Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Carrie Fisher to appear in Star Wars: Episode 9

Posted in business, movies by commorancy on July 27, 2018

star-wars-e9It was announced today by LucasFilm that J.J. Abrams has come up with a way to include Carrie Fisher in the upcoming Star Wars Episode 9 installment. Let’s explore.

The Force Awakens

Every film has outtakes and footage that doesn’t make the final cut. So, where does that film end up? It seems that the outtake footage of Carrie Fisher from The Force Awakens will end up in Episode 9.

What does this mean for Episode 9? It means that J.J. Abrams will need extraordinary writing and editing efforts to shoehorn this existing footage into a cohesive narrative for Episode 9.

Will It Work?

This is, unfortunately, a constraint that the saga doesn’t need. I realize that Carrie Fisher’s untimely death left the Star Wars franchise with a dilemma. I also realize that the filmmakers wanted a way to properly close Leia out from this Saga. I further realize that the story needs to be cohesive and round out the ending of this already perilous trilogy after the divisive The Last Jedi.

On the one hand, I’m like any other fan. I want to see Leia complete her role in the final installment. On the other hand, I realize this isn’t possible because Carrie Fisher is no longer with us. I also realize that the series needs to honor Carrie’s and Leia’s legacy in these films.

At the same time, The Last Jedi arguably one of the worst Star Wars films ever made and it needs to be forgotten as we try to ignore (as best we can) the crap that Rian Johnson introduced. With that said, J.J. Abrams needs to try and salvage and close out this trilogy in some befitting way.

By grabbing random film stock of Carrie Fisher from The Force Awakens, it is intended to do one thing, honor Carrie’s memory… something this franchise does need to do. However, there are many ways of honoring a person’s memory without resorting to fitting …

Square Pegs in Round Holes

This is where I believe J.J. Abrams has just tied his own hands. J.J.’s abilities to write solid functional stories for film is difficult enough at the best of times. When trying to honor Carrie’s and Leia’s memory at the same time using this old stock footage, I’m highly skeptical that J.J. is actually proficient enough at screenwriting to pull this final installment off with these constraints. I’m not saying that J.J. can’t pull it off, but his ability to pull it off successfully has just dropped dramatically.

Final Trilogy Installment

We all know that this trilogy (and the Star Wars franchise in general) is already in serious trouble. I’d personally consider using Carrie’s The Force Awakens footage as a highly risky move for this film. Yes, we do need to close out Leia’s involvement, but I’m uncertain that this existing footage will even make sense in the context of a new story.

Considering the performance of the Solo movie, I wouldn’t have suggested making an announcement that this possibility exists at all. Just let it happen organically. If it works, so be it. We’ll see it when the movie is complete. Since the principal photography is to begin in August 2018, it’s way too premature to know if what Carrie filmed in 2015 will even work. And, if it doesn’t work when a rough cut is viewed, it could end up on the cutting room floor again. After all, it was already on the cutting room floor. Having announced it in the press means fans will expect it to be in the film. If it’s yanked because it doesn’t work, that choice will be reflected in the movie’s box office receipts. This announcement seems way too premature.

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Remembering the 80s: Moonlighting

Posted in botch, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on July 24, 2018

MoonlightingIn 1985, Moonlighting began as a show TV viewers seemed to both love and hate. I personally became very fond of this show at the time. Today, it is simply a product of its time period. Let’s explore.

80s TV

After coming out of the 70s, where crime dramas tended to rule the roost, the 80s spawned more lighthearted comedy to balance out those 70s serials. In fact, the 80s spawned a lot of TV shows that are fondly remembered. One of these is the screwball romantic comedy Moonlighting produced by Glenn Gordon Caron.

Moonlighting hearkens back to screwball comedies of the 40s with a straight man (or woman) character Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) to the cuckoo character David Addison (Bruce Willis). At the time, Willis was an unknown. I’m sure the TV executives weren’t sure he could pull off the role at the time, but once the chemistry between Bruce and Cybill became palpable, all executive misgivings evaporated.

Moonlighting and Chemistry

Like Charlie’s Angels before Moonlighting, this cast was as tight on chemistry as they come. The on-screen chemistry between these two actors was amazing to behold. Unfortunately, what made the show a winner would also see to its demise. The quick and witty repartee between Maddie and David would become deeply symbolic of what went on behind the scenes. After the second season, the apparently deep and constant bickering between the two actors would ultimately end up in tabloids, tarnishing this series irrevocably. However, what ultimately did this series in was its writing, production in-fighting and Cybill’s pregnancy.

Biting off more…

The witty rapid fire repartee of the Moonlighting character dialogue wasn’t without peril. Oh, it was most certainly fun to watch. Apparently, each script required double the amount of written exposition found in a similar series. This meant writing double the amount of pages in a script. Effectively, each episode was two episodes worth of material. Instead of cranking out several episodes rapidly, writers were only able to produce half the number in the same period. Because of the quick witty interrupting repartee, sometimes with Maddie and David talking over one another simultaneously, this would only serve to delay how quickly an episode could be shot.

At the time, it was said that it took upwards of sometimes 10-14 days to complete one episode of Moonlighting when most series with half the dialogue took about 5-7 days.

For both filming and writing reasons, trying to reliably release one episode per week was a chore for the Moonlighting team. This meant that episodes didn’t reliably show up every week. Usually there was a rerun in between new episodes. This also meant you’d never know if the show that week would be a rerun or a new episode until it showed up in TV Guide. This didn’t happen during season one and two because these seasons had many episodes in the can by the time the show aired. However, once the series airings caught up to the currently filmed episode, they never could get ahead again.

For a viewer, this unknown led to a lot of disappointment after finding out that this week’s episode was a three or more weeks old rerun. That’s not to say that those episodes weren’t funny, but they were way too recent to rewatch. This problem stagnated the series and was Moonlighting’s first blemish. More blemishes would show as time progressed. Though, the reruns were helpful if you missed that episode.

First Two Seasons

For the first two seasons of this series, which encompassed a total of 24 episodes (6 in season one and 18 in season two), the series kept its chemistry entirely on track. The writers kept Maddie and David in check and at just the proper distance from one another as Maddie constantly played hard to get. The constant keeping-David-at-arms-length premise kept the sexual tension at just the right level. It’s what kept people coming back week after week to see if Maddie finally gets together with David. Between the magic of the witty repartee and keeping David and Maddie at arm’s length, this was the show’s mojo. However, the witty rapid dialog and sexual tension began to wear a little thin by season three. Viewers wanted to finally see David and Maddie get together. Careful what you wish for.

Season Three

In Season three, when Maddie and David finally hook up in the episode I am curious… Maddie, the series deflates like a balloon. That episode singlehandedly took the wind out of the sails of Moonlighting. Not only did the sexual tension vanish, the constant rumors of the on-set fighting between Cybill and Bruce began appearing in tabloids and only served as a major distraction to the series. This coupled with Cybill’s real life pregnancy and Bruce’s leave to be in Die Hard left the series in a quandary:

  • Incorporate the pregnancy into the show or go on without her
  • Go on with or without Bruce

This is also where the actor’s real lives intruded into the production of this fine series. This season also marks when the series ran off the rails.

Season Four

At this point in the series, had I been the producer, I might have opted to create episodes with other characters while Cybill takes maternity leave if Bruce had been available. However, because both lead actors were otherwise tied up with outside commitments, the choice should have been to delay any further production of the series. The network apparently didn’t want this which led to a bad decision.

After the series introduced Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley) as more than just a charming rhyming receptionist and brought in Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong) as her love interest, the series tried expanding on these two characters in their own episodes while waiting on Bruce and Cybill to be available. This really didn’t work. Beasley and Armstrong had very little on-screen chemistry leaving the episodes flat and boring. Beasley was charming as the rhyming receptionist role, but she wasn’t in any way able to carry the series in an expanded role. Neither could Armstrong. Together, they simply had no chemistry together nor were the characters leading character material. They simply could not carry this series.

By this point, I felt that the series was way offtrack. At the time, I knew it was only a matter of time before Moonlighting was cancelled. Not only was the sexual tension lost, the series began focusing on forgettable side character arcs that didn’t matter. This all happened simply because the two lead actors were unavailable. You can’t run a series when your leads are missing in action. While I understand Cybill’s pregnancy, I can’t understand why the series allowed Bruce Willis to sign a contract to be in Die Hard while the series was still in production. This just makes no sense.

Without its leads, the series should have taken a hiatus. Coupled with the slow shooting schedule, the longer than typical scripts, the show just couldn’t make any headway. If this had had a normal filming schedule, they could have put a few (or many) episodes in the can in advance of both Cybill’s and Bruce’s departure and then had them to fill out the time slots when the actors were unavailable. Because of the size of the scripts, this was impossible. Though, they did get pre-work from Cybill before her maternity leave and before season four began. But, this pre-work was filmed before the full episodes were fully scripted or shot.

By the time Cybill went on leave with her pregnancy and Bruce was tied up with Die Hard, this meant that a lot of season four was created by the actors phoning in their parts. As stated above, Cybill had pre-shot her dialogue scenes separately which had to be worked into as yet uncreated episodes. Because the leads were never seen together in scenes, the series ratings continued to decline. You can’t exactly create sexual tension between two characters when they’re talking to each other over the phone and not in the same room.

The ratings didn’t improve when the series tried focusing on DiPesto and Viola in an attempt to carry the series. In season three, not only had Maddie and David come together and split, the series introduced Sam Crawford (Mark Harmon) as Maddie’s new love interest. By season four, Maddie gets pregnant (assumed to be by Sam, but could have been David), thus integrating her pregnancy (and the unnecessary Sam character) into season four. It was a horrible plot choice, particularly the ambiguity of the father of the baby.

There’s no way faster to lose the hot model image than by knocking up your main character, particularly if by a transient and unnecessary character. This third character also transformed the series from a twosome into a threesome, which also didn’t work. The chemistry between these three did not work at all. This further served to degrade this series into a train wreck about to crash. Not only had Maddie and David gotten together and split forever, Maddie takes on a new boyfriend which is assumed she consummates that relationship with a baby. It was the wrong play. It added a new character dynamic at the wrong time into a series that least needed it. It also implied that Sam, not David, was the father of the baby. As well, having characters phoning in their parts didn’t make the episodes great. It would have been a better choice not to incorporate the pregnancy or Sam at all. The best choice was hiatus.

By halfway through the season, I’d grown tired of seeing stories about DiPesto and Viola and Maddie and Sam. The series was originally about the detective agency and the relationship between Maddie and David. We lost that when the series began focusing stories away from Maddie and David and more on other characters. The magic, at this point, was irreparably lost and the ratings continued to reflect that change in creative direction.

As for Maddie’s baby, just think what would have happened to the Charlie’s Angels ratings had one of the main characters gotten pregnant on Charlie’s Angels? That series would have tanked harder than when Farrah Fawcett left the series. The Charlie’s Angels story is about hot female detectives performing detective work. Not about rearing children or getting knocked up. Same for Moonlighting. Moonlighting was about a hot model owning a detective agency. It’s not about getting knocked up and rearing babies.

By season four, the writers had lost their way with the plots. This was in part because, according to the tabloids, the actors were not only fighting with each other, they were also fighting over what they were being paid. It was also in part because of the lack of their lead actor’s availability to film episodes.  It was also in part due to the writers strike. This led to poor story choices and a swirl of tabloid gossip.

Season Five

By this season and after the writers strike concluded, which cut short the final episode of season four, the writers and producers seemed to have realized the error of their ways with Maddie’s pregnancy and penned a season opener that sees Maddie miscarry and lose the baby. It was too little, too late. It was also a bad idea overall. Setting Maddie up to have a baby, see her carry it and then miscarry? This isn’t a topic for a comedy show. This topic on this show misfired. This is a detective show, not a home and family show. The damage was already done.

By season five, the show couldn’t get its mojo back for a number of reasons. The first reason is because of the lack of enthusiasm by the show’s stars. Bruce had further created a successful new franchise in Die Hard. Cybill now had twins and wanted out of the long working hours to be with them. The second reason is that the writing failed to go back to Blue Moon cases with Maddie and David in the office trying to rekindle the sexual tension spark with witty repartee instead of dealing with Maddie’s personal life. This change in show direction was due to Glenn Gordon Caron’s departure. The creative team was gutted. The episode that attempted to reignite the sexual tension spark failed and tanked the ratings further. Ultimately, season three showed it had entirely spent its mojo capital when it got Maddie and David together. Everything after that point couldn’t save the series from cancellation. If season four was the purchase of the coffin, season five nailed it shut.

Aresto Momentum…

Even still, the show did reach two more seasons after David and Maddie got together.  That’s respectable, but not necessarily unexpected. Some of the episodes in seasons four and five were okay, if not a little tired. However, the show still had a lot of momentum going into into the fourth season if only the actors had been available to shoot every episode and keep that momentum going. Unfortunately, Moonlighting just couldn’t withstand the turmoil, chaos and the cast unavailability. The series eventually succumbed to its ratings slump and the eventual loss of Glenn Gordon Caron, the series creator by season five due to a rift between Cybill and Glenn. That change in the creative team didn’t help the stories in any way.

The Fourth Wall

By the third season, the shows regularly opened with David and Maddie staring directly at the camera offering some kind of message. Usually the message existed simply because the show ran short on time and they needed to fill it. These messages made no bones about it. These show opening messages would become the first salvo in fourth wall breaking that the series would begin exploring.

Personally, while I didn’t mind the show openers, I didn’t want to see fourth wall breaks within an episode. It is what it is. The show would take this to the extreme in the final episode. The series ending in season 5 shows the crew breaking down the entire set while David and Maddie are still trying to play their detective character roles while the producer states that the show has been cancelled. It was somewhat funny to watch, but it really dissed the show. Sure, it’s fun for shows to poke fun at themselves, but this went way beyond what I thought was appropriate for a professional series.

Everything that went wrong with the series was pretty much summed up in the series closing episode by breaking down that set.

A product of its time

Moonlighting was cute, funny and endearing when at its best. It was a hot mess when at its worst. However, it was also a product of the 80s in which it was spawned. Time has not been kind to this series. Producers today reference this series as something to avoid when creating new productions. They simply don’t want to revisit what happened when Maddie and David finally got together. That single episode is now considered the poster child of what not to do with characters in a TV series.

Because Moonlighting never went into syndication in the traditional way, it simply hasn’t had the power of reruns on its side. I don’t think syndication would have helped this series much, anyway. Unlike I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, which saw continual and never ending reruns, Moonlighting never got that chance. It’s probably a good thing.

