Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Law & Order SVU “Babes”: Writers Gone Wild

This episode of Law & Order SVU, “Babes” seemed crammed full of predictable “ripped from the headlines” story lines, various puns, and dark humor. It was as if it couldn’t decide whether it would be serious or funny. It was also filled with veiled and not so veiled commentary about teen pregnancy (including a reference to Sarah Palin’s daughter's teen pregnancy), Benson’s biological clock ticking, and the big, bad Internet. If I didn’t know better, the writers at Law & Order SVU uses some kind of “headline randomizer” where they take the news headlines for the last year, put them into a computer, and ask them to spit out 3 random headlines, and they base the episode on what it spits out.

But first, the recap, and my review will come afterwards.

This episode opens with a couple dining at a restaurant apparently long after the closing time. When the man makes a crack about having dessert – maybe something flambé – a man engulfed in flames runs across the street and collapses. Detectives Munch (Richard Belzer) and Stabler arrive at the scene, where ME Warner (Tamara Tunie) is examining the body. (By the way, Stabler reports that Benson (Mariska Hargitay) is off at a 3 day conference for battered women.) It appears the victim is missing his “family jewels.” After a few reference to a chop job, crispy critters, and “follow the bloody brick road”, the group runs out of puns and follow the blood trail to where it seems the man was originally attacked.

But wait, they haven’t run out of puns. The comments continue at the morgue, where it’s mentioned the victim, who appears to be a homeless man, was “toasted then roasted” when it’s discovered that he had a lot of drugs and alcohol in his system when he was immolated. When Warner rehydrates his finger, she is able to get a fingerprint and they find that the body is that of Joshua Michael Galli.

Stabler and Much visit Galli’s father (Michael Badalucco), who says his son was diagnosed with schizophrenia in high school, and when the doctor prescribed meds didn’t work, he turned to other self-medicating methods. They also see that he attended Blessed Heart High School. Galli’s father also told the detectives that he knows that homeless people are being abused and the videos of the assaults are being posted on the Internet.

Back at the squad, they view videos of beatings from a web site called the “Street Cleaners” which have a toll free number where “concerned citizens’ can report problems with homeless. It seems this triggers people to go out and drive the homeless away. TARU Tech Ruben Morales (Joel de la Fuente) tells them that the videos are geo-tagged so they can track the location and even the device that uploaded the video. They decide it’s time for a sting, and Fin (Ice-T) suggests they “introduce them to the laziest, filthiest bum they’ve ever seen.” Of course, that can only be John Munch, who, in his crazed homeless man persona, walks up and down the street, ranting about the CIA, The Illuminati, being watched, etc. When Stabler quips that Munch “does crazy good”, Fin dryly responds that this is Munch’s normal persona, only louder. Of course, it quickly flushes out two people who attach Munch with a baseball bat. When the police ambush them, they find one of the attackers is a woman.

The two – Sarah and Seth – are taken into custody, and under questioning, they reveal an alibi which seems to be supported by pictures on their cell phone. Later, Forensics Tech Ryan O'Halloran (Mike Doyle) finds that Galli was torched using formaldehyde, and finds an “electric match” which has the initials BHHS on it – Blessed Heart High School, the same place Galli attended. O’Halloran also says that it is likely that the person who burned Galli also suffered a burn themselves. Stabler and Munch head to the high school, where Max Matarazzo (Jesse McCartney) tells them about their group the “Chastity Circle” to which Munch dryly states, “Chastity Circle. In my days they called that the A.V. club.” Max then points them in the direction of Alec Bernardi (Philip Ettinger), who helps clean up the school lab area, and is part of the honor society. When Alec sees the detectives approach, he makes move to leave, but they stop him. And he has a bandaged hand.

At the squad, Benson has returned, and as she is talking to Cragen (Dann Florek) Bernardi’s mother arrives and demands to see her son. But Cragen refuses, telling her that her son is an adult and has been read his rights. In interrogation, Bernardi calls what he did his “honor” but says it was an accident. He only took the stuff from the school to scare Josh, and when Josh attacked him, he tried to fight back. He also says that Josh raped his sister and got her pregnant which is why he assaulted him and mutilated him.

