Law & Ordocki #47: Goodbye Blue Munchday

Over the past week Richard Belzer passed away. Best known for his character John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, he was also a prolific stand-up comedian and appeared in films such as Scarface and The Wrong Guys (both equally renowned). While I never met the man, from all accounts he was genial and beloved. Unfortunately for the purposes of this column, paying tribute to the man is difficult. He was a spice on SVU, rarely a main ingredient. Part of this may be because Munch’s creators were paid a stipend every time he appeared, part of this may be due to Belzer’s own acting limitations. Whatever the reason, Munch spotlights are few and far between. So you have to look for his passions to find a Munch-centric show. Well, owing to his father dying by suicide, the actor and the character are staunchly anti-suicide, assisted or otherwise. He’s also Jewish. There’s those “hobby horses” to choose from: suicide episodes and Jewish episodes. I went with the latter, the pretty obviously titled “Unorthodox”. No, no, see, it’s clever. Jewish people are orthodox in their religion, and what the perp is doing is unorthodox. Let’s just be happy Season 9 Episode 13 isn’t titled “Those Aren’t Matzo Balls…”.

We begin in fine form. A school runs kids through a metal detector. One kid snarks that taking away his big ass 2008 cell phone is an abridgement of his free speech rights, to which the black lady security guard tells him he can use a pay phone. Pay…phone? They may as well be speaking Esperanto. Anyway, the next kid, David, sets off the metal detector but instead of having a concealed phone he’s got a bloody asshole. I know SVU has the theme, but it really needs a music cue that signals “classic SVU!”, like Laugh-In or something. You show up for your job rousting children and treating them like suspects of a violent crime, you end up having to call for an ambulance because one tyke was raped so violently he has trouble standing. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been on for 15 more years since this episode. The one-off doctor character informs Benson and Stabler “from the looks of it, I’d say this [rape] has been going on for months” and we’re off to the races, by which I mean the theme. Sometimes SVU goes for an L&O dry one-liner—a Lennie Briscoe special, as it were—to precede the credits, but I have a feeling the spitballing in the writers room wasn’t going anywhere with this particular episode. “What if Stabler said ‘maybe the rapist is Chinese, that’s why he still wants to rape 30 minutes later’?” “No, that’s awful.” “Benson says ‘this is the saddest chapter of Diary of a Wimpy Kid ever!’” “Look, let’s just get to the theme already…”


“No, no, we gotta show it, or else the audience won’t believe the kid was anally raped” – Director David Platt, definitely not a sicko

The mother sends the detectives off to talk to the father, admitting “he’s not the man I married. He got mixed up in some crazy stuff.” “Drugs?” Stabler asks. “Religion.” WHOMP WHOMP! He’s a Hasidic Jew, folks! “He lost all interest in me, and started spending all of his free time with the rabbis.” Ladies, don’t it be like that? You’re no longer receiving the oral pleasures of life because hubby is chewing the fat about, uh, Abraham and Isaac and all those other jokers. Benson suggests Stabler go it alone, what with Hasidic men not appreciating mouthy women. “I’ll work it with Munch.” They don’t say it, but Stabler is essentially going “I got a Jew for this one”. It would’ve been funny if Munch really leaned into it and pasted those side curls to his glasses like he was Rick Moranis’ Rabbi Karlov from SCTV. Dad resolutely blames the surface/outside world, claiming rape doesn’t happen in the Hasidic community, much like gay people plain don’t’ exist in Iran. Jacob, the kid’s tutor, looks like a possibility, though dad refuses to give him up. “An accusation like this could ruin his life!” Stabler charges: “You care more about this guy’s reputation than your own son?” Fortunately, Munch is there to drop some lifnay evare on the guy, which raises the question of what they would’ve done without a Jewish detective to help the questioning. Would Stabler just punch him until he got the right answers? Usually works out for him…

This is a pretty common sub-type of SVU episode, the “That Crazy Insular Culture Sure Is Crazy!”. It applies to the Orthodox Jewish community, it can apply to most if not all groups of immigrants, certainly a Romani episode has been done, as have a few set in Chinatown. The conflict comes from the cops just wanting to Do Their Goddamn Job whereas the culture doesn’t trust outsiders to mete out justice the way they do. Exoticism flares up dramatically, with our characters openly questioning why these people are so fucked up and backwards. I’m not here to make judgments, but SVU treats anything standing in the way of our cops being awesome equally, be they reluctant victims, hostile witnesses, religious/ethnic groups with longstanding reasons not to trust PD, other law enforcement agencies that claim jurisdiction, fiendish defense attorneys, hippie judges, “the Constitution”, etc.

