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The Most Infuriating 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' Tropes

Updated September 21, 2020 2.4k votes 334 voters 8.8k views15 items

List RulesVote up the tropes or errors that bother you the most.

No one denies the immense appeal of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which has reliably churned out new episodes since its 1999 debut. But like any massively successful franchise, the show falls into all sorts of predictable SVU cliches. As is the case with other popular crime shows, you can expect to find predictable SVU plots almost every other episode. And if it isn't doling out outrageous storylines, SVU gives you flat-out lies about how law enforcement actually runs. For most fans, the show's banality is something they've grown to love. While many episodes feature engaging plot twists and juicy mysteries, the cliches are unavoidable.

Law & Order: SVU may not be the only show guilty of procedural cop show tropes, but it certainly is one of the most prolific.

  • 5

    Detective Benson Is Triggered A Lot

    Photo: NBC

    Anyone with passing knowledge of SVU knows Detective Olivia Benson lives a stressful life. Benson begins seeing a therapist in Season 15 after being kidnapped, and she periodically visits her in later episodes. Despite this, there are still moments where specific actions trigger Benson.

    In Season 15's “American Tragedy,” Benson walks home from work one night and gets catcalled by a man, who asks her to smile for him. Instead of ignoring the man or telling him to get lost, Benson snaps, punching the man in the face and pushing him down on the ground. She then gets down beside him and makes a fist, only to snap back to reality and realize what she is doing. She walks away while muttering an apology under her breath. 

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  • 6

    The Same Actors Play Different Characters

    Photo: NBC

    If you’re a fan of SVU, you definitely notice how actors appear in one episode, only to appear in another episode as someone else. In fact, a few of the show's main characters were once guest stars. Season 8's “Outsider” features Kelli Giddish playing Kara Bawson, a rape victim. Giddish eventually lands a full-time spot on the show playing detective Amanda Rollins.

    Diane Neal, best known for her role as Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak in seven seasons of SVU, didn’t start on the show with that role. Before playing Novak, Neal played the role of a woman accused of raping a male stripper in Season 3’s “Ridicule.”

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  • 7

    The Characters Take Cases Too Personally

    Photo: NBC

    The characters of SVU tend to get emotionally involved in different cases and, at times, take things too personally. The program often uses this as a means to illuminate other aspects of the characters' lives outside of their jobs. Yet as much as viewers understand and sympathize with behavior, in real life too much emotional attachment to a case might could be grounds for punishing, or even dismissing, an officer.

    It's common for Detective Benson to show compassion and empathy for rape victims, since she's the sef-described product of a rape. Meanwhile, Detective Stabler takes pedophilia cases much more seriously due to the fact he has five children of his own. On the Season 1 episode "Slaves," Stabler even admits to a psychiatrist that he fantasizes about murdering people who sexually abuse children. 

    Amanda Rollins joined SVU during Season 13. Right away viewers learn she has a gambling problem in "Home Invasions." During Season 15's "Rapist Anonymous," viewers learn Rollins relapsed and continues to gamble. In yet another Season 15 episode, "Gambler's Fallacy," her gambling forms the primary focus of the show, and her addiction almost causes her to lose her job.

    When dealing with cases involving classism and racism, the show tends to have Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba or Detective Tutuola invested in the case. For instance, in the finale of Season 18, "Sanctuary," Barba gets so involved in a case involving the racially-motivated rape and murders of a Syrian family that he suggests Benson lie on the witness stand. That, of course, is highly unprofessional for an assistant D.A. 

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  • 8

    Husbands Are Always Up To No Good

    Photo: NBC

    SVU might leave you a bit paranoid about marriage and your spouse. There are plenty of examples throughout the show’s run of husbands behaving horribly. Season 8's “Burned” focuses on a woman who accuses her husband of rape. However, the police are unconvinced by the woman’s story. They let the man go, and he returns home and sets his wife on fire.

    On the episode “Annihilated” from Season 8, a man cheats on his wife with a mistress whom he ends up murdering. The man tells his mistress he's in the CIA, which is why he's such a private person. In reality, he's married with three children, all of whom he also murders. He later explains to police that he had to kill them because they would not have survived him going to jail.

    On Season 3's “Monogamy,” a man finds out his pregnant wife has been cheating on him. While that’s certainly reason for a divorce, separation, or at least marriage counseling, this husband has other ideas. He is so consumed with bitterness and jealousy over his wife’s cheating that he cuts the baby out of her.

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