Benson talks to Alec’s sister Tina (Britt Robertson) along with her mother Peggy (Debi Mazar), who denies the rape. When Benson mentions the baby, Tina’s mother goes ballistic. Tina said the sex was consensual and her brother misunderstood. She tells them that it happened 3 months ago, she saw him coming out of his dad’s place and he looked good, and she had a crush on him. They went up to the roof, Josh had alcohol from his dad’s and they did not use a condom. She wanted to have a baby, though. “We all did,” she adds. We then see many young girls, presumably friend of Tina's, stating basically the same desire; wanting to have a baby, their parents would help them out with it, etc. They all say it was “Fidelia’s idea.”

Benson talks with Fidelia Vidal (not sure who played her, it could be Jessica Varley) with her mother (Katherine Narducci) and father (Ray Abruzzo) present. She seems thrilled she is going to have a baby, that it will make the girls hot. She also says that older women are jealous of her pregnancy and taunts Olivia about her biological clock ticking. While Olivia lectures, Max storms into the apartment, and seems shocked at the news of Fidelia’s pregnancy. He and Fidelia cry and embrace, and he said he thought they were going to wait for each other, but even Christians make mistakes.

Back at the squad, the detectives argue about the implications on the girl’s lives. They also realize that the boys can’t be charged in some cases because they are minors and Josh, who was an adult, is dead. Fidelia doesn’t know the real name of the person who got her pregnant, only that he went by the name “Dizzer”. But they wonder about Max and his involvement, and whether they can get a paternity test on the fetus. Fin says that Fidelia’s dad is on the warpath, and turns on a press conference where Fidelia’s father is ranting about the state of the situation with kids and how the police don’t do anything about it. Munch finds Dizzer’s real name in a criminal alias database – it’s Donald Zuccho.

They find Dizzer and slap a warrant on him. They head to the Vidal household and tell Mr. Vidal of their progress, and that they can take Fidelia for an amnio to do a DNA test. Mr. Vidal calls for Fidelia, but she does not answer. He finds her bedroom door locked, and she still does not respond. When he can’t break down the door, he enlists Stabler's help. They open the door to find Fidelia hanging from her ceiling fan. Stabler restrains the parents as they cry out in horror.

As they take Fidelia's body away, her mother tells Fin and Stabler that someone made her do this, that Fidelia was getting emails taunting her. They check out the computer. They find someone by the ID of Dizzer4Ever seems to have been taunting her, but Dizzer denies it. He thinks he’s being set up. They take his phone. But Dizzer didn’t send the emails; they find they were sent from an Internet Café. Using cameras from a security cam at an ATM, they find the image of Peggy Bernardi who was there just a few minutes before the emails started.

They confront Peggy Bernardi, who admits to writing the emails, but she knows they can’t get her for that so she tells the detectives to get out. At the squad, ADA Grayleck (Micheala McManus) tells them there is nothing on the books to cover prosecution for cyber bullying, but she can try for charging her with promoting a suicide, and if that won’t work, she can go for other charges that are only misdemeanors. They get a call telling them that someone put Peggy Bernardi’s location on Google Earth, and the Bernardi’s are being mobbed. The detectives go to her home and arrest her and remove the family from the house amid the angry crowd.

At arraignment for a whole host of charges, including promoting a suicide, Peggy Bernardi denies the charges. Grayleck tries to go for $500,000 bail, but Judge Moredock (John Cullum) sets it at $50,000, but agrees with Grayleck that Bernardi should not be allowed to use a PC or other electronic device. Grayleck and Bernardi’s attorney Granger (David Thornton ) spar over the merits of the case.

On trial, Grayleck makes Bernardi read her emails aloud on the stand. One of the emails told Fidelia that the world doesn’t need her and to end it now. She also has her read Fidelia’s final email, which says “fath is knocking” so she had to go. When Grayleck assumes this meant Fidelia's father was knocking and that he was probably checking on her, she added that a good parent doesn’t persecute her kids. But Tina Bernardi stands up, saying that they are all wrong. As she is being led out of the courtroom, she proclaims that FATH doesn’t mean “father” it means “First And True Husband” which is a saying from the Chastity Circle, and the detectives realize Fidelia was talking about Max Matarazzo.

