What Would Elliot and Olivia Do?

My name is The Chair and I am a Law and Order addict.   And my particular drug of choice is Elliot and Olivia.

So clearly I was in heaven this week. 

Me all week

For two hours I got to see the reunion of two of my favorite TV characters, the above detectives played by Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay, on L and O: Special Victims Unit and on Meloni’s new series, L and O: Organized Crime.

Yes, all their mesmerizing, simmering chemistry is still present as is their dedication to the job.  Of course, the rules of their job have changed since we met them a full 22 years ago but so have they.  More importantly, so have we.

EL AND LIV 4EVER

Today’s laws for policing are different.  On second thought, maybe it’s more that the laws on the books are now finally beginning to be enforced.  Cops wear body cams, DNA evidence is irrefutable and every eyewitness has a device to back up what they claim was done.

Together Elliot and Olivia bent the rules to protect the victims and the innocents, or at the very least ensure them some sort of personal justice.  Forever partners in stopping the bad guys, they managed to do this by channeling their deeply complex feelings for each other into cracking an infinity of awful, sickening and truly unimaginable crimes.

… and looked this good doing it

The deal, and the lure of their imaginary relationship in their imaginary world, is they figure out a way to go there and score victories for humanity and we get to believe that at the end of the day good can and often will triumph over evil. 

More times than I’d like to admit, Olivia and Eliot made me believe I might likely be safe and that life was not so much perfect but hopeful.  I think I can even speak for many fans and say most especially they also make us feel that even the worst trauma is potentially survivable.

She even triumphed over this haircut, which is saying something

If their stories are truly ripped from the headlines why can’t the outcomes of each episode also be within the realm of possibility? Why not believe things might be some degree of okay? 

For years and years, because let’s face it, when is Law and Order: Special Victims Unit NOT being broadcast (Note: At this point it’s older than most of my college students) we’ve known in our hearts it doesn’t ALWAYS work out that way.

On the other hand, given the antics of Olivia and Elliot, it also could.

I can hear this pic

Certainly there are worse things than to be addicted to and to delight in than the righting of wrongs for the disenfranchised by those good people, nee cops, working within our very flawed, but yet still somehow functional system. 

Or, well, has this kind of mythmaking now finally come home to roost and become part of our collective problem?

I wish that I could definitively state that my obsession for Elliot and Olivia/Olivia and Elliot (Note: Which one is it?) existed in real life and in real time and it was justice for the victim, balanced with adherence to the law, that makes me crazy with delight.

Because sometimes I really do believe this is so.

As I watched the trial of Minneapolis’ ex-cop Derek Chauvin live on TV for the murder of George Floyd this week this indeed seemed to be the case.

Law and order?

Chauvin’s the white guy we’ve now watched more times than we can now count, via iPhone footage, extinguish the life of Mr. Floyd, a large Black man who was suspected of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a supermarket, a bill the clerk is now saying Mr. Floyd likely didn’t even know was fake.

Nevertheless, Mr. Chauvin and his fellow officers wrestled their handcuffed suspect to the ground, where Mr. Chauvin placed the full weight of his knee and, it now seems, entire body on Mr. Floyd, who spent the majority of nine plus minutes pleading for his life, screaming I can’t breathe and eventually crying out for his mama as he died.

All this as Mr. Chauvin casually looked up at the sky and out to the city streets, perhaps even wondering what he would have for dinner that night.  (Note: Yes, it seemed THAT casual).

That this needs to even be said…

But what he never appeared to be considering at all were the shouts of the crowd of innocent bystanders gathering around him, demanding he stop the pressure, stop ignoring their pleas and generally stop his slow and deliberate choice to break the very laws he was hired to uphold in the name of enforcing them.

Watching the testimony of those random bystanders this week – a 9-year-old girl, an off-duty female firefighter/EMT, a middle-aged martial arts expert, and a sixty something Black man who just happened to be walking by – all break down on the stand as they re-experienced the guilt they felt at not doing more in the moment to prevent Mr. Chauvin’s debacle of justice as he ended Mr. Floyd’s life, was difficult.

In some ways, they were like a fine cast of supporting characters from one of the most harrowing of SVU episodes.  People who would clearly carry this trauma their entire lives but without the benefit of either Olivia or Elliot’s personal touch.  At the very least they wouldn’t have the business cards they offer with their direct lines and the assurance to call anytime they run into trouble in the future, or if they just want to talk. 

If only they were real life superheroes

As each angle of the Floyd/Chauvin tapes played, and with each recounting of events, one found oneself hoping for a different outcome for Mr. Floyd, his witnesses and even for Mr. Chauvin, all the while knowing this was impossible.  It was like the worst kind of rerun because you so wanted it to be series TV and not be real.

Still, every one came across as an imperfectly perfect dramatic TV moment, a hope vs. fear scenario told in real time. 

The latter is what I learned to do years ago as a young writer and a recurrent lesson I try to impart to my students.

The way the lesson goes is most stories are not so much mysteries but a suspense tug of war between what we WANT to happen and what FEAR will inevitably happen. 

It does get tricky

We KNOW the odds are stacked against justice prevailing but we HOPE justice will win the day.  We FEAR the chances our hero has to figure this all out in time to emerge victorious with a win are slim but we still KNOW, or at least, HOPE they have a shot.

It’s the writer’s job to believably represent that constant push and pull in the story by a masterful reveal of the facts and choosing how much and at what point to reveal them.  If done properly the audience will stay with us and fearfully hope for the outcome they (Note: And we, the writer) want because that outcome is only right and possible.

