Hazy scenes of a heinous crime flash across the screen; sirens pierce the heavy breathing of a convict on the run. A striking female cop darts around the city block just a moment too late; her muscular male partner takes the (potentially fatal) bullet, signifying their unspoken love. And just like that, the average crime show unfolds.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is the epitome of this formula, enticing viewers for the past 17 seasons with familiar characters and their complex relationships. However, flashy tricks and cliché storylines alone cannot make a cop drama run over a decade and a half. Law & Order: SVU sets itself a notch above the rest by turning to national news for believable, ever-thickening plotlines.
Tackling recent headlines, SVU producers will shed light on the Duggar family of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting in one of the season’s openers. “Patrimonial Burden,” episode number 373 in the long-running series, takes a spin on the virtuous-gone-scandalous family and is set to air on Wednesday, November 4.
The ever-expanding Duggar family has spent years in the reality spotlight, preaching their message of conservatism and morality. Their SVU spotlight, however, exposes a darker side of their “all-American” family. The episode emulates the Duggar’s hidden scandals, which have begun to unravel since adultery and child molestation allegations came against Josh Duggar earlier this year.
Though highly-anticipated for its reference to pop culture, this SVU episode is not the first to shed light on national controversy. As a spin-off of the original Law & Order series, Law & Order: SVU follows a similar creative process in which content is loosely based on cases receiving media attention.
This past week, SVU tackled the repugnant, yet recurring cases of police brutality against unarmed black men and women in the nation. Bluntly entitled “Community Policing,” this episode depicts the fine line between “following protocol” and racial profiling.
Past SVU episodes have similarly targeted national issues of domestic abuse, sexual assault and hate crimes against LGBTQ and minority populations. The series further draws viewer attention to these issues by endorsing national campaigns, such as the NO MORE campaign to end domestic assault.
National controversy and scandal serve as an infinite source of inspiration to writers in creating new content. While this is an important step in the creative process, it also serves to inform viewers about current events. Using multimedia sources has the potential to present news and important issues in a more accessible, entertaining way to large audiences. Viewing Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. may just be the place to start.