Milestones and millstones: The Lavender Tube on 'Law & Order's anniversary, Jodi Foster, & the political race and -ism

  • by Victoria A. Brownworth
  • Tuesday January 23, 2024
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Mariska Hargitay in 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' (photo: NBC)
Mariska Hargitay in 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' (photo: NBC)

NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" celebrates an amazing TV milestone this season: 25 years of broadcast in prime time with a woman — Emmy winner Mariska Hargitay as the lead character, detective, now captain, Olivia Benson — since the series debuted.

This remarkable milestone made us think about how we've grown and grown older alongside Olivia, who's just a few years younger than we are, over this quarter century. Olivia has seen us through some tough times, debuting before 9/11 to living through COVID.

Mariska Hargitay on 'Today' (photo: NBC)  

Mariska Hargitay spoke about this at a New York event celebrating 25 years of "SVU," at which she said "the timing worked out perfectly" for her to talk about being sexually assaulted in a recent magazine essay, as it coincides with themes in the new season of the show.

We became a victim of a serial rapist during the early years of "SVU" and our late wife asked where the female detectives were as we went to SVU locked in the back of a police cruiser, more like a perpetrator than a victim.

There were no female SVU detectives. That was perhaps the biggest fiction "SVU" ever wrote in those first few years of the series. And what detectives there were weren't dedicated like Olivia Benson and her squad to finding perpetrators, hand-holding victims, and putting the rapists behind bars. Olivia Benson makes the world safer for victims. The criminal justice system makes the world safer for rapists, including Donald Trump (

We've thought a lot about this show for over 25 years. We've thought about how Olivia solves rapes and America doesn't. Hargitay herself was so unnerved that rape kits weren't being tested, she produced a 2017 documentary, "I Am Evidence," about the issue. She also created the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 to address victims of sexual assault and abuse, whose vision is "a world free of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse."

The season 25 opener ended in the rain with a scream and a victim of sex trafficking still missing. It was as unsettling as real life, and a paean to Olivia, who's still trying her best in a world that wants to take down both her and the most vulnerable among us.

Hargitay spoke with Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush on "Today" a few hours before the 25th season premiere about "SVU" and on turning 60 next week. Yes, a woman is starring in a TV series at 60. It's never happened before. Olivia Benson has broken so much ground in the TV landscape—but she couldn't have done it without Mariska Hargitay. Brava.

We are still thinking about the opening episode of NBC's flagship series, "Law & Order" when the series returned Thursday for its 23rd season. It was a classic ripped-from-the-headlines story with the murder of a college president who witnesses an act of antisemitism in the opening scene. The Israel-Hamas war and the Palestinian-Jewish college campus conflicts are front and center in this unsettling and hyper-realistic episode.

We don't want to do spoilers, because the episode really takes some dramatic twists and 'did not see that coming' turns, but it does raise questions about where freedom of expression becomes hate speech that begets violence. At its core is the question of whether personal tribalism can ever be fully divorced from bias, or hate, or murderous intent. It will leave you pondering; on Peacock.

Jodi Foster in 'True Detective: Night Country' (photo: HBO)  

Foster, kids
Jodie Foster is back. It's been 33 years since Foster captivated us as FBI agent Clarice Starling as she hunted Buffalo Bill and played mind games with Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs."

Now Foster, fresh off her role in "Nyad," is playing a new detective, Liz Danvers, in "True Detective: Night Country." The HBO anthology series debuted its much-anticipated fourth season on January 14.

If you forgot how Foster won two Academy Awards, three BAFTA Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, also earned the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2013 and the Honorary Palme d'Or in 2021, Liz Danvers will remind you.

In an interview with NBC's "Today" show, Foster told Hoda Kotb, "I think 'Silence (of the Lambs)' is the closest experience that I've ever had to this — where you jump on something because you love the material so much and everybody jumps on and does their best work because they respond to that material and the depth of it. And then you do the best work of your life."

The fourth season of "True Detective," the anthology crime drama series created by Nic Pizzolatto, is set in the fictional town of Ennis, Alaska, and follows the investigation behind the disappearance of eight men from a research station. Foster stars with Kali Reis, a member of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe, as Indigenous Detective Evangeline Navarro. Mexican filmmaker Issa López is showrunner, writer and director of season 4; on HBO.

Foster was also seen at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival Opening Night Gala, "Celebrating 40 Years" on January 18. Foster was with her wife, Alexandra "Alex" Hedison, at the world premiere of Hedison's short film "Alok" at the Sundance Film Festival. Foster is executive producer on the film which is about Alok Vaid-Menon, an American writer, performance artist, and media personality. Vaid-Menon is gender non-conforming and transfeminine.

Jodi Foster with Alexandra "Alex" Hedison at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival (photo: Sundance Instagram)  

Sundance says, "Hedison delivers a compelling portrait of her friend, Alok Vaid-Menon, the internationally acclaimed, nonbinary author, poet, comedian, and public speaker. This thought-provoking short documentary explores the limitless expression of self, challenges societal norms, and inspires viewers to embrace personal freedom beyond the binaries that divide us. Featuring Dylan Mulvaney, Chani Nicholas, and other cultural change makers."

Alok said of Hedison's film, "I think feminism makes us up the ante on all of these terms, and I think that's something I really appreciated about the final cut [of the film], is that so much of representation of my community dwells on our tragedy and violence. But what you really see in this film is a kind of vibrancy and aliveness that actually redefines transness not as something tragic or sad, but actually something really beautiful and ebullient for the entire world."

Nikki Haley and Jake Tapper on CNN (photo: CNN)  

What the Haley
Finally, former UN Ambassador, former South Carolina governor and current GOP presidential hopeful Nikki Haley continues to — as a woman of color — deny the existence of racism in the same America that she has said racially profiled her dark-skinned immigrant father, in an effort to garner the white supremacist MAGA vote.

On Jan. 19 Haley had a heated exchange with CNN's Jake Tapper who challenged her narrative. Haley is hoping to beat Donald Trump in New Hampshire and her home state of South Carolina. (

Rep. Barbara Lee, who is running to fill the California Senate seat held for decades by Dianne Feinstein, pushed back on that false narrative, telling CNN's Kaitlan Collins on January 19, "Racism, institutional racism, is in the DNA of this country."

Lee said, "When you look at what has taken place, look at our Native Americans, the genocide of Native Americans. When you look at what has taken place as it relates to African Americans, 250 years plus of enslaving African Americans, and then you look at the disparities now in our community in terms of health care, unemployment, the wealth gap, housing. You can't tell me the systemic racism does not exist. It's not just a little kink." (

So, for the celebrations and the recriminations, you know you really must stay tuned.

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