Hitting the 300-episode benchmark is an impressive achievement for any series, but by the standards of the Law & Order franchise, SVU still has a ways to go before it approaches, let alone overtakes, the longevity of the still-missed mothership, which clocked more than 450 hours before NBC's abrupt pulling of the plug two years ago.
SVU's best days (i.e., the Benson-Stabler era) are decidedly in the rear-view mirror, and that's where tonight's episode No. 300 (9/8c) looks. We get glimpses of a younger Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Munch (Richard Belzer) as their present-day versions reflect on a missing-child cold case from 1999 (SVU's premiere year) that shares unmistakable similarities with a current child abduction. How times have changed, and how they haven't, as the transitional Morningside Heights neighborhood (bordering Harlem) still features a wall-sized mural in memory of the missing boy from 13 years ago. Is it a coincidence that the newly missing kidnap victim is the son of a real-estate scion (Hamish Linklater) directly responsible for the shifting demographics of this hood?
Less sordid than the SVU norm, but no less impassioned in its zeal for protecting innocent victims, this episode benefits from a tangible understanding of life in this city and how a community (and police department) can be haunted for years by a senseless crime.
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History also looms large on tonight's episode of CBS' CSI (10/9c), which is the series' 277th, though it rarely feels like it these days, thanks to a successful repopulating of the show last season when Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue took top billing. This week, however, belongs to one of the core regulars: Eric Szmanda as lab rat-turned-investigator Greg Sanders, who's shaken when he recognizes this week's victim du jour: a female music journalist found "cut to ribbons" inside the lid of a grand piano dumped in the desert. Turns out they collaborated, and dated, a while back when he was researching his book on "Sin City Secrets," and he figures she must have stumbled across a new secret so juicy it cost her life. The trail leads back to 1966 Rat Pack-era Las Vegas, and the legend of a gifted pianist said to have been killed by a local mobster. Music is central to this puzzle, including a soundtrack largely indebted to Frank Sinatra, and CSI's ingenuity is such that clues are provided by sources as current as a Shazam-like smart-phone app and as vintage as a vinyl LP.
Music is the lifeblood of ABC's terrific Nashville (10/9c), and I'm happy to report that since I last discussed the show in this week's Ask Matt column, the lovely Connie Britton-Charles Esten (aka Rayna-and-Deacon) duet "No One Will Ever Love You" that ended last week's episode has been released on iTunes. Nothing quite matches up to that moment tonight, though beautiful music continues to be made by the show's secondary hot and star-crossed couple, naïve songbird Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and smitten Gunnar (Sam Palladio), who'd be quite the pair if not for her struggling-rocker boyfriend Avery (Jonathan Jackson). Welcome to Love Triangle City.
Nashville's subplots and plot twists are the stuff of a country-music songbook, as Scarlett battles her nerves in the recording studio and bratty Juliette (the constantly surprising Hayden Panettiere) battles her manager — "Do you even know me? The answer is never no!" — while dueling divas Juliette and Rayna each take on a much-despised parent: Juliette's junkie mom, who she tries to disown, and Rayna's controlling and disapproving father, who she's trying to keep from owning her financially strapped family. Show-biz dreams, family feuds and romantic melodrama with serious musical chemistry on display: What's not to like?
A BOO-HA-HA BROUHAHA: 'Tis the season for very special Halloween episodes of TV's top family sitcoms, and ABC's mostly winning lineup obliges, starting with another splendid episode of The Middle (8/7c), which finds something fresh even in the time-honored storyline of a teen getting a learner's driving permit — because there's never been a TV teen quite like Poor Sue Heck (the marvelous Eden Sher). Sue has the checklist down, but not the confidence to put the family car in gear. "Stop rushing me!" she melts down at both long-suffering parents. And when the wheels do start turning ... calamity, what else? The Halloween subplot is even more inspired, revealing the startling impact on eccentric little Brick (Atticus Shaffer) when he scarfs down his entire haul of trick-or-treat candy in one night. "He's more sugar than boy," which in the Heck house has the opposite consequence of what you might imagine.
On the beyond-silly The Neighbors (8:30/7:30c), it's a literal "war on Halloween," which the aliens perceive as an annual invasion, until the Weavers set them straight — though Mom and Dad Weaver are distracted by the collapse of their own family's trick-or-treat traditions, now that they've moved to the suburbs. 3rd Rock From the Sun used to handle these situations with more smarts, but there are some laughs here, especially from little Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick), who decides to dress up in honor of the humans he admires most. ... A better time can be had in the suburbs of Suburgatory (9:31/8:31c), where former Saturday Night Live standout Rachel Dratch guests as the notorious Witch of East Chatswin. The reason she's such a pariah is also why she turns out to be a kindred spirit to Tessa (Jane Levy), who's trying in vain to inspire the mean girls to stop degrading themselves on this "sluttiest of autumn nights." Best subplot: George (Jeremy Sisto) and Noah (Alan Tudyk) going to great lengths, including extreme man-scaping on George's part, to masquerade as each other. ... Not available in advance: Modern Family (9/8c), in which Claire (Julie Bowen) is asked to tone down her typically over-the-top preparations, while Gloria (Sofia Vergara) goes on a hormonal rampage.
WHAT ELSE IS ON? On The CW's Arrow (8/7c), which was just picked up for a full season, our hero crosses paths with an even more deadly vigilante, Deadshot. ... CBS is calling it a Survivor first (8/7c), when the two surviving tribes start negotiating a deal mid-challenge. ... Exploitation alert, as Lifetime gives a celeb-reality platform to The Houstons: On Our Own (9/8c), following the late Whitney Houston's daughter Bobbi Kristina and her relatives, who all should have known better. ... Comedy Central's South Park (10/9c) also marks Halloween, with the boys plotting to hit the streets as The Avengers, until Stan's dad keeps him home for what's being titled "A Nightmare on Facetime."
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