Law & Ordocki Season 4 #1 (#32): Moore Is Less
I’m back! It feels like a lifetime ago that I would unearth an hour from the Law & Order universe and give it a thorough examination. I admit part of the reason it’s been so long is that I don’t actually watch SVU anymore. A shocking admission to be sure, but I have my reasons. Its quality has declined precipitously over the last few seasons. The show is now centered on Olivia Benson to the detriment of everyone and everything else and the stories are neither absurd nor novel anymore. Sure, I’ll watch if I’m at my parents’ house and my mom has some on the DVR (nothing like bonding with a parent through mockery), but otherwise I just read plot summaries online, go “that sounds fucking stupid”, and that’s it. Look, the Law & Order canon already gives me 50 some seasons of television to play with, I don’t need additions necessarily. And yet…
And yet I felt compelled to take a look at the record shattering Season 21 premiere, if only to use it as a means to discuss “The State of SVU” as it were. Last season ended on the departure of Peter Stone after he essentially framed a suspect for murder. He also confessed, out of nowhere, that he was in love with Olivia. It was stupid beyond the usual level of inanity one has come to expect from this program. The Stone character never particularly worked in that he was too often steamrolled by Benson and company and his requisite personal drama (crazy sister) was moronic. The actor wasn’t compelling either. Every time he brought up his dead dad (played by very much alive but very much batshit Michael Moriarty) I was reminded I could be watching Seasons 1-4 of Law & Order. As for the other characters: Benson was still dealing with her possibly disturbed shitty kid Noah; Rollins had another baby she’ll never acknowledge; Ice-T is a sergeant which means exactly jack shit for all practical purposes; Carisi is mooning for Rollins. Scintillating subplots these are not, but they do the bare minimum of filling time.
This is a cute reference to SVU beating out Gunsmoke’s record for having Too Many Damn Episodes.
A creative shakeup behind the scenes may help explain the status quo alterations that mark the premiere. Warren Leight, who ran SVU from Season 13 to Season 17 is back, like a slasher movie villain or an STD. He was always fond of adding more soap opera machinations to the character’s lives and “I’ll Make You A Star” certainly accomplishes that. Carisi leaves the force in order to join the DA’s office, becoming Peter Stone’s replacement as the new ADA. Sure, he’s never argued a case in front of a jury or even a judge, but he’s done it many times in front of the mirror, he claims. Alfred Molina quitting the DA’s office to return to his first love of police detecting was absurd on Law & Order: LA and it’s no less ridiculous in the reverse here. It shrinks the cast to three cops, one lawyer and puts the lawyer in a subordinate position automatically considering Benson used to be Carisi’s boss. I can just imagine scenes of her yelling at him like a misbehaving puppy and him reacting like someone pulled his collar. There used to be actual interesting conflict between the two sides of law enforcement; now it’s the cops browbeating everyone else into compliance. At least it’s not with phone books…
“Let’s encourage your nascent hereditary alcoholism! The writers can make that a plot in Season 25 when EVERYTHING has been exhausted.”
Perhaps that power imbalance explains why for the first time we’re treated to the ADA’s boss as a character, SVU Bureau Chief Vanessa Hadid. Before the SVU assistant district attorney’s superior was, you know, the DA. Fred Thompson, Sam Waterston, whoever it was at the time. Zuleikha Robinson (The Lone Gunmen)’s character seems to exist solely for antagonistic purposes that Carisi could not provide because he was, well, Carisi. He’s best described as a lunkhead who thinks with his heart more than his head. By contrast, Hadid is cold and calculating and a woman who tries to out alpha Benson, meaning she’s a total bitch. The show simultaneously has her act adversarial towards the characters for no real reason and have said characters treat her with disdain. Since Benson is the authority now, she needs a higher layer to rage against, to make emotional spectacle in hallways and offices when the bureaucracy of “reality” butts up against justice for victims. Robinson was cast so an exchange like “Whose side are you on, Benson?” “The victims’!” can happen every goddamn episode. I don’t know why the cops take such interest in the prosecution anyway. Don’t they have other cases to solve, perpetrators to arrest? MANHATTAN’S SEX CRIMES UNIT IS STAFFED BY THREE GODDAMN PEOPLE!!!
His, uh, favorite Nine Inch Nails album was “With Teeth”. Get it?
