This post was originally published on September 18, 2014.
I first discovered Law & Order Special Victims Unit in January of 2009 when, after not attending AA meetings regularly or doing step work for a couple of years, I was laid off from my job. I would soon learn that there are few things more awful than having untreated alcoholism and endless hours of down time. If I didn’t spend the first half of my day sleeping, I spent it freaking out about money and crying. While both of these activities can be all consuming, they are also extremely exhausting and no matter how dedicated you are, they can only be indulged in for a couple of hours at a time. This left the second part of my day open to spend however I pleased—which turned out to be masturbating, picking my toe nails and staring into space. That is, until I discovered USA—not the country, but just as powerful.
The USA Network is a cable station famous for their back-to-back episode marathons of shows in syndication. Long before the binge-watching craze of Netflix, USA catered to those of us who prefer to watch television alcoholically—all day long and for days on end. These are either people who are unemployed, have empty and meaningless lives or simply have addictive tendencies and thus find single episode programming to be as frustration and pointless as one glass of wine. In my case, I was all three—a USA trifecta.
In addition to marathon programming structure, the syndicated show they run the most is Law & Order Special Victims Unit which, out of the entire L&O series, has shown to be particularly pleasurable for alcoholics who love nothing more than to sink their teeth into a good rape and child abuse story. I can’t give you any scientific data as why this is other than the fact that many of us (especially the gals) have been exposed to these elements of life and I suppose that makes them interesting to us; perhaps it helps us feel less alone and less ashamed of the past. Perhaps the archetypes of Det. Olivia Benson, an empowered single woman who is a product of rape herself and Det. Elliot Stabler (1999–2011), the traditional blue-collar Irish-Catholic cop from Queens, serve as fantasy protectors for the wounded souls of addicts. And it’s just a damn good show.
My point is this: when I found myself with the lethal combination of dry alcoholism and free time, being able to turn on the TV and be comforted by hours and hours of non-stop crime drama was a priceless tool for me. Because of the fact that it was a very dark time in my life, the characters on the show—Benson, Stabler, Munch, Tutuola, Amaro, Rollins, Warner, Capt. Cragen, ADA Cabot, ADA Novak, ADA Barba, Dr. Huang—became real in my warped and sick mind. Tuning into their lives of chasing pedophiles and murders down the rough streets of New York City served as a warm blanket of safety for me. The world outside was overwhelming, terrifying and cruel but in the comfort of my television, the dedicated detectives of NYPD’s Special Victims Unit were going to see to it that I was safe. Ching, Ching!