Since it premiered in 1999, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has proven to be a truly multipurpose show—a largely shallow series with such vast utility that it can accompany almost any environment and suit a range of occasions. Still hungover at 5:30pm on a Sunday? There’s an episode for that. Suddenly inspired to clean your home from top to bottom and require background noise? Detectives Benson and Stabler can help. When most streamers tout a seemingly endless supply of pretentious prestige dramas, it’s a comfort to know a treat for the simpletons remains accessible. That said, SVU appears to have sadly surpassed slightly corny storylines and settled squarely beyond the limits of taste in recent years.
The latest example? According to Newsweek, the series will depict a take on the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial in its forthcoming season. That’s right! The defamation trial spurred by Heard’s mention of abuse allegations in a Washington Post op-ed—which devolved into a highly-publicized spectacle, complete with speculation of Russian bots, celebrity endorsements (and retractions) and TikTok trends—will be retold by the same people still peddling a “not all cops!” narrative.
New set photos from the cult-favorite crime see Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) escorting a glamorous-adjacent, bespectacled woman from a courthouse, as hordes of spectators surround her wielding signs that read “Team Austin” and “Team Kelsey.” The woman’s ensemble—a neutral polka dot set with a pussy bow—is a hard nod toward Heard’s court chic style throughout her six-week trial. If you’re still not yet convinced, the synopsis for the upcoming season reads: “Capt. Benson and her NYPD squad fight for justice in cases ripped straight from the headlines.”
Frankly, it’s egregious that everyone’s favorite emotional support show—one that not only carelessly upholds a fantasy that the vast majority of survivors seeking justice for the sexual violence and abuse they’ve incurred actually get it, but that law enforcement are nothing if not steadfast arbiters of retribution for their perpetrators—is now wading into waters that too many have already muddied to the point of public humiliation. Were the TikToks, wherein scores of people mocked Heard’s testimony of physical, sexual and psychological trauma, not enough in the ongoing dehumanization of a woman who publicly alleged abuse in a court of law and lost? Do audiences really require a reenactment starring Good Cop™ Hargitay, Bad Cop™ Christopher Meloni, and Ice-T?
Since 2020, the show has come under fire for its questionable depiction of the criminal justice system and its inherent violence and corruption. Following the murder of George Floyd and the widespread protest that followed, Law and Order: SVU’s show runner, Warren Leight, addressed criticism via The Hollywood Reporter: “People watch the shows to see heroes. You have the responsibility to at least depict the reality — as close to the reality as you can.” Frankly, I can think of several other stories rooted in “reality” I’d rather see the series take a crack at.
Ethics aside, if we’re judging by the preview alone, it appears SVU’s retelling isn’t even accurate. If it were, said court spectators would be comprised of mostly white women and costumed kids with nothing better to do on Spring Break. At the very least, producers could’ve planted a Camille Vasquez lookalike doing press on the steps or featured a disheveled “Austin” doing a victory lap via SUV outside the court house. But alas, the show appears to cherrypick which aspects of real life it wants to portray, yet again.