The series was fun to watch during its era, but today the show’s comedy and antics seem antiquated and pretentious. Where I Love Lucy is mostly timeless, Moonlighting is a time capsule out of time when watched today. This show was definitely a product of the 80s with its shoulder pads and dated hair styles and clothing. If you like 80s TV, it’s a must watch. However, if you’re looking for something modern and relevant, you won’t find that in Moonlighting. The stories are definitely dated to its era.

If you really want to watch this series at its absolute best, I suggest watching seasons one and two and season three up to I am curious… Maddie and stop there. The last episode of season 5 is fun to watch if for no other reason than to watch the cast break through the fourth wall. Though, you can watch season four and five, don’t expect much from these two final seasons. Season three is ultimately where the series should have ended.

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Unlimited Vacation: Blessing or Curse?

Posted in best practices, business, vacation by commorancy on July 23, 2018

I don’t usually get into discussing workplace stuff because it’s relatively boring. However, Unlimited Vacation is one perk that is really, really needs discussion. Let’s explore.

Perks and Jobs

I get it. I understand why companies offer perks. They have to offer perks for talent acquisition reasons such as:

  1. Companies must keep up with competition — If a company doesn’t keep up with what other companies are offering, they lose talent during recruiting
  2. Companies must offer perks that seem inviting — Again, this is a talent acquisition feather-in-the-cap sort of thing. It’s something the HR team can cross off the checklist of things to entice candidates
  3. Companies must offer perks that are inexpensive — Companies don’t want to give away the farm to offer a specific perk

What kinds of perks can you typically find in tech companies? You find perks like the following:

  1. A stocked kitchen — This includes soda, coffee, tea, milk / cream and then for food, this can include fruit, nuts, chips and cereal
  2. Bagel Friday — This perk includes donuts and bagels on Friday
  3. Lunches — Some companies offer subsidized and/or free lunches one or several days of the week

Those are all food related, however, other perks include:

  1. Day Care or reimbursement
  2. Commute expenses
  3. Free parking
  4. Tuition Reimbursement (job related)
  5. Training / certifications (job related)
  6. Paid sick days
  7. Paid vacation
  8. 401k
  9. ESPP (if public company)
  10. Company holidays

These are the HR type of benefits that many companies offer. Many of these have a real dollar based cost to the business. However, there’s a new perk that seems great, but really isn’t for several reasons. That perk is ….

Unlimited Vacation

This ‘perk’ (and I use this term loosely) is now becoming popular in businesses. Why? Because it doesn’t cost the business anything to implement and may actually save the company some money (or so companies think). On paper, the idea seems enticing, in reality it’s a pointless benefit to employees and actually encourages more employees to take vacation which may hinder productivity and deadlines.

Why is this benefit so bad? This benefit is pointless because there is no way any employee can actually use it in its unlimited capacity. If you were to try, you’d be fired and walked from the building. I don’t know of any business that doesn’t require approval for vacation from a manager. Even if you could request excessive amounts of vacation, it’s unlikely your manager would approve it. But, within reason, you can request time off and here’s where it begins to break down for employers.

The only people who can even use this benefit as unlimited are those who are in management positions, who don’t have to report their own vacation usage. In other words, subordinates won’t be able to use it, but managers will (and they will use it frequently).

This is one of those perks that will be abused by those in charge. Those not in charge will be penalized whenever they attempt to use it in any unlimited way.

Vacation Time

In general, asking for vacation time off is tricky. It must always be coordinated with ongoing projects, team commitments (i.e., on-call), other team member time off and holidays and requires manager approval. Even people who end up out sick can interrupt or force rescheduling of vacation time off.

Don’t be tricked by this perk, it doesn’t make vacation time off any more accessible and, in fact it is entirely designed entirely for …

Ripping off Employees

There are two fundamental problems with Unlimited Vacation. The first problem is that the benefit (ahem) is being implemented as a cost saving measure to rip off employees when they leave a company (and is designed to appear to save the company many thousands of dollars). This issue really only affects long term employees. You know, the ones who have devoted several years to your business. But now, you’re going to give them the finger on the way out the door? Smart.

With standard paid time off (PTO), you are allotted a certain amount of hours that accrue over time. Let’s say for every year of service that you complete, you will accrue up to 1 week off (with a maximum of 2 weeks that can be held in total). After 2 years of service, you’ll have those 2 weeks accrued, assuming you never take time off. If you leave the company after 2 years without taking any vacation, you’ll be paid out your accrued PTO balance for the 2 weeks that you didn’t take. That’s two weeks worth of salary you’ll receive upon exit, in addition to any other salary owed.

With Unlimited Vacation, that vacation payday goes away. Since it’s now unlimited, there’s no more time accrued and no more PTO to pay out for any employee. The only thing that payroll needs to keep track of is how much time you’ve used solely for timekeeping purposes. When you exit a company offering Unlimited Vacation, you won’t receive any vacation pay because they are no longer accruing any. This means that when you were formerly paid 2 weeks of PTO, with Unlimited Vacation you now get $0.

Unlimited Vacation is then an HR cost-cutting measure entirely designed to screw exiting long term employees over so companies no longer need to make any vacation payouts.

Here’s where the second problem begins. As employees realize this screw-over job and to make up for the lack of accrued time, this means employees will need to take as much vacation as is allowed without getting fired in the process. Since you can’t accrue, you now need to use.

Accrued PTO vs Unlimited Vacation

Businesses don’t seem to understand the ramifications of this perk on its workforce. The first ramification is that employees with accrued PTO no longer get the exit vacation payday. This is significant when exiting your employer and moving on. But, this only occurs on a termination event. Employees should remain cognizant of this event, but even more employers should remain cognizant of how this will change how vacation is used. As an employer, it means you need to understand how to retain your workforce better.

Here’s the second problem in a nutshell. PTO encourages employees to stockpile their vacation and rarely take it. Up to 50% of the workforce does this. However, Unlimited Vacation encourages employees to take as much vacation as they can legitimately get away with.

With PTO, employees might work and work and work with little time off. With UV, more employees will take more time off, thus working less. This is something that HR and management will need to understand about this benefit. If the point is to get people to take more time off, then UV is the answer. If you’re trying to encourage people to stay at their desks and work, PTO is the answer… but has the end payout.

It really all depends on how you want your staff to work. If you want people at their desks not taking time off, then PTO is your answer. If you want people constantly taking time off, then UV is your answer. Sure, UV saves you on the exit payments, but at the cost of people taking more time off throughout the year. It does one more thing.

The up to 50% of employees who rarely take time off will change their work ethic to include significantly more time off. Since they know can no longer stockpile and get that payday when leaving, they will now be encouraged to take time off to make up for that loss of money. This means that a workforce that you relied on to work excessive hours to make ends meet will no longer continue that trend in your business.

If you think that people will continue the same type of vacation behaviors they used with PTO when on UV, you’re mistaken. People will use what they are owed. If they are encouraged to take time off, they will whenever possible. This means that for the folks who rarely (if ever) took PTO days will now begin scheduling more time off throughout the year. That’s not because it’s unlimited, but because they understand that they no longer get the payout at the end. This compromise ensures they get the equivalent benefit and that means scheduling and taking time off. There’s entirely nothing the HR team can do about this change in vacation usage behavior when on the Unlimited Vacation plan.

It’s a use-it-or-lose it situation. If you never take vacation with PTO, you can justify it with the payout at the end. If you never take vacation with UV, not only do you get no time off, you get no payout at the end. It’s simple math. No payout at the end means using more vacation time to get the equivalent benefit. Employees aren’t stupid and they will realize this paradigm shift and compensate accordingly.

This outcome will happen. You can even watch your employees behaviors after you convert from a PTO to UV system. I guarantee, your employees will notice, understand and modify their vacation schedule accordingly. This may impact your business, so caveat emptor.

Good or Bad?

That’s for each company to decide. More employees taking more vacation is good for the employee and their morale. But, it may negatively impact the productivity of your business. With PTO, people not taking vacation means more productivity. With UV and more vacation time off, this likely means less productivity. It might mean a happier and less stressed workforce, but it likely also means less work getting done.

I’m not saying any individual will take excessive time off. No, I’m not saying that at all. That’s simply not possible. What I am saying is that if 40-50% of your workforce never takes time off under a PTO plan, you will likely find that number reduces to less than 10% of your workforce not taking time off with a UV system. That’s a significant amount more people taking time off throughout the year than on a PTO system.

If you delude yourself into thinking employees who don’t take vacation time off will continue a PTO trend on a UV plan, your HR team is very much mistaken. I can also guarantee that if managers deny vacation requests to keep employees at their desks, this too will backfire and your talent will leave. This will become a catch-22 problem in your business.

As an employer, you spend a lot of money hiring talent. You also spend a lot of money holding onto that talent. Why jeopardize all of that with a policy like UV that won’t really do what what you hoped it would? On paper, it seems like a great cost saving policy. In practicality, it will likely backfire on your company’s productivity efforts and cost you more money in the end, but not for the reasons you think.

Conversion Process

You may find that if you are converting from some other vacation system to unlimited that people do continue their traditional habits. However, that will change over time both as turnover happens and as people realize their loss of PTO payout. Once employees wake up to the realities of the new system, the amount of employees requesting and taking vacation will increase.

A UV policy will make it more difficult on the managers to juggle vacation timing, fairness and who can take what when. This will increase manager load by taking them away from managing projects and deadlines to managing the minutiae of juggling even more staff vacations.

Hourly Employees versus Salary Employees

This type of perk works best in salaried environments. With hourly employees, trying to offer a perk like Unlimited Vacation won’t really work well. This is particularly true of employees working in a call center or similar type environments. With salaried tech workers, this kind of benefit may work for you with the caveats that have been thus far described.

Startup or Established Company

If you run a startup, you should stay away from the Unlimited Vacation policy entirely. It won’t do your business any favors. Sure, it’s more cost effective, but only when long term employees leave. If you’re a startup, you won’t have long term employees to worry about for a while. Your duty is to entice your talent to stay, not leave. If you have a problem with a revolving door of staff, then you have a much bigger problem than a benefit like Unlimited Vacation. The problem for a startup is that a UV plan encourages more people to take vacation more often rather than stockpiling it for use later. Again, more workload for a manager to juggle vacation schedules rather than handling projects and deadlines.

In a startup, a UV policy means more people taking time off. This isn’t what you want when you need all hands on deck to keep the business afloat. You want most people at their desks and readily available at all times. When people take vacation, they expect to be cut off from their job including no email, no pager and no contact. And, rightly it should be. If you’re on vacation, you’re on vacation. PTO plans encourage staff to accrue now and take time off much, much later, perhaps years later. With a UV plan, this  encourages more people to take vacation regularly. Not exactly what you need in a startup. PTO works for a startup because employees stockpile and then once the business is off the ground years later, they will then take their vacations. This is why PTOs are actually better for a startup than a perk like UV.

If your business is established with 500 or more employees, then implementing an Unlimited Vacation policy might be worthwhile depending. With larger numbers of staff, there’s more opportunity for someone to cover an employee who’s out. This means if your 40%-50% staff who are stockpiling decide to start taking vacation in increasing numbers, you can withstand this change in your workforce behavior.

It’s up to you to decide how to operate your business, but PTO vs UV is one perk you should thoroughly investigate and then weigh all pros and cons before implementing it. Don’t do it simply because it might (or might not) save you some cash when employees exit. Do it because it’s the right plan for your business’s current operating goals.

 

How to fix: controllers won’t pair with PS4

Posted in repair, video game console by commorancy on July 19, 2018

Indemnification Disclaimer: By proceeding, you agree that the information contained herein is provided AS-IS with no warranty expressed or implied. You further agree that the article’s author and site owner are providing this information solely to aid in diagnosis and troubleshooting only. You agree that if you choose to undertake repair of your PS4 console, you assume all risk, liability, void warranty and damage. You agree that you (the reader) is solely responsible for any repair or replacement costs at your expense. The author of this article has made every effort to provide this information as accurately as possible. You agree to indemnify and hold harmless the site owner and article author from all claims due to your attempt(s) to repair your PS4 regardless of where the repair information was obtained or as a result of any article inaccuracies. Attempt repairs on your PS4 at your own risk. If you cannot agree to these terms for any reason, do not continue reading.


As a follow-on to my How to pair your PS4 controller wirelessly article, this one talks about a separate but related issue when a DualShock 4 controller refuses to pair or work wirelessly. Let’s explore.

Controller refuses to pair or work

You’ve walked through the steps in the Randocity article How to pair your PS4 controller wirelessly and this doesn’t work. The trouble may not be with your DS4 controller. Start by testing with a second controller. If the second controller also won’t work or pair, this trouble may not be with your controllers.

Instead, you’ll need to look at the possibility the problem is with your PS4. These symptoms include that any DS4 controller won’t work wirelessly and/or that the controller must be extremely close to the unit. This article covers the case when no DS4 controller pairs or works with your PS4. If you find that one controller works, but another one doesn’t, that isn’t the problem described here.

The Problem

There’s a small wire that leads from the WiFi controller to the WiFi antenna in the PS4’s case. On the antenna, the exposed portion of the end of the wire must bridge a small gap between the antenna sides. This small bridged gap is handled by the wire itself with a small blob of solder. If the unit is bumped, jostled or simply gets hot enough, the wire may come loose between the gap. This can cause the WiFi to work sporadically or not at all.

The Solution

Thankfully, there is a fix for this. The ifixit.com site has a reasonable repair guide to walk you through how to fix it.

Before you begin, if your PS4 is still under warranty or you don’t feel comfortable doing repair work, you should contact Sony about repairing this problem to prevent voiding your warranty or damaging your PS4.

Tools you’re going to need

Steps to Fix the WiFi Antenna

  1. Open your PS4 console by removing the rear stickers to expose screw(s), then unscrew screws and lift top off
  2. After top is open, locate screws for the power supply and unscrew them placing the screws aside separately
  3. Carefully unscrew and lift out the power supply (avoid stress on any cables) to expose the antenna wire connector
  4. Disconnect the WiFi antenna wire from the board using ESD-safe tweezers by pulling straight up
  5. Pull the now loose wire free from the chassis, then…
  6. Follow the wire to locate the WiFi antenna in the corner of the PS4
  7. Unscrew and take out the WiFi antenna being careful not to pull the wire loose
  8. Identify the gap between the antenna segments looking for two solder points
  9. Make sure that the antenna wire is long enough to span the gap
  10. Pull the wire to bridge the gap between both both solder points
  11. Solder the wire down on both sides of the gap making sure the antenna wire spans the gap
  12. Reassemble the PS4 in reverse being sure to thread the WiFi wire back through where it was and reconnecting it

For a follow-along visual reference, visit the ifixit.com guide or download the PDF:

The Design Problem

The small gap between the two sides of the antenna is spanned by the wire itself. This wire is fairly fragile and is prone to easily coming loose. The wire may come loose for many reasons. It could be because of an assembly problem. It could be because the solder came loose on its own or from heat buildup. It could be that simply jostling the unit worked it loose. It could be that you dropped the PS4. Whatever the problem, it’s a relatively easy fix.

