As this year winds down and the television channels lay fallow before the January kick-off, there's not a lot for a dedicated TV-watcher to do except see which show marathon on which channel will likely suck away six hours of your day if you're careful.
Let me make a suggestion: try the Law & Order: SVU marathon, which airs on Sunday, December 27, 2009, from 9 a.m. eastern on. I say this not because shows about busting up child slavery routes and questioning whether the law is protecting the right person in fetal alcohol cases is a real post-holiday mood lifter. I say this because the show is refreshing. Let me count the ways:
The women on this show tend to be dignified. In a TV landscape where women are routinely shown as hyperemotional and unprofessional (I'm looking at you, Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty), watching the no-nonsense Detective Olivia Benson is a cool, calm drink of water. I have big love for Diane Neal as ADA Casey Novak as well. Maybe it's residual trauma from the Ally McBeal era; I'm just grateful when a female lawyer on TV isn't hallucinating or openly weeping over her ticking biological clock.
The detectives on the show are aware of gender and how it may make people susceptible to certain crimes -- but they don't see the law in gendered terms. In other words, this is the exact opposite approach of every story you've ever seen in a newspaper where some crackpot legislator decides that the role of the state is to tell private citizens what's what in their uteri. I'm not suggesting that the show is an oasis of feminism -- but it is populated by characters who do not see the world in terms of "people" and then "women."
Finally, knowing that every Law & Order: SVU episode is going to have the same structure -- reveal of the victim, detective taking point, detecting and strategizing going on, presumed perp caught after a few scenes, the legal wrangling that does or doesn't get the perp off the hook, the ironic final scene that's supposed to make you think -- oh, my gosh, it is soothing to know that no matter how insane the rest of TV's scripted or reality fare may get, there will be one show where Olivia Benson, eyes shining with righteous wrath and a jaw as set as her sense of duty, is fixing the world in under 53 minutes.
Some days, that's all you need.