May 23, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Check Out THE SKED’s Complete Season Finale Reviews HERE


How can anyone say that LAW & ORDER:  SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT has an antiquated feel, when the producers proved in the last scene of tonight’s 13th season finale that their familiarity with film history is as up-to-date as 1974?  That’s right, the show’s climactic cliffhanger was a direct steal from The Godfather Part II.  (The specific scene detailed below will constitute a SPOILER, so beware.)

This was a pivotal season for SVU.  After 12 years on the beat, Christopher Meloni decided he’d had enough of glaring at suspects and barking out clipped jargon and commands.  (No doubt he’ll find things very different in his new gig, co-starring on the upcoming season of True Blood.)  Meloni’s Elliot Stabler was one of the backbones of the series, along with Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson, and his departure opened a hole in the show.  But it also afforded uber-producer Dick Wolf, showrunner Warren Leight and NBC a chance to inject some new vitality into the series–which is exactly what SVU‘s direct competition, the almost-as-old CSI, did when replacing Laurence Fishburne and Marg Helgenberger with Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue this season to strong results.

SVU, though, seemingly had no interest in making serious changes to its tone or format.  Meloni was out, and Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish were plugged in, as Detectives Nick Amaro and Amanda Rollins.  Coming back to the show for the first time since fall, it appears that Amaro has been given some backstory in the form of a troubled marriage (not exactly original, since Stabler had one too), which is more than Rollins seems to have.  It doesn’t matter much in either case, since both characters fit into the Law & Order mold of procedural-and-nothing-but-the-procedural, and there’s nothing even slightly distinctive about either new detective, as written or performed.

Like the other now-vanished shows in the L&O franchise, SVU exists purely as a vehicle to drive plots forward.  But even down-the-middle procedurals have come a long way since 1999, and SVU feels slow and creaky.  Tonight’s episode, written by Executive Producer Leight and Co-Executive Producer Julie Martin, and directed by Norberto Barba, started with the murder of a 16-year old escort at an exclusive bachelor party.  It proceeded ploddingly to the escort service that employed her, where the big twist was that the head procurer’s number 2 was actually a cop (Dean Winters) deep undercover and possibly untrustworthy.  That brought our heroes to the competing escort service, run by a madam who claimed just to be a gentlewoman farmer, operating a matchmaking service as a charity (the entertaining Brooke Smith).  There was another murder, of a former governor (patterned after NY Governor Rockefeller’s long ago death), and mutterings of a high-level conspiracy spearheaded by the powerful clients of the escort services.  This led to the big cliffhanger:  SVU Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) waking up with a dead hooker planted in his bed and blood on his hands, exactly like Senator G. D. Spradlin in Godfather II.  (At this rate, it won’t be long before the show can rip off Cruising and Prince of the City.)

Even a new episode of SVU like tonight’s feels like it’s been in syndication for 5 years.  The characters are stick figures, the plotting and pace are laborious, and the show seems to take place in another universe from the fun high-tech NY of CBS’s Person of Interest or any of the CSI shows.  Nor are audiences receptive anymore:  the ratings have plummeted, with SVU routinely coming in last place in its timeslot this past season.  A smarter network would force SVU‘s producers to bring the show into the 21st century; a kinder one would let it rest on its eternal reruns and put it out of its misery.  This is NBC, though, so set your VCRs (DVRs are far too modern) for next season, when the show is supposed to serve as lead-in to yet another Dick Wolf procedural, the new Chicago Fire–a night that’s likely to feel like Tuesday afternoons on TNT.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."