Just days before NBC’s trio of Law & Order series returns with new episodes, John Oliver had some choice words for the franchise, and its overlord Dick Wolf, on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight.
In the episode’s main segment (embedded above), Oliver took a deep dive into how cop shows “significantly distort the big picture of policing,” whether that means giving real-life police departments behind-the-scenes input on how they’re presented, or crafting a “false narrative of law enforcement” in which “exceptionally competent cops [are] working within a largely fair framework that mostly convicts white people.”
“It’s presenting a world where the cops can always figure out who did it, defense attorneys are irritating obstacles to be overcome, and even if a cop roughs up a suspect, it’s all in pursuit of a just outcome,” Oliver noted of Law & Order specifically. “And it blasts that fantasy at you in endless reruns and marathons in the guise of very well-produced, extremely entertaining TV. But underneath it all, it is a commercial — a commercial produced by a man who is, in his own words, unabashedly pro-law enforcement.”
Throughout the piece, Oliver emphasized how instrumental Wolf is to the Law & Order franchise’s generally positive depiction of police, even cuing up a 2003 interview in which Wolf called the Law & Order shows “the best recruiting poster that you could have for being a New York City cop.” (In a separate interview, former SVU showrunner Warren Leight also admitted that it’s simply “not part of Dick’s brand” to show “cops behaving illegally” on any of his series.)
“It’s completely fine to enjoy [Law & Order shows], and it’s completely understandable to want Olivia Benson to exist,” Oliver continued. “But it’s important to remember just how far it is from representing anything resembling reality… [Wolf] is selling a complete fantasy that many people in this country are only too happy to buy — which is fine, as long as we don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s an ad for a defective product.”
Reps for NBC and Wolf declined comment. Watch Oliver’s full Law & Order segment above.