It makes sense for the season to open with a bang, something eye popping to draw attention. The powers that be chose for that function a riff on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, with Ian McShane (Pottersville) in the role of a faux Weinstein. Harv’s downfall is a boon for SVU because the broad strokes can be used again and again, the specifics apportioned out when required. Like the Native Americans with the buffalo, rest assured that SVU will use every part of the Weinstein. The jerking off in plants is the most succulent detail, obviously. They’ll save that for sweeps if they have any sense. Sir Tobias Moore, head of PicFlix, moved to the USA ahead of Brexit and his “seduction” techniques are having private auditions with upcoming actresses that inevitably turn sexual. One of these victims goes to SVU and an investigation begins. SVU’s penchant for terrible fake names strikes again with PicFlix. NetFlix already pushes it, but PicFlix? That’s the naming equivalent of bashing action figures together. Their first new project is My Fair Lady with a twist, which seems plausibly stupid. Anyway, they try to get him to admit to it via secret recording, but he doesn’t bite. A large portion of the episode comes down to the cops and the DA’s office arguing over whether or not there’s a case. We’re meant to take Olivia’s side no matter how flimsy the actual evidence is because dammit this woman was raped and raising one’s voice causes all other concerns to evaporate. She’s right that there is a case, but the moral grandstanding grows tiresome.
Normally I’d be jumping for joy that Ian McShane was guesting on the show. A good guest can paper over any number of flaws. (At the very least, it gives one something to talk about in a review setting. Ladle some Deadwood jokes on there and don’t worry about it.) Titus Welliver’s stint as the SVU bete noire, for instance, was what made a few episodes last season tolerable. The problem with McShane guesting as the creep of the week is simple yet odd: his teeth. I don’t know what the fuck happened, whether he got into an accident playing hockey that knocked everything out or it was a deliberate choice by hair & makeup. His entire mouth looks fake and the brightness of his teeth relative to the rest of everything distracts. I’m reminded of the gleaming fake teeth Ben Stiller used when impersonating Tony Robbins on The Ben Stiller Show. In any event, his enunciation abilities have gone off a cliff and Ian McShane sentences stall out as often as Joe Biden ones do. He’ll start off coherent enough and then the sentence becomes a choose your own adventure with no suggestions. Giving the Harvey Weinstein-esque baddie features of a dementia-riddled grandpa do not work in SVU’s favor, and McShane’s natural charisma is undercut by him sounding like his dental plate disconnected. What could be powerhouse dramatic scenes between a great actor and Mariska Hargitay are instead of semi-coherent grandpa versus the whisperer. It fucking sucks, man.
Here he comes off a villain like Cobra Commander or Dr. Claw, which is not far off.
Funnily enough, “I’ll Make You A Star” brings up Harvey Weinstein and confirms he’s a real person in the Law & Order universe. The scandal happened there too. This has always been a pet peeve of mine, because it suggests that their world is riddled with similar but less successful doppelgangers for every major pop culture figure and event. The suggestion is that behind every real world figure responsible for heinous crimes, there’s a ripoff standing behind them that’s just the right size to be ensnared by the people at Manhattan SVU. (Is Sir Tobias Moore Harvey Weinstein’s tether?) I find the prospects of that frightening, actually. Imagine there being a 9/11 and then a month later someone flies an RC plane into a Kansas City high rise. The Manson Family is followed by the bumbling Munson Polycule. I suppose it’s not a big deal but it still took me out of the episode. I’d be more annoyed by this particular doubling up were it not plausible that every single famous Hollywood producer is a rapist.
No Harv faux expose would be complete without a Rose McGowan thrown into the mix, and indeed “I’ll Make You A Star” creates a thinly veiled, uh, “star” of Charmed to complicate the situation. She claims that throughout her career Sir Toby demanded sexual favors from her to celebrate castings, wraps, award nominations and the like. An aside: even the rape victims continue to call him “Sir”. I think once someone assaults you you’re no longer obliged to acknowledge his knighthood or accede to the bloody Queen’s naming conventions. If I recall correctly we fought a damn war based on that. Anyway, faux Rose goes from big SVU get, the smoking gun in their case, to be a fucking nightmare, because the next day she gets on TV and admits she made the whole thing up, and that their relationship was consensual. It’s a weird turn for what is otherwise transparently ripped from the headlines and obviously a cheap means of prolonging the storyline into a more personal and physical resolution. Their case is back to square one because none of the other women they interviewed will come forward, either because they fear repercussions or an NDA prevents them.
