The Eighth Year
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
US Rating: Not Rated
Film Length: 15hours 34 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH & Spanish
Review Date: February 7, 2009
The Show - out of
Dick Wolf’s Law & Order franchise has three distinct branches. They each have a familiar tone, begin with variations of the recognizable Mike Post theme and contain the sonic gavel sound to punctuate time and place. His franchise is a veritable goldmine of stories that trap into the world of criminals, their victims and those entrusted to serve, protect and prosecute through stories that, from week to week, are ripped from the headlines and drummed up in active writer’s room. The original Law & Order is now in its 19th year and offshoot Criminal Intent is still delivering absorbing tales from the criminal perspective, but it is Special Victims Unit that has experienced a wealth of acclaim and dramatic excellence. Its eighth season is clearly among its finest and is filled with terrific plots and well told stories.
The split episode format of the original show which begins with the police investigation and finishes with the nuances of the trial is absent in this spin-off, but the brisk storytelling and often fearless tightrope tension that the show drums up with ease is here in full force. SVU as it is referred to tackles the trying and difficult subject of sex based crimes as the Special Victims Unit of New York City’s 16th precinct Police Department pursue perverted and evil offenders. And here, more than any other in the Law & Order franchise, the personal lives of the detectives are woven into the series also, which adds another dramatic layer.
The episodes are some of the most potent and powerful on television, and not just because of the deeply dramatic nature of the series. It captures the victim’s mindset and the empathy of the officers with vivid and accomplished strokes and while it isn’t a perfect show, it certainly is an earnest drama. It is a serious minded police procedural which reveals the worst of humanity and some of the best of humanity, with all its flaws, intent on doing what it can.
This season has Detective Benson reassigned in the intense opening episode, which sees Marcia Gay Harden guest as and F.B.I Agent, and has Det. Stabler working with a new partner, Det. Beck played by Connie Neilson. While Connie Neilson only guests for a select few episodes, she brings a different dynamic to the show without changing the nature of the cast dynamic. This season boasts terrific episodes and the tension and tight storytelling remain on point throughout.
The acting is also among the best on television, recognized by Primetime Emmy Award nominations for show leads Chris Meloni and Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe winner Mariska Hartigay. Meloni, portraying Det. Elliot Stabler and Hartigay, incredible as Det. Olivia Benson, are in many ways the life blood of the series, with performances of range and passion – they deal with scenes that are dark, really dark – filled with rape, incest, violence, brutality and torture, but they remain focused and inspired. Hartigay in particular demonstrates some of the very best acting on television. While her character’s persistence and dedication (with blinders on at times) would have long landed her off the force in reality, it gives us a compelling and emotionally damaged soul that really is the heart of the entire show.
With the largest overall cast of the Law & Order franchise, it holds some fine talent. Excellent on the originating series, Dan Florek as Captain Don Cragen is staunch, serious and just soft enough at the right time to give his detectives leeway when ‘right’ calls for it. Ice-T as Det,Odafin “Fin” Tutuola, Richard Belzer as Sgt. John Munch, Diane Neal as Casey Novak, B.D. Wong as Dr. George Huang and Tamara Tunie as Dr. Melinda Warner are very good and are given some solid moments this season to shine.
This season’s guest stars include Robert Vaughan, Ludacris, Steven Webber, Nancy Grace and Star Jones. Those familiar with all Law & Order series will also recognize familiar faces from the other shows as the actors playing bad guys and supporting characters show up in different roles.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings Law & Order: SVU’s eighth season to DVD in its HD broadcast ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen televisions, something I wish they would do for all seasons of my personal favorite, Criminal Intent. Despite some questionable releases, Universal actually delivers a quality video presentation here– clearly demonstrating support and respect for its now flagship Law & Order series. Plenty of night scenes mean lots of shadows, limited light sources and opportunities for bleeding black levels and murkiness. There is some noise in the image, something I find often with Universal releases, but the shows balance of colors (limited), dark and light contrasts and flesh tones comes through well. Overall this presentation is very good.
This dialogue heavy show relies on the center channel and there are no issues here. Not much use of the surrounds except when Mike Post’s dramatic strings accompany revelations of terrible crimes or the cracking of suspect’s defensive veneer. The signature gavel sound has a little kick to it, but the most the surrounds and bass are used are in the opening credit sequence.
No Extras No Stars
Certainly the most dramatically intense of the Law & Order franchise, Special Victims Unit is terrific television. Difficult and daring stories told with solid writing and fine acting helps set this series apart. Even in its eighth year, if remains extremely engaging and an easy show to recommend to anyone that enjoys quality drama.