Notes

The follow-along guide misses a few tools needed for this repair. Please see the above for the full tool reference you will need before beginning. Also, the follow along guide shows pliers being used to pull the antenna loose from the board. Don’t do this! Use ESD-safe tweezers (included with the soldering iron kit listed above or purchase separately) to properly disconnect this wire from the board.

If you don’t feel comfortable opening up your PS4 or performing this procedure, then you should contact Sony to discuss having this repair completed by a Sony repair center. If your PS4 is under warranty, I’d suggest having Sony repair this problem to avoid voiding your warranty by opening the unit.

If you have any questions about this guide, please leave a comment below.

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How to create Amiibo cards

Posted in Android, video game by commorancy on July 12, 2018

amiibo-logo[Updated 1/5/2019] For SSBU and Printers. Tired of lugging all of your big plastic Amiibos around with you? Now you can carry them around on flat cards. Let’s explore.

What you’re going to need

Updated for Super Smash Brothers Ultimate on the Nintendo Switch

Super-Smash-Bros.-UltimateIf you happen to have a copy of the Nintendo Switch Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, you’ll need to convert your older Wii U or 3DS SSB Amiibos to use them on the the Switch version. Once converted, you won’t be able to use them on the older SSB games again.

For this reason, creating Amiibo cards is your answer. You’ll want to create the cards before you start using the Amiibos on the Switch SSBU version. This will allow you to use your Amiibos on both games if you want. You can create cards of your current Amiibos and continue to use those cards on the older SSB and convert your actual Amiibos for use on the new Switch SSBU. Of course, creating cards is flexible enough that you could create two sets and use them however you like.

It’s worth noting that a level 50 SSB Amiibo created on the Wii U SSB game becomes a level 12 character on the Switch version of SSB. You’ll need to spend time leveling it up again.

To clear any confusion now that Super Smash Brothers Ultimate has been released on the Switch, TagMo does allow you to level up limited SSB data within the TagMo app as described below. However, this SSB level data is strictly used by the Wii U and 3DS game versions. This SSB data does not apply to the new Switch SSBU version. A new update to TagMo will be necessary to support the Switch SSBU data in the tag. For now, the current 2.6.1 version of TagMo from September 2017 does not support the new SSB data format in use on the Nintendo Switch version of Super Smash Brothers Ultimate.

I’ll also add that to get the in-game level up cards for the Switch’s Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, you’ll want to raise your Amiibos up to level 50 using TagMo before importing them into SSBU. It seems that these level up cards may only appear when an Amiibo is imported at level 50. You’ll also receive support cards for characters that do not appear in SSBU such as the Revali, Urbosa and Guardian Amiibos from Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Why an Android Phone?

Why not a tablet or other Android device? Other than phones, few other devices offer an NFC reader / writer. Some older tablets may have this capability, but the TagMo app may not work if the device is too old. Stick to a recently released phone with NFC (newer than 4 years).

For example, I picked up a Samsung S5, but there are other phones that also support NFC besides this specific model. You can even find budget Android phones (less than $80) that contain NFC capabilities. I specifically chose the Samsung S5 because it’s got an OLED screen (read awesome), fully supports the most NFC formats and it is fully compatible with TagMo and the rest of the software needed.

Why not iOS / Apple?

The TagMo app must be side loaded onto the device rather than obtaining it through a ‘store’.  Because Apple phones are almost impossible to side load apps, these devices are excluded from using TagMo. Sorry Apple fans, no TagMo for you. It’s also very unlikely Apple would ever approve such an app to be in the store… hence, side loading.

This leaves Android as the only platform that has the necessary phone features and also allows for app side loading. If you don’t have an Android phone, then you’re going to need to go get one to use with TagMo.

Installing the App

Before you attempt to download and install the app, you will need to prep Android so that you can install software outside of the app store and side load the TagMo app. This setup is done through security settings.

After having set the security settings, using a browser, go to the app download link above on your phone device. Choose the latest version. Once the file is downloaded, clicking to open it will prompt to install it. You will then need to allow access to parts of your device for this app… specifically, the NFC hardware and anything else it might request. Once installed, the app will appear in your apps list like any other app. You can drag it onto your desktop like in the video above.

Setting up Keys

After the app is installed, you’ll need to set up keys to allow it to read the Amiibos properly. If you don’t perform this step, you can’t backup your Amiibos and create cards from them. The two file names are unfixed-info.bin and locked-secret.bin. You may or may not be able to download these directly onto your Android device from Google Drive. It seems that Google Drive doesn’t download properly with Android devices when the files are not part of your own Google Drive account. Instead, you may need to download them onto a computer, then upload them into your personal Google Drive using the Google account connected to the phone. Then, download these two files from your personal Google Drive account to your phone. Or, alternatively, you can use DropBox or other similarly supported file storage sites.

You can’t USB load or use a zip unarchiver to place them into the download area of the phone. This won’t work because Android requires the DownloadManager service to register the files into the downloads area. This is only done if the files are actually downloaded. If you side load the files via USB or by placing them onto the microSD card remotely, the files won’t be registered in Android and, thus, won’t appear when you click to install them in the TagMo app.

These two files are required to enable TagMo to work with Amiibos. This download task is not hard, but thank Google for making this task more complicated than it should be. I’ll leave it to you to determine the best way to get these two files onto your phone. Once you have the files on your phone after downloading from your own Google Drive, continue to the next step. If you get stuck at this step, please leave me a comment and I’ll help walk you through it.

Once you have the keys ready to go, launch TagMo and your screen should look like so stating ‘Amiibo keys not found’:

AmiiboKeysNotFound

With your keys ready, install the the keys like so:

Scanning your first Amiibo

Now that you have your keys installed, you can scan your first Amiibo. So, the TagMo app should look like the below with the SCAN TAG button now enabled (be sure to have NFC turned on):

Screenshot_2018-07-12-06-17-29.png

Grab any Amiibo you own and click SCAN TAG like so:

Here’s what a scanned tag screen looks like:

Screenshot_2018-07-12-07-22-31.png

To save the tag you’ve just scanned into the phone’s database, click SAVE TAG. Let’s go through the screen above to understand what each button does:

  • LOAD TAG — Loads a tag from the phone’s tag database
  • SAVE TAG — Saves the currently loaded tag to the phone’s tag database
  • VIEW HEX — Not really needed, but let’s you view the HEX value of the tag
  • SHOW QR CODE — Let’s you show a tag QR code for another phone to scan easily through the camera
  • SCAN TAG — Turns on the NFC reader to read an Amiibo (card, figure or NTAG215 stored Amiibo)
  • WRITE TAG — Turns on the NFC writer to write the currently loaded Amiibo shown at the top of the screen to an NTAG215
  • RESTORE TAG — Let’s you restore SSB data from one Amiibo to another, but this only works if it’s the same Amiibo on both tags.
  • SCAN QR CODE — Lets you scan a QR code from another phone and load it into your phone’s TagMo database… for easy sharing.
  • Checkbox “Auto save scanned tags”, when checked, will automatically saved tags when scanned. This Checkbox does not stay checked between application runs. If not checked, you must save the tag manually after it’s been scanned.
  • Checkbox “Allow restore to different tag” — When checked, allows you to attempt to restore one tag on top of a tag with something different. May not work.
  • EDIT SSB DATA — Lets you modify the level and various limited data of your Amiibo before saving it to your TAG. If you want to level up a character to maximum, this is how to do it before writing a new tag out. This means you can fully level up your character without having to grind it.

Amiibo Database

As you scan your Amiibos and save each one to TagMo’s database, you’ll always have them available to create a card at any time. This means you don’t really even need to carry the pre-written cards around with you. You’ll just need to carry around some blank NTAG215 cards. You can then write out any Amiibo stored in your phone’s database at any time.

However, having pre-built Amiibo cards makes using them a lot faster. It also means you don’t have to rely on the phone to create a new card when you need it, especially if you’re borrowing someone else’s phone to do this.

The database screen looks like so:

Syncing the AmiiboAPI Database

Sometimes if you scan an Amiibo, the app won’t recognize it and it will appear on the screen with a red title and labeled as ‘Unknown’. If this happens, simply click the gear icon on the main screen that has the SCAN TAG button, scroll down and select Sync Amiibo info with AmiiboAPI. This setting updates and syncs your TagMo database with what’s in the AmiiboAPI database on the Internet. When you pull down the screen to refresh your Amiibo phone’s database, your recently scanned Amiibo should now show a proper name. If it doesn’t, it may mean the Amiibo is too new and hasn’t yet been added to the AmiiboAPI database.

SSB Data

As mentioned just above, you can edit the SSB data to increase the level and features of your Amiibos. This allows you to customize your backed up Amiibo without having to modify your original. This SSB data feature currently only works with Super Smash Brothers on the Wii U and DS. The currently released version of TagMo can’t manage character level data for SSBU on the Switch. A new update to TagMo will be needed to manage the SSBU character level data.

Amiibos and Backups

TagMo allows backing up and restoring any Amiibo of any type. This includes the plastic figures as well as cards or any other type.

NTAG215 and Reuse

An NTAG215 is simply known as a tag. A tag can be written once with a single Amiibo. If you attempt to write to it a second time with an entirely different Amiibo, this won’t work and will likely destroy the tag. Tags are write-once. Get a new unused tag if you want to write a new Amiibo. With that said, an NTAG215 can write SSB data multiple times because only the values are changing, not the entire character. So, a tag Amiibo will function just like a plastic figure Amiibo on any game that supports them.

Purchasing NTAG215 Tags and Printers

Now that you have the app installed and functional, you’ll need to head over to Amazon and place an order for some NTAG215 tags and some blank white playing cards. Optionally, if you choose to buy a printer, you can print a nice looking image to stick on the card to identify what Amiibo you put onto the tag. The Zink printers are a little expensive at around $99 (or more) + paper, but they do make the cards look and feel a whole lot more professional.

If you’ve read this article before, you may have noticed that I recommended the Polaroid Zip. Because Polaroid recently changed its app quality, I can no longer recommend the purchase of the Polaroid Zip. The newest version of the Polaroid app (Android and iOS) is completely broken and no longer produces high quality prints. Instead, choose another brand of printer with a better quality app. Because devices like the Polaroid Zip and the HP Sprocket entirely depend on a high quality app, Polaroid illustrates the danger of investing in products that only work with a single proprietary app. You should always read the app reviews before purchasing a product that depends on that app. Even then, like Polaroid, the company can burn you by releasing a new app version that completely ruins the functionality of a formerly working product.

If you’re a little more flush with money, you could consider buying NTAG215 plastic cards and a Dye Sub printer for the cards. This will produce very high quality images printed directly on the plastic card. Though, the cards are more bulky than the paper cards. These printers are usually used to produce corporate ID badges, but you could just as easily use them for printing your Amiibo cards. It’s just that these printers are very expensive, starting at $475 and going up from there.

If you’re feeling creative, you can buy some markers or colored pens and draw the character onto the reverse side of the card. I prefer the Zink printer approach as it takes about 2 minutes to print an impressive image of the Amiibo and stick it on the card. The print will then cover over the tag.

Some people have chosen to put their NTAG215 round tags into plastic coin holders. You can do this, but it makes for a jumble of little plastic coins that aren’t easy to read or label and more difficult to carry around. The cards can be wrapped in a rubber band, the plastic coins would have to remain loose or in a case (if available).

You can skip buying the playing cards or any other type of holder. However, without cards, keeping track of your Amiibo tags becomes more difficult and the tags can be easily damaged. The cards help reinforce the tag to keep it from bending and make it easy to scan them into the games. The cards also fit nicely into a card binder. Though, if you really want, the bare minimum to get a functional Amiibo is just the tags.

Types and Sizes of Tags

You may also notice that there are many types and sizes of NFC tags (like NTAG213 and NTAG216) that you can also find on Amazon when searching. You don’t want these as they won’t work. Be sure to buy only NTAG215 tags. The NTAG215s hold a maximum of 540 bytes of data. The other tags are either larger or smaller, but these won’t work as an Amiibo. Only buy NTAG215 tags. Note, some sellers may mix up tags with the wrong size, so be sure to test your tags immediately when you get them. If they don’t work, the seller may not have sent you NTAG215s even if the listing said that they were.

If you’re unsure if a tag will work as an Amiibo, read the listing closely. Most of the listings will tell you if it works as an Amiibo. If not, check the questions and answers section of the listing. If it’s not there, then ask a question or email the seller and ask. However, the link I give here are tags I’ve personally tested and know that they work. I also prefer the smaller physical sized tags over the larger ones. The physical dimensions of the tag don’t matter, what matters is that they are formatted as NTAG215. As I said, I prefer the smaller physical size tags because they fit on the blank playing card better and are more easily covered by a printed Polaroid Zip sticker.

Happy Carding!

If this article is helpful to you, please leave a comment below to let me know. Please click the ‘Follow’ button to receive notifications when new articles are published.

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Review: Law and Order Special Victims Unit

Posted in entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on July 10, 2018

When Law and Order: Special Victims Unit began in the late 1999, I only watched it sporadically… basically whenever it was on. I’ve continued that same viewing behavior throughout the years. I’ve recently found that Hulu has 19 seasons streaming and I’ve decided to start watching it from the first season. I’m done watching all of the episodes to date. Let’s explore.

Sometimes silly with repetitive plots

The first season for this series started out extremely rough. Not only did the show not really know how to handle each of the characters in the squad room or how often, this season focuses almost entirely on Olivia Bensen and Elliot Stabler. It also didn’t really nail down its visual format until episode 3. It’s understandable I guess when it’s a new show. I’m uncertain how this show has managed to make it to 19 seasons considering the show is limited to sex crime which includes, rape and statutory rape and rape and rape. Did I mention rape? Sure, the circumstances are different in each episode. Sometimes the victim is dead, sometime the victim is alive. Sometimes the victim is alive, but then gets killed. The base stories are always similar. The perp might be the guy next door, a priest, a friend, a co-worker, a rich kid, a poor kid or whomever makes the most sense for the episode.

Cases that don’t belong in SVU

I also find that there are many cases that end up on the SVU desk that have no place being there. They aren’t even sex crimes, S5 E2 for example. I thought that when SVU determined the case wasn’t a sex crime that it got handed over to another appropriate division? Why would you waste valuable SVU resources (which are quite limited) on a case that isn’t sex related when there are other cases that need SVU’s attention. SVU has certainly had cases handed to them mid-investigation when a sex crime was uncovered. Why doesn’t this go the other way? Just have the writers hand it over to another division and introduce a new plot at that point. Just be sure to do it early in the episode. If you want realism, handing over unrelated cases certainly fits that bill. Having SVU hang onto a case just because they started with it makes no sense. See BAD writing below for more about this.

