Monday, June 13, 2016

The Charm And Silliness Of SVU

Law And Order: Special Victims Unit will enter its eighteenth season on television in September 2016, an accomplishment extremely rare in television annals but also a testimony to the show's power and draw. Begun in 1999 as a spinoff of the Law And Order series, SVU is a fictionalized account of the unit of the New York Police Department that investigates sexually-based incidents; the scripts are tautly presented and tend to be loosely based on real-life incidents, a la the grandfather of all police television dramas, Dragnet.

The series has been a career-defining role for its flagship stars and especially for its last remaining original star. Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay were the show's flagship stars alongside Richard Belzer (as the perpeutally-cynical Detective John Munch) and Dann Florek (as Captain Donald Cragen); in the series' second season they were joined by Tracy Lauren "Ice-T" Marrow portraying former narcotics detective Odafin Tutuola. Meloni, a native of Washington DC, had kicked around Hollywood circles beginning in 1984 before first achieving notoriety in the late-1990s prison series Oz, where he played bisexual psychopath Chris Keller in thirty-eight episodes. It was during his run on Oz that he signed on to the nascent SVU series as flawed, emotional, and always dedicated Detective Elliott Stabler, and two co-stars from Oz would interact with Meloni in SVU in the forms of J.K. Simmons and Bradley Darryl "B.D." Wong; like Meloni, Wong had been kicking around the acting business since the early 1980s.

The primary draw of the series, though, lay in the interplay with Mariska Hargitay's driven and emotional Detective Olivia Benson, a role that is not only a career-defining one for Hargitay but in a sense a life-defining role. Like Meloni and Wong, Hargitay had kicked around Hollywood since the early 1980s; among her early roles was in the 1984 film Ghoulies, a film otherwise notable for the presence of Michael Des Bares, aka international terrorist Murdoc from the MacGyver series.

Unlike Meloni, however, Hargitay was known apart from her acting skills, as the daughter of 1950s and '60s bombshell Jayne Mansfield and also Hungarian defector and bodybuilder Miklos "Mickey" Hargitay, a fact casting directors used against her in a scenario strikingly akin to The Brady 6. Apart from all that, though, has been Hargitay's work with the Joyful Heart Foundation, which works to help sexual assault and child abuse victims; in recent years Mariska achieved a notable success when New York City was able to seize several billion dollars from banks caught funding Iranian-based terrorists and at least some of that money has gone to updating police rape kits - a move credited in media to Mariska's work and the kind of stranger-than-fiction idea that would make a good SVU episode; she also hotfooted it to DC in the wake of the Orlando massacre for a meeting with violence survivors, and the Orlando slaughter gave her work an extra relevance.

The show is first to last a taut, tense, often uncomfortable crime drama with twists worthy of The Twilight Zone. But as in life a sense of humor has developed and the show's inevitable cliches have become noticed and source of good-natured humor. Thirty-three such bits of humor are compiled here and for fans of SVU they are a source of great hilarity - among the cliches that may open some eyes is how often Elliott Stabler would be told to stay away from a case by his boss, Captain Donald Cragen, yet would break into the suspect's house anyway.

The list is worth some expansion -

Father's Day -   SVU's list of notable guest stars is quite long, but no guest star stole the show more than Mickey Hargitay himself, here playing a man with his granddaughter (McKenzie Malone) who witnesses the appearance of a badly injured perp.   Though Mickey appears in only the prologue (and is referenced in the submain credits) the viewer, knowing who he is, remembers him throughout this episode.  

The Unbearable Lightness Of Being SVU -  The 1988 film The Unbearable Lightness Of Being is best known for the lovemaking between Daniel Day-Lewis and either Juliette Binoche or Lena Olin, and at times SVU has flirted (intended pun) with that territory.   Sexual tension between the characters has long been a favored subplot of the series; longtime producer and writer Neal Baer admitted to reading fan sites and acknowledging sexual tension between Olivia Benson and Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March).

The real sexual tension, though, has been around Elliott Stabler and Olivia Benson. A running subplot has been the Internal Affairs division of the NYPD going after both, at one point questioning Captain Cragen as to whether, for lack of a better term, they are too chummy with each other.

Stabler of course is married - and overall happily so, as seen above.   But he also lets his heart take over in the episode "Underbelly" while partnered with Dani Beck (Connie Nielsen); alone in a parking lot the two start kissing; if this episode was ever novelized (a la Stirling Silliphant's novelization of his teleplay PEARL) Elliott and Dani's kissing would swell into full procreation.

Quite a few fans wanted Elliott and Olivia's relationship to reach that level of heat, but the closest they've come to that has been in the episode "Wildlife" - presented below in a fan-mixed video with a Celine Dion song in the background - 

Batman: SVU - A humorous number of analogies with the Batman mythos have popped into the series.   B.D. Wong went from SVU to playing Doctor Hugo Strange in Gotham while Michael Emerson played sadistic art teacher Allan Shaye in the episode "Ritual" and also The Joker in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.   The episode "Bound" features a scene where ADA Casey Novak (Diane Neal) must interrupt a card game by the city's judges, a scene unintentionally reminiscent of "Almost Got 'im" from the Batman Animated Series.

Indeed, here is what was going on inside Casey Novak's head at the judges' card game -

Not the robot theory again, Casey Novak

The Batman connection even extends to the above-mentioned McKenzie Malone - aka McKenzie "Don't Call Me Matches" Malone, and her nickname Sunshine - Terry McGuiness' mocking nickname of the villain Blight in Batman Beyond.

Back in 1966 two-year-old Mariska was told by Merv Griffin to get her own show.

She did.    And sorry the dog hates you, Merv.

Okay, so this German dude and this Hungarian chick walk into a bar..... -

Hey it worked, didn't it??

Although as one can see here, apparently August Miklos wasn't impressed with the show at the time of his arrival.

Funny Football Gags: 
Luv Ya Blue

Speaking of football - we remember the Happy Hargitay-Hermanns at the Cowboys-NY Giants game in 2015, an obvious retort to the Cowboys for signing Greg Hardy and his domestic-violence history - the Happy Hargitay-Hermanns became good luck charms as the Giants ended a five-game losing streak to the Cowboys.

Wunna these days Langan, wunna these days, POW! Right in the kisser!

Easily the most charming subplot of the show is the interaction of Olivia Benson with lawyer Trevor Langan, played by Mariska's real-life husband Peter Hermann - note on above; he lived in Germany until he was ten but was born in NYC.   Interaction between the two is infrequent; the funniest - albeit in an inadvertent way - is from the 2009 episode "Perverted."   The jail scene is of course done straight, and being the pros they are Peter and Mariska pull off the tension with aplomb  - yet the viewer can't help but smile.

Post-Stabler a running subplot is Olivia's adoption of a child named Noah (who even has his own Twitter page @BabyDoeBenson) and Trevor Langan gets mixed up in that in "Surrendering Noah" - Peter and Mariska and the adoption of a child can be called the autobiographical portion of this show - and with hints from Hargitay of a love triangle in the series' 18th season the Noah angle screams for the hansome Trevor to get mixed up there too - the ultimate in-joke for the series.

We close this humorous take on a serious show by kissing this post good night.

I knew there would be more - start with Diane Neal's killer curlers.

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