Munch and Stabler question Max. He says he came up the fire escape to avoid Fidelia’s dad. He admits he should have told them about his visit. He says he didn’t do anything bad. He says he loved Fidelia but she committed suicide. He loved her, and they made a commitment to God. He forgave her for cheating on their commitment. Stabler gives him all the details of Fidelia and Dizzer’s one night stand. They suggest that when Max arrived at her room, he saw her trading emails with “Dizzer” and it must have angered him. He admits that they argued, and she accused him of being scared to have sex. They suggest that he choked her out on anger and made it look to be a suicide. He seems to admit the crime, stating he prayed for forgiveness every night but God doesn’t answer.

Cut to the courtroom, where the sentence of 4 years in the state penitentiary for manslaughter in the first degree is given to Max. We also see the reading of the verdict for Alec Bernardi, who was sentence to 15 years to life for murder in the second degree. The charges are dismissed for Peggy Bernardi. Grayleck does not look pleased. Bernardi turns to Grayleck, saying she told her she was innocent. Grayleck says there is a big difference between charges dropped and innocent. She continues to taunt Bernardi by telling her that her neighbors will explain it to her when she gets home. Bernardi tells her to go to hell. Grayleck responds that she should “just try and wash the blood off her hands" when she holds Tina’s baby for the first time. Bernardi becomes enraged, and attacks Grayleck, pushing her on to the table and begins to choke her, saying she out to kill her, she’s a good mother, etc. Grayleck doesn’t seem to be fighting back, and Bernardi is pulled off of her. When Stabler asks if Grayleck is OK, she finds she had blood on her neck, and states to “collar that bitch for assault.” Elliot pause momentarily as he looks at Tina Bernardi sobbing in the courtroom over the events.

Later, in family court, Stabler approaches Tina, who is waiting there. She expresses remorse for her actions, her whole family is in jail and she’ll get sent to a foster home. He said he wouldn’t be so sure about that, and they turn to see Mr. Galli, Josh’s father, approach. He says he is there to talk to the judge and state that a baby needs a home, especially his grandchild. Tina says she is so sorry, but he says it is not about the past, it is about right now. They hug each other, and Stabler wishes them good luck, and departs.

This episode was too chocked full of ripped from the headlines story lines and too many characters and twists and turns that it seemed like they were trying very hard to make a predictable episode seem interesting. It didn’t work. Instead, the story came off as being too forced. Seriously, it was as if the writers were having a contest to see how many “ripped from the headlines” stories they could cram into one hour. I don’t dislike RFTH, but when they go overboard it detracts from the drama.

It was obvious that with all the hype surrounding Jesse McCartney’s appearance (I don’t get the appeal but that’s just me) that he would turn out to have a big hand in the episode somewhere along the line. And it would seem likely that a “chastity circle” member would trade one commitment – chastity – but then have a dark side of being a murderer. It must be all that abstinence that puts them over the edge. Also, did anyone else wonder why, when they broke down the door to Fidelia’s room that Stabler made no move to get her down, he just stood there, and then just restrained the parents? Fidelia didn’t look quite blue to me yet, and I would think that just for the parent’s sake he would have made an attempt to cut her down or check her pulse or something first. It also seemed odd that the ME didn’t notice that she had been choked to death, not hung, since the marks would be so different. I thought this was a huge flaw in the story, but of course it was a contrivance just so we could have Peggy Bernardi put on trial for allegedly contributing to her “suicide.”

Which brings me to another point, Grayleck’s bad behavior after the dismissal of charges against Bernardi. In my opinion, her comments were completely inappropriate for a prosecutor. If she was egging Bernardi on, it was also inappropriate. It also seemed odd that Grayleck made no move to fight back. Why? Even if she were egging on Bernardi, I would think she would at least try to grab Bernardi’s hands to get them off her neck. I would argue that Garyleck’s taunts were harassment, especially since Bernardi’s charges were dismissed. I am not quite sure if they are writing Grayleck to be particularly annoying so the fans will be happy if/when they fire McManus. That can’t come soon enough as far as I am concerned. Her acting still remains wooden.

