How ‘Law & Order: SVU’ Has Stayed Relevant for Over 20 Years

Shows that take from the headlines might have sounded like a contrived concept before 2016 until the headlines became a major part of our daily lives. Now when we read the news, it almost requires fiction to put many of the surreal stories in the proper context.

The Law & Order franchise has done this all along, leading to endless copycats. It’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that’s made this eye-opening art, mostly because it takes from disturbing sexual abuse headlines we read about every day in reality.

As Law & Order: SVU starts its 20th season this fall, take a minute to see what’s made the show stay relevant for two decades. The times we live in and some other factors make the difference in why it endures.

A compelling cast has helped ‘Law & Order: SVU’ all along

Law & Order: SVU
Law & Order: SVU | Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

While some critics occasionally think Law & Order: SVU scripts are “schlock,” let’s give some praise to the cast who’ve made the show believable. Mariska Hargitay should receive the biggest amount of credit for not only being continually compelling as Lt. Olivia Benson but also an advocate for helping women who’ve experienced sexual abuse.

She even started her own organization called the Joyful Heart Foundation to help these women and bring a real-life crossover from the show. This organization was created 15 years ago as a way to bring social relevance to Law & Order: SVU’s existence. Having the org going has no doubt helped draw more women viewers who’ve gone through the same unheard trauma as the show’s fictional victims.

Let’s also give a nod to the other cast members who’ve brought some substantial acting chops and still do. Ice-T might be portraying himself most of the time as “Fin” Tutuola. Regardless, he’s always brought a tough and ethical quality against the perpetrators as a form of catharsis for those who’ve gone through similar abuse.

Christopher Meloni was also excellent when playing Det. Elliot Stabler for the first 12 seasons. His departure took away some of the stellar chemistry he developed with Hargitay, even if she’s managed to do well without it since he left.

We’re seeing more sexual abuse stories come out thanks to the #MeToo movement

It’s a bit shocking to realize how much silence there was with victims of sexual assault for more than half of Law & Order: SVU‘s run. As relevant as the subjects still were 20 years ago, only the #MeToo movement of the last few years helped create a new life for the show by unraveling the untold stories. Others say the show paved the way for the #MeToo movement to exist in the first place.

Maybe if the stories are uniform, it’s not far from the truth in how many similar cases are out there. Just when you thought the sexual abusers on the show were exaggerated, it turns out the show’s been right all along. We now see there’s more than we ever knew, including from iconic names already taken to prison (or soon will be).

The stories we see unfold on SVU reflecting our current reality make the show continually powerful, proving it may go on beyond the 20th season.

Even though the show isn’t one to watch if feeling depressed, it’s become a show proving you can be PSA-related and entertainment all in one. We just wonder how much longer we’ll be able to tell the difference between fiction and reality?

‘Law & Order: SVU’ also keeps predicting real-life cases

If you go back and look at all the episodes Law & Order: SVU has produced, it’s a bit overwhelming seeing how many cases they predicted we continue to see in our everyday headlines. Recent stories like the Jeffrey Epstein case is a good example from a pivotal 2011 episode. Law & Order: SVU has produced more than their share of other episodes showing a slimy, powerful male figure who happens to think they can get away with sexually abusing young girls.

Everyone should watch the upcoming 20th season to see how ahead of the herd they are on predicting stories before they happen. Painful as it is to see sexual abuse becoming more prevalent and more depraved in America, Law & Order: SVU will continue to give us a heads-up at how bad things may become.