By Jim Poling Sr.
From Shaman’s Rock
I have a confession to make: I am an addict.
Not tobacco. Not drugs. Not alcohol.
I’m addicted to a television show.
It’s odd, because I’ve never particularly liked television. Too many annoying commercials. I mean how many times can you watch some bozo telling a client that his competitor’s car mats are not as good as his butter tarts?
I think he said butter tarts. Maybe he said his car mats. I’m not positive because when the commercials start, I turn off my hearing aids.
At any rate, I am addicted to a TV show.
It’s a cop shop show. Not your typical bad guy, good guy, shoot’em up drama. It’s an artful ongoing drama that shows cops as human beings and often carries a message about life today.
Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is the longest running live-action primetime series in American television history. It recently surpassed 500 episodes and I’ve seen most of them.
I love the show because it dramatizes the ugliest sides of human nature while recording the toll that ugliness takes on law enforcement people. It has serial rape, pedophilia, unthinkable crimes against the disabled and elderly, and sexual crimes most of us cannot imagine.
While telling these awful stories SVU gets viewers thinking about issues such as racism, gender identity, sexual preferences and equality rights. Many episodes are taken from real life crimes.
The acting is consistently sharp with detectives like Odafin “Fin” Tutuola (Ice-T) and John Munch (Richard Belzer) providing one-liners and acerbic wit that help lighten the heaviness of the crimes they encounter.
The premier star of the show unquestionably is Mariska Hargitay, who plays Olivia Benson who over 23 seasons has risen through the detective ranks to become captain of the Special Victims Unit. She is an uncompromising detective with a compassionate side often seen in her deep brown eyes.
Hargitay, 57, had a tragic past, as do many of the young victims in SVU. She is the daughter of Jayne Mansfield, the 1950s – 60s blonde bombshell celebrity killed in a car crash in 1967. Mariska was in the car with her mother and was injured but survived and was raised by her father, former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay.
Acting as Olivia Benson on SVU has had an impact on Hargitay’s personal life. Benson is a strong advocate for sexual abuse victims and in real life Hargitay has become a trained counsellor for rape victims.
She has received much fan mail seeking autographs but over the years more letters came from women sharing their stories of sexual abuse. These moved her to form the Joyful Heart Foundation, which says its mission is “to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever.”
What makes SVU better than other cop shows is its attention to life issues linked to crime. For instance, the traumas caused by mental illnesses are shown in an SVU episode in which a bipolar disorder lands the daughter of SVU Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) in jail.
The only way to save the teenage daughter from a long prison term is to show a judge and jury that she has a serious bipolar disorder inherited from her grandmother Bernadette Stabler, played by veteran actress Ellen Burstyn. It is an outstanding show that provides information on a serious disorder, which can be controlled if diagnosed early and properly treated.
Past episodes of SVU run on a couple of different channels and I tape them. That way I fast forward through those annoying commercials, which take up roughly one-third of the show’s airtime.
Taping past episodes makes it difficult to follow the SVU timeline. Tonight I might see an episode from 2004 and tomorrow one from 2018. The characters change over the years but I manage to keep track of who’s who and what’s happening to them.
I like to think SVU is great because of a Canadian connection. Ted Kotcheff, a long-time SVU director and producer, was born in Toronto, graduated in English literature from the University of Toronto and early in his career was the youngest director on the staff of CBC.