Early Seasons

The first season is both a mix of sex crimes and personal stories, sometimes intermingling. I thought the show might continue heading this direction, but it’s moved away from this direction as the seasons have progressed. Even by the second season, the stories mostly focused on sex crimes. I also thought the show’s writing would have stabilized into a regular format. Not really. Not only is the writing inconsistent in quality, the show displays a number of fairly egregious technical problems (booms in camera, booms in reflections and even a sound guy captured in frame — S2 E21). I’ve watched a wide array of series and have not encountered this many egregious technical snafus by halfway through third season. You’d think by the third season they’d have solved all of these silly filming problems.

I am also surprised to find the writing in many episodes is subpar. It’s a police procedural, how hard can it be to sweat the details?

When the writing is bad, it’s B A D …

Throughout the seasons leading up to this point, the show has touted each of the detectives to be the best and the brightest at what they do.. ‘An Elite Squad’ as the show announcer states. While I realize as a detective you can’t do anything about the things you don’t know, glossing over details you do know is not only stupid, it’s negligent… and it can get people killed. I realize this is “just a show”, but each episode attempts to tell a story that purports to be realistic (at least by Hollywood standards).

Well, this next episode’s writing is particularly awful, though it’s not the only episode. Not only does it show that the detectives are insanely inept, they probably shouldn’t even be detectives when they gloss over such visibly simple, but incredibly important details.

Here begins the list of the most clumsy and sloppily written SVU episodes.

Contents

S3 E17 – Scourge

As a synopsis for this episode, Emily Deschanel’s character ‘Cassie’ is assaulted and potentially raped in her own apartment. The detectives come to find that her apartment is bugged with 4 cameras watching her every move. How the cameras got there is a mystery yet to be solved.

Over the course of the episode they find a stalker named Terry who’s been stalking her since college. He’s recently moved into secretly filming her by bugging her apartment with cameras using the stolen credit card of the landlord where Terry lives. After being let into Terry’s apartment by the female landlord and discovering a shrine to Cassie, Benson and Stabler have a conversation with this female landlord, who claims to be Terry’s girlfriend.

Okay, stop right here. This is major story strike #1. Not only did Benson and Stabler choose to ignore this statement from the landlord, they proceed on the assumption that Terry is the attacker based on the shrine alone. Not following up on this landlord conversation is not believable, but I’ll let it slide for the moment.

Later, the detectives grab Terry from Cassie’s viola performance at an arts center and pull him into the interrogation room at the station. During the course of the interrogation, Terry states that he is not the landlord’s boyfriend. He also states that he loves Cassie and would never hurt her. Strike #2. The guy’s been stalking her since she left college. If he wanted to hurt her, he would have done so long before she (and he) moved to NY. So, right here Benson and Stabler should have stepped out of the room and had conversation discussing the inconsistent statements between Terry and his landlord “girlfriend”. She says he is, he says she isn’t. The first thing this says to me is that the landlord girlfriend is either lying or she has a personal vendetta. Whatever the reason, it’s definitely now suspect enough to follow up on this lead. The landlord “girlfriend” is also very likely a stalker intent on going after Terry. On that new information, the investigation should have turned attention to the landlord girlfriend and brought her in. Who would have more intent to harm? Terry, who idolizes Cassie and who’s been stalking her for years or a distraught woman claiming to be a “girlfriend” and who’s seems angry at Cassie? This is where this episode writers jumped the shark. Strike #3. Also, where was the psychologist in this episode?

Not only do Benson and Stabler miss this crucial clue that practically slaps them in the face, what does it say of their detective skills? This missed detail makes them seem like rookies. This TV show, up to this point, has prided itself on making these detectives, particularly Stabler, look to be articulate, intelligent investigators and sticklers for details. So, how could they possibly miss this clue? It’s one thing if the writers don’t tell the characters (or us viewers) crucial details and, instead, reveal them at the end. It’s entirely sloppy detective work when the characters have the information in hand and do nothing about it. Both Stabler and Benson have followed up less important clues in other episodes. They should have followed up on this one. Bad writers, bad.

Benson is also particularly sensitive to missed clues leading to the death of someone. She continually beats herself up about these. Yet here, not only did the show not acknowledge this missed clue leading to the death of Terry, it ends before we find out what happens to the perpetrator. The show also, way out of form, treats Terry with all the dignity and respect as that of a piece of human garbage. Prostitutes in other episodes have gotten more respect (and coffee and donuts) than Terry. This show, up to this point, has always been sensitive to any victim. Terry didn’t deserve his fate, even though he had stalked Cassie. Terry’s death could have been prevented if Benson and Stabler had simply followed up on the inconsistent statements back when Terry was in the interrogation room. The show didn’t even acknowledge this deficiency of the detectives.

S5 E2 – Manic

And the inconsistent writing quality continues… I don’t understand why this episode opens with Stabler breaking down doors with uniformed cops (even before Benson arrives). What’s the deal with that? I thought they were detectives, not street cops. The point to becoming a detective is to sleuth the situation after-the-fact. Are the NYPD cops somehow now so short-handed that they need help from detectives in breaking down doors and apprehending suspects? Also, why is Stabler the one there doing this? Is he getting so disenchanted with being a detective that he feels the need to go back to the front line? Also, he’s in a hoodie seemingly without wearing a bullet-proof vest. Seriously? He’s also the one taking the lead and calling the shots.

Worse, after all of the breaking down doors and entering, we find a kid whose head has been grazed by a bullet and who has not been sexually molested and is very much alive. We come to find that the kid had taken a drug that caused him to go manic and kill two kids. At this point, Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) should have referred this case to appropriate narcotics division and gotten it off of SVU’s desk. Does he hand it off? No.

Horrible writing.

S9 E15 – Undercover

I know the stories have been a lot the same and Dick Wolf wanted something different in this episode. Well, this episode is totally improbable and unnecessary.

Despite being strongly advised not to do so, Olivia chooses to infiltrate a prison to find a guard who is raping female inmates. Yet more bad writing starts right here. Even Cragen says that its not NYPD’s job to police the prison system. That should have been a done deal, yet Cragen still allows Olivia to go into the prison undercover? Under any other circumstance, Cragen wouldn’t allow this of one of his top detectives.

This is a stupid story from the get go. Not only is the setup implausible, why would Olivia ever consent to put herself into such a degrading position? Why would Cragen even allow this? This is a woman who is intensely private and unwilling to share much with even her closest friend, Stabler. She won’t even share that she has a boyfriend. Yet, she’s willing to go into a prison knowing she’s going to be entirely degraded, humiliated and beaten? No, I don’t think she would have agreed to that. This episode is entirely out of character for how Benson had been portrayed up to this point. Then, when the perp takes Olivia down to the rape bed, she’s not raped, yet she’s left with severe mental anguish? And this piece they decide to carry into future episodes? Dumb writing at its best (or worst?).

S9 E17 – Authority

This episode features Robin Williams as a guy who always seems one step ahead of the detectives. Unfortunately, instead of the story making the Robin Williams character look he’s intelligent, smart and outwitting, it makes Stabler and Benson look like rookies just out of the academy. At every step, Benson and Stabler are played by this guy… not once, but many times. Never did Benson or Stabler make the observation that they’re being played.

If this story had had an element like one of Stabler’s kids involved, I could understand how Stabler’s personal interest might heavily cloud his judgement and put him into an emotional rage. I know that the writers were trying to use Benson to play the personal clouded judgement card, but it just doesn’t work against Stabler with Benson. Elliot is definitely fond of Olivia, but he’s not so fond of Olivia as to go manic like he does with his family.

The writers attempting to play this Stabler clouded judgement card here just doesn’t work. There were so many times that Stabler and Benson could have apprehended this guy, yet the story has him walk away. And, it makes both Stabler and Benson appear inept. For one, I thought cops were supposed to carry tasers for non-lethal take downs? Seriously, how hard is it to take down a suspect and cart him in? With a taser, it would have taken all of a few seconds. I also find it terribly hard to believe that Benson, as capable as she is, would simply allow herself to be carted off to an abandoned recording studio and be hooked up to wires without any kind of a struggle. This episode was so far fetched as to be stupid. It once again shows how rookie Benson and Stabler are. And, of course, this series will never bring this story arc back around. This Robin Williams character will simply be forgotten in among many hundreds of other forgotten and unresolved stories.

S9 E19 – Cold

This episode is convoluted, hard to follow and entirely implausible. This episode starts out with us finding out that Detective Lake likes to solve cold cases through an outside advocate group consisting of off duty law enforcement officers from all over. An advocate group that NYPD is aware of and dislikes. Upon leaving this particular advocate group meeting that we see him attending, he gets into a gun battle with two other people leaving another detective dead. In the process, Lake is injured and hospitalized. Lake also invokes a 48 hour NYPD policy that he cannot be questioned about the incident during that 48 hours. This 48 hour period conveniently overlaps with the 48 hours when the crime scene is the most fresh and when evidence can be lost. Convenient. Apparently, this policy trumps all other policies and even laws and prevents Stabler and Benson (or anyone else) from questioning Lake about the incident. Also, that Lake invokes this 48 hour holding period does not in any way prove innocence or guilt. Stabler comes dangerously close to having questioned Lake during this period and Novak calls this out. If Stabler had gotten anything out of him, it would have been inadmissible. Yet, Novak seems to be under the gun to determine what happened and get this case in front of a judge in less than 48 hours.

*needle rips across the record*

Wait.. what? Why would anyone want to get the case in front of a judge in 24-48 hours without having the detectives do their due diligence? How can the ME properly investigate the body, let alone the crime scene evidence and document it properly in less than 48 hours? How can the detectives even know what’s going on while within Lake’s 48 hour silent period? The writing on this episode is so intentionally atrocious as to be trite. Lake later escapes from the hospital and tries to run away, still during his 48 hour silent period. Up to this point, SVU has tried to remain reasonably believable. This one, however, is so unbelievable, it’s trash writing.

At the end of the episode, Lake is dismissed from SVU along with Novak who is to be hauled in front of the bar questioning her license over a Brady violation. A violation, I might add, that was not even of her doing. We’re talking about taking a case to court in less than 48 hours that had no business being there before all of the evidence and testimony was in. Talk about premature. How can you possibly take a case to trial without getting a statement from the one witness (Lake) who was there? I’ve seen Novak prevent trials for less than this. How can a medical examiner even rule on what happened in less than 48 hours? What DA would ever intentionally do such a piss poor job? If there was a Brady violation here, it wasn’t Novak who caused it. It was her superiors who set her up to fail by forcing the trial to proceed before all of the evidence was available. There was no Brady violation, only stupid superiors who rushed the case to trial before it was ready. Let’s not even discuss the weird editing and convoluted story pacing. Horrible episode through and through. Why are so many of SVU’s season enders so bad?

S12 E9 – Gray

In among the never ending parade of ADAs through Seasons 10, 11 and 12, Sonya Paxton (Christine Lahti) makes her first reappearance after alcohol rehab in this episode. Unfortunately, this episode’s writing is so atrocious, it makes the above episodes look great by comparison. I’m not particularly a fan of the ADA Sonya Paxton character. She is self-righteous, abrasive, condescending and she’s not a very good attorney. It’s one thing to be good at your job and have an attitude (i.e., Novak or Cabot). It’s entirely another when you’re bad at your job and have that same attitude. I don’t fully understand why Dick Wolf keeps bringing this character back. She’s a bad attorney and doesn’t do any favors for this show or this episode. Sorry, Christine. I know you put a lot of work into this character, but a crap written character always remains a crap character.

This episode features a college rape case. A girl claims rape against a guy she met at a college party. Later, after a series of convoluted scenes that slowed the pace, we find that she had been pregnant and miscarried a baby from the rape. Further, we find that her rapist came back a second time to have sex again… Wait what? *** hold it right there ***

The show has now gone painfully off the rails. If a female is claiming rape, why would she ever let her rapist back into her bed a second time? And, 8 weeks later? She willingly let him into her bed and willingly allowed him to use “Love potion #9” while she was pregnant ?!?

At this point, this is no longer a case of rape. It is consensual sex. If she willingly allowed this guy into her bed a second time, she willingly allowed him into her bed the first time. You can’t have it both ways here, writers. Let’s continue with this crap story…

Then, the episode turns away from the victim and plows forward with a trial against the male rapist based on evidence given to Stabler by his daughter from the University where Stabler’s daughter attends (conveniently, the same school as the victim). Yet, Stabler being a seasoned detective doesn’t even put 2+2 together to ask his own daughter if she knows the victim or the rapist? He only finds this out after the college’s psychologist points Stabler to his own daughter? *eye roll*

Anyway, Kathleen Stabler (Allison Siko) obtained that file of information from a guy she likes who works in the Dean’s office. Once again, Stabler acts like a rookie and doesn’t tell anyone about where he got this information and, of course, no one asks… not even Olivia… you know, the partner who questions everything? And, Stabler takes solely the word of his daughter (you know, the one who got arrested for a DUI) that the information he receives from her is admissible. Really? Kathleen Stabler is now an expert on all things law? So anyway, the victim claims that the second round of (ahem) consensual sex with her rapist, she miscarried the following day after having that sex.

After some investigation into the evidence, it’s uncovered that the rapist used a drug called Misoprostol in his “love potion” that the rapist’s attorney alleged was used to treat his erectile dysfunction symptoms, even though he had no troubles ‘getting it up’ during the alleged rape or during the second round of consensual sex. While the defense attorney claims he used Misoprostol for E.D., the prosecution claims it is being used to abort the fetus… which, of course, it did. After all, that’s what the drug’s primary use is.

Later in the episode, the victim dies because the miscarriage was incomplete and caused a systemic infection which killed her. Even a quick search on Google demonstrates the number one use of Misoprostol is for pregnancy termination, not E.D. Further, if this guy had a problem with E.D., why choose Misoprostol over Viagra? A pill is a whole lot easier to consume and would have lasted a much longer than using Misprostol when combined with a vacuum pump. A lot less trouble too and wouldn’t have endangered the fetus. This was a slam dunk case that this rapist kid intentionally used Misoprostol to force terminate the pregnancy. A good ADA with should have been able to prove this beyond a doubt. Yet, we have Sonya who’s just out of rehab, not sure on her feet and not a great attorney. I can’t even fathom why the D.A. would consider rehiring her after that drunken stunt she pulled in the courtroom in S11 E4 – Hammered.

