Five reasons why “Law & Order: SVU” makes me sad

Last night’s episode of

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit was not as bad as I expected.
It contained a number of features that could have made it bad — a special
guest star, a disabled child, a terrorism subplot — but I managed to
watch the whole thing without uttering, “I hate this show.”

And that’s the main thing that
makes me sad about SVU: It’s best assessed these days in degrees
of bad.

I take no pleasure in derogating
the only network show I watch religiously. (Mariska Hargitay is just too lovely to abandon.) But
the show tries my patience. A lot. Although I was initially reluctant
to watch “the rape show,” I eventually got into it and have remained
faithful. But the show seems to have forsaken its loyal viewers.

Here’s why the show makes me

5. There are too many special
guest stars.

Special guest stars are an indication of jumping the shark, and SVU

is definitely guilty of abusing this practice. Almost every episode
features one. (Last night’s was Aidan Quinn. Last week it was Melissa
Joan Hart
.) Sometimes they’re good. Cynthia Nixon did a creditable job a few weeks ago.
(Here’s a clip.) But there are just too many of them.
Did we really need Bob Saget, or Jerry Lewis as Munch’s
homeless uncle?

4. They seem to have a problem
with scope.

In the early years, the show
was about the investigation of a crime — either a sex crime or a crime
against a child. They didn’t even have a dedicated A.D.A. in the first
season. Then they brought Alex Cabot (Stephanie March). How I miss her.

But that’s not really my point.
The point is that the case often seems to be a pretext to get to some
enormous issue such as how the army treats its soldiers, or homeland
security or the diabetes epidemic. When an episode begins with a
hostage standoff and ends with a Manhattan A.D.A. issuing a subpoena
to Donald Rumsfeld, you know the show has gotten out of control.

3. They go overboard with
the diagnoses, conditions and defense theories.

So far this season alone, we’ve
had Williams Syndrome, sex-somnia, juvenile sex-addiction
and brilliantly-faked Dissociative Identity Disorder. The sex-somnia
and juvenile sex-addiction were respectively successful and unsuccessful
justifications for rape. I realize this is supposed to be Manhattan
and thus you’re going to see a little bit of everything, but enough

2. Their personal lives
intrude too much.

One of the hallmarks of the

Law and Order franchise is that it’s not about the personal lives
of the detectives and lawyers. We get glimpses of their lives (and
sometimes we get to see them awkwardly come out
as they get fired).
But the show is not really about their personal crap. Until the last
few seasons. Then Elliot’s wife left him and he turned into Andy Sipowicz — always brooding and scowling and
turning into rogue cop. And Olivia got obsessive about her father and
newly discovered brother, and she became a rogue cop, too. Then there
was the whole will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic between Elliot and Olivia
that led Olivia to briefly and bizarrely join the computer crimes division.
Then they complicated matters even further by bringing in Detective
Dani Beck.

Of course, to get Olivia (pregnant
Mariska) out of the way for a while, they had a special guest star
(Marcia Gay Harden) send her deep undercover to fight eco-terrorism.

(For the record, Mariska does not expect Elliot
and Olivia to ever actually do it
But the bottom line is that both principal characters got seriously
out of control. I am, however, cautiously optimistic that they’re getting
reined in. At least Elliot is back with his pregnant wife.

But he’s not really happy about

1. The writing is god-awful.

The other four reasons are
essentially subsets of this one, but I thought it deserved special mention.
Yes, the show is in its ninth season, and there are probably
only so many stories to “rip from the headlines.” But that doesn’t
mean the stories have to be stupid or that the writing has to be lazy.
For example, last season ended with every character in major crisis
and becoming a source of scandal for the department. They deal with that this
season by sacking the captain for one episode and having a member of
the troubled department take over. Chaos ensues. So they bring the captain
back at the end of the episode. Uh-huh.

However, not everything is

Mariska’s hair looks good again
this season.

There’s Tamara Tunie.

It’s easy to like her.

And Law and Order: SVU
was the inspiration for a brilliant, albeit surreal, Sesame Street
sketch: “Law and Order: Special Letters Unit.”

Watch the clip here. The Munch Muppet is perfect!

What do you think? Is the show
getting better, or is it down for the count?