A decade ago, “Law & Order” franchise creator Dick Wolf explained the method behind the madness that has come to be known as “ripping from the headlines,” saying, “You steal the headline, not the story. Then, you show people something they haven’t thought about in the context of that crime.”
Wednesday night’s episode of ‘SVU’ features the all-to-often seen tale of a young star who’s gone off the rails and is now facing the repercussions of her actions. But in this story, is she the victimizer or the victim?
The episode starts with a simple traffic stop by still-working-a-beat Amaro, but things quickly go awry.
“Poor Amaro is trying to get his shield back, trying to get back to SVU, and this girl is completely inappropriate with him, and then she accuses him of attempting to rape her,” says Executive Producer Warren Leight (acting as if he isn’t the man who’s perpetuated all of this grief for Amaro!)
As the case progresses it becomes apparent the young actress, Tensley Evans, is just a bona fide mess.
“By the time we meet her, she’s in her 20’s, and she’s a complete train wreck,” explains Leight. But the detectives, to their credit, do not simply write this young woman off as just another out-of-control starlet.
“You’ll see that different people in the squad room relate to her in different ways,” says Leight,”I think Rollins can certainly understand being young and making mistakes. Carisi, even though he’s new, starts to pick up on some things concerning Tensley’s behavior and Benson looks past the girl’s reputation and star power to see that there might be other things going on that are making her act out.”
This method of evaluation is something that Leight says viewers will see more of this season. “One of our goals this year is to show how the detectives will be viewing things a bit more through the prism of their own experiences, thinking about things that they’ve been through in their own lives and how those past events or feelings relate to what they’re currently involved in.”
Using the aforementioned Dick Wolf formula as applied to this episode leads one to surmise that this story is a mash-up of elements from the decades-old Roman Polanski case and this summer’s Bryan Singer scandal mixed together with a Lindsay Lohan/Amanda Bynes-esque central character to tell a tale about the true nature of the structure of Hollywood fame.
To create a shift in the perception of these stories, Leight reveals that the key to understanding this episode lies in the exploration of how this actress got to this place at such an early stage in her life. “We’ve all sort of seen the outcome of someone so young falling apart under the pressure of being constantly in the spotlight,” he says, “But what we haven’t seen is how they got to that point; what happened in their past that steered them down that path of self-destruction.”
This is where Sergeant Benson’s instincts come into play, realizing that there’s a lot more swirling under the surface that proceeded, and may have actually caused, Tensley’s downward spiral. “We live in this culture now where fame is so important and it’s scary what some people will do to become their version of famous,” explains Leight, “and what’s almost scarier is how some people will manipulate and take advantage of young people playing on their desire to be famous, using it to make them do things that are just so wrong, and truly criminal.”
How does it all shake out in the end? That’s the beauty of a story like this; while an ending is desirable, it’s the path of the tale and the modulation of the voices within the unspooling narrative that offer the best chance to evaluate a chronicle such as this, so you, the viewer can hopefully reflect on its content and take away something that you couldn’t have possibly have foreseen going in….just like Mr. Wolf continually yearns for you to do.
Law & Order SVU “Producers’ Backend” airs Wednesday at 9/8c on NBC
Next week’s post will include more about this statement from Leight: “Olivia has to deal with what’s really the most stressful aspect of being a parent.”
For a recap of this episode after it airs, please visit The New York Observer at www.observer.com/tv
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