turns out they’re there to test an AIDS vaccine, so I know what you’re thinking: AIDS monkeys running amok New York City. Unfortunately, the scientist died of analyphactic shock and not superAIDS. Back at the precinct, Van Buren does what she does best, which is ask questions the audience is thinking. “If the guy was allergic to monkeys, then what was he doing working in the lab?” Well, you don’t need to be allergic to monkeys to die of monkey bite, so keep that in mind, kids. YOU’RE ALL AT RISK. The CDC gives the cops 72 hours before they get involved, sparing us a pointless jurisdictional fight between two state bodies while also teasing it. Briscoe and Green have to figure out who the hell stole the monkeys and why. Ira Hawkins, or as I like to call him Flattop Ernie Hudson (or I Can’t Believe It’s Not Ernie Hudson!), explains that the lab’s access scanners can be fooled by hackers. It happened in Wisconsin! Please, the only animal activism we have here is signs saying “maybe don’t tip the cows you redneck hillbilly fucks. Even if the Badgers won the goddamn Rose Bowl”. As always with these cases, the trail of evidence leads to an animal rights group. More like animal WRONGS, right people?
Two members of All Living Creatures United were detained months back, although a sympathetic security guard let them go. I love that it’s ALMOST ACLU but not quite. I imagine there’s a lot of confusion. “Nah, nah, we’re the animal lovers. We can’t defend the Klan’s right to peacable assembly. Unless…are there any dogs there? You know, white dogs, like the film?” One of the members is an old hippie who corrects Briscoe on what constitutes being a vegan – I’d love to live in a time where veganism had to be explained and it was often mispronounced (Lennie says ‘veg-an’) – and Briscoe gets maybe the best question in the history of interrogative statements, with “any idea where monkeys hole up while they’re on the lam?”. The other detainee is a college student who weaseled out of an arrest by saying she had a doctor’s appointment. That she’s pretty and young may have something to do with her release. So suspicion falls on the security guard who let the two off and boy is he ever a piece of work. By piece of work I of course mean “loser”.
This man has set his sights as low as is humanly possible. Good for him.
For one thing, George Peavy lives with his mother. His mother protests that it’s not because he’s a loser, he just feels comfortable there. Remember, this is set in the early 2000s, when half of people in their 20s weren’t still living with mom and dad. When Lennie suggests he might move out upon marriage, the mom dismissively says “I hope I live that long”. His only friend is named Alsie, who spends all his time sitting on a docked boat and drinking a beer (no matter the time of day!) and sounds like if Michael Rappaport tried to join the mob. Alsie says George recently lost interest in hunting and fishing, their shared hobbies, because of that girl Maxine. Assertion #1 about Animal Rights: guys get involved to get laid. It looks like he’s the guy, but the first priority is finding those goddamn monkeys, and Maxine suggests a conscientious person would leave them with someone qualified, or qualified-ish. We all remember Roar, don’t we, folks? Briscoe and Green go visit Faye Ireland, “one of the queens of the tight sweater movies” who’s not gotten into animal preservation. After some resistance she gives up the monkeys’ true location to the cops, another animal shelter run by two gay dudes. How do I know they’re gay? Beyond their fey demeanors, one of them has THIS line: “We know something about taking care of HIV infections”. Holy cow! I hope their animal refuge advertisement states “experts at HIV infected animals, on account of us being gay. AIDS is for gay people, ya hear?”.
Ed Green finally shines with Jesse L. Martin really milking the cadence with the line “we just wanna know WHO! Brought You! The Monkeys!”. Not surprisingly, it’s George, and grilling the mom reveals he’s hiding on the boat. It’s not like Law & Order could include another location. That’s crazy talk. McCoy’s going for manslaughter 2 and offers criminally negligent homicide but Peavy’s lawyer isn’t biting, arguing that it wasn’t inevitable that the scientist was gonna be bitten by a monkey and maybe the scientist was asking for it, trying to corral the guy back into his cage and all. Sounds predictable. Well, this episode’s got a twist for ya. Halfway through the trial, Peavy wants to change his defense and therefore gets new defense counsel. The original counsel looked like your standard bald guy defense attorney who’s been on Law & Order a hundred times via dozens of bald guy working actors in NYC, whereas this guy…he’s motherfucking Dracula. The new argument is that it was self-defense in aid of other persons, these persons being monkeys. Assertion #2 about Animal Rights: advocates believe animals are just like you and me. Get a monkey to write these fucking articles and I’ll agree with you. Monkeys can’t make fairly obscure Milwaukee Brewers references. They know nothing of the tumultuous period between County Stadium’s left field bleachers going from being named Vaughn’s Valley to Newfield of Dreams!
“I don’t defend…wine.”
Dracula, whose most famous onscreen role was the bounty hunter in the Critters movies, makes what I consider the cardinal sin when discussing animal rights. In order to sell the defense of others defense, he says – to a black judge! – that, you know, over a hundred years ago slaves weren’t considered people, and it was wrong even though it was the law. I’m going to give a little advice here, both for fictional lawyers and you in your daily life. It’s simple: Don’t ever compare monkeys to black people or vice versa. It’s to the judge’s credit he didn’t deck the motherfucker and knock out his fangs. The hilarious thing is this won’t be the last time spider monkeys being used for AIDS vaccination testing is conflated with African-American civil rights. It somehow gets worse.
“Animal rights activists are into free love, right?”