All other above stupidity aside, let’s cut to the chase on crappiest part of this episode which is also the worst part of this episode’s writing. Against all of SVU’s training which the 11 other seasons have proven, the detectives did not have the victim go to the hospital to be checked out… particularly after finding out she had miscarried about a week before they talked to her. In fact, her death was entirely preventable had Olivia followed her training, had been sympathetic to the victim… and escorted her to a hospital to be examined. If a hospital had examined her after Olivia’s prompting, they would have caught the incomplete miscarriage, then admitted her and treated her for it. Yet more rookie moves by SVU’s most seasoned detectives. A rookie move, I might add, that resulted in the death of the victim… a preventable death. Yet, once again, neither does Olivia nor does Stabler recognize their egregious mistake… because, you know, writers. Of course, her death conveniently leads to the close of the episode by getting her (ahem) rapist behind bars for manslaughter… or at least, we assume this to be true as the episode closes with yet another cliffhanger and no closure. Such crap writing.

S12 E24 – Smoked

While this episode’s writing is particularly bad, this episode follows in SVU’s past footsteps as yet another exceedingly bad season ender. I’m unsure why the season end episodes are so bad, but here we are. This one, however, most certainly deserves to be on SVU’s worst written list.

Suffice it to say that a rape victim is killed while walking down a street with her daughter a week before her trial to convict her rapist. Convenient… at least for the rapist. Of course, the kill is pinned on the rapist, but predictably he had help. As the plot thickens, we come to find that the FBI is involved in, of all things, an illegal cigarette tax evasion sting. Here’s where this one goes off the rails. The FBI snatches the alleged killer from SVU’s lockup and takes him to an FBI facility. Because, you know, the SVU is so excellent at all things cop, they pose Stabler as a shop owner looking to score cigs from this ring that the FBI wants to bust. This all goes down because, hey, can’t we all get along and because SVU needs this killer back in custody and the FBI isn’t willing to give him up before this sting goes down. Enter Stabler posing as a shop owner… as if SVU detectives can just do anything in the cop world and be great at it.

So, this FBI arc is entirely stupid and unnecessary filler. Anyway, Stabler goes in with the rape victim’s killer (???) as his sidekick to pull off this cigarette sting. Why would Stabler ever go along with this shenanigan? Seriously, just take the perp back to SVU by force and leave the FBI high and dry. They can get him back after they’re done arraigning him. Anyway, the cigarette sting goes bad because, you know, bad WiFi reception and the killer gets away.

Fast forward. The killer is found again and put in custody at SVU, along with the FBI guy who gave him the gun and the rapist who set it all up. Yes, three different perps in this one.

The daughter of the rape victim waltzes into the SVU station and, after asking Olivia to take her to the lockup to see the killer, she pulls out a gun and attempts to kill everyone in the lockup and also kills Sister Peg and injures a few blue shirt cops. Moments later, because she finds that after nearly entering a full clip into the lockup and the squad room hadn’t killed her mom’s killer, she attempts to shoot him, only for Stabler to shoot that grieving daughter turned killer. She dies in Stabler’s arms. Fade out.

Once again, they let anyone into the precinct without any kind of search? Really? After a number of previous gun shootouts in the SVU offices, how did this happen again? Seriously, how many times does a grieving relative have to come into SVU offices and shoot up the place before they institute some security measures… before being allowed into the building? Worse, Olivia didn’t even notice that the rape victim’s daughter was not only distraught, but agitated. The show has continually put both Olivia’s and Stabler’s victim sensitivities on parade for all to see. Yet, at the end of this episode, where was Olivia’s sensitivity awareness? Why was Olivia so oblivious to the this girl’s completely obvious anguish. Worse, it’s SVU’s job to keep anyone in their custody safe from harm. Yet, this precinct has continually put people in their lockup in harm’s way time and time again. And, for whatever reason, this lockup is right out in the open next to all of the detectives desks where anyone can take a pot shot.

Why hasn’t One Police Plaza stepped into shut down this precinct? With so many egregious and fatal mistakes, this entire precinct needs to be furloughed and re-hired. Reassign those people who can be and let the rest go. This precinct is a disaster. I can’t even imagine what the Bronx and other SVU teams think about the Manhattan SVU team with as many mistakes and deaths that this precinct has intentionally caused by its mistakes. The writers should be entirely ashamed at writing this dreck.

S14 E24 – Her Negotiation and S15 E1 Surrender Benson/Imprisoned Lives (two parter)

Here begins the tale of the serial killer, William Lewis. I’m clearly unsure what’s going on in the writer’s minds in SVU at this point. Sure, this one is a two parter that spans two seasons. I get that. I also get that it was likely trying to boost ratings. But, instead of writing actual detective stories, the writers appear to want to write IAB driven stories about dirty cops or prosecutorial misconduct or the personal lives of the detectives in the squad room. It’s less about doing their detective jobs and more about everything other than detective work. In this two-parter, Olivia is kidnapped by a guy named William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) who gets off on serial sexual assault possibly leading to death of the victim at the “end”. Not only is Pablo Schreiber’s acting work laughable rather than menacing, the story is contrived, trite and stupid. Olivia taunts the guy in the interrogation room in the first part who then later kidnaps Olivia (end of first part) and sets out to “make her dreams come true” in a sadistic torturous way. Let’s forget that Olivia is a seasoned detective. Let’s forget that she carries a weapon that she failed to use when she heard a noise in her apartment. Let’s forget that she failed to call for backup when she heard the noise.

I’m sure when this episode was on, many people ooo’d and ahh’d it. I just want to roll my eyes at it. How many of these silly episodes do we need to endure? Yes, this sadistic character is a butt. Yes, he needs to be taken down. Yes, there are at least 3 or 4 times when someone could have popped a bullet in him and yet they let him live over and over. Even when Olivia has the chance to wound him, she doesn’t even after the beating she has taken.

Don’t even get me started on the ludicrous setup when the William Lewis character burned his finger tips off to prove a point to his roommate at a halfway house. Ok, let’s. Seriously, he turns the grill on and 20 seconds later we’re led to believe it’s hot enough to burn his fingertips? No, I don’t think so.

Then after about 1/3 of the way through S15 E1, a new episode begins and we’re seeing a story about a guy who abducts kids and then raises him in another house somewhere else and keeps them locked up in cages in the basement? Because it was only given about 25 minutes of a 40 minute episode, this partial episode just didn’t work. Why didn’t the writing team just make the entire episode about Olivia and William? I’d have been more interested to see the William Lewis character take her on a very long outing forcing her into Stockholm Syndrome. Then once she’s back, require her to be deprogrammed before being allowed back onto the squad. If you’re going to take Olivia to Victimsville, let’s take her all the way there.

S15 E5 – October Surprise

Once again, the writers surprise us with yet another weak and horrible story idea that doesn’t belong under the purview of SVU. Yet, here we are and here they are investigating a story about a mayoral candidate, Alejandro Munoz, who is a close friend of Barba from childhood. It also seems that this mayoral candidate’s wife may have had an affair with Barba. However, Barba refuses to recuse himself from this investigation, allegedly at the DA’s prompting. I highly doubt that.

Anyway, Munoz is apparently paying off women he’s slept with or otherwise had indiscretions to prevent losing the election. Clearly, there is not a “special victim” here. SVU comes to find after tremendous digging and way, way later that Munoz has some kind of sexting fantasy and, in that process, he received (but did not prompt) nude pictures of a 12 year old girl from the Internet.

Hold it right here… There’s no rape victim, no one claiming to be a victim, no one coming forward as a victim… So, why again is SVU investigating this?

Overall, this episode was another non-starter and shouldn’t have even been handled by SVU. I still don’t understand why Cragen refuses to punt these back over to other teams. This one had nothing to do with special victims as Munoz’s worst offense was possessing pictures of a 12 year old girl when he likely didn’t even know her age. Not once did he rape any of these women. Not once did he assault any of the women. The 12 year old girl consensually sent him the photos. Sure, it’s pedophilia by the legal statutes, but SVU wouldn’t have even known if they hadn’t been told to intentionally go look for dirt on Munoz by the DA. If anything, this seriously shows that the DA led some kind of conspiratorial effort against Munoz to try to get him removed from the running… and SVU colluded with the DA in these efforts. This is one of those episodes where the writers were entirely misguided by the story’s idea and misguided in how SVU works.

I’d much rather have a straightforward case of rape than dealing with these sideline non-starter stories. I know that the writers are trying to freshen up the series with interesting stories, but these kinds of stories aren’t the answer. It’s no wonder why John Munch (Richard Belzer) left SVU during season 15 with these trite, horrible plots. Hey, at least they gave John Much a proper send off (S15 E5 – Wonderland Story), unlike how they handled Elliot Stabler’s departure, who got absolutely nothing (S13 E1 – Scorched Earth).

S15 E9 – Psycho Therapist

I debated about even watching this episode because I knew the writers would screw the pooch. I wasn’t wrong. William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) is now standing trial and he’s up to all his courtroom shenanigans again… first by self-representation, next by playing games, then by making wild accusations all while ADA Rafael Barba (Raúl Esparza) sits there and does nothing about it. But, that’s not the primary problem with this episode.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say Barba was colluding with William Lewis. Why? At one point it becomes known to Barba that after Benson had broken free from Lewis in the final act of her abduction, Benson ushers an immigrant maid and her daughter out of the house quickly. But, that’s not the problem. We’ve already established just how much of a loony psychopath that Lewis is.

Why then do I think Barba is colluding with William Lewis? During this episode and after one segment of a day’s trial, Barba asks Benson, “Why weren’t [the maid and her daughter] in the house when the police showed up?” Barba, what are you, stupid? Seriously? William Lewis is the very definition of a dangerous psychopath who would kill anyone who got in his way. Lewis had already proven this mental state several times in both the S14 and S15 episode. If the maid and her daughter weren’t in the house when the police arrived, it’s because Benson told them to leave because of danger. It’s 2+2, darlin’. Yet, Barba asks the question in some kind of accusatory fashion like Benson did something wrong simply by asking them to leave the house? Benson had already told you she broke free just as Lewis pulled the maid and her daughter inside. The question Barba should have asked Benson is, “Why did you ask the maid and her daughter to leave the house?” Even then, it’s still a stupid question with an obvious answer.

This Barba story point makes no sense at all. If anything, it points to Barba’s collusion with Lewis. Are the writers so blind to their story creations that they can’t see proper story logic? There’s no other explanation for this silly question except that Barba is helping Lewis go free. In fact, I’m also seeing more and more of Barba helping Lewis win this case. That’s not what an ADA is supposed to be doing. Of course, nobody recognizes this collusion.

This next story point (which happens before the maid incident) corroborates Barba’s collusion. Lewis dismisses his lawyer and requests self-representation. Yes, defendants do have the right to self-representation… but, the judge can also curtail it “…when self-representation is [excessively] disruptive of orderly procedures…” In this case, based on past Lewis antics in (and out) of the courtroom, his request to self-represent fully falls firmly under ‘excessively disruptive of orderly procedures’. Barba should have argued this point vehemently by showing past courtroom examples when Lewis requested to dismiss his attorney and self-represent. What the hell, Barba? Of course, the writers would make Lewis win no matter what just to prove this point.

I’m actually tired of the unrealism of the William Lewis character. There is no way that this person would have this much continual dumb luck and be this bad of a person. That is unless he was continually drinking Felix Felicis (Harry Potter luck potion). Lewis’s luck had to change. Seriously, with the amount of luck that William Lewis continually has, he should screw banging people over the head and go into a casino and rob them blind. Play the lottery. Then, go into bank and jewelry store heists. Anyone with THIS MUCH dumb luck should be able to do all of that, get rich and never get caught at it.

All the while that Lewis is tormenting Benson on the stand, Barba sits there saying absolutely nothing. What the hell, Barba? He should have been objecting every other word coming out of this guy’s mouth.

Worst of all, when it comes time for Barba to make closing arguments, the episode conveniently skips this. So, we get to watch the defense’s demeaning closing arguments but not Barba? Then he gets 25 to life. Then he fakes a seizure with his attorney? Really? There is absolutely no way they would transfer a 25 to lifer outside of the prison. He would get medical aid in the prison or die there. The writers seriously want us to believe this trash? SVU has seriously jumped the shark here. I’m surprised it wasn’t cancelled in season 15.

Oh, and I should also mention that Pablo Schreiber’s one-note scenery-chewing smirk-acting in this episode is actually worse than in previous episodes. If I never see this guy in any other program, it’ll be too soon. Pablo, find another profession.

S15 E19 – Beast’s Obsession

As we continue the saga with *eye roll* William Lewis, we find that he died and couldn’t be resuscitated, but then mysteriously comes back to life in Bellevue, then conveniently escapes without being seen. Yet more of Lewis’s dumb luck at work. This episode also introduces the new ‘acting’ Captain to take Cragen’s place. This new boss pops up without showing so much as a shield and everyone just accepts him at face value without checking with One PP? Yes, they were little suspicious of him at first, but how is it they all seem to just know this guy? Rollins knows him and so does Amaro and Benson, but the rest?

*sigh* This ludicrous story arc has become the bane of SVU. It has nothing whatever to do with SVU and simply exists in some fantasy world that resembles SVU. Let’s just say that, for whatever reason, Benson decides to forgo better advice and her two person protection detail to gallivant off into the waiting arms of William Lewis, yet again. It’s almost like she likes doing this or something. This story arc is so completely ludicrous and unbelievable as to be intentionally this level of stupid. Seriously, Benson is still recovering from her previous ordeal. Why in the hell would she do this once again? Lewis has captured a little girl (predictable) and takes her off to some place somewhere. He lures Benson to him with the promise of getting the little girl back.

Anyway, long story short. Lewis, once again, sets Olivia up to take the fall for his suicide in a nebulous way. He sets it up so that it could appear incriminating towards Benson, as the ME rules the death as caused undetermined (CUPPI). Basically, his death could appear as his own suicide just as Benson describes or it could appear as if Olivia intentionally pulled the trigger on him. Fade out.

Actually, the writers and cinematographers for this episode attempted to be too smart for their own good and made a tremendous writing mistake. The medical examiner, Melinda Warner, states there was gunshot residue on both Lewis and Benson (S15 E20 – Post-Mortem Blues). However, this statement was so casually tossed out and not at all examined properly that when coupled with the screenshot below, this is a serious writing blunder.

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This is a screenshot moments before Lewis pulls the trigger. As you can so clearly see, only Lewis’s left hand is on the gun, not Benson’s. The medical examiner didn’t have this screen shot to examine and had to work strictly from gunshot residue (GSR). And, the GSR tells us (and the medical examiner) exactly what happened. While GSR might be sprayed onto Benson based at the angle and proximity of Lewis to Benson, the GSR would not have appeared on Benson’s free right hand in the correct pattern to implicate her in firing the weapon. The only way Benson’s hand would have had GSR consistent with firing this revolver would have been if Lewis had forced Olivia to hold the gun along with Lewis’s own hand and they pulled the trigger together. While Lewis was twisted enough to think of this, the writers (and the filmmakers) failed to show Lewis doing this.

