It's difficult to imagine a more grim and joyless broadcast television drama than "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." Granted, the show centers around a police unit which investigates sexual crimes, so it's not going to be a light-hearted laugh fest. But as the show enters its 17th season, producers have stripped every bit of non-case-related joy out of the show until it feels like a dystopian world where everyone has an angle and no one can be trusted. It's a relentlessly grim worldview that makes the show difficult for me to watch.
The new season begins with an episode entitled "Terrorist," and it pretty much plays out the way you would expect. Olivia (Mariska Hargitay) is playing in Central Park with her child, when she gets a call reporting an officer has found an unattended young boy in an adjacent play area. When she investigates and tries to talk with the three-year-old, he pulls a loaded pistol out of a backpack and points it at her. That sets off an investigation that includes terrorism, rape and the real identity of the child's father. Oh, and in the trademarked "Law & Order ripped-from-the-headlines twist," prosecutors go to court to try and force the unnamed cellphone manufacturer that isn't Apple to open a locked phone in order to potentially stop a terrorist attack.
I recognize that "Law & Order: SVU" is a very popular show. It's entering its 17th year on the air, which puts it in rarified territory. But I find it difficult to watch a drama in which the need to solve a cast trumps everything - civil rights, common decency, the rule of law. Every episode is filled with angry complaints about how the law or other police agencies or the courts are preventing the team from bringing some criminal to justice. Perhaps having such a focused and grim outlook about the world makes you an effective cop. But it's tough to watch and while I have no problem watching a dark and soul-draining TV show, I'd prefer to see it wrapped in a bit more subtle of a package.
There's an old saying that claims when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And that is a pretty accurate take on the creative style of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" in 2016. Nearly everyone other than the SVU team is a nail and they're just going to whack away at people and situations until they get their way.
There's a scene in the premiere in which Olivia claims that she's never been happier. Which is a bit unbelievable. Because if that is truly the case, then she (and the show) live in a world not of black and white, but of black and other shades of black.
I know lots of people love this show and if they do, that's great. As for me, I don't think I have a strong enough soul to watch "Law & Order; SVU" every week.