Again, this is where Munch comes in handy. He’s able to explain “Mehsire”, the Yiddish concept of being suspicious around secular authorities. They’d be in the woods without him. “Why is this socioreligious group so alien to contemporary society so hostile to our inquiries? That’s a real brain teaser there…” I like how pissed off Stabler and Munch get at the rabbis’ stonewalling, because really it’s just an esoteric version of a jurisdictional beef. “The beit din has been the cornerstone of our legal system since the time of Moses.” “That’s funny, I thought the Supreme Court of New York was the legal authority in this state.” You can just tell Stabler is on the verge of dropping some hard J’s in these scenes. The head Rabbi also drops some knowledge on the detectives, crowing they don’t have enough evidence or a warrant or anything with which to arrest tutor Jacob. I kept expecting him to yell “DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY”. Stabler gets in Jacob’s ear: “I know guys like you can’t stay away from little boys. It’s only a matter of time.” That line’s just funny, because it’s premised upon Stabler having to wait for Jacob to rape again to arrest him. “You got lucky with this one, pal, but next time you literally tear a kid a new asshole… I’ll be there!”


The single teardrop is a chef’s kiss choice.

The twist here is pretty funny, because obviously Jacob is not the diddler, it’s too early in the episode for that, in that Stabler tails him taking a boy into an apartment. The viewer is expecting a classic mid-molest takedown action sequence. He overhears Jacob saying “it’s okay, kiss me” in another room and comes across two people underneath a jacket. In fact it’s Jacob and an age appropriate girl! The very girl (Zoe Lister-Jones, writer of The Craft: Legacy) who told the cops Jacob was not a child molester. They explain in Hasidic culture they can’t hold hands, look at each other, all those sexually charged things, until he puts a ring on it. It’s the classic case of a guy who’d rather look like a pedophile than a virile young heterosexual man lest he be shunned by the council of ancient beards. Cragen, ever the voice of reason in these crazed times, lampshades it: “It’s crazy. He’d rather everybody think he’s a perv than admit he was making out with his girlfriend at the movies.” Like, I get it. I’ve claimed a lot of things so I wouldn’t have to take responsibility for necking with my girl during that Kevin Spacey poker movie. 21? The one that removed all the Asians? Yeah…

Now comes the next twist: David is missing! He also has a passport (dad forged mom’s signature, explaining how a minor could get one) so he might be on his way to Israel as we speak. Stabler helpfully tells the worried mom that Israel signed the Hague Convention so “there’s no way Tel Aviv customs will let him into the country”. Therefore, David must be headed to a self-reliant Jewish community that Munch informs is a great place to “hide a kid. Every family up there has at least six brats”. I question the use of brats when involved in a missing child case, John. What next, “Hey Rachel, your crotch monster is probably headed to Canada”? This show is so wedded to his formula the detectives and the mother spend a good five minutes explaining what Kehilat Moshe is, as though that’s more prudent to the investigation than, say, tracking David’s digital footprint or affording manpower to swarm where they think he’s going. Goddamnit, someone read that whole fucking Wikipedia article and they are going to use it!


I think I would find this community more imposing and alien if the parallel police force didn’t dress up like crossing guards. Where’s your whistle, pal?

Stabler and Munch go to Kahilat Moshe, described as basically a Jewish Amish community, to which Elliot goes to Munch “feels like coming home, doesn’t it?”. I don’t know about that one, man; it seems a little insensitive to ask the Jewish guy if visiting the closed off Jewish society where most people can’t even speak English reminds him of anything. Now I’m imagining Stabler and Ice-T going to the M.O.V.E. headquarters, him asking Ice “feels like coming home, doesn’t it?” and Meloni catching a fist to his fucking face.

17 minutes in the cops do their due diligence of “asking the victim who raped him”, which coincides with the CSU tech giving Stabler a fun fact about the differences between adult and child pubic hair. He can even tell you the pube age range within 2 years of accuracy. Ryan O’Neal deserves his own show for these facts; Bill Nye The Sicko Guy sounds good to me, yeah? The rapist was a kid! Judge Doom is a toon! So then “Unorthodox” drops the Jewish aspect almost entirely in order to focus on kids raping kids. Babies are having babies, this seems like the next logical step. In comes B.D. Wong, whose psychology degree is able to extrapolate from a pubic hair that the suspect doesn’t fit in with kids his own age. “He’s the kid who gets picked last for kickball” Stabler intones. I knew there was something off about those losers! (I was picked second to last, thank you.)

Here’s a baffling exchange I chose to include in its entirety:

B.D. Wong: “[the child suspected of rape] probably prefers to play with younger girls as well.”
Munch: “You think he’s gay?”
B.D. Wong: “Not necessarily.”

