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On September 21, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit premiered the first episode of its eighteenth season. Created by television powerhouse Dick Wolf, SVU is a procedural crime show focusing on the law enforcement officials and attorneys involved in the prosecution of crimes of sexual and domestic violence and child abuse. While originally just a show I sometimes watched at home with my mom during high school, I’ve come to enjoy SVU a lot in a way I never thought I would. For all of its soap opera glamour, ripped-from-the-headlines stories and cringe-worthy one liners, the show has a lot of heart and can be both thrilling and deeply moving, not to mention it boasts the best theme song of all time.
A show starting its eighteenth season is pretty daunting if you want to start watching, but the majority of SVU episodes are self contained and have conclusive endings and don’t need to be watched consecutively. The human brain loves puzzles and patterns and finishing them (that’s why you have Young Thug in your head all the time, because you’re trying to figure out what he’s saying) and SVU is the perfect 40 minute puzzle for you to dissect. It’s fun trying to solve the crimes while also factoring in at least one or two insane out-of-left-field plot twists. There are a bunch of amazing cameos: Robin Williams, Hilary Duff, Ludacris, Martin Short, John Stamos, 2Chainz, the list goes on. Then there’s the episodes that are based on and cash in on real life events: the Casey Anthony trial, the Duggar family, JonBenet Ramsey. Sometimes they throw a bunch together, like the episode where Paula Deen shoots Trayvon Martin. I never said it was smart. The main cast are equally endearing and scandalous, starring Mariska Hargitay (daughter of ill-fated 50s bombshell Jayne Mansfield), rapper Ice-T, Hannibal’s Raúl Esparza and Jurassic Park’s B.D. Wong. All up, it can make a great drinking game.
Joking aside, it seems a little frightening to call the gritty and dark world of SVU idealistic but it still is—while not every case ends positively the squad still has a high success rate, and it’s cathartic to see greasy bug-eyed rapists thrown in jail. All the pedophiles look like Kevin Spacey and suck at choosing passwords for their exploitative websites and they all get life sentences. It’s nice to think everything is that easy and that good will always triumph over evil. Sadly the reality for most victims of sexual assault is a long and drawn out ordeal in a legal system that would rather victim blame survivors than help them and that’s if they even get to reporting the crime, something that requires a ton of emotional labour on behalf of the victim. Seeing Olivia Benson kick deadbeat ass and work so hard to help victims of sexual assault makes me feel good and when I watch SVU I can suspend my disbelief enough to think maybe this is real and there is justice for those who have had their power taken so cruelly from them. While Olivia Benson isn’t real, Mariska Hargitay does a lot of real-life charity work, including founding the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 to provide support for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. As someone with PTSD the content of the show can be triggering but I seek a strange comfort in it, and with eighteen seasons you’re in luck if you’ve run out of shows to watch. DUN DUN.