Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

The Most Special Victim: Law and Order's Sneaky Attack on Christopher Meloni

Twitter greeted last week's "Law & Order: SVU" with mostly unbridled glee. "#SVU with the victim from New Canaan… REPRESENT!!" cheered @TotesMagotesMG3. "Law+order Svu episode about new Canaan kids yoloing and havin to go to rikers for pullin down their friends shirt made my night," confessed @BernbabyBern268. "Damn these rich little high school students from New Canaan CT are going to Rykers," observed @EyezWydeShut. Alas, sighed @bginns: "Not a good night for New Canaan."

New Canaan is my hometown. It’s where I went to high school, worked on the school paper with Merrill Garbus and ran cross country, terribly, until I realized girls were an insufficient reason to run cross country. I sat behind Katie Heigl in Geometry. She was lovely; I took a pass/fail.

I used to hate the place and, if asked, would claim to be from "southwest Connecticut," which is not something people say. Now I think it’s okay.

New Canaan is quiet, unexciting and unassuming. Celebrities favor the place because they go unnoticed. (During junior high I saw David Letterman in a coffee shop. He was dressed like a bum, but the cigar gave him away.) The Dunkin' Donuts doesn't stay open much past dinner time. On occasion, though, film crews invade. While I was in high school, Ang Lee shot The Ice Storm on location, littering the place with fake icicles and shiny cars from the Nixon era. The town has also played host to a couple of crappy adaptations: Sam Mendes, regarding whom Richard Yates should’ve gotten a restraining order, shot his Revolutionary Road here; same with Frank Oz and The Stepford Wives, which sucked the first time round, too.

In the episode "Traumatic Wound" which aired May 1, New Canaan becomes a destination for SVU’s Detectives Nick Amaro and Amanda Rollins. They journey to "The Next Station to Heaven" to grill residents about the assault of a high school girl named Gabby Shaw at a New York club. Gabby has moved to New Canaan from Yorkshire. The detectives are certain the girl’s classmates are involved.

If you didn’t know any better, or weren’t from New Canaan, the locations look legit. But 129 Main Street is not the home of Al Dente Pizzeria; it’s a parking lot. (One of the less-privileged boys involved in the assault delivers pies.) 1081 Oenoke Ridge is not a yacht club, but, apparently, a (really large) front yard. An outdoor paddle ball court looks like it might be Waveny Park, which actually has such courts, but it’s not.

A flummoxed Tom Stadler, New Canaan's administrative officer—the bestower of permits, in other words—confirmed "SVU" hadn’t come to town, or at least hadn’t gotten a permit to do so. (He also wondered if it was "a daytime show.") Obviously, it isn’t necessary to shoot on location, but the suggestion that landlocked New Canaan has a yacht club is silly.

So they didn't shoot on location, and they gave a town far from the Long Island Sound a yacht club, so: why New Canaan?

I have a theory: The episode is a shot, or at least a playful dig, at Christopher Meloni, who for twelve years played smoldering, troublemaking detective Elliot Stabler.

In 2011, Meloni at long last left the show, reportedly over a contract dispute—and the next year picked up a sprawling New Canaan house that, I’m told, is large—it’s on one of the swankiest streets in town—but nothing to write home about, even at $4.38 million. (Incidentally, my mother saw Meloni at the French bistro on Main and was, I am paraphrasing, impressed. According to my father, he was… unshowered.)

The town does not come off well in the episode. Gabby’s father rages that he’d been assured "Connecticut and New Canaan would be safe." The local girls are shown to be incapable of doing anything other than screaming "YOLO!" every few minutes. "Most of the girls at that school," observes one of Gabby’s classmates, "are kind of stuck up." Another says of a suspect, "Alec would never do something like this. He’s a gentleman." Why? "I took cotillion class with him in the fourth grade." (For the record, this at least is emininently plausible.)

