Monday, May 19, 2008

Law & Order SVU: The Viewers are the Special Victims

Back in November last year, I wrote about how Law & Order SVU hit rock bottom. The season is now over and I think SVU hasn’t risen from the depths since the start of the season. The season finale is the prime example of how low this show has gone.

For starters, after all these years, Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) appears not to have grown beyond being a hotheaded, impulsive jerk. Not only is he still a bit of a loose canon, he also seems to have forgotten that there are other people on the SVU team besides Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay). In the season finale (“Cold”), Stabler shows his mistrust by pulling phone records on Fin (Ice-T) instead of simply asking him for the information he needs. He is also quick to assume that Detective Chester Lake (Adam Beach) is a guilty man. Unless Elliot grows past his childish, self-centered behavior, this show will continue to lose its edge. An example of a team that has grown and developed can be seen watching the season finale of CSI, where the CSIs take all steps possible to prove that one of their own is not a cold blooded murderer.

Olivia Benson has made more judgment errors than I care to count this season, the worst being in the episode “Authority” where she finds herself going from a position of control to being taken hostage by nutball Merrick Rook (Robin Williams). Olivia approaches him without her partner present, and seemingly makes no move to restrain him. Soon he has the upper hand and she’s held hostage.

The show also really messed with the chemistry of the entire SVU team by bringing in Detective Chester Lake (Adam Beach) to the group, totally messing up the great partnership between Fin (Ice-T) and Munch (Richard Belzer). Thankfully Beach is now gone from the show, his exit in the season finale strange and almost out of character for the character of Chester Lake.

The only character in the show who seemed steady and consistent was Captain Cragen (Dann Florek).

And the storylines were...weird. I don’t know how else to put it. They seemed to be taking such great pains to highlight Hargitay and Meloni, all that was missing was a billboard in every scene saying “give me an Emmy.” It was pathetic.

They also never seemed to get a good feel for the legal side of the show. It was hard to figure out exactly what kind of ADA that Casey Novak (Diane Neal) was trying to be. In the last several episodes, they appeared to dumb her down to the point that she may as well have been working for the defense. I don’t know if the problems were from the writers, or Neal, or both, but it seemed clear towards the last few episodes that somebody just didn’t want Diane Neal around any more. I think she could have done much better if the writers could have found a consistent persona for her.

The one big thing that was missing was the drama. I am a huge fan of all the Law & Order shows, but I found myself almost dreading SVU. The only drama I could see was in my DVR time indicator, which would tell me how much more of the show that I had to force myself to watch. Some of the episodes were almost an insult to my intelligence, and I found myself laughing at how bad they were. And it’s not like watching CSI Miami and laughing, because one almost expects CSI Miami to be comedy because it’s always been a bit of a joke. But the types of crimes that SVU deals with shouldn’t be making one laugh.

Here’s hoping that next season they somehow get the squad back in order and get the chemistry restored, and find a way to put the edge back into the show. I think if they can stop the obvious begging for Emmys for Hargitay and Meloni they may be able to do it.

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