I consider myself to be a peaceable person. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing the highest tolerance for any situation that portends violence, I would rate myself a minus 5.
I’m against the death penalty. I bring a scarf to the movies so I can pull it over my eyes if the background music suggests that something ominous is pending.
I contribute to the ASPCA. I don’t even kill the insects that find their way into my home, but instead, try to shoo them outside. Except for mosquitoes. But I consider that self defense.
So I am at a complete loss to explain my fatal attraction to police dramas.
This is not a recent infatuation. It started when I was quite young, about the time I was first introduced to the phenomenon called television! One little friend was lucky enough to be the first kid on the block to own a TV. After school each day, five or six innocents would gather around the small box in his living room to watch cartoons, The Small Fry Club, and of course, Howdy Doody.
I clearly recall the afternoon of my transition from animation to criminal addiction. My aunt was visiting and I overheard her comment something to my mother which I thought related to my grandfather’s health. My reaction quickly turned from grief to elation as soon as I realized that she, in fact, had not said that my beloved grandfather had gotten TB, but had bought a TV.
Now someone in my very own family had one! And thus began my almost daily visits to my grandparents to partake in the new American pastime.
Perhaps it’s genetic, because one of the programs they regularly watched was called Casey, Crime Photographer, starring an actor named Darren McGavin. Each week, for thirty minutes, I watched Casey, camera and flashbulb always ready, solve crimes. I was smitten. Buffalo Bob Smith was so over, unless one afternoon he took an axe to Flub-A-Dub!
(In actuality, “Casey” was so bad that it lasted only one season and I dare you to find a rerun, even on the most obscure cable station. But what did I know? Television was brand new and I was only ten.)
One evening, as we were watching Casey solving the murder of the week, I announced with conviction that that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. In response, my dear grandmother let out a shriek, which today I can only liken to Lenny Bruce’s description of his disapproving aunt sounding like a Jewish sea gull, and gravely forbade me from even considering such a thing. It was much too dangerous. And, besides, I was a girl.
I don’t know if I consciously heeded her advice, but I never did become a detective. Instead, I became a speech therapist, and consoled myself with solving lisps instead of crimes. But my enthusiasm for car chases never waned.
If you were a fan of police procedurals, the following decades did not disappoint. Dragnet (“just the facts, Ma’am), The Thin Man, The Untouchables, FBI, Baretta, 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaii 50. There were endearing tough guys, like Colombo in his smarmy trench coat (wonder what he did on the weekends?), or Kojak on a perpetual sugar high from sucking his lollipop.
I love shows with the word “blue” in them — HIll Street Blues, NYPD Blue, and more recently, Blue Bloods. Shows that rhyme, such as “Cold Case,” and “Without A Trace.” Gritty shows, like The Wire. High brow PBS Masterpiece Theatre series with amazing British detectives, and versions of Sherlock Homes, both old and new. And, hey, Grandma, too bad you weren’t around in the ’80s to witness Cagney and Lacey.
What happened next was truly amazing. In 1990 the world was introduced to the first episode of the phenomenal Law and Order. Over the next 9 years, I was a loyal fan. But in 1999 I realized that all those hours of watching were just foreplay compared to the climatic occurrence of the spin-off “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”
I know I’m too old to have imaginary friends, but in my fantasy world Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler are real people. I refer to them by their first names. I am enmeshed in their fictional existences, and Olivia’s different hair styles. I’ve almost forgiven Elliot for retiring two years ago. The rest of the cast continues to change, but fifteen seasons later, thank goodness Olivia endures!
While all of the Law and Order series featured major roles for women, Olivia stands out. She is my hero. She is both strong and vulnerable, in a constant struggle to come to terms with her past. She is toughness with a soft core. She’s fiercely dedicated to her job, loyal to her partner, and very smart. She’s fearless, but cautious, charismatic, but modest. She is empathetic towards the victims, and dedicated to bringing perpetrators to justice. She is everything that I would have wanted to be if I had not listened to my grandmother. Oh, and did I mention she was also a babe?
So please don’t call me on Wednesday nights from nine to ten. For an hour, the outside world no longer exists for me as I escape into a new episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. By the way, may I brag? Olivia has made captain.
SVU is the last of the Law and Order trilogy to remain with original shows. But we fans do not have to go hungry. There’s a rerun on every minute of every day all over the dial. L&O:Criminal Intent officially ended in 2011, but Vincent D’Onofrio’s tilted head can still be seen regularly if you are willing to flip through a hundred channels to find him. For his loyal followers, a small price to pay.
Perhaps being a pacifist and loving police dramas is not as incongruous as it may seem. In almost every episode, the bad guy is caught, wrongs are made right, justice prevails, and peace is restored. Isn’t that a perfect world?
And speaking of perfect, want to know my idea of a perfect weekend? Rain in the forecast, and on TV, a Law and Order marathon. (CHUNG-CHUNG!)