'Law & Order: SVU' and 'Law & Order': Pedophiles and abortion: Does controversy = good drama?

Last night, Law & Order: SVU featured a plot about an organization that justifies sex between adult men and minors (boys or girls) as a civil right. Tomorrow night, Law & Order will air an episode about the murder of a doctor who performs abortions on pregnant women in their third trimester.

Hot-button issues are central to the L&O franchise, and this week’s topics don’t get any hotter. SVU, in an episode entitled “Hardwired,” had a stepfather (The Wire‘s excellent Jim True-Frost) molesting his stepson (Cruz Santiago) to the horror of the boy’s mother, played by Rosie Perez in a performance that NBC promoted heavily.

The plot took a twist when, having established the stepfather’s crime well before the half-hour mark, the stepdad proposed cutting a deal with the prosecutors in return for a bigger fish: the leader of Our Special Love, a pedophile civil-rights group, whom the stepfather says has many members and much kiddie porn to which he can lead the team.

My problem with this hour is the one I usually have with SVU, even as I know it’s the reason it gets bigger ratings and more kudos these days than the original Law & Order: Its heroes — Mariska Hargitay’s Benson and Christopher Meloni’s Stabler — are called upon to express extravagant shock and anger at all the dreadful details. I always think, these cops see despicable things like this week-in, week-out; have they never developed any emotional restraint, let alone a veneer of professional dispassion? Nope: there was Stabler, throttling a school coach whom he mistakenly thought was the perp early on in the episode, calling the guy a “kiddie-diddler” and a “scumbag pedophile.” And this was of a man who turned out not to have committed this particular crime. Do Stabler and Benson never learn to dial it down a notch? Yes, I know, I know: the coach did have a child-molestation record; my point is, again: unprofessional conduct always takes me out of the drama, no matter how well-written. From Rosie Perez, I expect out-sized emotion, and she did that mother proud.

I hope you’ll also watch Law & Order tomorrow. The episode called “Dignity” begins with the murder of a doctor who performs abortions — he’s shot while praying in church.

The killer is represented in court by an anti-abortion league lawyer played by Richard Thomas with perfectly calibrated restraint. Indeed, this is the performance NBC should be touting this week: Thomas is nuanced where everyone around him is encouraged to take sides and squabble. It’s all rather too neat: The show’s two cops, Lupo and Bernard, and its two Assistant District Attorneys, Cutter and Rubirosa, each take either a pro-life or pro-choice stand… at least, initially.

I don’t want to give more away; let me just say that by the end of this Law & Order, the drama runs more deeply, more effectively, because characters behave like humans. They think and reconsider; they debate and shift their positions slightly, this way and that. And I think you’ll be surprised at the low-key but still quite shocking final scene.

Did you watch SVU last night? What did you think? Will you watch a Law & Order with this theme?

Comments (55 total) Add your comment
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  • jfms777

    Who watches “L&O” anymore?

  • Carol

    The story on SVU last night, had a very compelling storyline and the sad thing is that this has been going on for years and years and not too many shows will do an episode portraying this abuse. I applaud the writers in the way the storyline was handled. As noted, Stabler & Benson did act rashly in the beginning but who wouldn’t when this type of thing is coming down! They are both exceptional actors and the emotions that they portray on screen may just be part of the script, but it is so very real. These two extraordinary actors are what makes SVU the great show it is today. Thanks to the writers and network who will allow these type of stories to be brought to the screen to make the public more aware.

  • Bobby’s Robot

    I believe it’s Jim True-Frost

  • Vel Holman

    I have to admit that I do watch SVU. While Stabler and Benson’s characters and reactions remain predictable, I’m still entertained. I would rather watch SVU as opposed to CSI or NCIS. Sure, those other shows have CGI, extravagant gun fights and showdowns, but the storytelling from the L&O franchises is what keeps me watching. SVU’s, “the pedophile did it” inevitability does get old, but I’m invested in the entire cast to include Munch and Fin (my man!). I was hoping to see a little something between Stabler and Paxton, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

    • Jen

      Ditto. I love the cast of SVU and can easily get sucked into one of the endless marathons on the USA network. I tried to give Modern Family a try, but I found myself missing SVU…

      • Vel Holman

        Every Tuesday! WOO-HOO!!!

      • Africianbutterfly

        I agree I would rather watch SVU

  • Kathleen

    I still watch L&O. I watch all 3 versions. I actully like Criminal Intent the best. I like getting the criminals perspective. SVU is so depressing, but I still watch.

