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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Twenty First Century Films

popcorn

Movies aren’t what they used to be.

This is the GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION!

Movies suck.

What did you binge watch lately?

There is NOTHING to see at the movie theatre!

Can I borrow your Netflix password?

Movies, in general, have taken a critical bashing as of late and it’s not entirely unwarranted. Let’s face it, the Suits are drunk with sequels and superheroes and don’t really give a hoot what makes sense or doesn’t if it can deliver millions of bodies in potential theme park rides, sequels, spin-offs and merchandise.

Oh how the mighty have fallen #TeamJen #Argowho?

Oh how the mighty have fallen #TeamJen #Argowho?

Films have taken on the business school lingo of a precious asset – a property that exists not solely for its financial value at the theatrical box-office or, heaven forbid, its creative content. Rather, they are seen in most of the top towers and executive suites as a commodity to be leveraged into many, many smaller and larger off-springs –much like a Triple Crown winning horse that is put out for gelding after it serves the greater good.

That’s fine. For them. But it’s not the entire story of 21st century film.

Quite randomly last week I came upon a new list put out by the BBC. NO, DON’T STOP READING! This list actually applies to you – the moviegoer. Or more broadly, the movie fan. Instead of surveying critics and audiences to compile a list of the 100 greatest movies of all-time, or some such subset that would spotlight drama, comedy, action or presumably, even porn or snuff films in the future, they tried something novel. (Note: No, not an actual novel, as in reading – we all know no one does THAT anymore).

Why read when you can see Emily Blunt in the movie version? #duh

Why read when you can see Emily Blunt in the movie version? #duh

Yes, the Brits had the tenacity to compile a list that I, Mr. Movie Fan, had never seen before. That would be the top 100 films of the 21st CENTURY.

Huh? What is that – a list of 10, or maybe 20 movies, most of which none of us have ever seen before? Or want to see? No, surprisingly not at all.

Okay, technically the list is of 102 films and it does stem from 2000-2016 which means the first year it charts is technically not a part of the 21st century – which began in 2001 (Note: Apparently 2000 was an irresistible film year one couldn’t turn away from). But who really cares? The point is, this is a very narrow period where 177 film critics from every country in the world (Note: Antarctica was the exception, which brings up the whole question of climate change and access we don’t want to get into) actually agreed there were 100 plus movies, many of them AMERICAN, that are actually worth watching, remembering and…wait for it…HONORING.

Believe it Olivia.

Believe it Olivia.

In case you are wondering – no, there is not a sequel in the bunch.

In case you are further wondering – yes, there is exactly ONE superhero film in the bunch and you probably have already rightly guessed which one is indeed The ONE. (HINT: Uh no, it’s not The Matrix. Plus, Neo is not really a superhero and anyway, he first appeared in 1999. As for the 2003 sequels – well, let’s not go there).

Which is the pill that helps me take a nap?

Which is the pill that helps me take a nap?

What this list reminds us of is that – WAIT, there are lots of movies I’ve enjoyed in the last 15 (okay 16) years. Sure there are too many clunkers, or cynically made assets. But maybe, just maybe it’s worth forgetting the Netflix password every once in a while and instead go out to an actual theatre before the art form, as we know it, dies altogether. Or worse yet – becomes solely a corporatized asset.

Please be good. Please be good. Please be good. #clingingtohope #heygirl #lalaland

Please be good. Please be good. Please be good. #clingingtohope #heygirl #lalaland

A complete list will be shared below but how about just the top six right here?

  1. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)
  2. In The Mood for Love (2000, Wong-Kar-wai)
  3. There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas-Anderson)
  4. Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki)
  5. Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater)
  6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry and written by CHARLIE freaking KAUFMAN, OKAY?)

All of them original, beautifully made and meaningful. Are they my top six or your top six? Perhaps not. But they are inarguably as good as many of the classic movies from decades before.

Added bonus: This phrase being added to our world.

Added bonus: This phrase being added to our world.

Certainly, any LIST inherently has its head-scratchers and personal duds and this one is clearly among them. Notice I stopped at six because #7 is Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which you couldn’t pay me enough money to endure five minutes of ever again. Perhaps this confirms the long held belief that I am a philistine, but that is not the point. We all have our personal Trees. And in fact, I’d pay to watch other glorious Malick films such as Badlands and Days of Heaven over and over if you didn’t bring up the subject of #7 ever again.

That dinosaur sequence though. #neverforget

That dinosaur sequence though. #neverforget

As for some others The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men and Inside Llewyn Davis ranked #10 and #11 respectively. David Fincher’s Zodiac was #12 and Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant Children of Men was #13.

 You want less, well, pretentious? (Your word, not mine). Pan’s Labyrinth was #17, Mad Max: Fury Road was #19, The Social Network was #27, and Wall-E was #29.

Favorites of mine like CHARLIE freakin’ KAUFMAN’s Synecdoche was #20, while Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation was #22, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was #24, Christopher Nolan’s Memento was #25 and Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her came in at #28.

Let’s also give separate credit to The Dark Knight at #33 because, well, think of the odds against the whole thing working the way it did when there was merely a blank page and no real concept but a history of…ASSET. 

See Ben, this is how it’s done.

See Ben, this is how it’s done.

As I continued down the list I came across any number of films (40, in all) I hadn’t seen, some I really didn’t care for (Okay, I admit it – I’m too old for Wes Anderson) but others I had forgotten had come out in the not so distant past. Of the latter how about: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, City of God, Brokeback Mountain, Melancholia, Moulin Rouge, Inglorious Bastards, The Great Beauty, The Hurt Locker, Her, Amelie, The Pianist, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, Spotlight (Note: I have a very short memory) and Requiem for A Dream.

What pleased me most about this list is that it coincided with the first week of the fall screenwriting class I teach.  The list of top 100 films on everyone’s mind are usually the 1, 2, 3 classic movie punch of Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Casablanca. Certainly, these are all great, timeless movies – as are many of the others on that usual classics list.   But for young people – as well as for some of the rest of us – consistently remembering these as the best of what the big screen has to offer can’t help but feel a little depressing at some point. Because it evokes a golden age that is long gone and, very likely, will never return.

Le sigh.

Le sigh.

This is why the BBC did Americans and moviegoers worldwide – not to mention the future of film – a great service by compiling this new grouping of films. Perhaps it doesn’t evoke a new golden age (though maybe it does) but it does prove the movies are alive and well and can be for some time to come. Though only if we get out our pods and mosey on down via our people mover of choice to check some of them out. Judging by the newly motivated faces on some of my students perusing the list, this will continue to happen in the near future. But at the very least, we could give them a little help.