Joe Fontana (Law & Order)
||This article describes a work or element of fiction in a primarily in-universe style. (May 2010)|
|Det. Joe Fontana|
|Law & Order character|
|Portrayed by||Dennis Farina|
|Time on show||2004–2006|
|Credited appearances||46 episodes (L&O)
1 episode (TBJ)
47 episodes (total)
|Preceded by||Lennie Briscoe|
|Succeeded by||Ed Green|
The character of Joe Fontana is a homicide detective in the show's 27th Detective Squad of the New York City Police Department. Fontana is portrayed partnered with Det. Ed Green and, for a brief time, with Det. Nick Falco while Green recovers from a gunshot wound. He is commanded by Lt. Anita Van Buren.
Detective Fontana's character brings considerable experience from a city other than New York to the world of the show. Hailing from the Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago, he was an officer of the Chicago Police Department (as was Farina himself) before coming to New York. He left his posting in Chicago because of conflict with a superior officer, although he refuses to elaborate further. He has never been married. Prior to partnering with Green, Fontana also worked with a homicide squad in The Bronx.
Beside his Chicago experience and background, Fontana's character also lends a noteworthy economic attitude to the depiction of police officers in Law & Order. He is known on the show for his flashy lifestyle — he drives a silver Mercedes-Benz SL500, is fond of impeccably tailored suits, and often carries a 'walking-around' money roll of several thousand dollars. That is initially cause for suspicion with his new coworkers, who wonder how he can afford those expensive things on his salary; however, apparently they are later satisfied of his honesty, though its never explained exactly how he gets such large amounts of money. Fontana's penchant for fancy things even escalates to a character shtick throughout several episodes. On multiple occasions he bemoans job-related damage to expensive articles of clothing. In the episode "License to Kill", he says, "Ugh, there goes a perfectly good pair of Gucci loafers" as he tramples through the snow to investigate for evidence. Although Fontana is shown paying a great deal of attention to his appearance, he does have his limits; in one episode, for example, when he sees a woman who died after having liposuction, he says he would rather go on the South Beach Diet.
Fontana was originally portrayed as a very dry character, but this made him unpopular with fans, so he was given a more lively sense of humor.
The show's detectives do not get to choose their own partners, and Fontana's working relationships become part of the show's drama. Fontana initially has a rocky start with Green, who is still upset about the retirement of his old partner, Lennie Briscoe. Owing to Fontana's manner and apparent wealth, Green wonders if Fontana is a "wiseguy" (mobster) or a cop. Given time, however, Green warms up to Fontana, and the two establish a strong partnership. Fontana compliments Green on his appearance, and alludes to former partners not being "smooth". Green finds himself caught in the middle of a fight between Fontana and Van Buren more than once. On several occasions his character's unabashed style also creates conflicts with the show's (at that time) Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy (e.g. L&O: "Ghosts"). Prior to partnering with Green, Fontana worked with a homicide squad in The Bronx, although the episode "Ghosts" suggests that the Bronx may not have been Fontana's first stop in New York.
In 1995, he starts a two-year investigation into the murder of 12-year-old Sara Dolan. Convinced that her father was involved, Fontana does not let go of the case until another murderer confesses to the crime. Fontana questions his original judgment after extensive investigation, leading to the actual killer being convicted after Mr. Dolan testifies in court. Publicly, Fontana claims to have no regrets about his original belief in Mr. Dolan's guilt because it was reasonable in light of the facts he had during the original investigation. At the end of the episode, though, he visits Mr. Dolan and tries to apologize only to be turned away (L&O: "Ghosts").
He gets entangled with his department when he repeatedly dunks a suspect's head into the toilet to force him to tell him where his kidnapped victim is (L&O: "Thinking Makes It So"). The evidence thus recovered is nearly thrown out, but thanks to ADA Alexandra Borgia's efforts, Fontana is exonerated and the suspect is found guilty.
Fontana is in touch with his Italian background, keeping a small Italian flag on his desk, next to the flag of Chicago. He mentions traveling to Italy, and is fluent in the Italian language(L&O: "Cry Wolf"). To gain a witness's trust, he falsely claims to have served in Vietnam (L&O: "Paradigm" & "America. Inc.").
Fontana from time to time uses the phrase "We're authorized" or "I'm authorized" when dealing with people from whom he needs something (such as medical records or access into a room) and who are hesitant to give him what he wants. It is usually successful and the term became a popular catchphrase associated with the character.
Fontana carries a Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver as his service weapon. He was the last detective on the show to carry a revolver rather than a semi-automatic pistol (Though Lt. Van Buren carried a revolver from season 3 until series' conclusion). He also one of the few detectives to fire his weapon in the line of duty during an episode.
When questioning witnesses, Fontana insists on respect for his partner and himself. His response to disrespect is an intimidating change of manner, speaking to the person at extremely close range with insults or veiled threats. He considers it insulting to be called a "cop".
Fontana's departure from the show comes when he retires and is replaced by Green as senior detective.
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