Law and Order: Special Victims Unit Keeps Things Fresh After Thirteen Years

I just want to be in this photo so I can wear black and look badass too.
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The part of the summer I wasn’t working was mostly dedicated to watching re-runs ofLaw and Order: Special Victims Unit (betterknown as SVU) airing non-stop onUSA.  It’s hard to remember there was apoint in my life that I didn’t understand people’s love for this show andmercilessly mocked the well-known sound effect that punctuates every scenechange—then again there was also a point in my life I didn’t understand why somany people we obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy, and now look at me. Now, though, I’ve seen the light that is thisscary yet exhilarating show, which is often based a little too closely toreal-life events for my comfort. For thirteen seasons, SVU has followed its detectives solving disturbing and difficult casescentered on “special victims”. The best way to sum up the show is the narrationthat every episode beings with: “In the criminal justice system, sexually basedoffenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicateddetectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squadknown as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories.”

Though the beginning narration and theme music remain the same, SVU has seen quite a few changes this year, namely the loss of oneof its leads, Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), and the additions of Detective Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) and Detective  Nick Amaro(Danny Pino). The loss of Meloni threatened t o derail the show, but Mariska Hargitay (who plays Detective Olivia Benson) has been carrying her weight asthe main lead, while the rest of the cast has also been bringing their A gameto the show.

Meloni and Hargitay were basically synonymous with SVU as the main leads for over a decade. Detectives John Munch and Finn Tutuola (Richard Belzer and Ice-T) were never featured quite as prominently, though both are wonderful in their roles and were far more than secondary characters. After contract negotiations fell through with Meloni, the show had to figure out a way to best write Elliot out of the show and fill the void his presencewould inevitably leave. Elliot’s departure from the force was believable, but I find it hard to believe that he would not have met privately with Olivia, whowas not only his partner but his best friend. To actually see this happen on-screen would have been difficult, but I wish that some expository dialogue would show the audience that Elliot and Olivia were still in contact and he was moving onwith his life. It’s truly unavoidable, but sometimes I really hate when characters get the short end of the stick because of their actors, producers,networks, etc. Characters take on a life of their own, and I would appreciate if SVU would just give a little moreclosure in regards to Elliot and Olivia’s struggle to cope with his absence.
This season, the ways in which the detectives are influenced and affected by thecases is incredibly important. While it has always been something the showtouches on and occasionally brings to the forefront of specific episodes, I feel that this season it is emphasized and woven throughout each episode. In particular reference to Olivia, who may also be written out of this show soon(Hargitay reportedly asked for less screen time this season), her emotional turmoil could be significant if this kind ofpolice work is becoming too much of a strain for her as has happened to otherformer detectives on the show. Hargitay is an incredible actress, and Olivia’spain at losing her partner, her best friend and dealing with incredibly difficult cases (think cases where the “victims” play the detectives’ emotionsin order to manipulate them for their own means, or rapists get off the hookbecause of technicalities) without the person who encompassed most of her support system is very believable. In a recent episode, Captain Cragen (DannFlorek) also shone when he expresses concern for the members of his team andtheir emotional well-being that culminated with a private, albeit unfruitful,conversation with Olivia.
The two new detectives are easy to like, and it’s nice to see another strong femalecharacter besides Olivia and District Attorney Alexandra Cabot (StephanieMarch) joining the cast. Amanda and Nick are likable without being too likeable and bland. We still don’tknow much about their personal lives, but SVU is good at revealing backstories in increments and fleshing out itscharacters. Over the years we’ve seen Olivia try to come to terms with hermother’s rape (that resulted in Olivia’s conception), Finn reconciling with hisestranged son who was reluctant to tell his father he was homosexual, andElliot’s struggle to protect his children from the violence of the world aroundthem. I have high hopes for this season, and if you were reluctant to watchbecause of Meloni’s departure from the show, I say give it a try, it still hasthe same SVU vibe, just with some newlife breathed into it. You can watch new episodes on NBC, Wednesdays at 10.

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