Debra Messing, Mariska Hargitay

Thank God Steven Spielberg scored Debra Messing for his musical pilot, Smash, because TV really needs her back.

Last night, the woman we fell in love with on Will & Grace and cheered for The Starter Wife put her comedy chops aside and sank her teeth into a mega-dramatic role with gusto on Law & Order: SVU. Playing Alicia Harding, the distaff Chris Hansen-ish host of a To Catch a Predator-ish series, Messing was alternately smug, sassy and steely as the early parts of the hour focused on Harding's single-minded campaign to expose the kind of pervs who killed her sister 25 years earlier.

But then the case took a twist — as most SVUs are wont to do — and the Emmy winner threw us a curveball, too. Now faced with a stalker who knew way too much about Harding's tragic history, Messing layered over her character's tough shell hints of fear, loneliness and fatigue at devoting most of her life to fighting the grisliest of sex crimes (extra points to the show for also revisiting Benson's own past crusade to catch her mother's rapist and having the guts to off Christine Lahti's ADA Sonya Paxton). For TV fans not used to seeing Messing go so deep — even Starter Wife's drama was bathed in an airy romantic scent — it may have been a bit jarring, but for those of us who have been mad about her since as far back Seinfeld's "Yada Yada" episode, it was a reminder of how much will and grace she brings to the screen.

What did you think of Messing's guest spot? Are you excited for her possible return to series TV in Smash?

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!