Dum Dum! or the Mystery of SVU

I look up. 5 hours have passed. I told myself I would just lie down on the couch, turn on something mindless, and fall asleep while my blood slowly turned neon orange from industrial-grade Dayquil. But there’s been no sleeping, other than maybe a wink or two during commercials.

Why, you ask?


Because each time, I’ve turned on Law and Order: SVU. And down I’ve fallen into an endless spiral of crime and punishment, Elliot and Olivia, the magnetic charisma that is Ice T. And even when Husbando has come in to check on me, sometimes he’s found himself sitting down and becoming tangled in the web of justice that is the Special Victim’s Unit.

But why?

What is it about this show that commands endless attention?

So, as I watched this evening (because what else are you going to watch before the season premiere of GAME OF THRONES?), I started taking some notes.

– Immediate emotional engagement: Law and Order reigns over the court of television shows as King of the Cold Opening. But there’s something about those first five minutes of SVU that grips me like no other crime drama. Perhaps it’s the fact that so often we are thrown into an aftermath of a crime that isn’t just a body in a dumpster. There is something very human about what we’re heading into from the get-go.

– The unexpected twist: this can be considered a staple of the genre – the good ol’ butler-did-it – but SVU again makes this bit its own. We get not only the wrong suspects, but we watch the horrible process of their being dragged out with their own personal demons clinging to their ankles. We get to see how it could have easily been a story about them, whether they are the victim or the villain.

– A persistent rise and fall between action and drama: this. Show. Isn’t. Boring. Each scene and exchange is no longer than about 5 minutes. Then…BAM. Shit gets real. BAM. We’re seeing the fallout. BAM. More. BAM. BAM. BAM. There’s never really a recovery period. We’re on this ride from the start to the end. You can catch your breath during the commercials.

– Unique voices: I think my biggest problem with a lot of other television dramas is that the characters begin to run together. If I lose focus, voices and expressions and reactions all blend into this one Good Guy or Character Representing the Faction of ____. But in SVU, every one is a little different. Victims react to things in different ways. Not everything is so cut and dry.

– Solid satisfying resolution…well, mostly: at the end of every 50-some minute episode, there’s an ending. We know what has happened, we know where everyone is at the end, we know that whatever has happened with this case is what will happen. And yet…not entirely. We are left at times wondering what is happening in the minds of the heroes and the evildoers alike. We wonder what lasting damage this has left on the NYPD, the citizens, and the justice system itself.

If I ever write a television show, I hope it works as well as SVU.

Okay, scratch that. When I write anything.

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