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When Law & Order: SVU debuted in 1999, I was an impressionable preteen growing up in stereotypical suburbia. In my home, along with red nail polish and Fruit Roll Ups, any entertainment that might be deemed violent was banned. Instead, I watched everything from Boy Meets World to Freaks and Geeks, and — when my sister would let me secretly crash her slumber parties — SVU.
I spent most of my collegiate career making up for lost time by binging on SVU when I should've been studying or pledging for whatever sorority was offering the best bribe. For a brief time in 2007, I dreamt of dropping my science major to become Mariska Hargitay's official stunt woman. Alas, I am but 5-foot-two and can barely do a cartwheel, let alone one from a moving vehicle equipped with a bomb planted by a criminal's estranged step-mother who regrets putting him in foster care and now wants him to avoid prosecution. Instead, I named my kitten Olivia.
Sure, there are great shows out there like Mad Men and Orange Is The New Black. You could probably even watch two or three episodes in a row! But, none of them lend themselves to a marathon quite like SVU, mostly because you don't need a Netflix or HBO Go account, but especially because the personal story lines are woven in so unsensationally that catching up is a cinch.
That, and the moment you muster up enough gumption to finally change the channel, Stabler's thrown off a roof or Olivia's charged with saving an entire building from a toxic gas leak, or Jennifer Love Hewitt makes a bizarre debut, proving it impossible to turn away. Besides, what if you miss the episode that combined the Paula Deen scandal with Trayvon Martin's case? Or, the one where it seems like Stabler and Benson might finally make out for real? And, if either of the polar vortexes didn't reacquaint you with one of the SVU marathons — and, by proxy, Ice T — that play without fail at almost any point in the day, what did you possibly do to pass the time?
While my undying love for Elliot Stabler, er, Chris Meloni will always be my impetus to tune into old episodes — much to some R29ers' dismay — the real star of the show is, of course, Mariska Hargitay's detective-turned-sergeant Olivia Benson. There's something to be said about Benson, a woman in the traditionally male-dominated world of the NYPD, who has prevailed through 15 seasons (Spoiler alert! Sort of!) both despite and because of her gender. Of course, it makes sense to place a competent, albeit wildly empathetic woman — not mutually exclusive qualities, it turns out — at the forefront of a program about "especially heinous" crimes against women and children. But, while we know a bit about her sordid past, Benson's private life — and, by extension, her sexuality — are never main plot lines: a major game changer from other top early aughts shows like Ally McBeal or Sex and the City.
And, though this may seem counterintuitive, SVU marathons assuage the anxiety of being a woman living in New York — especially one who's seen her fair share of sexual assault. I refused to move into an apartment with a fire escape and windows that didn't lock, despite the landlord promising to fix them. Besides, just by cliche alone, the fact that I'm watching someone break into an NYC apartment on TV has to decrease the chance that someone would actually break into my NYC apartment at that very moment, right? I'm never changing the channel.