Here’s the problem with “issue” episodes of Law & Order, when they’re not well-written: each side becomes so over the top they’re strawmen. This is reflected best in the testimonies the prosecution and the defense receive. Defense’s witness, a “bioethics” professor who looks like a turtle and has written 20 books says finding an AIDS vaccine via monkeys is like testing on children or convicted murderers. McCoy gets him to say healthy primates are better than the severely retarded. The latter cannot play hockey while the former can, lending credence to dude’s point. He also compares killing an AIDS researcher to free some monkeys as equivalent to killing a concentration camp to save the Jews. Now this is total bullshit. The comparison is of no merit. Jews have thumbs and most do NOT have prehensile tails. On the opposite end, Dr. Tong plays the stereotype of the cold, unfeeling scientist. (You might say he’s as cold as a pair of tongs.)
“Did you know I even lost out on the opportunity to voice myself on the Real Ghostbusters?”
Maybe it’s not his fault he says what he does; defense attorney Dracula is good at his job. Nonetheless, he ends up saying that sometimes their research requires them to obtain a mother monkey and a child monkey and families are split apart, monkeys occasioned removed from their families to be put down, furthering the “monkey is the new slave/the new Jew” argument. I kinda wish Dr. Tong said they killed AIDS monkeys by hanging and make the families watch, just because a spider monkey sized noose amuses me. “I guess it’s possible” he responds, when asked if the permanent removal of the monkey registers with their kin. Again, just imagining a monkey being hanged, a mother monkey trying to shield the baby’s eyes only for the scientist to force them to watch. “This is how you fucking learn!”
Before closing statements, Peavy’s mom comes to McCoy and pleads with him to give her son a plea bargain again. She thinks the trial has become a test case for the personhood or the rights of animals. Test cases are those that are carried out with the intention of setting a precedent. The court cases you vaguely remember from school, like Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. The Board of Education, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, those are all cases. In this instance it means nobody gives a fuck what happens to the stringy haired dunce who could get the shit kicked out of him by Breckin Meyer. Criminally negligent homicide means he can get out on parole in a year. Losing at trial means his first shot at parole would be five years. Everyone thinks he should take it, even Dracula. Yet Peavy turns it down, with the most hilarious justification I’ve heard. See, one time Maxine told him about John Brown, and he’s comparing himself to John Brown. The hilarious part to me is that Maxine told him. How the fuck did that come into conversation? I know she’s educated him on animal treatment by showing him VHS tapes of people burning live pigs for the hell of it, but I don’t see how John Brown is broached. “Now George, I’d like to tell you about a 19th century civil rights crusader whose actions we activists should emulate…” It’s fucking stupid.
“Don’t mind me, I’m just going to fall asleep.”
So it’s no surprise the jury finds him guilty. That verdict was probably helped by McCoy’s closing statements, which amounted to “we killed rats cause they carried the plague, so fuck animals”. Dracula goes back to his favorite of “animals are considered property, well, you know who else was considered property? BLACK PEOPLE! Their conditions on slave ships were basically the same as those lab cages!” To the director’s credit, EVERY time he makes such a remark they make sure to highlight in the shot the black jurors. By the way, is it just me or does the defense attorney look like Milo Yiannopoulos? Something Law & Order likes to do is end on a somber or “the end…or is it?” and “Whose Monkey Is It Anyway” provides a good example of this phenomenon. Abbie Carmichael says something like “great that he’s behind bars also do you notice my voice is husky?” and Diane Wiest says “and a hero is born”, signifying that maybe one day George Peavy WILL be taught in classrooms as John Brown for animals. More likely, he’ll get out in five years, Maxine will be engaged to a doctor, mom is dead and his job prospects consist of cleaning puke out of Shea Stadium, aka the job that NEVER ENDS. Scroll up again, look at his face. That’s not the face of a martyr of anything. That’s the face of a guy who writes Buffy/Battlestar Galactica crossover fanfiction.
Why in the fuck do 17% of Law & Order guest animals resemble turtles? Might as well call him to the stand!
Albeit he’s only written nine books…
This is your standard post-Steven Hill Law & Order, meaning the order portion is starting to sag while the law portion remains steady and as confident as ever. The problem with that is order closes out the episode, so if it’s a mixed bag you’re going to perceive the whole episode as a mixed bag. The animals slaves comparison as a legal argument has to have done before, even if my memory betrays me at the moment. Every legal case on the show is a dilemma, and the dilemma this time out was simplistic and weighed down by a loser defendant and sensationalism-free trial. I’m also not a big fan of Diane Wiest’s Nora Lewin. She has no great one-liners, her voice is soft and passive, and overall her demeanor affects that of a grandmother just about to turn in for the night after her stories are over. Say what you will about Fred Thompson, he was memorably terrible.
Most importantly, it squandered AIDS monkeys on the loose, perhaps the greatest thriller plot yet to be committed to film. I usually only do this on my podcast, but I’d like to offer one change that would make “Whose Monkey Is It Anyway” better. (Who knows, if I keep on being inspired this may become a regular thing.) In keeping with the title, switch out Judge Black with Drew Carey, have Colin Mochrie as the defense attorney, Ryan Stiles as the bailiff. Eventually the trial ends not in a conviction but a mistrial, because Judge Carey’s laughing fucking ruins everything. At least Mochrie and Stiles engage in a great game of Party Quirks during recess, and it turns out George Peavy was Wayne Brady wearing a mask the whole time.