Law & Order: Family Dysfunction Unit?

Remember when LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS unit was about, you know, crimes?

More importantly, remember when the crime of the week didn’t involve one of the detectives on the squad?

I spent years watching classic LAW & ORDER, and despite being a loyal viewer, knew next to nothing about Lenny Briscoe or his various partners. Sure, on rare occasions one of their kids would get in trouble, but for the most part, the detectives came to work, did their jobs and went home to lives we knew very little about. As viewers, we had something of an unspoken agreement with the show: Give us good, compelling cases each week, and we won’t ask you to give the various lead characters too much depth.

It was win/win.

Sadly, LAW & ORDER is gone, as is CRIMINAL INTENT, and what we’re left with is an SVU that is a shadow of its former self. I’ve watched Benson fight to balance her career with raising a foster child. Rollins has dealt with first a gambling addiction and, more recently, the abuse she suffered during her time in Atlanta. Through it all, I’ve stayed loyal. But the recent episode in which Amaro’s dad paid a visit — and we didn’t get even a hint of a crime until 15 minutes in — may have been the final straw for this longtime viewer.

Of late, SVU has felt less like classic LAW & ORDER and more like the early seasons of KNOTS LANDING, when each week a visitor to the California cul-de-sac caused chaos for the residents. Sid’s troubled daughter would swing through and cause trouble in his marriage to second-wife Karen. Val’s mom would drop by and stir up painful memories in her daughter. Gary’s daughter, DALLAS’ Lucy, would try and seduce a neighbor. And at the end of the hour, the troublemaker-du-jour would pack up and move on (although Val’s mother would later come for a much-longer stay).

Now, I hear those of you who know me saying, “But Richard, KNOTS LANDING was your all-time favorite show!” And you’re right. But it was also a primetime sudser I watched in order to see people deal with their complicated personal lives. That is not, however, what I come to SVU for.

I long for the days when the only sudsy element to SVU was the sexual tension between Benson and Stabler. In fact, I think it might have been the departure of his portrayer, Chris Meloni, which signaled the beginning of the end where my SVU love was concerned.

But maybe, just maybe, I’m alone in this. Perhaps the audience actually likes this personalization of the long-running show. Perhaps I have fallen just that out of touch with my fellow SVU lovers. All I know is that as far as I’m concerned, the show has fallen from the pedestal upon once I once put it… and that’s a crime.

Has Law & Order lost its way?


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