And towards the episode’s end, we find out half the school saw footage of the assault and hadn’t said a word.

This exchange, approximately 20 minutes in, is my favorite:

DETECTIVE ODAFIN TUTUOLA: Guy at the door remembers the hip hop t-shirt but no name. Says the ID said 18 from New Canaan.

DETECTIVE JOHN MUNCH: Another kid from New Canaan. Seem like coincidence? How many public high schools are there in New Canaan? Two?


This is true. New Canaan High School, or "Woodmere High," is the town’s single public school—one detail SVU got right.

* * *

"I think you’re looking for something that’s not there," Bill Butler, Meloni’s manager, told me. "I think you’re projecting."

Mr. Butler also said he hadn’t seen the episode, so he could not have counted the number of times ‘New Canaan’ was uttered: eight. That’s basically once for every five minutes of script, which, I think, is excessive? Maybe three or four would do.

I wrote to the episode’s director, Alex Zakrzewski, and co-writer, Gwendolyn Parker, and have been, with good reason, ignored.

And I’m quite sure Butler is wrong. Here's why.

A Department of Public Works employee tells me that, of the 347 streets in New Canaan, a tally that includes private roads, only two—Oenoke Lane and Oenoke Ridge—share the name of that episode's fictional yacht club. Just a couple of weeks ago, 982 Oenoke Ridge, owned by one Christopher Meloni, went on the market.

Elon Green is a contributing editor to Longform.

13 Comments / Post A Comment

Still not as good as the season-20 aside about Arthur Branch moving on from being DA of New York County to chief judge on a chintzy reality show.

A Yorkshire lass was the victim? That strains credulity.

NotFace (#196,506)

@My Number Is My Address I'll say. We are, for the most part, tough broads, and particularly able drinkers by our mid-teens.

@NotFace well you have to be, no one likes having a lightweight for a gran! [Obviously I'm conflating Yorkshire and Lancashire but my fellow Yanks won't notice]

Matthew Lawrence (#4,252)

Last week I was driving down the Merritt Parkway and hungry and was like "Oh, New Canaan! I think my cousin lived there once?" And then we drove around and around finding no food anywhere. Main Street in Stamford, though! They have good falafel.

This is maybe the most time I ever spent in the area between the Pez Visitor Center and Mamaroneck.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

I would like to do a sneak attack on Christopher Meloni. (SORRY. Master of the obvious today.)

Amphora (#231,928)

When I visited my friend in New Canaan we played a game where everyone picked a luxury car and as we drove through downtown we counted how many of ours we could find. Winner bought drinks at Tequila Mockingbird.

Pombous (#1,937)

The shots outside the pizza place were in Rye, NY, on Elm Place at Purchase Street. They didn't even bother shooting around the sign of the Rye Smoke Shop to pretend they were in New Canaan.

Titania (#8,471)

@Pombous I noticed that too! The thing that makes me think this has to be a Meloni reference is that I grew up in Larchmont with one of the members of the current SVU writing staff–we were in fact in cotillion class together in the 5th grade, although we didn't call it cotillion because it's not the South; it was just "ballroom dancing." Basically, it was kind of a cobbled-together Westchester/Fairfield story & location, not authentic New Caanan, but it certainly makes sense to me that they'd pull the name from someone they know.

P.J. Morse (#232,627)

All this Meloni in Connecticut talk makes me think of that depressing "Murder in Greenwhich" movie, in which Meloni brought his simmering-investigator skills to the role of Mark Fuhrman sniffing around the Moxley case.

Josh Michtom (#6,069)

Here in Connecticut, many of the cities have well-known hip-hop-style nicknames (think Crooklyn). Waterbury is "The Dirty Water," and there's "Hard Hittin' New Britain" and "Pistol-Wavin' New Haven" (really). Whenever New Canaan comes up, I refer to it casually as "Glass-Drainin' New Canaan" in the hopes that the name will catch on. No luck with that so far.

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