Jean MacDonald

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Twenty Years Late to "Law & Order: SVU" Fandom

I do not mind admitting I am addicted to Law & Order. I don’t remember exactly when it was added to my TV-watching diet. That would be like remembering when you started breathing air. For the last 20 years, if you were channel surfing on a hotel room TV, you’d invariably find an episode in syndication. The fact that you could usually start watching in the middle of an episode and still enjoy the story, thanks to the twists and turns, made it perfect channel-surfing material.

I am a fan of the original series and cast, and a HUGE fan of Vincent D’Onofrio and the Criminal Intent franchise. But I have always avoided Special Victims Unit. A series devoted to sex crimes against women and children struck me as too depressing. Until last fall…

I don’t subscribe to cable TV. Even when I had basic channels, I didn’t keep up with cable box updates, since I had Apple TV and Roku, so I didn’t even get limited service I paid for. But last year, I cut cable completely and bought an HDTV antenna. Suddenly, I was back to four networks, broadcasting in real time, just like when I was a kid. I watched the Season Premiere of The Good Place, which I also love. Being sucked into couch potatohood, I decided to stay tuned to NBC for the 20th season premiere of Law & Order: SVU to satisfy my curiosity.

I had no idea how hard I would fall for the star Mariska Hargitay. Until the 13th season, she was the co-star, with Christopher Meloni, with emphasis on the “co-”. Every time I caught a bit of SVU while channel surfing, Meloni’s character was generating the majority of the story’s energy. A flawed father of five with major anger management issues, the character of Elliott Stabler could not be ignored. The actor left in 2011, reportedly over contract issues.

Since then, Hargitay’s character, Detective Olivia Benson has been the heart and the soul of the show. After watching Season 20 of SVU, I went back and rewatched starting Season 12. And I realized, “Wow, I like the Stabler-free version of this show so much more.”

It goes beyond great acting. Hargitay has become a trained rape counselor. She has produced an Emmy-award-winning documentary for HBO about the travesty of untested rape kits, an institutional failing that denies justice to victims and allows criminals to attack again. On SVU, Hargitay allows me to feel safe, to feel that someone on this show actually cares about violence against women as I watch some of the “most heinous” crimes in the L&O universe. (I still skip some that are too upsetting. If they do a Brock Turner- or a Brett Kavanaugh-based episode, I’ll pass.)

I also appreciate watching a woman my age as the lead of a TV action show. Benson is a great role model. And a rare one. I generally gravitate to British detective shows, with lots of fantastic complex mature female characters (Check out the great shows featuring Jane Tennison, Vera Stanhope, Sam Ryan, Catherine Cawood.)

Congratulations to everyone associated with this show, as of tonight the longest-running prime time show in history with Olivia Benson the longest-running prime time character.