Another annoyance with the Law & Order franchise, and especially SVU it seems, that the Internet is portrayed as this giant cesspool of wackos, or that it’s only purpose is to spread hate or to feed the seedy side of humanity. I guess that only perverts and nutjobs hang out at Internet Cafes, too. I seems that the Internet is only used to spread videos of people committing crimes, or, in their case of referencing Google Earth, to incite people to do bad. This is really getting old. Sure, there are some cases where people post questionable content on the internet, but I think there is more good out there than the bad they seem to portray. After all, considering that many TV shows rely on the Internet to spread information and generate excitement for their shows, and blogs and other fan sites and forums serve as free advertising and promotions for their shows, it’s as if they are biting the hand that feeds them.

Also a little too obvious was the forced humor and puns during parts of the show . For example, it seemed as if they were looking for ways to mock the initial victim’s manner of death. The only two segments that the humor seemed to work well was Munch as the crazed homeless man, and Fin with Dizzer trying to top each other with the lame comments and urban slang.

And what is the deal with Elliot suddenly having to fix everyone else’s family problems? His attempts to find a foster home for Tina is commendable, but let’s be honest here, he can’t fix his own family life. I suppose they want us to think that his need to “fix” people is reflective of his inability to fix his own problems, but if he put the effort into his own family as opposed to others, maybe he wouldn't have any problems. Also disappointing is that the preview for next week seems to imply that Elliot will be injured on the job which may open viewers up for more Stabler drama. I am sick of Stabler drama, frankly, so I am not looking forward to next week.

Maybe this episode would have played well with the under 16 crowd, but not with adults who come to watch Law & Order SVU for a crime drama, not a soap opera. I find myself wondering what has happened to this show and what demographic they are really going after? Is it the 13-18 year olds? The show is becoming too vanilla, too simplistic, and the edge is long gone. My suggestion is that the writers throw away the newspapers and stop watching TV news for a while, forget any personal issues with Stabler and Benson, and start writing something original. I think that the 19 year old crowd and older deserve it.

“Babes” Two Minute Replay

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Anonymous said...

I've not caught any of this seasons new SVU shows. It's up against the final season of the fabulous "The Shield". The grittiness of the dialog and storyline and the off the hook performances by all the actors is what great drama is supposed to be.

Two seasons ago the show just went off the rails and lost it's way. It's kind of sad because they actually have compelling actors who are extremely underutilized. It's the Liv and Elliot Show. I seriously can't wait til they pull the plug on this show. Hopefully, they'll have a place for Munch, Cragen and Fin. I just love these guys!!


Melanie Atkins said...

I love this show, but didn't particularly care for this episode. It's a tandem ep, with Mariska shooting another one at the same time, and IMHO I don't really care for those. I prefer ones with both heavy doses of Stabler and Benson. And I love the Stabler/Benson drama. The reason Elliot doesn't try to fix his family is that he doesn't want to. His marriage is basically over, and he's just going through the motions. He and Kathy married young because she was pregnant with Maureen, and now they have outgrown each other and fallen out of love. He came back out of a sense of responsibility when she turned up pregnant again--not because of some earthshaking love. I can't wait for next week. Plenty of E/O drama and Kathy angst. I'd be happy if she left the show. I want El and Liv together.


John K. said...

Can you transcribe the Palin reference line for me, please? I mostly got it, but I want to be clear on the language.

I thought it was decent, and it didn't feel as forced (MS' Bottomless), but I can definitely see what you mean. I thought the swipes at the Abstinence club were a bit much.

Interesting contention on the net, as New Media Is Evil, as the kids say. And why can't teens use grammar in IMs? Is it so difficult?

Good continuity, for once, with Granger and Callum and B-Friendz (I think). Amazing.

Good recap, and more of my commentary later.

All Things Law and Order said...

John, if I can read my scribbled notes correctly, Palin's daughter was only referenced by one girl sayng "that vice president lady's daughter". I don't think the show would dare use her daughter's name. At least, that's all I can remember of it, and I've already deleted the episode off my DVR so I can't go back and check!

Animelee said...

Yeah, that's what she said.

I also appreciate the continuity within the Law & Order shows. It's nice that the showrunners are speaking to eachother about continuity and such. Now if only they could rectify the whole Spitzer/Shalvoy mess.

The episode was good, but like everyone else except girls aged 11 to 19, I don't care about E/O or any of that crap. I want my Law & Order.

Next week's looks like typical "New SVU" sweeps stuff.

