Five reasons why “Law & Order: SVU” makes me sad

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Last night’s episode of

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit was not as bad as I expected.

It contained a number of features that could have made it bad — a special

guest star, a disabled child, a terrorism subplot — but I managed to

watch the whole thing without uttering, “I hate this show.”

And that’s the main thing that

makes me sad about SVU: It’s best assessed these days in degrees

of bad.

I take no pleasure in derogating

the only network show I watch religiously. (Mariska Hargitay is just too lovely to abandon.) But

the show tries my patience. A lot. Although I was initially reluctant

to watch “the rape show,” I eventually got into it and have remained

faithful. But the show seems to have forsaken its loyal viewers.

Here’s why the show makes me

sad.

5. There are too many special

guest stars.

Special guest stars are an indication of jumping the shark, and SVU

is definitely guilty of abusing this practice. Almost every episode

features one. (Last night’s was Aidan Quinn. Last week it was Melissa

Joan Hart
.) Sometimes they’re good. Cynthia Nixon did a creditable job a few weeks ago.

(Here’s a clip.) But there are just too many of them.

Did we really need Bob Saget, or Jerry Lewis as Munch’s

homeless uncle?

4. They seem to have a problem

with scope.

In the early years, the show

was about the investigation of a crime — either a sex crime or a crime

against a child. They didn’t even have a dedicated A.D.A. in the first

season. Then they brought Alex Cabot (Stephanie March). How I miss her.

But that’s not really my point.

The point is that the case often seems to be a pretext to get to some

enormous issue such as how the army treats its soldiers, or homeland

security or the diabetes epidemic. When an episode begins with a

hostage standoff and ends with a Manhattan A.D.A. issuing a subpoena

to Donald Rumsfeld, you know the show has gotten out of control.

3. They go overboard with

the diagnoses, conditions and defense theories.

So far this season alone, we’ve

had Williams Syndrome, sex-somnia, juvenile sex-addiction

and brilliantly-faked Dissociative Identity Disorder. The sex-somnia

and juvenile sex-addiction were respectively successful and unsuccessful

justifications for rape. I realize this is supposed to be Manhattan

and thus you’re going to see a little bit of everything, but enough

already.

2. Their personal lives

intrude too much.

One of the hallmarks of the

Law and Order franchise is that it’s not about the personal lives

of the detectives and lawyers. We get glimpses of their lives (and

sometimes we get to see them awkwardly come out

as they get fired).

But the show is not really about their personal crap. Until the last

few seasons. Then Elliot’s wife left him and he turned into Andy Sipowicz — always brooding and scowling and

turning into rogue cop. And Olivia got obsessive about her father and

newly discovered brother, and she became a rogue cop, too. Then there

was the whole will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic between Elliot and Olivia

that led Olivia to briefly and bizarrely join the computer crimes division.

Then they complicated matters even further by bringing in Detective

Dani Beck.

Of course, to get Olivia (pregnant

Mariska) out of the way for a while, they had a special guest star

(Marcia Gay Harden) send her deep undercover to fight eco-terrorism.

(For the record, Mariska does not expect Elliot

and Olivia to ever actually do it
.)

But the bottom line is that both principal characters got seriously

out of control. I am, however, cautiously optimistic that they’re getting

reined in. At least Elliot is back with his pregnant wife.

But he’s not really happy about

it.

1. The writing is god-awful.

The other four reasons are

essentially subsets of this one, but I thought it deserved special mention.

Yes, the show is in its ninth season, and there are probably

only so many stories to “rip from the headlines.” But that doesn’t

mean the stories have to be stupid or that the writing has to be lazy.

For example, last season ended with every character in major crisis

and becoming a source of scandal for the department. They deal with that this

season by sacking the captain for one episode and having a member of

the troubled department take over. Chaos ensues. So they bring the captain

back at the end of the episode. Uh-huh.

However, not everything is

bad.

Mariska’s hair looks good again

this season.

There’s Tamara Tunie.

It’s easy to like her.

And Law and Order: SVU

was the inspiration for a brilliant, albeit surreal, Sesame Street

sketch: “Law and Order: Special Letters Unit.”

Watch the clip here. The Munch Muppet is perfect!

What do you think? Is the show

getting better, or is it down for the count?

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