Every time Judge Adam Arseneau walks into a room, he goes "Chung-chuuuung!"
Our reviews of Law And Order: Special Victims Unit: The Fifth Year (published November 3rd, 2004), Law And Order: Special Victims Unit: The Eighth Year (published February 17th, 2009), 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 Sixth Year (published April 24th, 2008), and Law And Order: Special Victims Unit: The Third Year (published February 21st, 2007) are also available.
In a show that already cut its niche pushing prime-time television boundaries, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit: The Seventh Year turns the intensity up to eleven.
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 (in the credits, at least) are medical investigator Dr. Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie) and police psychologist Dr. George Huang (B.D. Wong).
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Seventh Year contains all 22 episodes from the show's seventh season, spread across five discs:
After 21 years, a sex offender (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) is released from jail, but the retired officer who initially locked him up begs Detective Benson and Stabler to follow the ex-convict and put him away for good.
A suicidal girl confides in Benson that her pregnancy is the result of rape by a successful businessman. But when the girl is willing to settle for money, SVU becomes suspicious of her story.
A disturbing 911 call from a 9-year-old has the detective racing to find the source of the call, despite multiple phony leads.
When a high school student is brutally attacked by one of her classmates, the detectives investigate Luke Breslin, the highly volatile son of Stabler's former partner.
A man is found murdered execution-style in the window of his workplace, and the disturbing clues lead Benson and Fin to a gay circuit club that doubles as a meth hangout.
Benson and Stabler investigate a horrific school shooting and evidence leads them to a gun store that also serves as the headquarters for a white supremacy group and a racist woman (Marcia Gay Harden, The Mist).
When construction workers discover the remains of a young boy, Stabler teams up with a CSU tech (Paula Garcés, The Shield) to resurrect a cold case of four boys who disappeared thirty years earlier.
A series of rapes are linked to a speed-dating service, and Benson goes undercover to find the assailant and convince his highly unstable girlfriend to testify against him.
When a runaway is found badly beaten and suffering from a miscarriage due to her injuries, the detectives investigate an abortion clinic that seems to have ulterior motives in the case.
Benson and Stabler aggressively pursue a child molester who kidnapped three young sisters, while New York cops butt heads with federal authorities after the suspect is discovered to have deadly anthrax.
When a severely injured 12-year-old boy is dumped outside a hospital, Benson and Stabler are lead to a teenager seen beating the boy a week earlier.
A woman is found shot to death in her apartment, but the case becomes even stranger when Detectives Benson and Stabler discover a traumatized 14-year-old boy hiding in the closet.
M.E. Warner visits the family of a recent kidnap victim to inform them of her findings, but when she delivers the diagnosis she is suddenly drawn into the kidnapper's deadly game.
When a newborn baby boy is discovered in the trash, Benson and Stabler use a bar T-shirt found at the scene to trace the crime to a well-to-do daughter of a city councilman.
When the body of a murdered young woman is found in her apartment, Benson and Stabler discover she is a successful attorney…and stripper, which is apparently unknown to her fiancé or boss.
Three teens are suspected of foul play when a high school girl goes missing after a night of partying. But when one of the boys goes missing as well, A.D.A. Novak decides to reevaluate the suspects.
When a co-ed is found murdered with an unexplained influx of cash, SVU investigates the various suspects: a roommate, her childhood friend, and someone connected to a Web site where the victim was selling term papers for cash.
Detective Fin is torn between his family and the system when his son is roughed up and arrested for murder after digging in a vacant lot late at night.
Solid investigative work leads the detectives to search for a violent repeat sex offender who was recently put back on the streets and has kidnapped two children.
When teenage siblings attack and sodomize another girl, M.E. Warner and Stabler conclude the crime is related to the victim's weight.
The police are brought into family abuse allegations when a woman believes her young son was molested by her husband, but the boy's older brother also comes under suspicion when it is discovered that he runs a porn site catering to pedophiles.
The highly controversial rant of a former rock star convinces an unstable young woman to go off her prescribed medications, with deadly results.
Right out of the starting gate, something feels different about SVU: The Seventh Year. When compared to previous seasons; it has intensity about it, a grim aggression that permeates the majority of the episodes throughout this season, as if the show, having coasted along happily for six strong seasons, realized it needed to ramp things up to stay fresh and cutting-edge. The solution: tweak the hell out of the patented Law and Order 44-minute formula.
While occasionally in the past, episodes deviated from the standard "catch a bad guy, put him on trial, everybody happy" formula, such deviations were more gimmick episodes than anything else. SVU: The Seventh Year does its best to make the so-called "normal" episodes the rare occurrence, and get creative with its storytelling. More than any season thus far, anything goes this time around. This lack of predictability is the strongest selling point this season. More episodes end on a somber note or at best a bittersweet one than ever before.
As with all SVU seasons, the most compelling episodes are the ones where we delve deep into the personal demons of the detectives and their personal lives. A serialized drama this isn't, but there is a subtle ebb and flow to the characters that runs throughout the narrative; blink, and casual fans would miss it. Stabler had the spotlight last season, and standout episodes for him include "Demons," an angry and vindictive episode where Stabler entraps the hell out of an ex-offender, essentially forcing his relapse, and "Ripped," an otherwise mediocre episode, but one worth noting for Stabler's emotional breakdown. It pairs well with the aforementioned episode as well; after the destruction and dismantling of his personal life back in Season Six, Stabler is trying to find some stability in his life and work through his anger problems, with mixed results.
Probably the most narrative-twisting and standout episode in the bunch is "911," a nightmarish sequence of events that has Benson stuck on a telephone call with an abused girl, and police unable to locate her. Though the last five minutes of this particular episode are pure ludicrousness, taken as a whole, this is the best episode this season. Benson is also front-and-center in "Fault," which cumulates in Benson's departure from SVU. Albeit just a loosely constructed veil to mask the actress' real-life pregnancy, it is still good television. Fin gets some decent episodes throughout this season as well. In "Strain," an uncomfortable revelation about his son's sexuality brings their tortured and estranged relationship to the forefront, cumulating in "Venom," forcing both father and son to come to terms with one another, as well as setting some sequences into motion affecting later seasons. Ice-T is a pretty lousy actor, but he does as well as one can hope here.
Truth be told, this is a solid season all around; even the episodes that fail to break the established, patented and tried-and-true Law and Order mold are still rock-solid. Despite the occasionally off-putting subject matter, this is comfort television at its most syndicated; most fans know these episodes back and forth, and they are as familiar and form-fitting as a latex glove gripping a knife used to stab a teenage hooker.
Like the previous season, the jump to HD broadcasting has done SVU a world of good. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is a noticeable improvement from previous grainy full-frame DVD releases, featuring fantastic contrast and color saturation. Black levels are deep and rich, and with nary a scratch or mark to be seen. These may be standard-definition DVD releases, but the increased fidelity of the source material makes all the difference. The audio gets the full 5.1 presentation (over previous stereo) with 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.
Where this particular set craps out on us is in the supplemental department. The sets have been getting thinner and thinner, and SVU: The Seventh Year drops all pretenses and just gives up. No extras of any kind, boys and girls.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This would normally be the place where I make the argument that purchasing, even renting Law and Order on DVD is an entirely superfluous pastime, given the voracious syndication of the franchise. No point in breaking from tradition.
After seven years, one might expect the SVU franchise to be running out of creative steam. Far from it; these are some of the most daring, challenging and creative episodes so far. Virtually identical to previous releases, fans should know exactly what to expect with this set.
Not guilty, although I'm content with the reruns.
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