Hey, ladies. Can we gab for a second? Lady-style? Because I have a real serious question. What IS IT with us and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit? Like, I absolutely hate horror movies (because NO), but I, and a lot of other women I know, will watch an SVU marathon for literally days. Literally. Days. So, why? What? Who did this? What's up? On the occasion of the show's 14th season premiere on Wednesday night — and in an effort to better know myself and my best friend SVU — I've compiled a list of theories for what's driving our special, special love.
Why Ladies Love SVU: A List of Theories by Me
1. Because Ice-T.
Ahhhhhh, the incredible gravitas of T!!! I love Ice-T so much it's stupid. I love how in the early episodes he clearly doesn't know how to act at all, so the Ice-T School of Acting is just "making lemon face for 1 hour." But then later, once he's been on for a couple of seasons, he really starts to stretch it out and incorporate some emotions! Such as sarcastic anger, lemony sadness, lemony anger, and sarcasm. It's so great.
Also, Ice-T is the show's only outlet for dealing with race. Like, it's a show about rape set in New York City—this is a big opportunity to address serious issues about how black men are treated in the criminal justice system (they're more likely to get convicted, they're more likely to get the death penalty, and so on). INSTEAD, though, they just pretend like race isn't really a thing except for once in a while when Ice-T's long-lost stepson Ludacris shows up and sex-crimes someone. And then Ice-T is all, "Oh hell naw. [LEMON-FACE]"
2. I think the characters are just better in general.
I mean, nobody on SVU is particularly deep. What they're good at is the one-off rapist-crushing jamboree; where they're weak is in the nuance-rich through-line. (Like, does anyone really care about Liv's creepy brother and the time she had to go undercover with the tree people for 9 years?) But still, Olivia is strong yet vulnerable and fucking tough as shit and she will just smash you if you blame one of her victims. Stabler is kind of a violent alpha Catholic douche who don't play by the rules, but Christopher Meloni is obviously the world's greatest human, and also sometimes Benson and Stabler have to go undercover as a couple and I DIE! I die. And then Richard Belzer is just sitting there all crackin' wise with that face of his. And Judith Light is like, "Casey, you woke me up for THIS!?!?" I mean, I love Jerry Orbach and everything, but my SVU family is better than my actual family. (JK, family.)
3. Oh, god!!! And B.D. Wong! How could I forget B.D. Wong?
4. Watching SVU is like pressing on a bruise.
I am obsessed—obsessed—with the possibility that a terrifying person might break into my home and threaten me with a knife. (In my recurring nightmares this person is scraggly, wiry, strong, bearded, and has rotten teeth like Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker. He also usually has red hair, because my subconscious is hella perplexing.) My irrational fear of this unlikely happening is so intense and overwhelming that it makes me break my usual ban on supernatural garbage and wonder if I got murder-stabbed in like 19 of my past lives. That said, though I cannot watch a person get sliced and diced in a movie, I will read about serial killers on Wikipedia all day. All day. Read, read, read. And I will watch any police procedural about any kind of murder or terror or menace. I can't get enough. I know there's been scholarly work done on the grand love affair between women and true crime, and—at least for me—SVU feels like an offshoot of that same perverse itch.
I don't know if this is an effort to normalize this thing that scares me—to eat it and internalize it and own it—or if I'm just a weird masochist who likes torturing myself with night terrors about knife crime. Maybe I just need to press on that vulnerability from time to time and gauge how much it hurts. Or all of the above. But rapists frighten me and yet my favorite show is basically Raping: The E! True Hollywood Story. Horror movies drive me nuts because they feel so manipulative—they're using lies to try and make me jump. But there are real dangers out there! I don't have time to sit around worrying about some stupid fake ghost! When something is "ripped from the headlines," even when it's fictionalized, I can justify it. It's like research. Or something. For my future terrifying night death. Or maybe it's just satisfying to watch caricatures of "bad people" get systematically put away over and over again within one tidy hour.
5. The time Captain Cragen rescued a hella grateful monkey out of a basketball.
6. At least somebody is talking about rape.
For all its many, many problems, SVU is a show that's focused on women. And yes, women are the victims, and you could look at it as a media conglomerate profiting from softcore rape porn, and they seem weirdly focused on "showing both sides" even when one side is a bunch of backwards anti-woman douchebags, and sometimes they get shit completely wrong. But with all the rape apologia out there, the denial of rape culture from every direction, and the assertion that an occasional false rape accusation is a more dire problem than thousands of actual rapes, I can't get too mad about a show that actually acknowledges some of the violent truths about being a woman.
7. Also those episodes in season 1 when Liv is boning Dennis Duffy from 30 Rock.
Hahahahahaahahahahahahahahhaaaaaaahahah. Hahahaha. Yes.