Law & Order: SVU has been on the air so long that viewers don’t expect many surprises.
But the long-running crime drama takes its record-breaking 21st season seriously.
During the first half of Law & Order: SVU Season 21, there have been some big changes and big stories.
Some of it has been great, while other aspects could use some work.
Check out our midseason report card and let us know what you think.
Mixed review: ADA Carisi
The idea of a former SVU detective becoming the new ADA is logical and opens up a ton of storyline potential.
Carisi knows SVU in and out and is having trouble adjusting to the more political nature of the DA’s office, which is fascinating.
He and Rollins have also butted heads a lot over her anger that he left SVU.
But Carisi often acts both as a cop and a DA, and that’s not realistic.
What’s working: The new Deputy Bureau Chief
Chief Dodds was often more annoying than not, and even though he was pushed out for political reasons, it was good to see him go.
The new Deputy Bureau Chief has a lot more dynamic of a personality.
He seems genuinely interested in doing his job well and tries his best to balance the political demands of his job with helping Benson get justice for rape survivors.
What’s working: Topical cases with less-than-happy endings
Law & Order: SVU is famous for its “ripped from the headlines” cases, but Season 21 has outdone itself.
It has addressed issues such as ultra-wealthy celebrities using their fame and fortune to shield themselves from accountability while engaging in serial rapes of employees, and it doesn’t always end happily.
SVU sometimes offers an alternative universe where justice is always served by cops who work 24/7 to protect survivors.
But one of its strengths is also in showing the way the justice system sometimes fails the people it’s supposed to protect, and Season 21 has done a great job of that.
What’s working: More Fin than before
One of the biggest complaints viewers have had about SVU in recent years is that Fin has been shoved into the background.
He is a popular character that offers a more conservative, but still compassionate, point of view than many of the other members of SVU.
Now that John Munch has been gone for a while, that’s even more important.
Happily, SVU has corrected the imbalance and Fin has been featured more in Season 21 than he has been in a while.
What’s working: High-concept episodes
Once or twice a season, SVU engages in high-concept episodes rather than sticking to its standard format.
So far, it’s done that twice during Law & Order: SVU Season 21.
Law & Order: SVU Season 21 Episode 2 featured the SVU staff exploring their most traumatic memories as part of a training into using new techniques, while Law & Order: SVU Season 21 Episode 5 featured three cases that all began at the stroke of midnight.
Both of these high-concept episodes were well done, interesting, and kept viewers’ interest while breaking the usual mold.
What’s working: Guest stars playing against type
Law & Order: SVU attracts high-profile guest stars, and Season 21 is no exception.
The best guest stars are ones that play characters that are completely different from what they usually play.
For example, on Law & Order: SVU Season 21 Episode 2, Modern Family’s Ariel Winter played a girl with mental health issues whose claims about her assault may or may not have been true.
What’s not working: Carisi’s new boss
On paper, it was a good idea for SVU to create a separate unit in the DA’s office to deal with special victims.
It’s more realistic, though it begs the question of why the previous ADAs on SVU reported to Jack McCoy instead of to someone in this special division.
Anyway, the character of Vanessa Hadid is more irritating than valuable. While it makes sense for Carisi to butt heads with his new boss, she’s been shown time and time again to be shady and uninterested in helping SVU hold sexual predators accountable.
Can she please be caught doing something bad enough that she loses her job?
What’s not working: Too little of Noah
Law & Order: SVU Season 20 made the mistake of focusing on a super defiant Noah and a grandmother who was obsessed with stealing him from Benson.
But Law & Order: SVU Season 21 has gone in the opposite direction, pushing Noah all the way into the background.
Considering that Peter Stone, who was a surrogate father to Noah, disappeared abruptly, and Benson is STILL working too many hours, Noah should still be having some problems.
He quit baseball in favor of ballet and then wasn’t seen again until the aborted meeting with Benson’s half brother. Let’s hope for more Noah in the second half of Season 21.
Not working: Simon’s gratuitous death
Law & Order: SVU brought Michael Weston back, only to kill Simon off for absolutely no reason.
His death had zero impact and served the same purpose as Simon not coming back at all.
Benson felt guilty for half a second, Noah never got to know his uncle, and then the series moved on.
Let’s hope there’s less of that sort of nonsense on the second half of Law & Order: SVU Season 21.
Working: New detective Kat Tamir
Kat Tamir debuted as a Vice Squad member who went undercover to help SVU and quickly caught viewers’ attention.
She soon transferred to SVU, where she has been driving everyone nuts by insisting on doing things her way instead of following orders.
Kat has a lot to learn, but she brings an interesting new perspective to SVU.
Not working: SVU being so short-staffed
After Carisi left, SVU was down to three detectives, counting Benson–and she’s supposed to have a desk job.
Now that Kat is working there full time, the unit is still short-staffed.
SVU needs to either add some more fresh blood or have more stories about how frustrating it is to have to work double and triple shifts and huge caseloads.
Not working: That damsel-in-distress cliffhanger
SVU has overdone the cop in danger trope.
After Benson was kidnapped by William Lewis and then held hostage by some bad people at her babysitter’s home, that type of story should have died a natural death.
But Law & Order: SVU Season 21 Episode 9 insisted on a shock value cliffhanger where a distraught father took Rollins hostage at her therapist’s office.
This was entirely unnecessary and most likely was done only because the writers thought we needed something to get us to tune in when the series returns.
The episode could have ended powerfully with the revelation that the perp was getting away with his crimes, and now we’re going to have to sit through another manhunt for a cop when Law & Order: SVU comes back from its hiatus.
Your turn, SVU fanatics.
What do you love and hate about the first half of Law & Order: SVU Season 21?
Hit SHOW COMMENTS and share your thoughts.
Want to rewatch your favorite episodes? Watch Law & Order: SVU online right here at TV Fanatic.
Law & Order: SVU continues to air on NBC. Its historic 21st season returns to the air on January 9, 2020.
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.