After all, we can look back on our own lives and count at least a few times where things fell into place and we got lucky with a confluence of events and our actions.  Why couldn’t that happen for the hero we are rooting for here?  Why can’t the type of people unlucky enough to witness the death of a man like George Floyd, as he’s being physically restrained by a cop like Derek Chauvin, emerge with some sense of triumph after their harrowing day on the witness stand recounting what is likely the most harrowing day of their life?

If it happens all the time on Law and Order, might it happen just this once on this day? 

I know Liv… I know

It’s unfortunate the witnesses on that Minneapolis street on May 25, 2020 don’t have the caliber of writers Elliot and Olivia had, and have, executing their outcomes.   

For that they will have to depend on us, or at least our surrogates – the jury.

Twelve people and two alternates, eight of who are white and six of whom identify as people of color, including four who are black.

Let’s hope they are all as committed to justice as we Law and Order junkies presume to be.  And let’s pray they are not just there to hold up the status quo rules of some rarefied and benevolent system that we fans have talked ourselves into believing exists just because it makes us feel better.

Law and Order Theme

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The Golden Zooms

The bar wasn’t very high for the 78th annual Golden Globe Awards and, clearly, that’s the way the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press like it.

In fact, co- hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler literally joked to us in TV promos leading up to Sunday’s ceremonies:

The stakes have never been lower!

Followed by:

Come on, you need this as much as we do.

You know it!

By any definition these awards are now, have been, and always will be, the equivalent of three slices of sheet cake after an 18-hour nightmare day of zoom calls.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with that.  We all need our stress relievers.  Be they desserts, drugs, one-night stands or a triple margarita dinner. 

But in the halcyon non-pandemic, pre-insurrection days some or all of those would have followed a bad shift at work or seeing your ex at the movie theatre with a ridiculously hot new squeeze.

Not a year’s plus worth of semi-isolation, mask wearing (note: or defiance) and near encounters with armed government or citizen militia.

Not great… not great

This automatically elevates each guilty pleasure we now choose.  I mean, if you’re gonna devour three pieces of a tacky cake it better well g-d damned be sugary, chocolately and stick to your mouth buttery.

In the same way, if you willingly decide to spend three hours plus in front of your TV screen watching celebrities accept awards voted on by a bizarre group of 87 international entertainment journalists, none of whom are Black (Note: As we were continuously reminded of all during the show), well that show better darn well be as cheesy, hilarious and train wreck dramatic as an episode of anything you could watch anywhere else on TV during the past year.

You know, the awards show equivalent of Nicole Kidman (and her coats) in The Undoing

Which is, well, quite A LOT.

Given that very high LOW BAR, this year’s Globes were a bit of a… letdown. 

Oh sure, they weren’t entirely half-bad.  Many deserving film and TV artists won and both Tina and Amy snuck in a few clever bon mots.  (Note: They even enabled the perfect Maya Rudolph to cleverly wander onto the stage in full diva drag).

Not to mention, there were some lovely speeches from two legends: 98 year-old Norman Lear (Note: Laughter and family is the key to longevity, folks) and 83 year-old Jane Fonda (Note: Art historically leads our way so it must include diverse voices).

Hollywood royalty (and Jane, girl, you have never looked better)

And the heartfelt words of Chadwick Boseman’s widow, Simone Ledward Boseman, tearfully accepting his posthumous best actor honor for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom:

He would say something beautiful, something inspiring, something that would amplify that little voice inside of all of us that tells you, ‘You can,’ that tells you to keep going, that calls you back to what you are meant to be doing…”

Still, given all of our current circumstances their words were ultimately dwarfed by the smallness of these awards from this very dubious of organizations.  Especially when it is compared to the largeness of the disorganization we are all experiencing daily in these strange end of times we’ve all been living through.

This feels right

So as much as I was personally thrilled for Andra Day’s win as best actress for resurrecting the spirit of Billie Holiday in The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, or the great Aaron Sorkin being rewarded for yet another seemingly unadaptable story with his screenplay for The Trial of the Chicago Seven, I couldn’t help but wonder –

Why the hell am I watching three hours of celebrity zoom clips masquerading as a prime-time network TV special controlled by a group of people I and many of these recipients have little or no real respect for?

Too much?

Is this exaggeration? 

Jason’s sweatshirt sums it up pretty well

Well, maybe just a little bit.  Amy and Tina were live on different coasts.  Jane joined Amy live at the Beverly Hilton and presenters such as Chris Meloni (Note: Yes, SVU’s Stabler is back on NBC April 1st and No, that’s not April Fools) joined Tina live at NYC’s famed Rainbow Room.

In addition, a few real-life celeb couple presenters like Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, showed up non-socially distanced/actually touching in an effort to help us remember that human beings can still stand skin to skin in real time and in real life, live or even on a stage.

Was I expecting this? #mybrainisbroken

Still, these moments were few and far between. All other presenters went solo.  And those others who were close and unmasked could only be viewed in their homes or in a hotel room via another dreaded Zoom shot.  (Note: And by this time we all have learned to be suspect at the very sight of any person, place or thing that instantly pops up at us via a platform as fuzzy as that).

Is the Chair losing patience with all of this after more than year and taking it out on the Globes???  Or just lost it??

 Of course he is!!  And has!!

CHAIRY! Stay calm! Think about Jodi Foster’s dog!!!

But when you’re promised sheet cake and still get nothing more than a continuation of the very enlarged computer screen you’ve come there to avoid, then what else can you expect???

The following is a list of this year’s Golden Globe Winners:

“I’m So Tired” – The Beatles