If you’ve ever watched “Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit,” you know Mariska Hargitay. She’s been on the show since its inception in 1999, one of several spin-offs from Dick Wolf’s wildly popular and NYC-based “Law & Order” franchise (the original and its other spin-offs, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Law & Order: Trial By Jury” are no longer on the air). It’s an especially gritty show, following a team of special victim detectives (among them, Hargitay, master hunk Christopher Meloni (replaced by super hot Danny Pino later in the show’s run), Kelli Giddish, Ice-T, and Richard Belzer, an original “L&O” cast member) as they investigate sex crimes in New York City.
One of the hallmarks of the show, for that matter, all “L&O” shows, is the wonderful use they make of New York City locations. Whether a story takes place in rush hour traffic in Manhattan or in the middle of the night in Red Hook, these are quintessential NYC shows and if you live here, they’re sort of a part of your life. You’ve seen them filming and probably, if you travel in artistic circles, know someone who’s been on one of the shows at some point.
At the heart of “SVU” though, is Mariska Hargitay, the daughter of 50’s icon Jayne Mansfield and former Mr. Universe/actor Mickey Hargitay. A tall, striking but not traditionally beautiful actress, Mariska possesses an innate strength and power that makes her a natural for the role of Detective Olivia Benson. Benson is one tough, yet versatile broad. She can pull a gun on a hardened criminal with as much ease as coaxing a murder confession out of a 16-year-old girl. Of course, it helps that Mariska has had over a decade now to grow into the role of Benson, but it still takes a rare talent to play simultaneously and convincingly tough and caring. It is her no-nonsense approach to Benson’s work and the “don’t bullshit me” attitude Hargitay brings to the role that makes Mariska Hargitay, in the opinion of my housemates, the patron saint of our apartment.
Reason #1: I would not want to run into Mariska Hargitay in a dark alley.
I’m sure she’s a lovely girl and a warm and affectionate person, but let’s face it…I don’t know Mariska. All I know of her is her character from “SVU,” Olivia Benson. To that end, I would not want to be on the receiving end of a Benson smackdown. I’ve seen Benson rough up a perp with the best of ‘em and the grace with which she can swing a bad guy around and cuff him is scary.
Reason #2: She is a chameleon.
Nothing gets me more excited than an episode where Mariska has to go undercover. In fact, just the other night, in one of many “SVU” marathons that take place in our apartment, I was fortunate enough to witness two separate instances where Mariska had to go undercover to catch a thief. In one, she was a down-on-her-luck woman applying for food stamps in order to nab a corrupt government employee and, in another episode, a childless Upper East Side wife trying to illegally adopt a black-market baby to expose an international illegal baby adoption ring. Whether it’s her years of living in Benson’s shoes or not, Mariska isn’t afraid to go where the job needs her in order to make the world a safer place. Her confidence and steadfast belief in her work is inspiring.
Reason #3: She runs the freakin’ show.
“SVU,” like many shows of its ilk, is an ensemble piece. The show would not be as endurable as it is without the contributions of all the cast members, from the fellow SVU detectives to the attorneys trying the various cases. But make no bones about it…Mariska is the heart of this show. She grounds the show with her human-ness and her tough-as-nails approach. This is never more apparent than when she is in the interrogation room going mano-a-mano with a recently arrested perp, choosing her words carefully to elicit a confession. It’s beautiful to watch.
Again, if you’ve ever seen “SVU,” you know what I’m talking about. Mariska is a pillar of strength in a world of weakness. She, through the lens of Olivia Benson, delves deep into the underbelly of society to rid the world (or at least NYC) of creeps and weirdos. In my opinion, as long as Mariska Hargitay is on TV, the world is a safer place to live.
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