One might argue that they both played Russian roulette. Well, yes they did. But, it doesn’t explain anything to do with the GSR. Olivia didn’t fire the weapon during this game otherwise she’d be dead. Olivia also didn’t fire this revolver at any other time during this scene. She held this revolver, yes. Yes, her fingerprints would be on the revolver. Since she never fired this revolver (or any gun during this scene), she wouldn’t have GSR blowback residue on either of her hands. This further reiterates this writing blunder.

This means that Benson’s free right hand would be entirely free of gunshot residue blowback in the quantities necessary to prove that she held the gun when it fired. The GSR pattern would have conclusively proven that Lewis held the gun in his left hand alone when it fired, which then conclusively proves that Benson was not holding nor was her hand anywhere near the revolver when it fired. Based on forensic testing of the crime scene, this should all have been captured. This further means that the medical examiner should have ruled Lewis’s death a suicide. The medical examiner was either complicit with Lewis to hide this GSR evidence or this has to be one of the biggest forensic blunders in the history of SVU. Melinda Warner should have her license revoked. Everything that happens next to Benson (accusations from IAB and the Grand Jury) after Melinda Warner’s inept report is entirely the fault of Melinda Warner.

I’ll reserve further judgement of this arc until after ….

S15 E20 – Post-Mortem Blues

Here’s where the fallout from Lewis’s suicide takes shape in the form of legal problems for Benson, singlehandedly because of Melinda Warner’s inept handling of the GSR forensic evidence. Benson is thrown into a long arduous IAB investigation which eventually leads to a Grand Jury hearing regarding Benson’s actions. Since the police headquarters at 1PP are looking for a scapegoat to hang out to dry, Benson is being set up for the fall. The prosecutor in the Grand Jury hearing, Derek Strauss (Greg Germann), appears to intentionally throw out only one-sided arguments regarding Benson’s actions, disregarding all else at the expense of throwing Benson under the bus.

As the hearing progresses, it’s clear this is entirely a fantasy world. Lewis has intentionally left a wake of raped and dead victims all along the way. He’s an escaped convict who is now at large and considered armed and dangerous. He’s also kidnapped a little girl and is now holding her hostage at gunpoint. Oh, but let’s forget all about those pesky details and focus on how Benson lied when she claimed she beat Lewis within an inch of his life while he was cuffed to a bed OR how she *might* have pulled the trigger on this known serial killer, kidnapper and rapist, which the evidence shows she didn’t.

No, let’s simply ignore this killer’s heinous acts, his escape from prison and focus on the red tape to convict Benson by completely disregarding any of those pesky Lewis details that just get in the way of this crap storytelling. Wait what?

What the hell Dick Wolf? You really expect us to swallow this trite, unrealistic, pretentious bullshit?

You can damned well bet that any prisoner who manages to escape from prison will be considered as top priority and not just by SVU. An escaped armed prisoner is well beyond a handful of sex crime detectives to be tasked for recovery. No, his recovery to prison would be top priority by law enforcement throughout the state. When prisoners escape, they aren’t allowed simply to gallivant off into the sunset freely. Worse, after he shot and killed several people at the hospital to escape, he would be considered armed and extremely dangerous. Lewis’s recovery would have been ordered as apprehend by deadly force, if necessary.

Based on this order, whatever it took for Benson to subdue Lewis would have been considered reasonable and appropriate force rather than suspicious. Not only was Benson robbed of her kill. She was then hung out to dry by the Grand Jury for doing her police duty against an escaped and dangerous prisoner. The medical examiner, Melinda Warner, also egregiously failed to do her forensic duties properly with the GSR evidence, which would have clearly exonerated Olivia Benson entirely. Worse, it was an entire slap in the face when the Grand Jury hearing completely and conveniently ignored Lewis’s heinous acts, including the little girl’s abduction and kidnapping let alone his prison escape and his killings along the way.

And here I thought seasons 13 and 14 were bad. Season 15 is the single worst season of SVU by far. But, that’s pretty much because of the William Lewis story arc, which was not only the single worst story arc in the history of SVU, it also has one of the worst casting decisions ever made on SVU with Pablo Schreiber. Schreiber couldn’t act to save his life. This guy simply has no talent, unless you count his incessant one-note stupid smirk-smile as acting talent. In fact, placing this guy into any scene drags down the acting talent of anyone around him.

The second worst casting decision was the introduction of Lt. Declan Murphy (Donal Logue) as Cragen’s SVU replacement. He simply has no charisma at all and no chemistry with the rest of the cast. It was entirely no consolation to the viewers when he steps in and defends Benson in one of the worst monologues in SVU’s history at the Grand Jury. Seriously? You’re going to pick the second worst actor ever in SVU to be the voice of reason and pull off a Benson save? Why couldn’t it have been Tutuola, Cragen or Munch. You know, someone we actually care about and have invested time in, not some random actor you’ve picked up in Toronto. Heck I’d even taken Cassidy, Rollins or Amaro in a pinch. Why choose this guy who’s been on maybe 3 episodes and in whom we have no interest to become Benson’s savior? The is so unsatisfying on many levels.

I realize the show started this story arc and needed to end it. It’s clear, the writers on SVU simply don’t know how to handle anything but fantasy writing with long arcs. There is absolutely nothing realistic at all in the William Lewis story arc… which then led to an entirely unsatisfying conclusion. Sure, he died (or did he?). If we’re going to get into the situation where people can now magically come back to life on this kind of series, then there’s no reason to continue it.

I’m entirely surprised that Mariska Hargitay has stayed with this series after this trash arc. We’ve gone from being a decent police procedural early on with Benson and Stabler to a Buffy the Rapist Slayer wannabe. What’s next? Cartoons running around with the main characters? Or, Superheroes?

This ends the crapfest tale of William Lewis.

S18 E20 – American Dream / Sanctuary

This one starts with a somewhat minor nitpick and progresses from there. After bursting through the front door of Hector Ramirez’s apartment, they find his wife and two kids, but no Hector. After a bit of searching, Detective Carisi (Peter Scanavino) meets up with Detective Rollins in the kitchen with Hector’s wife. Carisi calls the wife by her first name, Soledad. Wait… what?

This writing blunder is that nowhere leading up to the detectives entering Hector’s apartment is it disclosed that Hector’s wife’s name is Soledad. Also, there is no time after they burst through the front door where she discloses her name to them. While it’s possible that Carisi could have looked up her name on the police computer on the way or before heading there, this detail was not established either in dialog or in any other way.

The writers need to be much more careful about these types of establishing details.

Beyond the above, the ICE grab and deport a material witness in SVU’s double homicide case. The SVU team finds out the witness is already on a plane over the Atlantic. Hello? It’s a plane. Contact air traffic control and have them reroute the plane and have it land back at JFK. Then, pick the witness up there. Why does NYPD always feel helpless under certain situations like this? As soon as they found that the plane was in the air, they should made a call and required the plane to reroute back to JFK.

Oh, and this episode gets even worse. How is it that the season ender episodes are almost always the worst written, least realistic and most illogical of the entire season? Anyway, Hector provides testimony to the Grand Jury that he has pled guilty to murder two and kidnapping. Yet, immediately following this, some random shmoe kills Hector just a block away from the courthouse? Seriously?

How is it possible that Hector ended up “walking around” free after having just pled guilty? What the hell is wrong with the writers? How is it in any way believable that the NYPD would let a man who has just moments before pled guilty to murder two simply walk away free from the courthouse? Shouldn’t he have been in custody at the very least? He obviously wasn’t in custody because there were no cuffs. What is it with the writers here? The NYPD wouldn’t be so careless as to let a material witness in an extremely high profile case walk around unprotected on the streets of NYC knowing the amount of protesting at the steps of the courthouse. Yet, the writers want us to believe this? Of course, the writers put Hector into the hospital with a nicked aorta in some dramatic fashion. What’s the point in the hospital scene if Hector dies just moments later? Just have him be dead on the sidewalk. What trash writing!

S19 E1 – Gone Fishin’

While I’ll let the child aging thing with Noah slide, I can’t let the whole Benson and Noah and first day of school thing drop. Olivia Benson is a whole lot smarter than this episode suggests. What were the writers thinking? The first day of school and the school finds a bruise on Noah. Olivia suggests maybe he fell down. The next day, Olivia is called into the school and is patronized by the teacher because Noah told the school nurse that Olivia gave him the bruise. The only way she could have given Noah a bruise is when she yanked him off the street just before being run over. Though, I doubt that gave him a bruise.

Because Olivia knows she didn’t give Noah that bruise, she should have turned the tables  on that instructor. She should have explained that this is Noah’s first day at this school. If anyone gave Noah that bruise, it was likely someone at the school. Further, she should have strongly suggested to that teacher the she will be opening an investigation into that school for further bruising and other injury complaints by parents. If she finds anything amiss with the school, she would see that appropriate charges are filed against the school and any instructors. She should have put he fear of god into both that teacher and the nurse. Olivia should have made certain that the school understood that you don’t screw with upstanding cops and expect to get away it. Yet, Olivia walks away sheepishly. That is not a Benson cop trait.

S19 E20 – The Book of Esther

Here’s another episode with writers who are writing beyond their means. A girl shows up at the station malnourished, underweight with physical injuries consistent with assault, who we come to know as Esther. She babbles on Bible quotes and it’s clear that she’s not all there. She doesn’t test positive for rape, so they let that one go. Her father shows up and attempts to spout a bunch of holier-than-thou crap and threatens legal action if he doesn’t take Esther home. The father shows a piece of paper that purports that Esther is 27 even though she looks like she’s 16 or so. This means she’s not a child and that child welfare laws wouldn’t apply. Convenient.

Rollins confronts Benson and states they can’t just let her go back home, that they have to detain her. Benson states they have nothing to detain either of them on. Let’s hold it right here. What the hell writers?

It’s clear that Esther is both in physical and emotional distress. In fact, there is at least one applicable New York state law that would have allowed them to detain the father. Specifically, reckless endangerment and assault. There are even degrees to reckless endangerment, but that’s for a court to decide. When Rollins asked Benson to detain someone, the father should have been detained for reckless endangerment. He could have also been detained on assault charges.

Are the writers even trying? This is supposed to be a police procedural isn’t it?

This writing jackassery aside, Rollins goes off on her own to investigate the family. She follows them to a bowling alley as the whole family piles out of a van with a bunch of children. Yet, Rollins just sits there and does nothing? It’s clear that they have underage children. Call ACS right then and there. What the hell is wrong with you, Rollins? Are you even a cop?

The story then escalates into a Waco-like standoff at a house when Esther and a couple of other kids are killed. Later, we come to find through some miracle of writing that one of Rollins’s bullets managed, through brick and mortar, through walls and through kitchen appliances to pinpoint kill Esther in the head… in the back left side of the house, in the kitchen. No, I don’t think so.

Boy, ballistics works fast considering how many rounds were fired and that both suspects only just moments before got into their respective interrogation rooms. Why doesn’t Benson question these findings? Benson needs to investigates the ballistics lab. Thanks writers for not allowing SVU to do its job and stop this before it even started. Thanks writers for pinning it on Rollins with such improbable scenarios. Stupid writing trumps this show once again. *eye roll* This episode’s writing is so atrocious it matches only one other story arc in SVU’s history… the William Lewis story arc. If this is the level of writing we’re getting at this point, I think it’s time for SVU to retire.

S19 E21 – Guardian

I’ll to cut to the chase with this one. Three kids are being accused of rape of a girl on a playground at night. When they’re rounded up and thrown into interrogation rooms, the first kid interrogated says of meeting the girl and her friend on a playground, “They were drinking Absolut. We asked if they wanted to party.”

Then, his lawyer says, “This is not a rape, not by a long stretch.” Carisi interrupts and says, “This victim was incapacitated. She had drugs and alcohol in her system.”

The lawyer leans over to the kid and asks, “Did you know this?” Hello, not 1 minute earlier had that kid confirmed that they were drinking Absolut Vodka. He most certainly did know that, he confirmed it to the cops just two sentences earlier. Was no one listening? Yet, no one calls this out? Stupid writing trumps this show again.

S19 E23 — Remember Me / Remember Me Too

This is effectively a two parter in one and the season ender, not that that makes any difference here. Almost every season end SVU episode is poorly conceived and written. I really should know better by now. I’m not sure what the writers were attempting to show with the Benson character, but this episode is so far from what the show has established Benson to be, it’s beyond stupid. I’m surprised Mariska Hargitay is still putting her name to this farce they call a police drama. Anyway…

A girl meets a guy at a night club and they head back to “his place” for some casual after-club sex. Instead, she pulls a gun on him and holds him hostage. Turns out, it’s not his place. It’s his friend’s place and it’s wired with cameras on the ‘dark net’. Yes, that ‘dark net’ thing rears its tropishly ugly head, again. Anyway, the whole thing is streaming live on the ‘dark net’ preventing law enforcement from finding the location easily. Based on some ridiculous visual and aural clues, Benson and team determine the building’s general vicinity and begin canvasing the suspected area.

Benson, once again, stumbles upon the correct building and, without a partner, manages to find the suite and enters without gun drawn, without backup and without radioing in. Peeking her head in the front door, which was naturally wide open, you can see that the decor matches what they’d been staring at for the last hour or so on the video. Instead of stepping back into the hallway and calling for backup, she rushes in because a cop had already entered… as if that somehow makes the situation in any way okay.

So then, Benson allows herself to become a hostage of this clearly deranged girl, Lourdes, who is holding a revolver on Miguel (probably the same prop used in the William Lewis episode) and she proceeds to listen to what Lourdes has to say. Hold it right there.

I can buy some of this to a point, but story’s writing is difficult to swallow. Benson is a Lieutenant. What the hell is she doing working the field? Cragen rarely, if ever, stepped out and hand participated in investigations. As a captain or lieutenant, this is what your team does. So what the hell, Benson? Shouldn’t you be either back at HQ coordinating from there or standing on the street and coordinating your team from a van? Why are you entering apartments?

Suspending the ridiculousness surrounding Benson’s involvement in the situation she’s put herself in, I can then understand Benson doing whatever she needs to do to diffuse the situation and disarm the suspect. I get it. You say and do whatever it takes to diffuse it. It doesn’t mean you believe a word of what they’re saying, but you agree with and you appear empathetic and sympathetic because you need the situation to be resolved without casualties. I totally get it.

