I’ve watched every episode of SVU. Many of them more than once. Here are the things you’ll learn from watching.
Right now I’m coming to the end of my once-every-four-years-or-so Law & Order: SVU phase. Every few years I get re-hooked on the show and start watching it. Watching the old ones on the USA Network. Watching the new ones on NBC. In the past watching DVDs and, this time around, watching on Netflix and Hulu.
It’s amazing how a show that tries as hard as possible to be disturbing can be such an entertaining part of the day.
There’s a side effect, though. When I watch too much SVU it starts doing strange things to me. I start seeing things. Start double locking the doors, glancing over my shoulder when I walk, and making sure the females in my life never go anywhere unattended. It plays tricks on me. On my mind.
Here’s a list of 11 things I’ve learned from SVU… some of which are patterns in the show, some of which are about the justice system (at least the highly dramatized L&O version of the justice system), and some of which are just ways that the show has warped my fragile little mind.
1 | When you open a door, or see a big pile of garbage bags, or you’re playing catch and your ball gets lost in the bushes, you expect to find a dead body
I remember this first happened to me back during my previous SVU binge, this one in 2003. I was at a party and walked upstairs to go to the bathroom. One of the girls who lived at the house was on the floor of her room, asleep. (Don’t know why she didn’t opt for the bed.)
But all I could see were two feet and legs poking out from behind the bed. And my SVU-addled mind instantly thought, “Early- to mid-20s. Female. Perp really did a number on her. Send a bus.” Then I realized she was sleeping. And I needed to scale back my Mariska Hargitay instincts ASAP.
2 | If the FBI ever gets involved in a case, there’s no chance they’ll be willing to share info
This isn’t SVU exclusive, it may be a common thread from every police show in history. As soon as the FBI shows up, you can guarantee there’s going to be a pissing match over sharing info and whose case this is now and so on and so on. Thank God it’s just fiction and there’s not that kind of bureaucracy clogging up the real justice system.
3 | Every defense lawyer can cook up a crazy defense that it pretty damn effective
Here’s the basic outline of an SVU episode. Crime. Wrong suspect. Right suspect. Gathering evidence. Case seems like a slam dunk. Defense attorney concocts crazy defense. Crazy defense seems to be working in court. Bad guy cracks on the stand or is murdered. Moral/ethical quandary raised as episode concludes on Dick Wolf’s name.
The step I like is that crazy defense one. I don’t know how often attorneys actually come up with far-fetched defense schemes in real life, but it can’t be this often. There are only so many times that criminals could beat rape charges by claiming they’re bipolar sex addicts traumatized by childhood abuse and violent images in the media before judges would catch on.
4 | When your bail is discussed in New York, the ADA will always request remand and your defense attorney will always say “That’s crazy, your honor. My client is no flight risk and has ties to the community.”
I feel like every writer on SVU has a macro shortcut for that exchange so they can quickly paste it into every single goddamn episode.
5 | If a famous guest star shows up, they’re always guilty
It’s the rub of SVU. They get famous guest stars… generally they average about two per every three episodes. And in about 96 percent of those cases, the famous guest star is the bad guy. No matter how innocent they might seem. They did it. Even if they show the guest star being victimized. They did it.
And it makes sense. Henry Winkler doesn’t NEED to get up out of the hooker pile on his bed made of money to go shoot a guest spot on SVU. He wants a cool role. And being a bad guy is always a cooler role than being a good guy.
Once I figured out the “famous person is always the bad guy” rub, it shifted my viewing style. Instead of watching and trying to solve the crime, I now watch and try to figure out how they’re going to tie things to the famous guest star. Sometimes the paths are absolutely nuts, but they’ll always find a way.
6 | Serial rapists will always escalate into serial rapists/killers, but their M.O. will remain consistent
Beyond that fact about escalating, I also know that if I have a son who wets the bed and likes to kick animals, the SVU principle says there’s a 99.993 percent chance he’s going to turn out to be a sociopath.
7 | No matter what, always say “I want a lawyer.”
That catchphrase produces more instant results than “Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice,” “There’s no place like home,” or even “We’re going to the pool, I hope we don’t forget to bring a towel.”
8 | Every supermodel secretly has the ability to be a great assistant district attorney
So remember, parents — if your daughter wants to drop out of high school to go become a model, let her. She’s always got an ADA job waiting for her when she’s done.
9 | Never, ever take a sip out of a cup or can at a police station
They’re not giving you that drink to be nice or because you look thirsty. They want DNA. It’s all they want. So, in addition to not drinking, also avoid the following activities at a police station: Throwing away gum, clipping your fingernails, brushing your hair, spitting on a one-way mirror, clipping your toenails, tweezing your unibrow, blowing your nose, crying and letting your tears fall down onto any surface, bleeding, exfoliating your skin, disposing of feminine hygiene products, or ejaculating onto anything. (Probably shouldn’t do that last one anywhere in public, really.)
10 | All convenience stores and ATMs in New York City are miraculously equipped with HD cameras
I will never cease to be amazed the way the SVU techs can take a video from an ATM camera — which, by all rights, should be blurry, low-res, and grainy — and use it to pull a crystal clear license plate number off the reflection in a puddle across the street.
11 | As a detective, approximately one to two cases per year will hit you way too close to home and you’ll get too personally involved
And, somehow, those cases always tend to happen in November, February and May.