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Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Premiere Episode (review)

With his Law & Order empire, producer Dick Wolf has achieved the impossible: TV with both widespread popularity and cult appeal, thanks to its ripped-from-the-headlines stories and its respect for the smarts of the audience. While new episodes rank high in the weekly broadcast ratings, reruns dominate the schedules of cable networks and the attention of devoted fans, and it appears that there’s no such thing as too much L&O. This first spinoff series debuted in 1999 — a grittier, often difficult-to-watch exploration of sex crimes and their effect on the cops investigating them — and it’s still going strong. The powerful premiere introduces tough but anguished NYPD detectives Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), a devoted family man working to make the city safer for his children, and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), a child of rape driven by guilt and anger, as they solve the case of a murdered and sexually mutilated cabbie with a secret criminal past. Doing away with the half-law, half-order format — a brief visit from the original series’ then current ADA, Angie Harmon’s Abbie Carmichael, is the only nod to the judicial side of the system — SVU offers more focus on the cops and their personal lives without sacrificing the never-sensationalized police-procedural aspect that fans tune in for. Extras include a walk-through of the squad-room set led by cast member Dann Florek, a minidocumentary on the creation of SVU, and the 1990 debut episode of the original series.

MPAA: not rated

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