What I don’t get… when the situation is resolved, Benson is still painting the girl holding them hostage at gunpoint to be the ‘victim’. Damn Benson, where the hell is your head? She’s not a victim, she’s a perp facing a class D felony charge in NY. I don’t care what happened in her past. When she pulled that gun and pointed it at a cop’s head (not to mention shattering the skull of and killing the apartment owner), her past history is no longer relevant. If she wanted justice for a rape or trafficking committed on her past, she lost that chance by pulling a weapon on a cop and by assaulting and killing people. She needs to be convicted and sent to prison, end of story for her. If there are any traffickers in Rikers seeking a vendetta there, she should have thought about that before pulling a loaded weapon on a cop and before bashing in the skull of the apartment owner.

As for whether Miguel’s the guy who trafficked her (as she kept claiming), that’s an entirely separate investigation. Hold him and investigate his past. If he was involved in any human trafficking, then go find the evidence to uncover that. As it is, he appears innocent based on his statements. Also, anything he might have confessed while being held at gunpoint by her is considered coerced. It won’t hold up in any court. And, it cannot be believed. He was also doing and saying whatever was necessary to survive the situation. Worse, Lourdes fed him everything he parroted back, which is the very definition of a coerced confession.

In part two, two more improbable things happen. First, Miguel admits to having trafficked Lourdes and other women from Mexico. Convenient. Second, the newest ADA Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) is threatened that his sister may be hurt by someone who seems to be from the Mexican cartel. Comes to find that improbably, a single individual manages to take out the protective detail surrounding where Peter Stone’s sister is being held. Amazingly, even though the entire protective detail, about 3-5 people, are all dead, at least one guy is left alive to tell the police what happened. There is no way that would happen. If the Mexican cartel were to kill the protection detail, they wold kill everyone but the one they want to kidnap. So, the guy who threatened Stone kidnaps Stone’s schizophrenic sister and takes her to a warehouse.

The SVU and ESU teams meet at the warehouse. Effectively, the ESU goes in guns-a-blazin’ ultimately killing Stone’s sister. However, it takes hundreds of round of ammo hitting everything but the target… which eventually does bring down this lone dumbass guy. Did the ESU guys earn their weapons certifications from the Stormtrooper school of weapons training?

Yeah, it’s definitely as bad as it sounds.

Continued Bad Writing

I don’t know what Dick Wolf is thinking with this series in terms of consistency, but he’s definitely put some questionable episodes on the air. However, I will say that from seasons 5-7, the stories were acceptable with the occasional stinker, usually related to the personal lives of Stabler. In fact, the Stabler household stories are usually some of the weakest and most predictable, with Elliot usually abusing his shield to get one of his kids off of some kind of charges.

I don’t even fully understand why Dick Wolf added the Lake character to the cast for season 8. This character was absolutely not needed. He did nothing to fix a perceived squad shortage condition. In fact, the stories never once showed that the squad was short staffed. As an adjunct SVU Bronx character for a single episode, fine. As a recurring character given main title billing, what? This guy can barely act with his incessant mumbling. The only thing he had going for him is his looks… and even that wasn’t enough to carry this character. This actor had zero chemistry with the rest of the cast. Worse, Wolf decided to push Munch aside and partner Tutuola with Lake even though Tutuola could barely work with the guy. It was like oil and water between the original cast and this new guy.

By Season 9, the series takes a serious turn for the worse. At the end of 9, there’s a continuous string of poorly written episodes that show, once again, not only just how green and novice Stabler and Benson are, but also Munch, Tutuola and even the absolutely useless and newly introduced Chester Lake (Adam Beach) character. Starting at S9 E17 to the end, these three episodes are possibly some of the worst writing I’ve seen so far in SVU and is at least as bad as the writing in seasons 14 and 15.

Thankfully, Lake lasted two seasons and departed at the end of season 9 along with ADA Kasey Novak. While losing Lake was actually a benefit for the show, Kasey Novak’s departure handling was surprisingly atrocious. As seasoned a lawyer as Kasey was, she knew the Brady law. Kasey wasn’t at all this level of stupid. Yet, the show treated her like a rookie green lawyer just out of college. It was a cheap and stupid story move. If you’re planning to have an important character like an ADA leave, have them leave of their own accord because they’re a victim. This is Special Victims Unit. Let her become a victim of a crime that leaves an emotional scar so intense she has to move away from the city. This is a fitting reason to leave the series. Using a stupid rookie maneuver to ruin her career says the writers are hopelessly amateur.

The Multi-show Crossover Episodes

For whatever reason Dick Wolf and crew decided to link the his police and fire procedurals together through several different crossover narratives between seasons 15 and season 17 of SVU. This is frustrating on so many levels, particularly if you’re binge watching. The binge watching problem forces you to stop watching SVU and then go and locate the Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. episodes to complete the narrative. Hulu doesn’t have them. You’ll end up over at Amazon buying the episodes to complete watching the full narrative. THIS is a primary reason the crossovers are frustrating. I’m sure it was fine when they were aired on TV, but when you’re binge watching later on streaming, there is no warning about these in the SVU episodes. They just happen and you’re expected to figure out what the CF and CPD episodes that match are. Otherwise, the episode is just lost on the viewer.

The other problem with these crossovers is the change in show format between the storylines. If you’re used to watching SVU’s way of doing things, you’re in for a culture shock when you watch Chicago P.D. Not only is the entire series format different and, of course, the characters, but the way the story unfolds is also entirely different.

The first three-show crossover between Chicago Fire, SVU and Chicago P.D. saw the worst of the narrative on Chicago Fire. Not only did the writers wait until practically the last second to introduce the crossover narrative in CF, what they did include was pointless. In fact, the tiny segment on CF can entirely be skipped. The SVU episode was average, but not outstanding. The conclusion on CPD was horrid because of not only the change in show format which is jarring, the way the story unfolds is entirely unsatisfying. I mean, you get used to seeing the conclusion in SVU based on the way SVU does things, yet you’re robbed of that conclusion because it ends in CPD with CPD characters using CPD style endings. I didn’t bother to watch the second three-show crossover because, at the time, I hadn’t chased down the other episodes until just now while writing this update. The first crossover was just not worth the time to go watch the second one.

Here are the crossovers if you’re interested in watching:

Crossovers in order of appearance

  • SVU S15 E15 Comic Perversion and CPD S1 E6 Conventions
  • CF S3 E7 Nobody Touches Anything, SVU S16 E7 Chicago Crossover and CPD S2 E7 They’ll Have to Go Through Me
  • CF S3 E21 We Called Her Jellybean, CPD S2 E20 The Number of Rats and SVU S16 E20 Daydream Believer
  • SVU S17 E14 Nationwide Manhunt and CPD S3 E14 The Song of Gregory Williams Yates

Enough with the crossovers already, Dick Wolf.

Season 13

This is the first season sans Detective Stabler (see Stabler’s badly handled departure) and the show feels empty without this character’s presence. Worse, the episodes are now slow and oddly paced. SVU now feels more like a soap opera than a detective show. Clearly, the creative team has changed and not for the better. As this season progresses, the writing takes a terrible turn towards the last half of the season. SVU supposedly has one of the highest conviction rates of all SVUs in New York. Yet, you wouldn’t be able to tell this by season 13. This is particularly true of S13 E18 entitled Valentine’s Day. This episode is about an sociopathic nymphomaniac who, in her own trial, tampers with one of the jurors. Yet, even with all of the evidence, Novak (who’s back again, by the way) can’t even get a conviction of this manipulative woman. Who writes this stuff?

If the there’s even a hint of jury tampering, Novak should have called to have the entire jury replaced with alternates. That’s her right to ask for this. Why didn’t this happen? Seriously, let that suspected juror continue? No, I don’t think so.

Worse, episodes which would have been written for Stabler are now being given to Benson and which make her look like a stubborn unwavering cop. Stabler had a temper, could be stubborn and didn’t always follow the rules. Olivia simply wasn’t like this. However, in S13 E17 entitled Justice Denied, this episode sees Olivia wrongfully imprison a suspect 8 years earlier based on a 9 hour coerced confession. That’s not a Benson tactic. That would have been a Stabler tactic. And, 8 years earlier Stabler would have been in the room with her. Where the hell was Stabler during that 9 hours of coercion? If you’re planning to write an episode 8 years in the past, then you better hire in the cast that would have been there at the time… yes, this includes Elliot Stabler.

Additionally, not once in the 12 previous seasons had we seen an interrogation last more than a couple of hours. There were none that took 9 to get a confession. And, if it had taken 9, the DA couldn’t have used the confession because it would have been considered coerced. Further, why wasn’t this given to Munch or Tutuola? They’ve been with SVU long enough to have had such an incident take place. And, both could have been placed in the room at the time. In fact, it would be nice to see old cases before Tutuola or Munch joined SVU to come back and haunt them. It would have fleshed out more details about Munch and Tutuola both whom we rarely get to see much of their past. In fact, we know so little about Munch, it would have been better handed to this character. We already know what we need to about Olivia, there was no need to add this to her repertoire of character development. Giving it to Munch would have worked far better.

Then there’s the episode with Olivia’s half brother, Simon Marsden in S13 E16 entitled Child’s Welfare. We see Simon back creating more havoc for Olivia. Here Simon and his fiancé are being investigated by child services for alleged brutality of his kids. The kids are taken away. Olivia is pulled in by Simon to help him get his kids back. Olivia makes a bunch of stupid decisions again and so does Simon. The episode is a non-starter and really shouldn’t have been greenlit.

Also, why has the series abandoned having a shrink in the precinct. If George Huang had been watching the conversation given by the alleged rape victim in S13 E18, he would have seen how manipulative she was and could have given the detectives advice on how to break her down.

Season 13 is overall poorly written and out of place for SVU. I hope the subsequent seasons after this one get better. I’m unsure why this show has continued beyond season 13 all things considered. This season is a serious low point for the SVU series.

Season 14 and 15

These seasons continue the trend from season 13 and perpetuate the odd, disjointed and poorly written episodes. The introduction of ADA Barba was an odd choice. The departure of George Huang didn’t hurt the series directly, but the show should have replaced the role with a new psychologist character. Without this character in the series, the stories are much less credible. The psychologist who can sit outside the room psychoanalyzing both the suspects and the victims gave immense insight to both the audience and the detectives. Without this crucial bit of information, the detectives seem trapped by their own preconceived notions, which don’t always turn out for the best.

Unfortunately, many of the episodes within seasons 14 and 15 continue the downward writing trend which began in season 13 compared to season 12 and earlier. It seems the show is still reeling from the loss of the Stabler character dynamic whether the creative team recognizes it or not. And as such, they keep giving Olivia all of the weird episodes.

Season 15 is also seeing main character cast departures. With both Munch and Cragen leaving, the show is, yet again, losing more of its mojo and charisma. It’s not that Benson can’t be acting Captain, it’s that it’s way too early after her Lewis ordeal for that to happen. This show just seems to rush things along without thinking the story arcs through. It’s just another form of the World Reset problem.

Seasons 16 and 17

If Season 16 was the return of some sanity, then the insanity returns in season 17 with all of the unnecessary and frustrating Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. crossover episodes. Season 16 was at least somewhat better than the bottom of the barrel season 15. However, many of the Season 16 episodes were average with many unsatisfying conclusions. If you like SVU, season 16 isn’t a horrible watch. However, Season 17 is terrible with its incessant crossovers. So far, I’m only halfway through Season 17 and there have been 3 crossover episodes. Give it a rest Dick Wolf, will ya? I mean, one crossover episode… okay. But three?

Personally, I find Chicago Fire to be a snorefest. Watching the characters bicker about their problem-of-the-day is about as much fun as burning myself with a lit cigarette. The crossovers were entirely unnecessary.

Arrests and Asking for a Lawyer — Plot Conveniences

This show started off by making a big deal about not being able to arrest people in their own homes. Also, when a suspect asks for a lawyer in interrogation, the detectives must stop what they are doing and walk out of the room. By season 13 and above, these concepts are mere plot (in)conveniences. There have been many times when they have arrested people in their own homes without showing a warrant (one example, S16 E3 — Producer’s Backend) when Benson (of all people) arrests a Lindsay Lohan clone in her own home without asking her to step outside first.

This convenience problem is even worse when it comes to suspect interrogations. I’ve lost count of the number of times that the detectives have continued to interrogate the suspect after the suspect has asked for a lawyer. If the writers can’t even follow the real laws of NY when writing scripts, then why is this show still on the air?

Weird Endings

One of the things that irks me of this show is the odd cliffhanger endings. I’m guessing that this is a thing that the producers like. Well, I dislike it… A LOT. We watch through an episode where Benson and Stabler, Tutuola and Munch run around chasing and apprehending the perpetrator, yet at the very end, the screen fades before we find out the perp’s fate? Isn’t this supposed to be Law and Order? We get the Law part, but where’s the Order? Meaning, once the show catches the perp, aren’t we supposed to get see the adjudication proceedings? That’s the payoff. We want to see exactly how the perp gets sentenced. We don’t want to be left hanging after the fade. When we don’t get to see this payoff, as viewers we feel robbed. This makes watching seasons SVU frustrating and unsatisfying.

Character Musical Chairs

The ADA characters seem to come and go. At first it was Angie Harmon as Abbie Carmichael as a crossover from Law and Order, then she disappears in replacement with Stephanie March as Alexandra “Alex” Cabot. Before March joined on, it was a random array of ADA characters in and out with Angie Harmon in a lightly recurring role. In fact, I would have preferred to see a guest star in the ADA role every week. It’s not realistic, but it allows the show to hire a guest star whenever an ADA character role is infrequently needed. It’s not that I don’t like Stephanie March as an actress, I just don’t like the Alex character whose ideas blow with the wind… or more specifically, whichever way the writers need her to blow to make the episode work.

Stephanie’s acting of Alex certainly comes across as staunch, righteous and indignant as a DA’s office defender, sometimes to the point of endangering people’s live. I always felt that ideology was wrong for the role. Angie Harmon’s character was a whole lot more right for it. Not sure why the show went with March over Harmon in the early seasons.

Then there was detective Monique Jeffries (Michelle Hurd) and several medical examiners before the show settled on Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie).

Also, the first psychologist Emil Skoda (played by J.K. Simmons) disappears for a random second replacement with George Huang (played by BD Wong)? In fact, I liked Emil Skoda better because he at least he acted normal with reasonably normal dialog. The George Huang character has both an oddly soft speaking style, a condescending tone and pretentious dialog as to be distasteful. Why the producers thought this character might be a better choice, I have no idea. You do want your main characters to be likeable, right?

