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John Oliver issues a savage critique of Law & Order’s ‘unrealistic’ policing

John Oliver
John Oliver delivers his message on Law & Order.Pic credit: LastWeekTonight/YouTube

John Oliver had some very harsh words for Dick Wolf, NBC, and the Law & Order franchise.

In a lengthy piece on his HBO series Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, the British comedian slammed Law & Order for what he claimed was an outdated and dangerous view of police work. 

Oliver chastised the show for depicting police in the best light, brushing off how they would bend the rules to make a case and an unrealistic view of how successful police work is. 

The host singled out Dick Wolf with claims of how Wolf deliberately ensures the police on Law & Order are always shown at their best and how the show is a “recruiting tool” for the NYPD. 

So far, neither Wolf nor NBC have responded to Oliver’s video, which is already going viral on several blogs. 

Yet Oliver’s words do bring up some complaints on the Law & Order franchise as it prepares for its new seasons. 

John Oliver takes on Law & Order’s take on police work

On his HBO series Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, the British comedian usually shines a light on major news stories as well as other items that may have escaped attention.

But on Sunday’s show, the comedian did a lengthy piece on the Law & Order franchise. It began with a light-hearted tone with a scene from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on a man attacked by a banana. 

However, Oliver dropped the comedy to discuss how Law & Order presented an unrealistic view of police work. That included quoting actual police officers saying that Law & Order influenced their own police conduct. 

Oliver played an audio clip of Warren Leight, the former executive producer for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where he acknowledged police had more training watching the show than from the NYPD.

Oliver drew a direct line in how Dick Wolf was inspired by the classic TV crime series Dragnet and showed video clips of Wolf in the past openly talking of his love for the police.

This included quoting an anonymous former writer claiming that the NYPD only allowed aid to the show as long as they presented the police in the best light. 

Oliver did credit the show for getting many things about police work right, such as jargon, crime scene procedures, and laws. But he criticized how the show presented the unrealistic view that scores of cases end with justice done when 97% of cases never go to trial due to plea deals.

Oliver showed a montage emphasizing how defense attorneys are presented on Law & Order as the enemy and even the “bad guys” trying to prevent justice being done. He then denounced how the show shied away from showing minority suspects so as not to emphasize how the NYPD has a poor track record with such individuals. 

According to Oliver, “Instead of depicting a flawed system riddled with structural racism, the show presents exceptionally competent cops working within a largely fair framework that mostly convicts white people.”

Oliver continued his attacks on Law & Order being unrealistic

Oliver’s long piece focused on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, with scenes of both Benson and Stabler roughing up suspects and excused for it. 

An interview played with Mariska Hargitay speaking on how viewers understood from the show how to handle an assault and credited the actress for her real-life advocacy work.

But that led to Oliver once more pointing out the reality that the NYPD often failed to close out even 6% of sexual assault cases. He also touched on the possibility that innocent men were convicted of crimes thanks to zealous cops and prosecutors. 

Oliver stated that however good intentions the Law & Order creators might have, it did not make up for their inaccuracies on the real world of police. 

“If a medical show was giving us inaccurate information, we would say it’s dangerous. We’d probably be having a conversation about, [and] that’s essentially what Law & Order is doing…Law & Order is never going to grapple with the reality of policing in a meaningful way.… Because fundamentally, the person who is responsible for Law & Order and its brand is Dick Wolf, and he knows exactly what he wants his shows to do and, importantly, not to do.”

Oliver wrapped up the 23-minute piece by expressing he was not telling people not to watch Law & Order, as he did enjoy it at times. What he criticized was how it convinced people of their view of the police was correct and influenced public opinion. 

“Underneath it all, it is a commercial. And a commercial produced by a man who is, in his own words, unabashedly pro-law enforcement. And he is very good at selling things. And in this instance, he’s selling a complete fantasy that too many people in this country are too willing to buy. And that is an ad for a defective product,” he said.

So far, neither NBC nor Dick Wolf have responded to Oliver’s piece, which has been getting attention on various newspaper and TV websites. 

While this may not be the publicity that Law & Order or Dick Wolf wants, Oliver’s words are causing a stir of conversation just a week before the season premieres that may shake up the shows a bit.

Law & Order Season 22 premieres September 22 at 10/9c on NBC.