Dispatches From the Couch: LAW & ORDER SVU Post-mortem

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m not a fan of change.

I’ve yet to encounter a situation where an update to a computer program or social media outlet is better than what came before. (I don’t have a clue how I’ve done it, but somehow, I’ve thus far managed to avoid Facebook’s annoying Timeline.) I’m still holding a grudge against the New York City MTA for taking away tokens in favor of Metro Cards. And no matter how much KFC wants to distance itself from the F-word, they will always be Kentucky Fried Chicken to me.

So it’s with a conflicted heart that I’m about to fully endorse a massive change to one of the longest-standing television franchises in history, LAW & ORDER.

As a longtime viewer of both the original mothership and SVU (although never CRIMINAL INTENT or LA), it’s become clear in recent years that some of the elements which made the show so appealing have lost their luster. And after watching this week’s jaw-dropping season finale, “Rhodium Nights”, I’ve changed one of my longest-held beliefs regarding the show. Although in the past — including as recently as three weeks ago — I’ve complained whenever we left the crime scenes and headed into the bedrooms of our mainstays, the finale left me thinking it might be time to take the show in an entirely new direction.

For those who missed it, the final episode began in completely typical fashion with an underage hooker winding up dead and a bunch of rich guys trying to cover up the truth about what had happened. But as the case unfolded, several elements from plots that have been boiling all season — including a fissure in the marriage of Detective Amaro and a case that took Captain Cragen undercover — coalesced into one incredibly complicated storyline that led to my favorite line of the season (“Walk away, little people.”) and a shocking cliffhanger.

To be continued, indeed!

As the episode faded to black, I was excited about SVU in a way that I haven’t been in years, and that left me wondering if perhaps next season, it might be worth dropping the case-o’-the-week format in favor of a more complicated longterm arc story. While the show has long made bizarre cases with shocking twists that are revealed in the final moments of any given episode its bread and butter, imagine if, like with a real police force, the detectives found themselves working on several cases at the same time. Several could unfold at the same time— one wrapping up in a week, another in three weeks and another that builds throughout the season — and, in the tradition of such shows as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, a “big bad” could be introduced each season.

Yes, it would be a major departure for the show, but let’s face it: There are only so many mail order brides and Russian mobster stories one can sit through… and we’ve seen them all at this point.

So maybe, just maybe, it’s time for a change. And remember, this is coming from a guy who resents having to do the whole “spring forward, fall back” daylight savings thing.

Richard M. Simms is the executive editor of Soaps In Depth magazine and the author of Crimes Against Civility which are, it turns out, far different from the cases investigated by the Special Victims Unit.

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