21 years and they’re still coming up with new ideas like the sassy Latina.
So the cops decide to make their own victim: catch him in the act and that’s enough to get him in a cell. Benson conscripts a cop from Vice to do the deed. Whatever the extent to which Dick Wolf is involved with the show anymore, I wouldn’t be surprised if his edict from on high was that this new cop character be based on Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Hear me out. The Law & Order franchise chases the trends – “ripped from the headlines” is its main storytelling engine. AOC is popular as shit, she’s like a Bernie you wanna fuck. Kat, the new cop, is a streetwise Latina with hoop earrings. To a racist troglodyte like Dick Wolf that’s a dead ringer from America’s most popular congresswoman. She poses as a struggling actress and before you know it he’s fondling, grabbing, threatening. I’m not one to question the writing decisions of this show, but it seems to me that after narrowly avoiding being thrown under the jail for pervasive sexual assault Sir Toby wouldn’t immediately return to his old tricks. Maybe wait until the heat is off? Apparently assault is Pringles for dude, because once he does one he can’t stop.
A sideswipe and you’d have killed off the entire damn precinct.
Kat pretends to be an actress and sure enough McShane puts the moves on her, and by moves I mean he nearly kills her. The NYPD intercedes before Ian can choke a cop to death and he’s under arrest. Carisi displays foresight when he says “Sir Toby’s gonna get bail and then it’s gonna be a motion a day for ten months”. Note how the slightly more famous version of Sir Toby Moore hasn’t really faced consequences proportional to the damage he’s done to women’s lives. But hey, the halls of the courthouse are filled with women with signs stating “Sir Toby Assaulted Me In 20XX” or “#MeToo”, proving the real justice is in giving women a voice. It’s meant to be heartwarming or something but comes too late in the game to matter much. Unless the show means to say the detectives helped launch an alternate universe origin for #MeToo, in which case fuck this shit. On a final note, Deputy Chief Dodds is exiled to Staten Island – like Mike Logan before him – because he was too much of an ally to Olivia. Remember when these people used to be at odds? How long before this Hadid woman falls on her sword to protect SVU? Dodds is so selfless he even made Benson becoming Captain a stipulation of his reassignment. Whereas other Captains in Law & Order had to like, “take exams” and “work hard” and stupid shit like that, Benson’s gifted the position because Law & Order: SVU may as well be named Everybody Loves Benson at this point.
“Would you care for a beer? I can open the bottle with my teeth!”
I suppose I had higher expectations for the premiere given the subject matter, but the whole endeavor is clunky and unmemorable. The episode seeks to set up a number of new dynamics while seemingly retiring some old ones (Peter Gallagher, we hardly knew ye…or cared, really); that much is evident. Yves from The Lone Gunmen doesn’t look to be too imposing of an obstacle in that she’s thus far a shallow “politics politics politics” character who’s literally introduced while being interviewed for TV. Incidentally, the show briefly tries a conspiracy angle with the story by establishing clandestine meetings between him and Hadid, him and a slew of power brokers in New York City. It amounts to nothing because there’s only 9 minutes left in the episode. This storyline should’ve been a two-parter at least.
I like the implication that the detectives at SVU are responsible for the #MeToo movement. Fuck it, why not.
Should “I’ll Make You A Star” be any indication, Season 21 of SVU is going to be a real shitshow. All the episode needed was some of Olivia’s shitty son Noah and his annoying (behavioral, custody-related etc.) problems and it would contain instances of all of my issues with the show. The characters are irritating, the story is a predictable almost 1:1 recreation of a real-life scandal, the tension between the cops and the DA’s office is overblown and cliched. I still don’t know why Deputy Chief Dodds was reassigned and if he even could be reassigned. But after a certain point things like “quality” don’t matter anymore; SVU will continue until the inertia runs out, aka when it becomes unprofitable. Perhaps then Dick Wolf will recreate the program to fit in with his shiny new shared universe. Chicago Rape anyone?
MANHATTAN SVU BOTCHED MY CASE AND ALL I GOT THIS WAS THIS LOUSY SIGN