Yep, raping boys isn’t a red flag, it’s spending time with little girls. How young can a fruit fly be, by the way? Anyway, David confesses the boy who raped him is named Jack, which induces a masterful cut to a boy in a lightless room watching pornography while sitting on his bed. “Where are your folks?” asks Ice-T. “My dad works late.” Stabler: “Your mom?” “She’s dead.” Cragen has to inform an irate dad his son is under arrest for rape. “He’s only 14. He doesn’t even have a girlfriend.” Object lesson: you don’t need a girlfriend to be a rapist. Jack, contrary to William “Billy” Loomis”, blames the movies for his faux pas. “There was this guy in prison. He did this stuff to this other guy.” It’d be a great meta twist if Jack turned out to be watching episodes of Oz and Meloni had a crisis of confidence that his adult pay cable past was coming back to haunt him. “Breaking Beecher’s arms and legs was a simple revenge scheme with my pal Dr. Emil Skoda! I didn’t think there’d be blowback!” I personally believe children are property and you can let them do anything for money, but it’s suspect to be parents—even stage parents—and ask your kid to say aloud “The guy said ‘you’re my bitch. I own you’ and everyone respected him.” That’s got to be warping them on some level. Also, Goddamnit kid, they feared Schillinger, they didn’t respect him! That’s why everyone cheered when he got stabbed during the prison staging of Macbeth! Not only is this kid a rapist, he took the wrong lessons from HBO’s Oz. Another lesson from Oz: don’t give mentally challenged death row inmates puppets named “Jericho”.


“It’s called Pubinomics, Detective, and it’s revolutionizing rape cases.”

Despite this article being approximately 5700 words, we’re still only at the halfway point, meaning it’s trial time. Season 9 means Diane Neal’s Casey Novak is prosecuting, and her quarry this time out is one time (surprise to me) SVU champion Rhea Perlman. Now, no disrespect to Rhea here, but you’re stacking the deck here if you’re pitting a dime like Diane Neal against Rhea Perlman. She may as well have stink lines emanating. Perlman is immediately accused of chasing headlines, as all defense attorneys on this show are. Look, so what if “everyone, innocent or guilty, is afforded counsel”. Defense attorneys are villains on par with Dracula, or his snowy cousin The Yeti. There’s controversy over how to charge Jack; Novak wants him to be tried as an adult, whereas Rhea Perlman and surprisingly Stabler ask for leniency. I think it’s Elliot’s dadstincts kicking in; he realizes when rocking his baby late at night that he doesn’t know “what makes some kids go one way and some go another”. “So he has a crap father, lots of children do. But they don’t become rapists.” Finally Stabler hits on a compelling argument, that it is fucked to house a 14 year old boy with, like, adult criminals who’ve committed crimes as bad or worse than he has. That convinces Casey to go family court on this one. FATALITY—DAD WINS

Or does he? Three seconds later Jack is back to Criminal Court because the gang found more victims—pretty little white girls at that. Novak all but says “he’s raping girls, Elliot—this case just got important”. I know this show always paints defense attorneys as shitty people but they went way over the top with Rhea Perlman’s character. She has a line where she questions the timing of them finding more victims and goes “so what, someone suddenly spiked the bug juice in the school cafeteria with liquid courage?”. THEY’RE TEN YEAR OLDS! JESUS. Perlman seeks an insanity defense, telling the sundry reporters “the media in today’s society is sexualizing our children”, a point SVU…agrees with? “77% of primetime TV shows contain sexual content”, including you, Special Victims Unit. It’s a bit hard to accept this high horsery from a program that may as well be titled Torn Miniskirts and Luminous Semen. Rhea rattles off all sorts of nonsense statistics and hands over binders to the judge who looks like the turtle from The Neverending Story while Novak is reduced to going “this is absurd” in increasingly Frank Grimesian exasperation. “Your honor, the only thing insane here is Ms. Fox’s defense.” The judge allows the defense because of course.


“Remember, Detective: if women don’t find you handsome, at least they’ll find you handy.”

I think the best thing about “Unorthodox” is it has absolutely nothing to do with the Jewish people when you get down to it, because the episode pivots into some Scream 2 Timothy Olyphant “they’ll blame the movies” bullshit. The raped child could’ve been Episcopalian, Catholic, non-religious, a penguin for all it ultimately matters. The closest the Jewish aspect comes into relevance is the strange thought that maybe the rabbi was right and the “morally bankrupt culture” was co-conspirator in the kid’s abuse and maybe children should be cloistered to insular societies that have a parallel criminal justice system, because that never results in problems. It speaks to the strange SVU streak of moral conservatism that crops up now and again.

