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Gritty and Important
on October 3, 2003
The first Law and Order Spinoff series, Law and Order: SVU is an often stark and depressing look into the most destructive crimes being committed today. This series offers an uncompromising look into the minds of some truly disturbing sex offenders and reminds us about what happens every day that we'd rather just ignore. Occasionally lurid and often brilliant, this show combines Law and Order's entertaining, 'ripped-from-the-headlines' storytelling while reminding its audience about what is casually glossed over in the news every night.
Although the original Law and Order was very much a story-driven show, this incarnation focused much more on the lives of the detectives on the Special Victims Unit. Christopher Meloni plays Detective Stabler, a family man who is very dedicated to his work. The fact that he has a wife and daughters makes him a very interesting character and adds to his movivation to get the job done, to get the bad guys off the street, so that it won't be his daughters being abused next. His partner, Detective Bensen, is played by Mariska Hargitay. She is in the work for different reasons. The fact that she herself was the product of a rape makes her also a very interesting character, as her motivations for being in the unit are very complicated. Richard Belser reprises his role from 'Homicide' as Detective John Munch, and he brings a lot of black humor to the show. It's just fun to watch him work, and Belser is a terriffic actor. His partner in the first year was Michelle Hurd, although she would later be supplanted by Ice-T. Hurd played a slightly off-kilter policewoman who wasn't quite prepared for the rigors of the job and was forced off the squad at year's end. Rounding out the cast was Dann Florek, reprising his role as Captain Cragen from the original Law and Order. I loved him in that series, and he is great here, too, walking the line between being tough and supportive with his detectives.
Although more emphasis was placed on the characters, this was still Law and Order, and that meant that the stories would have to be pretty darn good. And they were. The first season dealt with a plethora of sex abuses including rape, incest, child abuse, statutory rape, and more. Subsequent seasons would have a greater variety of story devices, but the first season was definitely a firm foundation for what turned out to be a fine series.
Bottom line: if you feel the need to be happy or uplifted after watching a program, this might not be for you. It is sad, haunting, and some of the stories will stick with you for a long time, much like the crimes it depicts. However, it has a ring of truth to it, it is still thrilling, and occasionally, we see an episode that really makes one think about a society which can produce such miscreants. Not a feel-good show at all, but an important one. Highly recommended.