Law & Order: SVU has had a rough 15th season. Storylines have been far-fetched, mashing up “ripped from headlines” cases into messy, over-the-top episodes (remember the Paul Deen/Trayvon-episode with Cybill Shepherd?). The series’ focus has shifted from the procedural formula and put a way too bright spotlight on the overly fractured lives of the SVU detectives. The tone of the series has been all over the place, the performances have suffered from inconsistent writing and the audience is left with an inferior version of a show they’ve turned into for 15 years.
So, with all the problems this series has been having, why wouldn’t it try and tackle (pun intended) one of the biggest social issues gripping the world of sports right now — homosexuality in football. No, don’t try and deliver an episode where the detectives and prosecution don’t look utterly clueless. No, don’t try and establish some sort of order in the series now that two of its cornerstone characters Kragen (Dann Florek) and Munch (Richard Belzer) have departed. No, please don’t try and take baby steps at all, just dive head first into a controversial, burgeoning issue and make a statement about it with as much ham-fisted awkwardness as humanly possible. Oh, and while you’re at it, let’s just keep ramming the Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) gambling storyline down our throats.
“Gridiron Soldier” takes place at the most cursed university in the history of the world — Hudson. How many rapes, murders and acts of violence have been perpetrated at this school? It seems like at least twice a season the detectives are on campus investigating something awful. In this episode, a Southern high school football has come onto the campus for a recruiting trip. He’s wowed by the stern yet competitive program but he’s given his word to Georgia Tech, so he’s not going to sign. In retaliation, the players trick the young man into receiving oral sex from a male cheerleader which sends him into a rage and he ultimately ends up locked up for beating a gay guy up at a local bar. The young man’s uncle is a childhood friend of Rollins so the SVU team investigates and realize the hazing goes much deeper in the program than meets the eye.
So, this week, we’ve got Michael Sam’s coming out mashed up with elements of the Jonathan Martin/Richie Icognito scandal, as well as dozens of other college scandals. This wasn’t the season for the series to take on this case, but still, the writing team did decide to take it head on and that took some guts. The show makes a lot of damning statements about homosexuality in the NFL (especially at the end), which is a pretty ballsy move since NBC’s highest rated program is their Sunday night football program.
Yet, as hot button of an issue as is this, the case has such a “been there, done that” feel. Remember this is probably the third or fourth time we’ve seen the “gay football player” plot on the series. Yes, you’d expect storylines to be rerun in a show that’s been around for 15 years, but it’s such a niche story that this time around it doesn’t feel as special. Add on top of that the execution of this story was woefully underwhelming and you’ve pretty much taken the juice out of this white hot issue.
Yet, there is a bright spot. The best performance of the night comes from guest star Greg Finley, who plays wide receiver Eddie Thorpe. He gives the most realistic and ultimately heartbreaking performance. He perfectly embodies someone walking the line between human decency and living for “the team.” He’s able to paint us an intimate picture of someone who has a terrible secret but is trying tot be tough as hell — sometimes just with a flash of his eyes. If the show had focused more on him than explosive country bumpkin recruit Cedric (Winston Duke), it would’ve been 10 times better. Duke’s portrayal of Cedric is so expected that it becomes rather boring quite fast.
Then there’s the Rollins gambling story. My God it’s so bad…and it never ends. Every time this angle is brought back to the show it brings every episode to a slow and painful halt. Next week, the absurdity of this storyline goes to a whole other level and it includes Rollins attempting to flee the country. Seriously? Where has this show gone?
“Gridiron Soldier” was a very ambitious episode that failed out of the gates. While it was a massive improvement over last week’s absolutely horrendous episode, “Comic Perversion,” it really did nothing to assure the audience that this show is improving. Next week is looking to be pretty terrible, so one has to start wondering how much longer SVU will be hanging around.