The tear streaked little girl testimony proves damning, as Jack apparently “told me he’d seen some stuff in a movie. Boys licking girls like cats”. Another goes “he said I had to lick him too. He said it’s what people who like each other do”. Boys licking girls like cats. Whoo boy, imagine typing that in your word processor and feeling proud of yourself. There’s a mini-plot about Jack’s dad literally abandoning him—he calls into Legal Aid at one point for help on giving up his son for adoption—and Stabler not liking that, because it stirs up dad feelings. “You don’t show up for him now, you will regret it later.” The Munch content really falls off as the hour drags on, but the Dad-To-Dad certainly increases.


“We don’t even care whether or not we care.”

Jack hits the witness stand, at which he explains his schedule of “three or four shows a day”, with a DVD souffle if nothing is on. The 10:00 cable stuff has the hot naked ladies on there. Dirt, Starved, those kinds of shows. “There’s good stuff on The Internet too.” He’s not embarrassed. “It’s normal.” Rhea Perlman, with the piercing stare of a falcon, asks “is it?”. “In the last 10 years, the rate of oral sex among adolescents has doubled” claims one of Rhea’s expert witnesses. Syphilis has also doubled. Well, that makes sense, given the blowjob scene in The Shield: the rape that launched a thousand “come on, if Aceveda did it…” from boys to girls. I think the “best” part is that Jack says girls pretend not to like sex on the TV, as though there’s all sort of explicit rape play on fucking Burn Notice or whatever. We’ll get to who wrote this later, but I think the writers room still believes the Hays Code should be kept around. “Was he cool with it?” Casey Novak asks a rapist of a rape victim. I love this show.

More to this show’s social conservatism. When Novak points out they can’t repeal the First Amendment, Stabler rants “you got girls wearing Hustler tank tops to school. Paris Hilton’s exploits are leading on the nightly news. Jenna Jameson is at the local bookstore telling you how to make love like a porn star”. Really, I’m surprised one of the police of this show hasn’t called for the repeal of the First Amendment. The button on the hour is the following:

Munch: Maybe the Hasidim are on to something, unplugging their kids from modern life.
Stabler: You can’t shut out the world, John.
Munch: These days, may not be such a bad idea.

Is there another program on television with the balls to end on a “maybe the weird fucked up societies that are partially responsible for smallpox coming back are on to something” note? There’s no additional dialogue, just some somber music and the omnipresent “EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: DICK WOLF”. Man, what I wouldn’t give for Skeet Ulrich—who, let’s remember, played a detective character in the Law & Order universe—to just shout out “don’t blame the movies! Movies don’t create rapists, movies just make rapists more creative!”. In any event, it’s a classic “think about it, we sure didn’t” ending to which SVU fans are accustomed. Remember the one that ended with a scientist crowing about artificial DNA’s repercussions? That was great.

Ultimately, Jack is found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, but that’s not important. What’s important is Jack’s dad sat down in the gallery during a cross-examination. THE POWER OF DAD FEELINGS COMPELS YOU! It’s nice to know that when Jack is released from Bellevue after his mandatory minimum of counseling, dear old dad will be there to work late shifts and ignore the fact that his son is watching Salo. By the way, Mariska Hargitay completely disappears after the hospital scene, approximately 4 minutes in. Adam Beach and Tamara Tunie, both in the opening credits, don’t appear at all. Season 9 was definitely a case of “too many regulars”. While I really intended this to be a Richard Belzer tribute, he didn’t figure too much into this one either. At best he was the Jewish equivalent of the Daywalker, capable of speaking enough cop talk and Yiddish to go into both worlds. See what I meant about him being a spice rather than a main ingredient? At least Ice-T gets to wax angst about his gay son every 5 seasons. I do think we learned a valuable lesson, though, that only the Hasids can protect our children from kids hopped up on Son of the Beach reruns and YouTube videos of Peppa Pig getting scissored by Elsa.


You’ll be disgusted to find out: Josh Singer, the sole credited writer on this thing, went on to co-write Spotlight, The Post and write First Man. He wrote one other episode of SVU. It goes to show that people always fail upwards.

I again apologize for such a dud of a Munch episode as the tribute to The Belz, but isn’t that fitting, in a way? Hear me out: Munch was misused on the show for the most part, so it makes sense that he’d be misused in the tribute I’m doing. Yeah, this was a shitty tribute. His one-liners weren’t up to snuff, in part due to the subject matter. I should’ve picked better, but it’s too late now, and I had already done the one where Jerry Lewis plays his uncle. Oh well. Hope you had “fun” and I intend to write another of these soon-ish. Before another cast member dies at the very least.


See? Now there is a classy sendoff.

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