TV & Movies

Guys, Listen Up: Law & Order SVU Is Actually a Good Show

Catching up on 20 seasons is a lot, but you can 100% jump into the world of Olivia Benson tonight and be just fine

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson sits on a park bench

(Photo: Getty Images)

In case you weren’t aware, today is a pretty historic day. Law & Order Special Victims Unit premieres its 21st season on September 26, making it the longest-running prime-time drama EVER. That’s 20 years of fighting bad guys, 20 years of iconic guest appearances, 20 years of gorgeous shots of the NYC skyline and 20 years of Lieutenant Olivia Benson’s enviable coat collection.

Twenty-one seasons later, the franchise’s sex crimes-focused spinoff is practically an institution. Don’t believe me? Taylor Swift named one of her cats after Mariska Hargitay’s Benson, and the recognizable AF theme song has been used for some seriously primo internet content.

For example:

And I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but you guys, Law & Order SVU is actually the greatest show ever— here are all the reasons why.

It’s female fronted

One of the best parts of SVU is the fact that it’s *clearly* the ladies who are running the show. Going in to the 21st season, Benson is leading the Special Victims Unit, and she’s been running the show (literally) for a long time. Hargitay has been a series lead on the show since its first episode in 1999, and is now an  an executive producer. With a cast of rotating characters moving in and out of the SVU-universe, Hargitay—and Benson—have remained a constant.

And it’s been awesome to watch Hargitay’s Benson kick ass, take names and not put up with BS as the heroine of the unit for the past two decades. Her longevity on screen is especially refreshing when other crime shows like CSI  are continuously fronted by men. But Benson shows us that not only can women take care of themselves (and others), but they can (and should) be respected in roles of influence. Also, in what other crime show can we see a badass woman trying to handle single motherhood and adapting to the real effects of aging—like lower running stamina or a changing body—in a career where tackling bad guys and jumping fences is part of the everyday? Nowhere else.

And not only is the show female fronted, but there’s a whole lot of #girlpower behind the scenes too. In an August 30 interview with E! News, showrunner Warren Leight—who executive produces the show—revealed that the 21st season marks the first year SVU has had more female writers than male; with seven of the 11 writers being women. “It changes the dynamic of the room. It’s fresh air into the writers room,” Leight said of the switch-up.

And with the show set to tackle straight-from-headlines(ish) storylines surrounding the #MeToo movement, it only makes sense that the show would turn to women—whose bravery and voices have been a catalyst for the movement—to help tell these stories.

So yeah, Olivia Benson is taking down the patriarchy. Period.

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The show is helping sexual assault survivors IRL

Not only is SVU just straight-up good entertainment, but the show is actually trying to do good IRL.

A September 2015 study conducted by Washington State University found that people who watch SVU are better informed about consent and less likely to buy into rape myths. The study, which looked at whether or not crime procedural dramas like SVU make us more intelligent about or more indifferent to crime, found that compared to other shows like NCIS and CSI, Law & Order dramas actually had a positive effect on how freshman students surveyed viewed consent and saw sexual assault. The researchers concluded the Law & Order viewers were “less likely to buy into rape myths, more likely to adhere to their partner’s decision about whether or not to have sex, and more likely to say no themselves to sexual activity they did not want.”

And the cast is trying to make change, too. Over the course of the show’s  two-decades-long run, Hargitay has become an increasingly influential advocate for ending rape-kit testing backlogs, founded a foundation to help end sexual violence and offer support to survivors, and—in 2018—she co-produced and appeared in the documentary I Am Evidencewhich shed light on the rape-kit backlog in Detroit, Los Angeles and Cleveland.

It could be super easy for the show to just capitalize on the experiences of sexual assault survivors, co-opting narratives for entertainment value and making the show feel like it’s exploiting real and serious trauma. But by actually trying to make change off-screen, it’s clear that—for actors like Hargitay—their commitment to sexual assault survivors extends beyond the script.

It’s combatting other taboos on-screen, too

Beyond changing how people view sexual assault and consent, the show is also combatting other seriously repressive views on women through various characters’ storylines. No one more-so than detective Amanda Rollins. Played by Kelli Giddish, Rollins is the Southern belle with grit. She’s a nuanced character with a complicated family life, a gambling addiction on the (kinda) DL and some questionable taste when it comes to men. While it’s amazing to see a complicated female character on screen (you know, because as women we’re not two-dimensional), what’s been really great is the way they’ve handled Rollins’ foray into motherhood.

In Season 17, Rollins found out she was pregnant, having conceived while undercover. But, she chose both to a) not disclose the father of her child (because it’s no one’s g. damn business) and b) raise her daughter as a single mother. Through all the ups and downs of finding out she was pregnant and deciding whether or not to tell people, Rollins was always steadfast in her decision to raise her child on her own—even when those around her *ahem* detective Dominick Carisi *ahem* implied that she shouldn’t, or that she was in the wrong for even getting pregnant without a ring on her finger.

Rollins inevitably *did* have help with raising her daughter, in the form of her fellow SVU squad members, but she was totally fine doing it on her own—and she knew she was capable of it. We saw Rollins go through a similar situation once again in Season 20, when she found out she was pregnant with her second child; ultimately deciding *not* to marry the father—a BF she wasn’t in love with—and foregoing a comfortable, kept suburban life.

Ice-T: That’s it, that’s the tweet

Seriously, what would SVU even be without the beauty that is Ice-T (a.k.a Tracey Lauren Morrow)?!

Starring on the long-running crime show as Sergeant Odafin “Fin” Tutuola since the Season 2 premiere, the rapper’s character has become beloved for his gruff exterior that shields a heart of gold, his support and love for his LGBTQ son, and his buddy-buddy relationship with fellow detective Rollins. Oh, and also for getting the job done.

He’s also become well-know for his sassy lines and clap backs, which are *legitimately* one of the best parts of the show. Only Tutuola would respond to former Captain Donald Cragen’s question about whether or not he had any leads in a case with a “stone cold no,” or leave rookies with sage advice like:

Which, it probably is. Genius!

Tutuola’s to-the-point one-liners are so famous that he even has several fan accounts dedicated to him and his “isms.” Twitter account @icetsvu pairs screen grabs of the detective with random made-up lines like: “They call it Walrus Cakes, It’s made from Lucky Charms and Ambien. Found this dude at a Motel 6 wearin’ nothin’ but a paper mache cowboy hat buildin’ a diorama of a Payless shoe store.”

No, this line wasn’t actually uttered by the SVU‘s too-cool-for-school detective while he debriefed Lieutenant Benson, but TBH it 100% could have been. And that’s why we love him. And this show.

This show doesn’t look like it’ll be DUN DUN anytime soon, and I for one am THRILLED.


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