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The Problem Some Law & Order: SVU Fans Have With Perps In Newer Seasons

Now in its 23rd season, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" continues to be a topic of debate within its massive fanbase, particularly on the show's popular and perpetually humming subreddit. In the past, fans have expressed both support and disappointment over a number of things, including the series' overarching narrative, its choice of A.D.A.s, the various romantic partners its paired with lead protagonist Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), and the show's continued injection of new detectives and recurring characters. All this is both understandable and expected, since a show that's been on for over two decades is necessarily going to undergo several evolutions, not all of which will appeal to the entirety of its audience. In a recent discussion, however, it appears many fans are taking issue not with any one storyline or character development, but with the series' fundamental approach to storytelling. 

For the majority of its lengthy run on NBC, "Special Victims Unit" took its queue from parent series "Law & Order," and devoted the first part of each episode to the detectives tracing clues, interviewing potential witnesses, and working with the crime scene and medical examiner to determine and locate an initial suspect. In more recent seasons, however, the series has sacrificed its opening mystery element to make more room for examinations of a given episode's topical, ripped-from-the-headlines theme, and some fans aren't happy with the new approach. 

Fans miss the old SVU's opening mystery

Recently on the "Special Victims Unit" subreddit, u/stsh asked if other users were equally annoyed that the guilty party is now usually revealed right at the start of the episode, as opposed to the older approach where the first part of the episode would give viewers a guessing-game about who was responsible for the crime. Other fans were quick to agree. One fan, u/WelcomeToBrooklandia, emphasized their dislike for the "mystery" element of the show being completely minimized in recent episodes. Other fans expressed their frustration with how the new approach detracts from the series' narrative pull. "This is especially annoying in episodes where they later try to figure out [if] their suspect is guilty or not," noted user 0321654, before asking "what's the point of this debate when you literally showed us what happened earlier?"

Many fans pointed to the series' more recent, repeated focus on the suspect being both always guilty and a celebrity or wealthy man in a position of power, which one fan felt took away from one of the more compelling and relevant elements of earlier seasons. As user TheoTheBibliophile theorized, "the writers think they're Doing Something and Saying Something with the endless formula of 'powerful man bad' but actually, they have betrayed a very important [through-line] the show used to havethat crimes like this can happen anywhere to anyone. That the guilty party isn't always who we think it is initially."

Fans have different theories about what caused the SVU shift

Many on the thread shared their thoughts about why the series so thoroughly shifted its focus and structure from that of earlier seasons to, as one user put it, "No twists, no turns, no variety in victims and perps alike, just cut and dry 'powerful man assaults pretty girl' week after week." Both u/SilverProduce0 and saintevenlive felt it was the series' attempt to move away from the typical police procedural format to instead be closer in content to a regular prime time drama. 

Meanwhile, others pointed toward something more logistical. For example, u/grlnthsun proposed two reasons for the change. "When Criminal Intent ended those writers got hired on to write for SVU," the user wrote (referencing the "Law & Order" spin-off that always revealed the perp in the introduction, and from which, as Deadline reports, "Special Victims Unit" adopted writer Norberto Barba in 2019). They then added that Mariska Hargitay's hefty salary, although much-deserved, left less room in the show's budget for things like extras. 

Another fan was more specific about the source of the change in writing. "The change happened when Warren Leight took over as showrunner after Neal Baer the king of outlandish mysteries," loveroftheclassics wrote, adding that Leight, the series' current showrunner (via IMDb), "LOVES telling you who did it and then showing the injustice of the justice system." User jmpinstl agreed and married both theories, believing the shift was Leight continuing the same approach taken to "Criminal Intent." 

Whatever the reasons for the dramatic change in the popular series' structure, it's clear that are many who'd love to see it return to its roots.