Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’s Un-kosher Exploitation of Politically-charged Headlines

NBC’s Law and Order: Special Victims Unit wasted no time this TV season in spinning a yarn (November 8, 2018) that exploited the headlines about a candidate for the Supreme Court being accused of committing rape during high school days. And for some reason, writers Richard Sweren and Ryan Causey wanted to give their sordid tale a “Jewish” angle.

After a waitress at a posh seafood restaurant has been drugged and raped, the investigators make their way to “Far Rockaway by Andrew,” a trendy eatery, and find an employee who characterizes management as liking to “keep the guests boozed up and happy.” The owner/chef is one Andrew Liebowitz (Luke Kirby), who already is seen behaving testily and dismissively with the waitress. While interviewed in the wine cellar by detectives, he asks them to try a rare wine, valued at $800.00 a bottle, calling it “the pinnacle of organic viniculture, plus it’s kosher” -- an ironic observation by this chef with a Jewish name, considering that many of the dishes already attributed to him are patently non-kosher (including octopus -- with “deconstructed coleslaw”). 

“I love cops,” Liebowitz flatters. “You guys are solid citizens.” Then he boasts: “I’m all about authenticity. That’s why I started Far Rockaway. It all began with a glass of Manischewitz and a plate of gefilte fish in my mother’s kitchen in Queens.” When the accusation of rape is raised, Liebowitz indignantly professes his “authenticity”: “She was begging for it. I buoyed her up against a crate of Bordeaux. This wasn’t the first time. If she’s saying I raped her, it’s some kind of shakedown.”

It is discovered, however, that our “authentic” Jewish restauranteur had raped at least four women and stolen their underwear as trophies! But a district attorney, Chris Hodges (Jacob Pitts), refuses to prosecute. Turns out that he went to high school with Liebowitz, and that they drove to school together every day. Chris is accused of pushing a 15-year-old girl to the ground while Andy was advising his future prosecutor friend in the logistics of rape. In the end Chris wears a wire, evoking memories of Andy’s pious, synagogue-attending grandmother in order to make Andy nostalgic enough to talk. It turns out that Andy was never in the synagogue with his grandmother as he claimed,  but getting “lessons” in the basement of a girl (to whom the writers give a conspicuously Jewish name). As it turns out, Chris and Andy implicate each other in different rapes.

I suppose that one could argue that this episode was “inspired” not only by headlines about alleged high school cruelties of a future Catholic officer of the court, but also by headlines about Jewish media moguls and anchors who abused their power by exploiting actresses and other female employees. And the writers certainly have the prerogative to choose characters of any ethnic or religious background (in this case, Jewish) to be the bad apple or the bad influence. Still, I can’t help thinking that this exploitation of headlines, on both counts, was, in the end, all for the sake of having a one-liner with the word, “kosher” in it.

Interestingly, Law and Order, Special Victims Unit did something immediately after this episode that I don’t recall its ever having done before, except in two-parters. It returned to the same theme of an officer of the court accused of past rape (November 15, 2018), this time, new beloved prosecutor Peter Stone (Phillip Winchester). The cops all want to believe him, but he himself admits to having been so inebriated only twelve years before that he cannot recall what happened that night when a woman visited his room during the days that he was a star baseball player. “I know in my bones, in my heart and in my soul, I didn’t rape this woman. It’s not who I am.” 

Note the similarity to the rhetoric that played before the media only months before. But in this episode, writers Michael Chernuchin and Julie Martin make sure that the show’s newest principal character is exonerated when the police cleverly elicit a confession from his old teammate.  Clearly, the show’s staff decided that it would be best to immediately cover both bases on the politically-charged Supreme Court nomination issue. But they did not see fit to feature an honorable Jew immersed in the teachings and values of Judaism to cover other bases.

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