From the popular and award-winning Law & Order franchise comes Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. This hard-hitting and emotional series chronicles the exciting cases of the NYPD's Special Victims Unit as they try to crack the city's most heinous crimes.With a celebrated cast that includes Christopher Meloni (Twelve Monkeys, TV's Oz) Mariska Hargitay (Lake Placid, TV's ER), Dan Florek (Beautiful Joe, The Flintstones), Richard Belzer (Jump, TV's Homicide: Life on the Street), Dean Winters (TV's Oz) and Michelle Hurd (Random Hearts), and featuring such notable guest stars as Angie Harmon (TV's Law & Order), Jerry Orbach (TV's Law & Order), Andrew McCarthy (St. Elmo's Fire, Pretty in Pink), Bebe Neuwirth (TV's Frasier, Cheers) and Camryn Manheim (TV's The Practice), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - The First Year is a must-have DVD collection. Originally called Sex Crimes
, executive producer Dick Wolf wisely opted for something less lurid when the second in the inexhaustible Law & Order
franchise hit the air in 1999. Still, as the opening voiceover makes clear, the "sexually based offenses" investigated by New York's Special Victims Unit can
be "especially heinous." This six-DVD boxed set includes all 22 episodes of the first compelling season.
Wolf penned series premier "Payback," which sets the scene, but not the tone. It's a lively, if uneasy mix between horror (rape) and comedy (risquÃ© banter). As the show progressed, humor would be written out altogether (leaving Richard Belzer's Homicide-derived John Munch with increasingly less to do). Less emphasis would also be placed on the home lives of this "elite squad of dedicated detectives." Mostly, "Payback" introduces us to the unit, centering around partners Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). For two people with so little in common, they make a terrific team--arguably one of TV's best. Stabler is married with four children; Benton is single and her closest relationship is with her mother (Elizabeth Ashley). While Stabler can get a little rough with suspects, Benton tends to over-empathize with the victims. They report to the no-nonsense Captain Cragen (Law & Order vet Dann Florek). Like the parent program's Lenny Briscoe, he's a recovering alcoholic. Dean Winters and Michelle Hurd round out the rock-solid cast.
As it would continue to do in successive years, SVU's first season proved that network TV could explore sex crimes without being salacious or exploitative. "Uncivilized," for instance, concerns a child murder that is automatically pinned on a local sex offender, when the actual perpetrator isn't quite so obvious. "Disrobed," in which Brian Cassidy (Winters) leaves the department and Benson (with whom he had a brief affair) shoots a suspect is another standout in a strong year. SVU was followed by Criminal Intent in 2001 and features several guest appearances from Jerry Orbach (Briscoe) and Angie Harmon (Abbie Carmichael) from the original Law & Order. --Kathleen C. Fennessy