Judge Adam Arseneau is a convicted sex offender. Wait...that's not funny at all! Forget we said anything.
Our reviews of Law And Order: Special Victims Unit: The Fifth Year (published November 3rd, 2004), Law And Order: Special Victims Unit: The Eleventh Year (published October 13th, 2010), Law And Order: Special Victims Unit: The Fourth Year (published January 28th, 2008), Law And Order: Special Victims Unit: The Seventh Year (published August 13th, 2008), Law And Order: Special Victims Unit: The Sixth Year (published April 24th, 2008), and Law And Order: Special Victims Unit: The Third Year (published February 21st, 2007) are also available.
The Franchise That Never Dies offers up another season of its sexually based offence drama, Law & Order: SVU. If I were a hooker, I'd be getting real nervous about now. It's like wearing a red shirt in Star Trek.
Facts of the Case
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 & Order) works the office, while ADA Novak (Diane Neal) prosecutes the heck out of the offenders.
Joining the crew are medical investigator Dr. Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie), police psychologist Dr. George Huang (B.D. Wong), and Detective Dani Beck (Connie Nielsen) who partners up with Stabler during Benson's absence undercover with the FBI.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Eighth Year contains all 22 episodes from the eighth season:
Another day, another dollar, another season of Law & Order: SVU to review on DVD. The police procedural and courtroom drama (for all its repetition) delivers consistently solid television viewing year after year, and Season Eight is no exception to the rule. Truth be told, there isn't a lot that distinguish the seasons beyond the occasional cast shakeup. Actress Mariska Hartigay takes a maternity leave in Season Eight, and the show writes her off by sending her undercover with the FBI, leaving a dejected Stabler to find a new partner in Detective Dani Beck. We also meet Chester Lake (Adam Beach), who joins the cast of SVU full time in Season Nine, but that's getting ahead of ourselves. Still, remember the face—we'll be discussing him more next time we meet.
It is admittedly challenging to qualify seasons of Law & Order as "good" or "bad" since the show works so hard to remain non-serialized. Each episode stands along as its own story with little in the way of narrative ties drawing the viewer from season to season. As of late, SVU more than its sister shows has been working hard to develop some ongoing themes that run in tandem with the standalone adventures. Stabler's marital trouble last season has led to his current predicament of being separated and struggling with the hots for his partner, Benson. Once she reassigns herself to put some distance between them, he responds by getting the hots for his new partner, Beck (which thrills Olivia to no end). Hardly the stuff of Shakespearian pathos, but it's nice to see the show trying. I also appreciated the return of Ludacris returning in a rare moment of Law & Order continuity to tie up an errant plot line seasons back. Minor points all, but little victories are still victories.
This is definitely Benson's season to shine. Sure, Stabler gets some attention and some canoodling with his new partner and an attempted rekindling with his estranged wife, but Benson's background and family history are dissected with the arrival of her brother into the story. Benson, whose mother was raped, is forced to come to some unpleasant conclusions about her family history. Though often emotionally trying, it is excellent to see the show expand on the characters and their back history—too often they are simply neglected on Law & Order as mere vessels who go out and arrest people, like Munch, possibly the most criminally underused character in the history of the show. He's one of the longest-running single characters currently on television, people! Give him something to do!
Standout episodes this time on the criminal merry-go-round include "Cage," an exploration of foster children and the creepy homes they can end up in, "Burned," an unexpectedly complex and morally ambiguous episode that pits Benson and Stabler against each other trying to determine guilt, "Loophole," a decisively Law & Order: Criminal Intent-style subject of complex USFDA rules and pesticide testing and of course, the finale episode "Screwed," which may be the most self-referential episode of Law & Order: SVU ever produced, tying up a good half-dozen storylines involving Benson's deadbeat half-brother, Stabler's estranged/non-estranged wife and his daughter's DUI and Fin's family ghosts. I wish the show did more of this kind of thing.
Season Eight also continues the fine tradition of cramming in as many guest stars as possible: Jerry Lewis, Bob Saget, Marcia Gay Harden, Bernadette Peters, Brian Dennehy, Ludacris, Cary Elwes, and veteran musical actress Leslie Caron (whose guest appearance landed her an Emmy) all make appearances here. Also, a bunch of murdered prostitutes—did we mention that? Overall, a good season; not quite as strong as Season Seven, which really ratcheted up the intensity, but a satisfying run all the same. Especially "Screwed"—we need more episodes like this to keep the franchise viable.
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. Unfortunately, as in the most recent DVD installments, we've pretty much given up on extras. There is none of any kind to be found here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Another season of Law & Order on DVD, another inherent argument against purchasing it because of its fiendishly aggressive syndication on television—you've heard it before, blah blah blah. What more can we say about this point? If you love the show, you'll buy it on DVD. If not, you'll be more than content to catch the reruns.
If you're this far along in the DVD collecting of Law & Order: SVU, this DVD should present no challenge to your plan, as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Eighth Year is virtually identical in form and function to previous offerings. Buy it, watch it, and love it—but try to avoid the dirty looks from the prostitutes down by the Port Authority. They know what you watch. They know.
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