Law & Order - Special Victims Unit - The Pilot Episode
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This hard-hitting and emotional companion series from the popular Law & Order franchise chronicles the exciting cases of the elite Special Victims Unit of the New York City Police Department. Created by Emmy Award-winning producer Dick Wolf, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit follows the exploits of Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni, Oz), a seasoned veteran of the unit, and his partner, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay, ER), as they try to crack the city's most heinous crimes. Directing their efforts is Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek, reprising his Law & Order role), whose tough but supportive approach guides the entire squad - which includes Detective John Munch (Richard Belzer), District Attorney Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) and forensic psychiatrist George Huang (B.D. Wong) - through the dangerous challenges they face every day. "Payback": Detectives Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson investigate the murder and dismemberment of a cab driver.
Originally called Sex Crimes, executive producer Dick Wolf wisely opted for something less lurid when the second in the inexhaustible Law & Order franchise hit the air in 1999. Still, as the opening voiceover makes clear, the "sexually based offenses" investigated by New York's Special Victims Unit can be "especially heinous." Wolf penned series premier "Payback," which sets the scene, but not the tone. It's a lively, if uneasy mix between horror (rape) and comedy (risqué banter). As the first season progressed, humor would be written out altogether (leaving Richard Belzer's Homicide-derived John Munch with increasingly less to do), and less emphasis would be placed on the home lives of this "elite squad of dedicated detectives." Mostly, "Payback" introduces us to the unit, centering around partners Olivia Benton (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). For two people with so little in common, they make a terrific team--arguably one of TV's best. Stabler is married with four children; Benton is single and her closest relationship is with her mother (Elizabeth Ashley). While Stabler can get a little rough with suspects, Benton tends to over-empathize with the victims. They report to the no-nonsense Captain Cragen (Law & Order vet Dann Florek). Like the parent program's Lenny Briscoe, he's a recovering alcoholic. Dean Winters and Michelle Hurd round out the rock-solid cast. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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