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"Law & Order" and "Special Victims Unit"

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Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Mondays; 9 to 10 p.m.; NBC) got off to a stomach-turning start on September 20, with the stabbing-to-death and dismemberment of a cabdriver who would prove upon further investigation to be both an illegal alien and a Serbian war criminal. I'll spare you more of the gruesome details, not out of delicacy but because you can catch the episode, "Payback," on Sunday, October 3, on USA. But since SVU specifically targets sex crimes, every episode is likely to be gruesome, and Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, herself a child of violence, is equally likely to take all of them personally, no matter what her partner, Chris Meloni, or their boss, Dann Florek, says. Florek, of course, was in the cast of the original L&O. Richard Belzer, reprising his disgruntled Homicide Munch, is the resident conspiracy theorist. From the parent program, Angie Harmon shows up briefly, and Jerry Orbach will soon follow. Why not bring back Chris Noth too, unless he's having too much fun on Sex and the City? SVU is L&O gone Gothic, and we never have to appear in court.

Meanwhile, the original Law & Order opens its tenth season (Wednesday, September 22; 10 to 11 p.m.; NBC) with Jesse L. Martin as Orbach's new partner -- and a typical topical twist. You may recall the gunning down several years ago of so many Canadian female college students by a misogynist nutcase. So, in "Gunshow," does a maniac massacre fifteen female premed students in Central Park. The twist is that Sam Waterston's Jack McCoy, after an investigation into the sale of assault weapons on the Internet and the sale of cheap "conversion kits" at gun shows that turn a semi-automatic into a fully automatic, also goes after the manufacturer of the murder weapon, for "criminally negligent homicide." If he could, he'd also prosecute the legislators who cave in to the gun lobby. As for Jesse Martin as a cop instead of Ally McBeal's doctor-lover, you will be astonished to learn that his copybook has been blotted with several charges of excessive force!


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