Now wrapping up its 23rd season, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” has become one of the most well-known staples in the crime-drama genre. It’s the first spinoff of the original “Law & Order” series, loosely based on a specific precinct of the New York City Police Department. “SVU” usually deals with sex crimes, child abuse, missing children, domestic violence, and crimes against the elderly. As seen in many “SVU” episodes, however, the detectives also find themselves occasionally tackling homicides, drug trafficking, hate crimes, burglaries gone awry, and even terrorists.
Mariska Hargitay—who plays Detective-turned-Captain Olivia Benson—is often hailed as the reason for the show’s immense popularity. The Emmy Award-winning actress has starred in every season since the show’s inception in 1999, with no sign of slowing down. Another fan-favorite is rapper Ice-T—who plays Odafin “Fin” Tutuola—who joined the show in season two. Ice-T ended up loving the role so much that he is still on the show to this day. And Elliott Stabler—Benson’s partner played by Christopher Meloni—still remains one of the greatest mysteries in the series’ history after his random season 13 departure and shocking return to begin “Law & Order: Organized Crime.” (Though Hargitay certainly has a theory about what keeps the two tethered to one another, despite such a hiatus.)
With a notable cast of characters who grew and evolved with the show, viewers find themselves not only drawn to the cases that are the focus of each episode, but also the personal stories of the detectives. Due to the extremely sensitive nature of the crimes, the “SVU” writers are known for tackling current-day controversies surrounding sexual violence in a unique and thoughtful way. The show is also notable for being the longest-running prime-time live-action TV series that is still on the air today, and show creator Dick Wolf has no plans of stopping the show’s epic run anytime soon.
After over 500 memorable episodes and countless cameos—think Serena Williams, Martin Short, Whoopi Goldberg, and James Brolin, just to name a few—Stacker is taking a trip down “SVU” memory lane by listing the 50 best episodes in the show’s history. The rankings are based on IMDb data as of April 2022, and ties were broken by votes.
Read on to see which legendary episodes made the list and what iconic stories they featured.
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