  • Season

    I’m a little over SVU. How many times have they accused someone of committing a crime then learn it was someone else? You’d expect them at this point to at least say to themselves, “well, maybe he didn’t do it”. And the name calling was stupid. When Olivia threw one of the pedophiles in the holding cell and called him a name I rolled my eyes. Benson and Stabler can be too self-righteous and Stabler beating up on suspects is getting old.

    Also, the ending rang false to me. I’m I the only one who thought there should have been a mistrial after that boy started yelling in the courtroom. How is the jury supposed to disregard a molested boy crying for his mother and saying the defendant was responsible for his stepfather raping him?

    • Vel Holman

      My wife and I were saying the exact same thing!!!

    • Lala

      Agreed, there should have been a mistrial (instead of 3,000 years in prison or whatever ridiculous number they came up with.) It was entertaining though.

    • rita

      If not a mistrial then definitely grounds for having the conviction tossed on appeal.

    • Gretchen

      Agreed…it was my exact thought, especially since they didnt remove him right away and kept letting him talk…definitely grounds for mistrial or prosecutorial misconduct

  • Liza5326

    I absolutely love SVU and I think the issues they deal with are definitely relevant to today’s society. And how the police deal with the crimes depends on their own personal experiences. Benson takes rape harder because of her mother and Stabler has a hard time with crimes against children because he’s a father. My uncle is a cop and any crime having to do with a child always takes more out of him emotionally because of his kids. And how they deal with the perssure and emotions are hard and, while some do end up depressed and burnt out, some take that emotion and make themselves better cops.

    • Vel Holman

      I’m an ex cop and my wife is an active cop…I can tell you from firsthand experience that NONE of these shows are very realistic. Excessive force, conduct unbecoming, cover-ups and corruption would have brought down many of our favorite characters. It is entertaining to watch, however.

  • Caitlin

    I watched it last night, and I loved it. I mean, it was obvious the coach didn’t do it. But stabler and Bensen are amazing to watch, and I loved BD Wong’s character getting very offended being compared to a person that rapes children. And I can’t blame him. I love me some BD(BJ? I can’t remember his first named)Wong, and he’s a very good actor. I wish he got more screen time.

  • Benoreno

    Anytime I hear about a child being harmed, I over-react. In our local area, a young girl was kidnapped and murdered. Her body was found in a dump. It made the national news. The governor attended the news conference, along with the Chief of Police. I don’t have a problem seeing Benson and Stabler show their rage and distain. Because, kiddie rapist/murderers don’t get any sympathy with me.

    • Angie

      I hope you are never accused of something you did NOT even do and get treated that way!

    • RJ

      The problem is they show their rage and distain on ALL of their suspects…even the ones that are innocent. Here’s a though, how about you build a solid case and find out who really commited the crime and *then* start getting mad at them.

  • xfool92

    Stabler still hasn’t learned out to control his anger after all these years. He should have been suspended for his behavior, yet nothing ever happens with him. SVU has gotten worse because they forgot how to tell a good story, instead making it all about Chris and MAriska.

    I like what L&O has been doing this year and I think they are trying to focus on the story. Last week’s episode Reality Bites was fantastic. I think this show deserves more attention from NBC.

    • Angie

      Totally agree. I can not even watch SVU anymore!!! It used to be my favorite.

  • auntz

    SVU episode was not aired by the Detroit NBC affiliate. No explanation as to why.

  • Ronald Lewis

    Last night’s showing on L&O:SVU could not come at a worse time. The mother of the child that just got sexually molested and murdered just hitting the news makes for a bad parallel in this instance. A lot more time should have passed before a story like this aired.

  • Curt

    I’ve pretty much stopped watching the original L&O simply because of the revolving door of detectives. I would just get used to a detective and start to invest a little and then they’d be gone. I do, however, still watch SVU and CI semi-regularly. CI is by far the best of the bunch mainly due to the scarcity of courtroom scenes; I work in the legal field and even with willful suspension of disbelief, some of the shenanigans the franchise pulls would never be allowed in a gazillion years even in a hick-town courtroom here in the MidSouth. And for the record, Munch and Fin are the best detective team the franchise has, in my opinion.

  • Andrea D

    I do not understand the appeal of these shows. Week after week of such depressing stories. If I want to get depressed watching TV, then I watch the beautiful people (and writing) of “Mad Men”.

  • Melissa

    My husband and I have watched this show for years, actually all three, and love it. However, are we the only ones who were unaware that the FBI psychiatrist, Wong, was gay? Not that I care, but we just hadn’t heard it mentioned before and last night it was like a throw-a-way line.

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