When Munch got shot in "Raw" a few seasons back, THAT was surprising, shocking and amazing. But now this stuff is happening every other episode, and it's getting old.

John K. said...

Well, I thought I heard "candidate" in there, as well. However, another fan said the same thing you said, so I'll go with you, until I re-hear the line, myself. Thanks.

As for whether they would actually say "Bristol," maybe, maybe not, but that line was delivered rather negatively with no counter. Plus, I have to check when it was filmed and the timing of the writing, and the timecards and all those ither mechanics. It's the danger of such topical references (so soon, anyway).

Thanks, though.

Anonymous said...

who played Dizzer? Maybe I missed it in the recap...

lilkunta said...

@ blog owner ( I dont know your name) Who played Vadalia/Fidelia? I cant find ehr naem anywhere! doesnt even say the guest stars xcept for Debi/Jesse.

@msKitty: I disagree. These eps are great. SVU IMO is the best show on tv.

@melanie: What do u mean that
'this ep is tandem ep with MH shooting another 1" ?
on El: If what u write is true, that is sad. He coulda been a good dad w/o marrying Kathleen? His catholicism didnt each him DONT HAVE PREMARITAL SEX?

@animeLee: I dont watch LO so how is this ep continual with it?
Munch: I love when Munch does this. I missed him when he asked for time off a few yrs back to travel Europe w his wife. I wish they'd have him say more conspiracy stuff.
....I also wish they'd fire Fin. Icet sux. So does his ugly & disgusting wife.

johnK Nov12 12:50a: no they didnt say Bristol. They said "the VP daughter is preg". This ep was filmed Th2Oct- M6Oct near Washington Ave in NY. Here is proof
..& if u wanna rewatch it reruns on USA cable channel on Sun23Nov @ 12a (so stay up Sat night 22Nov).

@anon Nov17 6:44a
Dizzer is Geoffrey Wigdor . He's been on SVU b4.

All Things Law and Order said...

lilkunta, I never saw Fidelia's real name in the ending credits. The only name I could not find a match for in the opening credits was Jessica Varley, who I assume played Fidelia. But I can't find anything else on Ms. Varley to verify that. It remains a mystery!

Thanks for confirming Dizzer's real name.

Reno-kid said...

I just happened to catch this episode yesterday and it was very emotional. An excellent episode on the evils of cyberbullying and why parents should always monitor what their kids and who they do it with (even if it was a ripped from the headlines style episode, it still gets the point across). Shame what happened to Fidelia...I liked her to a certain degree but after she died and I learned the circumstance from her death, I was a little on the 'iffy' side about whether or not we should feel sympathy for her (she was kind of full of herself when she was talking with Benson about her pregnancy).

Micheala McManus was fabulous as A.D.A. Graylek. She didn't back down for a second when confronting that Bernardi mom and I loved her comments at the end when Peggy arrogantly proclaimed her innocence to her:

'There's a difference between charge dropped and innocence lady, I'm sure your neighbors will explain that to you. Just make sure you wash the blood off of your hands before you hold Tina's baby.'

That was maximum ownage right there. I don't know what it was about that comment that sent Peggy over the edge and made her try to attack Graylek, cause she was telling the truth. How is this woman gonna touch her grandchild with the blood of another child on her hands? And where does Bernardi get off shouting she's a good mom while assaulting Graylek? I was like, 'Lady, a girl is dead because of you. You call that being a good mom?'

Graylek was my kind of A.D.A. Don't get me wrong, I liked Miss Cabot, but Graylek had a macho rock and roll 'don't screw with me or I'll chew your a*s off' kind of personality and I loved every minute of it. This is the first time I've seen an A.D.A. get assaulted by the accused in the courtroom and I like how Graylek hissed at Stabler 'Collar that B*tch for assault!' Graylek made it clear that she wasn't taking crap from anybody in this piece.

Jupiter6 said...

I know this thread is old but how can anyone like Fidelia? It sucks she was killed but that girl was a total beyotch. Typical teen (and we were all teens once)treating an authority person disrespectfully not to mention calling Olivia old. Exactly why I hated High School and still cannot stand some of that age group. Good job SVU portraying her perfectly.

I loved that idiotic record store kid though. Nice job he had.