Now that viewers have recovered a bit from the harrowing season premiere of ‘SVU,’ it’s time to talk about what’s on tap for the detectives of the 16th precinct.
This Wednesday, the drama returns to its popular conceit of ripping from the headlines and producing a fictionalized account of a controversial, often polarizing, issue.
The episode, entitled “American Tragedy,” features the story of a white celebrity chef who shoots and kills an unarmed African-American teenager, claiming self-defense.
This description promises to explore two hot button topics - the recent charges of racism against Paula Deen as well as the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.
It’s a bit strange that while the “Law & Order” franchise has created a successful television storytelling format using such cases, there are still those who moan about the show using these real life situations as the foundation for episodes.
Executive Producer Warren Leight, standing by his product, says, “I know that this sounds a bit like a cheesy mash-up of these two things, but it really turns into a very good discussion about how we, the public, profile this woman, how the NYPD profiles people, and how everyone profiles other people; whether you think you do or not.”
And, true to form, nothing is black and white (pun intended). It’s the continued exploration of those gray areas that provides the most compelling storytelling on this show.
Leight promises that sparks will fly when this case hits the courtroom. “Those scenes are just terrific. I truly think that these are the best summation scenes I’ve worked on.”
He goes on to say that the actors who portray the legal eagles, series regular Raul Esparza as Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba, and opposing defense counsel, played by veteran actor Jeffrey Tambor, give stellar performances in these highly-charged scenes.
“After Jeffery finished his first take, everyone on set just started applauding,” revealed Leight. “Raul very patiently sat and listened to Jeffrey doing his summation speech several times. Then when it was Raul’s turn, he stepped up and really brought it. When he finished his summation, again, there was this spontaneous applause. This is not a common occurrence during our courtroom scenes, but both actors really challenged each other and the end result is quite amazing to watch.”
Looking beyond Wednesday night’s episode, Leight dropped a few details about upcoming episodes, beginning with “Internal Affairs" in which Cassidy goes undercover trying to get the goods on a corrupt precinct. “It’s a very strong episode,” promises Leight.
After that it’s “Wonderland Story” which features the return of Sofia Vassilieva as Sarah Walsh who was a rape victim in season 13’s “True Believers.”
“This episode is about re-victimization,” explains Leight. “As you’ll recall, Sarah’s assailant got off and then she felt like she was raped again by the legal system. What we found in our research is that once someone has been raped, the likelihood of them being raped again is higher than someone being raped for the first time. It’s a very scary thing that we, sort of reluctantly really, wanted to explore.”
It’s recently been announced that this episode will also include the retirement of Sergeant Munch.
Before it was announced a tease tweet from one of the writers indicated that a recent night on set was ‘bittersweet.’ When I questioned Leight about this he simply said, “It was an emotional night. I can't even say much more than that right now but there are certainly some transitions this year.”
I suspected that tweet involved Richard Belzer’s last night with the the 'SVU' team, but now that it’s been confirmed I take no pleasure in thinking about what awaits viewers as we watch the well-respected John Munch, and Richard Belzer as well, leave the canvas.
Coming up after that obviously emotional episode, Leight revealed that they’re currently working on an storyline about a politician who's a childhood friend of Barba’s. “We find out that in order to cover up his sexting habit he may have committed some crimes,“ says Leight. Yes, it’s reminiscent Anthony Weiner’s antics, but really, let’s all admit that that whole saga is just too good for ‘SVU’ not to take a crack at it, right?
Also in the works is an episode about rape in the military because as Leight puts it, “Sadly, that’s something that just does not go away. We keep hearing about it and keep hearing about it.”
It’s all of these divisive topics that are, and should be, at the forefront of our discussions about what’s right and what’s wrong with our society that continue to fuel the storytelling fire of ‘SVU.’ And, while this seems contrastingly like both a bad thing and a good thing, it’s safe to say that as long as there are opposing perspectives on any subject there will hopefully be forums to present all viewpoints of every issue so as to not to force individuals to take sides, but to convey that choice of thought and action are available and should be selected with careful consideration.
Like it or not, ‘SVU’ continues to be just such a forum, and judging by the longevity of the show and the current rise in ratings, it’s a method of examination that many people welcome and that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon.
“Law & Order: SVU” airs Wednesday nights at 9/8c on NBC.