The Fifth Season
In 1999 the first spin-off series of the popular television show Law & Order aired for the first time. This spin-off series, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit takes nearly the same format as its parent show, with a similar balance of criminal investigations and the legal proceedings that follow. However in the fifth season, the show deviates from the original series by including more focus the show's resident medical examiner and a forensic psychiatrist on loan from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Another major difference from the original series is the type of cases that the detectives investigate. This series focuses on the special victims unit, who are responsible for investigating crimes of a horrific nature. Each episode in the fifth season promises gruesome detail that covers issues like pedophilia, rape, homophobia, racism, and slavery.
The strength of this season is the cast and the episodes. There are a total of seven main cast members. Four of them have been on the show since its initially airing. The main focus is on the case detectives Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). These two bring a lot to the show, a strong pair of detectives whose emotions really make the viewer interested. Benson's mother was raped and she was the product of that heinous crime. This happens to be her motivation for joining the special victims unit. Stabler isn't your typical family man. He's overly determined to protect his children and the rest of New York City's kids by putting pedophiles, rapists, and other sick members of society behind bars. The other pair of detectives includes John Munch (Richard Belzer) and Odafin Tutuola (Ice-T). Munch is my favorite character, who sadly is given less camera time than he deserves. He's veteran detective who transferred from the Baltimore Police Department after a distressing experience at the end of Homicide: Life on the Streets. Tutuola joined the cast in the beginning of season two, replacing Munch's season one partner Monique Jeffries (Michelle Hurd). Leading the charge for the special victims unit is Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek). Joining the cast since season four is George Huang (B.D. Wong), a forensic psychiatrist on loan from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He adds a pretty exciting perspective to the show, getting the chance to really see into the criminal mind. On the legal side of the show, the assistant district attorney Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) since season two says her goodbyes in the beginning of the fifth season. She's replaced by Casey Novak (Diane Neal). Novak is the kind of attorney who appears to be a hotshot at a first glance, but she's really a no nonsense kind of gal. Not officially on the roster, Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie) is a reoccurring character who gives the show an interesting perspective from the medical examiner's point of view. For the most part, the cast of the fifth season is pretty strong.
However, despite the stellar cast, the fifth season doesn't really present them all very well. Each of the characters were developed throughout the earlier seasons. For that reason, there's very little time devoted to character development. While you don't really need to know each of the characters in detail to enjoy the fifth season, it does help to really understand them. However, since Novak was introduced in this season, there's a good amount of time devoted to developing her character. I felt this was done very well, despite that the stories in each episode never spill over into the next. At first, I really couldn't stand Novak, I just didn't get why they added her. She appeared to be a really weak character, but it became apparent that she wasn't what I initially thought and she did bring some fairly interesting qualities to the show.
As mentioned, the episodes in this season are another aspect of what makes it a strong season. An episode in the earlier portion of the season, "Loss" features the transition from Cabot to Novak. Not only does this episode provide the alteration of the assistant district attorney well, but it is pretty interesting itself. It's an episode that has a case that leads Stabler and Benson to the Drug Enforcement Administration. In the episode "Control", Benson is faced with a seriously disturbing truth. A crime that she thought was a false reporting turns out to be reality. Another great episode, "Hate" touches upon racism. A hysterical serial murder seems to be targeting members of a Middle Eastern community. Is his motivation fear or hate? "Mean" is a really twisted episode that shows how dangerous peer pressure can be. "Sick" is an episode that seems a little too much like the accusations of pedophilia against Michael Jackson. The owner of a popular toy story chain is suspected of molesting a child. However, the prosecution's case goes haywire because somebody got a little too greedy. In the episode "Poison", we get an interested twist that shows that even an officer of the law can be a bad guy. The episode "Head" is pretty creepy, because it shows how modern technology can be misused. It's episodes like the aforementioned that really provide strong dramas that are both disturbing and entertaining. The fifth season is filled with these kinds of episodes.
Despite that I have been seemingly praising the fifth season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for its cast and content, this season isn't a guaranteed winner. The cast and the content are great, but the entire season just doesn't have a lot of pull. It basically boils down to the fact that these episodes are great to watch on an episode-by-episode basis, but there is absolutely no drive in this series that makes you demand more. Then again that is the basic format of every Law & Order television series. In general, there's very little from episode to episode, with an occasional two part episode or a crossover from one series to another. However, this season didn't have any of that. Quite frankly, I demand that a really outstanding television series has an element that makes me demand more. The bottom line, I enjoyed this season, but it wasn't nearly as good as it could have been. There's a lot of great potential in this series and I can't wait to see more it on DVD.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - The Fifth Year is presented in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame color. The picture quality for the most part is fairly good. Detail is fairly sharp, with only minor effects from distortion and grain. The picture quality is much better than what you would expect to see from broadcast or cable television.
The audio of fifth season release of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - The Fifth Year is presented in English Dolby digital stereo sound. The dialogue throughout the entire season is clear and understandable, but it is relatively flat, which is expected. There is a slight hiss in the audio track. The sound is complemented with subtitles in English, Spanish, and French languages.
The special features that are included with this DVD release are less than impressive. Like many of the other Law & Order releases on DVD, there isn't very much content in this area. The first extra, "SVU Alumni" is a five minute montage of clips that show various guest stars in action, which includes Darrell Hammond, Angie Everhart, Jane Seymour, Fred Savage, Henry Winkler, John Ritter, and more. It's really not that exciting. The last set of extras "Police Sketches" are three separate interviews with Ice-T, B.D. Wong, and Dann Florek. They all respectively talk about their roles in the series. It's mildly entertaining and it will probably only appeal to the really big fans of the series. Overall, this DVD release was given a poor set of extras. Also, the back of the DVD box set says that the extras are located on disc 4, side 2. However, there isn't any data on side 2. The extras are located on side 1. It was a misprint.
If you love the high-paced drama of Law & Order, the fifth season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit promises to deliver just that and a bit more, including some gruesome, yet entertaining episodes. I was really entertained by this season, but I wasn't hooked. I think that there could have been a few more improvements. For instance, having a story or two trickle throughout the entire (or part of the) season. This could have really changed the tone of the season, making it from good to extremely gripping. Anyways, fans of the series should welcome this with open arms and those with a faint stomach should look elsewhere.
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