On Wednesday night (May 11), “Law & Order: SVU” went full “UnReal” with an episode entitled “Assaulting Reality.” While watching an episode of “Heart’s Desire: New York” — a show imitating ABC’s “The Bachelor” — Rollins (Kelli Giddish) and Carisi (Peter Scanavino) witness a contestant have sex with faux bachelor Graham Turco (Jordan Bondurant) live on TV.
“Wait, I don’t remember any of this,” Melanie (Comfort Clinton) exclaims upon seeing the footage for the first time. “I’m a virgin, I would never have slept with him!”
Benson (Mariska Hargitay) immediately steps in to investigate whether or not this was rape, or if any foul play was involved. Feeling like a real life version of Lifetime’s “UnReal,” this “Law & Order” episode takes the meta narrative to the next level … and it’s awesome.
“Oh my God, is this reality,” a fellow female contestant asks incredulously as all the cast members are called in for questioning. Everyone is second guessing as to what is real and who is pretending certain stories just for the ratings. All of a sudden things feel much less fun and campy, as this heinous premise doesn’t seem too far fetched.
Audiences watching “SVU” currently live in a world in which reality TV is so prevalent that it’s almost impossible to decipher as to which type of situations we see on TV are played up for the cameras and which are actually based on truth. When Benson’s investigation gets weaved into the “Heart’s Desire” story line for faux audiences, the line as to what’s real and what’s fake is further blurred.
Showrunners Jeffrey (Michael Gross) and Regina Prince (Wendie Malick) are the guilty duo at the helm of the entire ordeal. Producer Lizzie’s (Larisa Oleynik) guilt for merely being involved with such a show is reminiscent of Rachel’s (Shiri Appleby) wavering conscience on “UnReal.” The Princes’ charge of aiding and abetting rape to create compelling TV, however, is a new low that even Rachel’s boss Quinn (Constance Zimmer) hasn’t attempted … yet.
“I actually thought Ryan and I were in love,” Melanie says to Benson at the episode’s end.
Such sweet innocence is a nice concept, but painful to watch even in scripted form. Why anyone ever goes on reality TV will forever be a mystery. The price to pay for quick and easy fame and fortune never seems to end well for anyone.
“Law & Order: SVU” airs on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.