Law and Order: SVU — a best/worst list

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Disclaimer: This is by no means authoritative, and by no means have I watched every episode.

BEST:

Detective Munch: Munch has been wrongly shut out of later seasons of SVU. Apparently, the actor raised this issue once in 2007, but later said “it’s like yanking the tonsils out of the gift horse if I complain too much.” If I had my druthers, Munch would be in every episode and have a leading role, because he’s one of the only squad members who actually cares about civil liberties and free speech protections. This is notable since the rest of the unit appear to view due process as a funny joke. Munch has been a character on several shows, because procedurals love doing cross-overs and hogs like me watch them every time. His lines often allude to belief in conspiracy theories. I strongly suspect that if you were to speak to Munch in a free-flowing conversation, he would eventually begin to talk about what he thinks really happened on 9/11.

Detective Tutuola: Ice-T is unfairly the subject of most memes about Law and Order: SVU. This is because he’s often given purely expository dialogue, forcing him to explain SVU writers’ fever dreams of what street drugs are like. He’s also given an unfortunate amount of lines trying to acknowledge the racist role of police in America and the role shows like SVU play in creating propaganda for a militarized force little different than the slave patrols they evolved from. This leads to a lot of wooden scenes where he explains things like racism to white detectives. Despite this burden, Fin’s loyalty to his squadmates and the mission is admirable.

Detective Benson: Benson rocks. Benson is just insanely cool. I can forgive many of the sins of SVU when Mariska Hargitay’s perfect eyeliner and hawkish scowl are glaring down some little misogynistic worm as she steamrolls her way through New York’s seediest creeps. I want to be Benson when I’m in my 50s. Hargitay is one of the strongest cast members, as evidenced by the emotionally wrenching scenes where she has to cry about something tragic happening to her adopted son (this happens every other episode).

Sonya Paxton: There are so many ADAs on Law and Order but Paxton was the most fun, playing an extremely cynical and brassy veteran prosecutor. She has a very humanizing struggle with alcoholism, which other characters berate and belittle her for. She gets murdered in Season 12 because SVU can’t handle having good characters for very long. Justice for Sonya, who should have been in every episode along with Munch.

Detective Carisi: I have a soft spot for Carisi because he’s very attractive, but also because he hearkens back to an older era of Law and Order— the Lenny Briscoe days, where most of the appeal was watching a guy in a long coat say something pithy about New York City, and nodding along like you were also a world-weary New York City detective. When Carisi’s lip curls and he says something about blue bloods in the Upper West Side, I feel that, despite having no idea where that is. His role as audience surrogate is “tired New Yorker” and “lapsed Catholic,” something that I suppose appeals to more and more Americans.

ADA Barba: Barba is a great character because he is a man of argument. He cares about the people he is driven to protect, but you see him at his most elated and alive when the SVU crew ask him if he can’t possibly think up some new arg and win the day. Barba wants args and evidence and will take on all sorts of tenuous cases just to try out experimental legal logic.

WORST:

Detective Stabler: Stabler has a lot of kids and a serious anger problem. I don’t think he should be a police officer, since he has the emotional regulatory control of a particularly dim MMA fighter, or perhaps one of those people who caught dancing hysteria in the Renaissance era. There is no thought that occurs to Stabler that he does not immediately express by either brutalizing a suspect or planting evidence.

Trudi Malko: I recently watched the anti-vax issue episode of SVU, which did an adequate job of dispelling most vaccine myths and explaining contagion, but unfortunately struggled to fully rebut anti-vax arguments because it is anathema in America to acknowledge that some issues of individual liberty (ie, vaccine choice) should obviously be sacrificed for the higher collective good. Malko is the anti-vax mommy blogger who sparks a measles outbreak (which obviously sends Benson’s son to the ICU). In a show full of deranged murderers and unrepentant sex criminals, Malko is one of the most overtly odious characters.

Detective Amaro: Oh my god! I don’t care about Detective Amaro. I feel like every episode we learn about some new child he has abandoned or a new police misconduct case he is involved in. He is one of those people who continually announce that they are tired of all the drama and are taking time to work on themselves, while also clearly operating as some sort of primordial drama elemental. When I see him in an episode, I feel tired and emotionally drained because I know we are in for some bullshit.

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