06.17.11

‘Law & Order’ Spoofs ‘Spider-Man’

Sunday’s ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’ rips off the Broadway debacle ‘Spider-Man’ with a $3 million extravaganza. Jacob Bernstein talks to the show’s executive producer and writer.

Since November, Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark has set records for most previews ever, been slammed by critics, sent four actors to the hospital for broken bones, and replaced the woman at the top of the creative team. Now, as the show has opened to reviews that weren’t terrible, there’s a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode spoofing the whole thing.

Airing Sunday night, the show re-imagines the drama behind the show as a murder mystery.

Would you expect anything else from the people behind this show? Since the original Law & Order made its debut in 1990 with the tagline “Ripped from the headlines,” the franchise (first L&O and then its various spinoffs), has fictionalized everything from the Robert Chambers / Jennifer Levin killing to the Martha Stewart insider-trading fiasco.

The Spider-man idea was a no brainer, according to Criminal Intent’s executive producer, Chris Brancato. “There’s some kind of fascination for this troubled production that has touched a nerve not only in New York City, but everywhere,” he said in his office a few weeks back as the episode was being shot. “We couldn’t do Spider-man because it’s a trademark of DC Comics so our writer, Julie Martin, came up with the idea of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun, which I thought was hysterically funny.”

And fitting. In Greek mythology, Icarus was a young lad being held in prison with his father by an evil King. Dad, plotting their escape, makes two sets of wings, fashioned from wax, but warns his boy not to fly too close to the sun. Icarus gets carried away, the wax melts, and he comes crashing to his death in a manner not dissimilar from the Spider-man stuntman whose cable snapped last December, sending him flying into the orchestra pit.

Law and Order Criminal Intent

In the case of the poor stuntman, he merely broke several bones, but the real life episode provided Brancato and Martin with a jumping off point from which to turn it into a case of foul play (a very meta example of art imitating art imitating life). An actor, playing the tragic Greek figure, becomes a tragedy himself when he’s flying too close to the sun and his chord snaps, sending him to his death.

As the trusty L&O detectives played by Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe investigate, they begin to find all sorts of suspicious behavior, from the show’s hard-charging director (who Brancato describes as “loosely based” on the Broadway show’s ousted director Julie Taymor) and her producer (with whom she’s been sparring.)

In the midst of the whole thing is a hilariously stupid fake-Broadway show, in which Icarus sings about how he’s going to get “higher and higher" while a Greek Chorus warns ominously, “You have got to stop, Icarus, this is Hubris.” (“Isn’t hubris a funny word,” laughs Brancato).

Of course, doing a spoof of the most costly Broadway production in American history required a fair amount of capital. Composers had to be hired, fake sets built, and fairly sizeable rigging costs spent. Brancato even brought in the crew from the Public Theater’s recent production of Angels In America to help design wings for the actors. Brancato estimates the episode cost around $3 million to do, the size of a small film. But Dick Wolf, the man who oversees all the different iterations of Law & Order wouldn’t have had it any other way. “The minute I mentioned it to him, he was like ‘do it,’” Brancato says. “I could barely get the words out of my mouth.