Crime show has the goods

Times Staff Writer

When you need a robust cup of coffee, you can count on Peet’s. When you’re in the mood for portabello mushroom ravioli, you can do a lot worse than California Pizza Kitchen.

And when you’re craving a clever crime show to watch, the franchise to turn to is “Law & Order.”

If you require evidence, tonight’s episode of “Law & Order: SVU” (10 p.m., NBC) shows off the formula that has turned the chain into a three-nights-a-week hit: crafty writing, brisk pacing and assured acting.

When a woman is found murdered after a sexual assault, detectives Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler (Christopher Meloni) from the Special Victims Unit rest their hopes of solving the case on the only witness, the woman’s young son (Max Weinstein).


The boy is too traumatized to talk, but when the detectives discover that the victim was a battered wife on the run, they set their sights on her abusive husband (Rob Estes), a popular businessman with a nice-guy image.

Estes, the underrated pretty boy from “Melrose Place,” heads a strong guest cast, which also includes Sandra Bernhard as his cagey attorney, who helps him stage his father-of-the-year act in court, and Signy Coleman as his battle-scarred first wife.

Two scenes in tonight’s episode, which was written by Amanda Green and directed by David Platt, deftly display the traits that make the “Law & Order: SVU” franchise so watchable.

When the detectives track down the first wife through an “underground railroad” of four women who whisked her away years ago, you’ll see why this is one of the fastest-moving shows on TV. If you don’t blink, that is.

The final courtroom twist will remind you that it can be one of the most chilling, as well.