Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Detectives For Law & Order: SVU

With Mariska Hargitay signaling that her time on the force is winding down, and Chris Meloni already moving on to red, blue, yellow, and bluer pastures, change is in the air for the last Law & Order standing, Special Victims Unit, which finds itself at a crossroads as it enters its thirteenth year: will it prove a revolving door impervious to cast changes like the Law & Order mothership, or a star vehicle that collapses without its original detective duo, a la Criminal Intent?

Well, NBC and Dick Wolf are clearly banking on the former, and in an effort to keep the horrible sex crimes going (and scenery-chewing guest stars gainfully employed) for at least a few seasons longer, they've recruited a new pair of gumshoes to step into the breach where Benson and Stabler used to tread: Kelli Giddish (late of NBC's blink-and-it's-gone Chase from last fall) and Danny Pino (no stranger to procedurals after seven seasons on Cold Case for CBS).

While by all appearances they seem to be solid enough selections, I think the larger question here may be whether the new team is simply outmatched by the outsize legacy of the stars they're replacing, both of whom built up a pretty big share of audience goodwill in their twelve years on the beat. When I discussed Meloni's impending departure last summer, I voiced a concern that any replacements may end up feeling a little "Coy and Vance" (the two ringer Duke cousins who filled in on The Dukes of Hazzard while stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider played salary chicken with the producers).

In hindsight, however, a more analogous situation may be that of John Doggett and Monica Reyes, the FBI agents played by Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish who were expected to fill the shoes of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson on The X-Files during that sci-fi skein's latter years. In the end, despite very solid work from both replacement X-Filers (especially Patrick), Mulder and Scully were so synonymous with the show's identity that they left too big a void, and I wonder if we'll be saying the same thing about a Benson/Stabler-free SVU a year from now.

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