Universal // 2001 // 994 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // February 21st, 2007
In the criminal justice system...ah, you guys know the rest by now.
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 (Dan Florek, Law & Order) works the office, while DA Cabot (Stephanie March, Head of State) prosecutes the heck out of the offenders.
Law & Order Special Victims Unit: The Third Year contains all 23 episodes from the Emmy- winning third season.
With ratings and critical acclaim as solid as its forerunner, Law & Order: SVU is a television oddity: a spinoff that in many ways outright surpasses the original product. The most robust of the Law & Order television-going vessels, SVU, in my eyes, is the front runner in story, dramatic impact, and character development. After seven hundred years on the air, the original property feels stale and boring in comparison to the edgier SVU. And as for Criminal Intent, I can't figure out the appeal. If I wanted neurotic Sherlock Holmes-esque detectives, I'd watch Monk. I kid, but really, I kid on the square.
Much of L&O's success as a television juggernaut is in part due to its extremely consumable structure. With these bite-sized nuggets of delicious drama, viewers can literally turn on any episode from any season, regardless of continuity and munch away to their hearts desire. There is no serialized storyline, no larger plot to be concerned with -- each episode stands alone as a self-contained delivery system for police drama and courtroom intrigue. Law & Order Special Victims Unit: The Third Year is no exception to this rule; one can take any episode in any order without ill effect.
Standout episodes this season include "Monogamy," a disturbing story involving an unfaithful pregnant woman who has her fetus forcibly removed from her body; "Popular," uncovering a series of sexual parties for young teenagers that hits too close to home for Stabler; "Guilt," highlighting increased tension between the detectives and the ADA as Cabot crosses a moral line in pursuit of justice; "Surveillance," an obsessed stalker who monitors his victims' every move with a series of hidden cameras, and the finale, "Silence," an investigation into a series of molestations being systematically covered up at a church. In truth, even the less interesting episodes are still quality television, which makes this kind of breakdown moot. SVU is often not for the squeamish -- though the show never goes into graphic violence on-screen, it often deals with extremely sensitive and controversial subjects.
One of the strongest elements of SVU, especially when compared to its predecessors, is its cast. Thus far, SVU has enjoyed the luxury of a fairly stable cast roster, crafting deep and well-established relationships between its protagonists. By the third season, Detective Benson has manifested itself into one of the strongest female characters on television, a strong and empowered woman who is more than a match for her partner. Stabler is a walking time bomb -- angry, repressed, and fierce -- but also singularly focused, motivated, and utterly tireless in his pursuit of criminals. Consummate professionals who respect and admire one another, challenge each other's authority constantly, and have just the right amount of sexual tension that never manifests itself, Benson and Stabler are a duo that will make you forget Mulder and Scully from The X-Files. Supporting characters Munch and Tutuola fill in the gaps nicely, but never are given enough episodes to truly develop. Tutuola gets "Rooftop" this season and a few stories in later seasons involving his estranged son, but Munch is a criminally underused asset. Delegating him to one-liners and wisecracking is no way to treat one of the longest-running characters on television.
As with all L&O franchises, any actor or actress that happens to be in New York City for a few days ends up guest starring on at least one episode. Notable cameos this season include Martha Plimpton (who was nominated for an Emmy for her performance), Eric Stoltz, Henry Winkler, and John Ritter. They all do fine jobs, but there is an inherent flaw in these repeated cameos: any time you see a semi-famous face, you know they did it.
The full-frame transfer is solidly television quality, with L&O's slight but tell-tale graininess and muted color schemes. Audio is straight two-channel, with clear dialogue and decent bass response. No frills, no fancy nothin', just a straightforward presentation. English subtitles are SDF and extremely detailed and high-quality, one of my favorite features on Law & Order DVDs.
As for extras? Fuggetaboutit. We get zilch, zip, nothing.
The value of these DVDs is undermined by the merciless and unyielding syndication of Law & Order on television. Some specialty cable channels show nothing but reruns all day long. Owning these on DVD is something of a moot point, wouldn't you say?
Despite their inherent redundancy, Law & Order Special Victims Unit: The Third Year is a great DVD set of a fantastic season of one of television's genuine never-miss shows. Even the weaker episodes surpass most of the garbage on television today. Completionists and die-hard fans will snatch this DVD up, but most of us will be content to simply turn on our television and catch the endless re-runs.
How could anyone find SVU guilty?
Review content copyright © 2007 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 994 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict review of Law And Order: Special Victims Unit: The Second Year
* DVD Verdict review of Law And Order: Special Victims Unit: The Fifth Year