What’s with the introduction of Detective Lake in Season 8? I know they trialed this character in an earlier episode. I didn’t like him then. Yet, Dick Wolf decided to bring him back in as a regular in season 8. He lasted two seasons before being given the boot. This character was a horrible addition to the squad room. Not only was he now the odd man out, the actor Adam Beach had no chemistry with the cast. Whenever he was featured in an episode, I found it excruciating to watch. The actor mumbles and chews his words badly. It’s not a good trait in an actor. I know he has other acting gigs under his belt, but Adam Beach was way out of his element in this role. It’s good thing that Dick Wolf dumped him at the end of season 9. He should have been dumped earlier.

Next, it’s Declan Murphy.

Elliot Stabler’s Badly Handled Departure

This one goes hand-in-hand with the musical chairs of cast. While it’s always up in the air what happens behind the scenes with an actor’s contract negotiations, it’s crystal clear what happened (or, rather, didn’t happen) with the exit of Elliot Stabler. Basically, Stabler is there one episode, gone the next. The all of about 5 minutes of screen time devoted to the memory of Elliot Stabler was so tritely handled in S13 E1, the show should have convicted itself of a crime. Considering how long this character had been with the show, Stabler deserved a properly crafted longer story arc exit. Instead, we get the most minuscule thing possible in the opening of Season 13. This crap treatment treats Elliot with all of the grace as one time throw-away characters. Even Sonya Paxton’s ADA character got a more befitting exit from the show than Stabler.

I can’t understand why the show runner didn’t at least have Olivia stop by Stabler’s house and have the tiniest bit of a conversation. Heck, even if Stabler did quit the force, that wouldn’t have quit Olivia’s friendship with Elliot. She should still occasionally stop by on her off time to catch up. Eventually, they might grow distant and lose touch, but not right away. And, what about Stabler’s wife and kids? That whole family was a staple on the show… and then what? They’re just gone? How hard would it have been to at least contract Christopher Meloni for one episode in Season 13 to give proper closure to Elliot Stabler and family?

What I will say about this is that the dynamic of SVU changed dramatically (and not for the better) after Christopher Meloni’s departure. Mariska Hargitay just doesn’t have the same chemistry with the then new rookie cast members. Season 13 simply doesn’t have the same feel as previous seasons for many reasons beyond just cast. Stabler and Benson were the cornerstones of SVU. To kill the show’s chemistry so completely by not keeping Elliot is just stupid. Even beyond Stabler’s crap departure, it also doesn’t help that the episodes in Season 13 are much slower paced and oddly off-key than in previous seasons. That’s partly because it seems they also changed the show runner. It also seems they try to give stories which would have been better handled by Stabler to Benson. The stories just don’t work. Let’s just hope that from here the show gets better again in later seasons, but I’m not holding out much hope.

Duds

With any series, there are always duds. In the case of SVU, there’s a first season episode that stands out: S1 E12. In fact, it’s so bad I couldn’t make myself watch the whole thing. It’s about a rich guy who gets killed leading to some Russian females as suspects. This episode is jam packed with Russian stereotypes.. to the point that they hired white American actors and asked them to put on fake Russian accents. It was not only cringe inducing to watch, the episode was highly boring. Skipped this one. If you can’t do it right, don’t bother. This is not the only episode this bad. I’ve skipped 2 others in addition to this one in 3 seasons. I guess that’s not a bad track record, but a good TV show shouldn’t have any worth skipping.

World Resets

More bad writing here as this style of episodic TV is one of my biggest pet peeves. Here we have a story about Stabler who assigns a protective detail to Benson (against her wishes and unknowing to her) because a former case perp has come back to haunt and target her. When Benson finds out about the protective detail, she becomes distraught and distrusting of Stabler (her partner) to the point where she avoids him. By the end of the episode, Benson isn’t on speaking terms with Stabler and she is sitting at home alone crying, fade out. The next episode, Stabler and Benson are happy as larks working together just fine like nothing ever happened. This lack of continuity in character relationships drives me nuts. How can you have two characters who have this level of falling out and then the next episode it’s like the world has reset and nothing has happened? There has also been no further mention of this issue in later episodes. So, what gives SVU? If characters have a falling out, then carry it over into the next episode…. or fix the problem before the episode ends.

Note that similar issues occur between many episodes. This example above just happens to be one of the most egregious I’ve seen to this point. What’s more frustrating about this situation is the randomness at which the writers choose to or not to world reset. Sometimes the show continues to carry forward plot ideas, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s entirely random.

Overall

Many of the stories are watchable if not predictable, but be prepared for the problems described. Also, how many stories can be written about rape? Most SVU stories are about female rape victims. Even in the 3 seasons that I’ve watched, I feel the stories are already treading dangerously close to one another. I’m unsure how the show has managed 19 seasons worth of original stories. Though, the episode about a male being raped by 3 women brings up a very good point at a time when it wasn’t considered possible. This story is a bit hackneyed. I would have preferred a more legitimate story rather a private male dancer who took money to please the women who allegedly raped him. Ultimately, because he was a male dancer for pay, the women got away with the rape. This episode would have been far more interesting to watch if the male could have conclusively been found to have been raped without the extra mitigating circumstances.

With SVU, it seems the writers like to add circumstances to the plot to intentionally make it more difficult for the DA to prosecute or simply to further convolute the plot. I’m not trying to imply that cases of rape are easy to prosecute in any way. But, some cases are likely to be easier than others depending on the circumstances. SVU should show cases of all difficulty levels. Some unwinnable, some practically handed to them on a silver platter and many somewhere in between. It seems the writers preferred creating stories about the most difficult end of the spectrum (i.e., extremely hard to impossible to prosecute).

I give Law and Order: SVU a 3 out of 5 star rating. Most of the positive portions of this rating is due to the stellar cast up to season 12. At season 13, the stellar casting breaks and doesn’t really recover. While the story writers do not get the stories right each time and the fact that there have also been a number of technical filming problems, up until season 12 th actors have amazing on-screen chemistry and give it their all each and every episode. They also do a spectacular job even with the crappiest of stories and dialog. Even as good as the actors perform and as decently written as some of the stories are, the mounting technical problems combined with progressively sucky plots, poor endings and near constant cast changes drags down this rating and this series.

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Fan Backlash: What’s wrong with Star Wars?

Posted in botch, business, california, movies by commorancy on July 6, 2018

the-last-jedi-theatricalI’ve been watching several YouTube channels recently… yes, I do watch YouTube. And yes, there has been a huge fan backlash against the latest Star Wars installment, The Last Jedi. Some of these channels outright blame the social justice warriors for the fundamental problem. I don’t agree. The SJWs aren’t to blame, Disney and Kathleen Kennedy are. Let’s explore.

The Original Trilogy

Episodes 4, 5 and 6 are arguably the best of Star Wars. These films were created and conceived by George Lucas. We got a tiny taste of the cutesy characters the Jawas and R2D2 in A New Hope and again with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, but these characters were tempered to avoid becoming cartoons. As fans, we were able to mostly ignore these cutesy characters because they were limited in scope and/or served a genuine purpose (more than being cute). George then pushed the bounds again in Return of the Jedi with the Ewoks. These little cutesy bundles of fur were almost entirely “for the kids” and very much cartoons. Thankfully, the introduction of these cuddly characters didn’t entirely ruin the plot of the film. Yes, they were cute, but most of us were able to get over the cute-cuddly teddy bear nature of them. However, George was skating on thin ice with these characters. Many fans weren’t impressed. Still, Return of the Jedi worked as a sufficient ending to the original trilogy.

Thankfully, at the time, social media was non-existent. The only people who could effectively and loudly complain about it were the newspaper critics. The fans had no outlet for their own outrage. The Internet was just budding, email didn’t exist and neither did Twitter, Facebook or any other social site. Fan complaints traveled almost entirely by word of mouth (or via the convention circuit).

The Prequels

By 1999, when Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace premiered, email, text messaging, blogging and even early versions of social media began their rise to becoming ubiquitous. This is the time when fans finally had not only an outlet for their words, but people to read them. Not long after this period of time is when the term ‘social justice warriors’ would be coined. At this time, they were simply called, ‘keyboard warriors’.

When George introduced Jar Jar Binks, he took the cutesy cartoon idea to extremes producing one of the biggest pop icons of the era and simultaneously one of the most derided characters ever to grace the silver screen, let alone a Star Wars film. Many people have a love-hate relationship with Jar Jar.

Not only is Jar Jar very much a cartoon character, he’s also a politically incorrect figure in so many different ways. Not only in his voice, but in his manner of speech and in simply what he says. This is through no fault of the voice actor who portrayed Jar Jar. This is the fault of George Lucas. This is also where Star Wars effectively “jumped the shark”, but not solely because of Jar Jar. Oh certainly, Jar Jar heavily contributed to this, but writing a trilogy long story about the origin of Darth Vader is, well, pretentious. It really doesn’t take 3 films to show the entire Anakin Skywalker story.  That could have been condensed into one film leaving two others to show Darth Vader doing nasty things and birthing the rebellion. Instead of boring senate scenes about trade blockades (*yawn*), we could have been watching Darth Vader and the Emperor fighting the beginnings of the rebellion (much more interesting).

This is where George has not only fallen on that thin ice, he fell through it. This is where George finally got a taste of fan backlash. Backlash that he would have gotten a whole lot faster had social media existed when the Ewoks showed their cute little faces on screen the first time. No, he had to wait until the prequels were released to finally get a taste of what would become Social Justice.

It also didn’t help that George’s revisionist tendencies led him to re-release the original trilogy with updated CGI visuals and modified scenes. In combination with the prequels, this led fans to begin their disenchantment with the direction of the Star Wars film universe. Did it really need to be revised who shot first in the cantina scene?

The Disney Films

Because of George’s less than stellar trilogy story in the prequels (Episodes 1, 2 and 3), George felt downtrodden and unable to produce more Star Wars films. Ultimately, he sold the franchise to Disney.

By 2015, with the release of The Force Awakens, fans were more excited than skeptical. By this time, not only had social media well matured, we now have instant access to it anywhere. Yes, even in the theater while watching it. It was inevitable that people would post their reviews within minutes of exiting the theater, possibly writing it while they were watching. Initially, fan reviews of The Force Awakens were positive. However, as fans mulled over the film on social media and via other means, it became clear just out vacuous this first new installment really was.

Yes, The Force Awakens feels like a Star Wars film, but it isn’t a Star Wars film in structure. It’s a J.J. film. After a few months of mulling over what The Force Awakens meant, it was quickly clear that it simply wasn’t what fans wanted.

Hollywood’s Affirmative Action Plan Initiative

Since at least 2014, the gender and ethnic equality war began in Hollywood in earnest. Since then, Hollywood has been sacrificing its screenplays and film profits (and projects) to the Hollywood Affirmative Action Plan Initiative (HAAPi — pronounced “happy”). Instead of telling stories as written with characters as created, directors and producers now feel the need to rewrite and cast politically correct ethnic and/or gender bending casts at the expense of producing a high quality entertaining film that will become a box office success.

Here are are two examples:

  • 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot was recast entirely with women in the lead roles
  • 2015’s Johnny Storm was recast as a black male against his white female sister in the latest failed Fantastic Four… not how the comic was written.

Both of these films I’d classify as box office bombs sacrificed to HAAPi. Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein have additionally been sacrificed to this movement. I’m not sure if the women of Hollywood intend to bring down the entire film industry or what exactly is their agenda, but trying these silly shenanigans in an effort to force a cast of women and ethnic minorities at the expense of a logical story is insane.

I am 100% for gender and ethnic diversity in casting … When. It. Makes. Sense. Don’t do it because you can, do it because the story requires it.

Do you want to make money or do you want to make a point? Let’s hope this trend ends before all of the studios in Hollywood end up bankrupt. On the other hand, perhaps it is time for Hollywood’s day to end.

The Last Jedi

To some extent, The Force Awakens’s sacrifice to HAAPi was both inevitable and thwarted. Because this was the first installment and these were brand new characters, we ignored HAAPi (for the most part). As excited fans, we were able to look past HAAPi and ignore any specific casting defects in starring roles.

However with The Last Jedi (helmed not by J.J. Abrams like The Force Awakens, but by Rian Johnson), this film not only succumbed to HAAPi, but slapped us fans in the face with it like a dead fish. Instead of casting smart, Johnson (and Kennedy) cast HAAPi. With Rose Tico, we ended up with an Asian female. There’s nothing specifically wrong with this casting choice if it had happened in The Force Awakens. Instead, because of HAAPi, this character was shoehorned into a main character role at a time when the character was not needed. This character was also shoehorned into a plot device that just didn’t work. In fact, the entire romp between Finn and Rose was entirely pointless for this film and wasted about 15-20 minutes of screen time. Perhaps the resistance ring Rose handed to the boy may have some level of significance in the final film… or it may not. That ring could have been given to the boy in so many other better ways by already established characters.

Also, why introduce Rose at all? She’s a wrench jockey who fixes things. She doesn’t appear to have force powers. What is she likely to bring to the story of any real importance? You can introduce a Rose-like character in a series like Clone Wars or Rebels because it’s a multipart series. There are so many episodes, characters need to come and go. In a trilogy, every character introduction counts. And, such an introduction takes away character development time from other characters. We already don’t know enough about Finn, Poe and Rey, we don’t need yet fourth character to have to get to know.

The reason Star Wars the original trilogy worked is primarily because of the triangle lead roles of Luke, Leia and Han. We had that triangle going with Finn, Poe and Rey. Yet, now we have Finn, Poe, Rey and Rose (?). This character has upset that triangle. If you’re going to do that, then the story should have introduced this character in the opening film to this trilogy.

The Rose problem exists entirely because, like 2016’s Ghostbusters and 2015’s Fantastic Four, The Last Jedi has been sacrificed to HAAPi to solve a perceived film deficiency, not because the story needs it. This time, however, fans were able to lift the HAAPi veil and see through it for what it is… sad. And so, the fan backlash ensues.

Star Wars is a fantasy series. Bringing Hollywood casting agendas into a film’s story isn’t what fans want to see. This not only insults the fans’ intelligence, it insults the fans. What else would Disney expect to happen? Using a franchise like Star Wars to further a Hollywood agenda is entirely insane. Disney and Kathleen Kennedy, you need to get your shit together and wake up. HAAPi is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and it doesn’t belong in Star Wars.

The Final Film

This film has not yet released as of this article. However, it’s almost certain that not only will this film bomb at the box office, it may end the franchise entirely. Disney would be wise to shelve this last film and any future Star Wars film projects until this whole thing blows over… and Disney, you need dump the current team working on it including Kathleen Kennedy.

Let the final film stew for a few years. Make the fans wait until they clamor for it. Make the fans want it. Putting it out right now is a recipe for box office failure. This franchise is already skating on thin ice because of HAAPi. It’s almost certain that the final film will also be sacrificed to HAAPi. Abusing HAAPi makes me (and many other Star Wars fans) very, very sad.

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