“In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories.” [Dun dun!] – Dick Wolf’s Law & Order: SVU
Everyone knows that introduction, but as it turns out, most real-life investigations of sexually-based offenses (or any offenses) aren’t neatly tied up in a narrative that runs about an hour. That doesn’t stop the Law & Order universe from being so wildly popular that the three current running series are holding a massive crossover event this month. I dig the shows as much as anyone else and very much enjoy Organized Crime bringing back Elliot Stabler, who’s deftly nabbing the bad dudes and receiving comeuppance at the same time. Yet as it turns out, there’s a lot of dark fantasy (including House of the Dragon, Lord of the Rings: The Rings Of Power, and The Sandman) on TV right now, but the literal dark fantasy might be taking place in the Dick Wolf TV universe.
For example, an overwhelming percentage of Law & Order episodes sees the perp being readily apprehended and put to swift justice. Here’s how John Oliver sums things up (with a swing at the Dragnet-obsessed Dick Wolf) on the most recent Last Week Tonight episode:
“[I]t blasts that fantasy at you in endless reruns and marathons in the guise of very well-produced, extremely entertaining TV. But underneath it all, it is a commercial (a commercial produced by a man who is, in his own words, unabashedly pro-law enforcement.”
And everyone who’s tangled with the real-life justice system knows that the wheels get caught in molasses. Hearings get continued, dockets are crowded, law enforcement isn’t perfect (nor is anyone else), and there are a million circumstances outside of everyone’s control. Oliver’s not really having it, though, and he explained why:
“Obviously, Law & Order cannot reflect that reality. It would be unwatchable. Nobody wants to watch a show where 97 percent of episodes end with two lawyers striking a deal in a windowless room and then you get to watch the defendant serve six months and struggle to get a job at their local Jiffy Lube… the person who is responsible for Law & Order and its brand is Dick Wolf, and he knows exactly what he wants his shows to do and, importantly, not to do.”
A fair point. However, that won’t stop anyone (even those who are frustrated by the slow, overwhelmed justice system) from watching the Law & Order crossover event on September 22. Yet maybe we can watch these shows with a more critical eye, like the Last Week Tonight deep dive does, as seen above.