September 25, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Law & Order: SVU”



SVU began its 15th season with an atypically dark, serialized episode that served as a showcase for star Mariska Hargitay.  It picked up from the Season 14 finale, in which Detective Olivia Benson (Hargitay) was captured by a sadistic rapist and murderer played by Pablo Schreiber, whose lawyers (most of whom he’d slept with, some of whom he’d murdered) constantly kept him out of jail on technicalities.  For the first 45 minutes of the 2-hour premiere, we mostly followed the two as the assailant searched for the perfect place to finally dispose of Olivia.  (And if Hargitay hadn’t signed a new deal for this season, he might well have found it.)  Instead, Olivia finally took control of the situation and, after handcuffing him and delivering a lengthy monologue that referred back to former partner Elliot Stabler (but never named him)–for so long that even the villain, in an almost-meta moment, wondered when she’d stop talking–Olivia attacked him ferociously with an iron rod (of course, since this was NBC and not cable, she didn’t quite kill him).  It was a powerful, scary hour, nevertheless, and Hargitay and Schreiber were very strong.

The second hour of the premiere (both were written by Executive Producers Warren Leight and Julie Martin; Hour 1 was directed by Michael Smith and Hour 2 by Michael Slovis, better known these days as the cinematographer and sometimes director of Breaking Bad) was a much more routine affair.  2 months had gone by since the previous episode, and although Olivia had some traumatic flashbacks to the incident and had to prove herself ready to handle her job again (which by episode’s end, she did), we were back in SVU‘s favorite ripped-from-the-headlines territory.  In this case, the slightly fictionalized crime was Ariel Castro’s abduction and imprisonment of several girls in Cleveland for more than a decade, here relocated to Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  The other regulars, who’d been in the background during the first hour–Munch (Richard Belzer), Tutuola (Ice T), Amaro (Danny Pino) and Rollins (Kelli Giddish), as well as Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) and ADA Barba (Raul Esparza)–stepped back into their usual roles, and everyone was appropriately behind bars or on the road to healing by the end of the hour, the previous events no more than a bad memory.

The two hours were a reminder of how different SVU is these days even from the bulk of other crime procedurals.  While the show’s first hour might have fit with a more modern entry in the genre, the second felt creaky and old-fashioned, like a rerun even though it was brand-new.  The technology, the pace and the style of dialogue all belong to an earlier TV era.  That’s reflected in the ratings, which are barely marginal these days (last season’s finale had a 1.7 among 18-49s, which was up from its usual spring numbers, and the show doesn’t even score all that well with older audiences).  However, there’s a neverending market for the series on cable, explaining in part why it’s still around, midway through its second decade.

SVU is a well-maintained antique, with a good (and mostly wasted) cast and a practiced style.  But it says something when a costume drama like Downton Abbey feels faster and more modern than a contemporary cop show.  Now that Dick Wolf has a (more or less) thriving new franchise with Chicago Fire, perhaps it’s time to leave SVU to its reruns.  After all, in a few years it can always be rebooted with a little more depth and snazziness, and start all over again.

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."