Universal // 2009 // 1006 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // October 13th, 2010
The father is dead; long live the child. Still rolling strong on network television, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit has the auspicious honor of being that most rare television peculiarity, a spinoff that has outlived its forbearer.
New York City's Special Victims Unit (SVU) is tasked with investigating the most heinous of sexually based criminals -- pedophiles, rapists, molesters, and worse. Detectives Stabler (Christopher Meloni, Oz) and Benson (Mariska Hargitay, Lake Placid) pound the streets, while Munch (Richard Belzer, Homicide: Life on the Street) and Tutuola (Ice-T, New Jack City) back them up. Captain Cragen (Dann Florek, Law and Order) works the office, while ADA Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) prosecutes the heck out of the offenders. Joining the crew (in the credits, at least) are medical investigator Dr. Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie) and police psychologist Dr. George Huang (B.D. Wong).
Law and Order: Special Victims Unit: The Eleventh Year contains all twenty-four episodes spread across five discs:
A brute cop unwittingly bonds with a rape victim, complicating SVU's investigation. Stabler wrestles with the realization that he may have helped to convict an innocent man.
A group of geocaching geeks discover a suitcase with a dead woman stuffed inside, which leads SVU to investigate the CEO of a dating website.
A convicted bank robber who spent nineteen years in solitary confinement is the prime suspect of a missing woman case. He is terrified to return to prison, and Stabler realizes he was the cop who arrested him almost two decades ago.
A man wakes up in a bloody apartment with a dead woman, with no memory of the night before, and is desperate to convince SVU of his innocence.
SVU investigate the abuse of a young boy, while a family wrestles with the stepfather as the prime suspect.
The FBI takes over SVU after a murder investigation leads to a dangerous Mexican drug cartel.
A photo of a murdered girl becomes an Internet sensation.
Stabler's son faces trouble at the hands of his best friend, who is a recovering drug addict.
Benson finds herself framed for a violent crime after her DNA shows up at the crime scene.
Two young girls, discovered to be "anchor babies" are murdered, and Finn makes the case his personal crusade, much to the irritation of the NYPD.
SVU arrest a man who is knowingly spreading HIV, and the prosecution wrestles with how best to charge him for his crime.
After a wealthy couple is murdered violently in their own bed, SVU soon run afoul of the NYPD brass when the prime suspect is an influential socialite.
SVU tries to work with a local lesbian activist to uncover the killer of a gay protestor.
Benson becomes emotionally involved with a young prostitute after a religious zealot tries to murder her.
SVU uncover evidence linking a woman's murder to a twenty-year-old case.
A witness to a violent rape refuses to testify in fear of being deported back to the Congo.
SVU investigate a rapist who is targeting disabled women.
A copycat rapist and murderer is on the loose, attacking people in their beds.
When the presumed victim in a murder case turns up alive, SVU must determine the identity of the body.
Benson goes undercover in a meat packing facility after an amateur sleuth uncovers dirty secrets.
A deadly fire takes the lives of two young girls, and the father is accused of arson. SVU is confident they have their man, but the passionate pleas of the father begin to shake their convictions.
SVU uncovers a black-market adoption ring and race to save the life of a young woman and her baby from a ruthless criminal.
After a rookie cop makes a high-profile arrest of a suspected rapist, SVU is aghast to discover the arresting officer isn't a cop at all.
A kidnapping case rapidly descends into a nightmare situation as hostages are taken and SVU members are threatened.
Predictability is not always an asset in a television show, but in the case of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, it works. It's hard to find fault with a formula that has proved so consistently reliable and profitable. Where Law & Order suffered (and eventually self-destructed) after numerous cast shake-ups, SVU feels as reliable as a well-worn pocket watch.
Yet Season Eleven is arguably the most exacerbated season of the venerable show on record. Knocked from its Tuesday timeslot, which it occupied for six years running, SVU bounced to Wednesdays at 9 P.M., then moved to 10 P.M. An angry and flailing NBC threatened to not renew Meloni and Hargitay's contract over salary disputes. The ADA chair was a revolving door; Christine Lahti and Sharon Stone both took stabs at filling Stephanie March's role with mixed results. It can be no coincidence that the show received its lowest ratings in its history in this season.
My going theory for Season Eleven of SVU is that producers, exasperated at the six-in-a-row Emmy nominations for leading actress Mariska Hargitay, decided that it was time to get leading man Chris Meloni into the running. Season Eleven throws every horrible situation it can at Detective Stabler, forcing him to emote within an inch of his life. Wrongful convictions, solitary confinement, troubles with his son -- you name it, he gets it right in the kisser -- but alas, no Emmy! Sorry, Chris, but you've obviously run afoul of someone in the Academy of Television Arts and Science. If you didn't get it for Season Eleven, odds are you've missed your shot. The fellows from Lost should be able to console you.
Standout episodes are fewer than season than others, but a few are worth mentioning: "Unstable," with a marvelous performance by Meloni as a tortured Stabler wrestling with the guilt of a wrongful conviction, "Solitary," where Meloni re-enacts his Oz days in solitary confinement, and "Witness," more a political statement about the violence in the Congo than a standard SVU episode. "Quickie," "Wannabe," and "Hardwired" are pretty solid as well. The good news is that most of the episodes are solid, with few duds. The silliest episode this year, "Bedtime," is a totally illogical exhibition of bad writing and overacting by guest star Ann-Margret.
Guest stars this time around include Sharon Stone as a reccurring ADA character (one of numerous replacements for perpetually absent ADA Cabot), Eric McCormack, Stephen Rea, Naveen Andrews, Rosie Perez, Kathy Griffin, John Larroquette, Jill Scott, French actress Isabelle Huppert, and the aforementioned Ann-Margret, who won an Emmy for her performance in "Bedtime." I'm not sure I agree with that particular award handout, but my voting ballot never arrived in the mail, for some reason.
As with past seasons, the anamorphic widescreen transfer is strong, featuring deep contrast and color saturation. Black levels are satisfyingly rich, with nary a scratch or mark to be seen. The 5.1 presentation features deep bass, clear dialogue, and great environmental effects. The mix is still primarily center-balanced, but the rear channels spring up during noisy sequences, especially on the streets of NYC. And no extras -- they gave up on those a long time ago.
Okay, so Season Eleven is the Stabler Show, I get it. But I'm starting to definitely notice the absence of the supporting cast in Season Eleven. It's great to see Wong and Warner get some screen time, but when they're getting more than Munch and Tutuola, something is definitely messed up. Munch gets one or two lines per episode at this point, and that's it. Tutuola gets a single episode, "Anchor," and he spends the entire time being a dick. It is disheartening to see these characters so underutilized.
Eleven seasons in and SVU still represents some of the most reliable drama on network television. How long the show can retain its crown remains to be seen -- never thought I'd see Law & Order get axed in my lifetime -- but if NBC had any sense, they'd pay the actors whatever they wanted, for as long as they wanted. With chemistry this good, the show will pay for itself.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 1006 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site