Mariska Hargitay is a staple of television — more so than that, she’s a staple to all of pop culture as a whole. We are discussing here an iconic performer and an iconic performance. If you were to approach someone on the street and asked them to name a TV character, there’s a good chance that they say Olivia Benson and that is no coincidence. It’s also no coincidence that Law & Order: SVU is set to enter season 21 on NBC.
Here’s where things get a tad strange when it comes to awards-show recognition — Hargitay has not been nominated for an Emmy Award since 2011. There was a point early on in the series’ run where she was nominated for an incredible eight straight years but since then, zero. Meanwhile, she’s only won once for her performance. Think about that — we don’t wanna get greedy, given that there is an amazing array of women working and knocking things out of the park. Yet, a single Emmy win and no nominations in eight years doesn’t feel worthy especially with the performances she’s put out since then.
So why Hargitay, and why now? The goal of this CarterMatt Emmy Hopefuls piece is to look at the individual components to her performance and what makes all of them worthy of recognition.
Power – Olivia Benson is someone who is in command, and puts on at least the image of fearlessness and composure in the field. We all know that despite her countless abilities and skills, she’s human. She breathes the same way we all do in life … but she can’t let the wrong person see her flinch. Hargitay brings us that power week in and week out this season, whether it be via strategic interrogations, an understanding of how to take on criminals, or challenging other people with positions of authority as her character. You never once doubt that Benson is in charge and that she’s doing what she can to get the job done.
Empathy – Here’s where the beauty lies — Benson isn’t just about staring down evil. She’s also about helping the victims work their way to the other side. Being a hero is about so much more than stopping the bad; it’s about helping the good. It’s about understanding that some victims need time or to see a different perspective. It’s about being steadfast and determined and emotionally available. It’s not just flipping a switch as an actress to bring that part of Benson out — it’s about accessing her heart and recognizing all of the different facets of a person. It’s about the power of an “I believe you” in a moment where those three words are all someone needs to hear.
Vulnerability – A performance like this requires accessibility — even if Benson is tough and capable, she also needs a sense of humanity. She needs something that viewers can see within themselves even if they are not with the NYPD. This is where her fears come in. This where Noah comes in. This is where she’s tired after a long day of work and having to see through someone else’s eyes and she just wants a moment to relax as herself. Hargitay brings all of this, even at times knowing that this can comprise only a few minutes within a single episode (or sometimes even less).
Balance – SVU is an economical show, and it can also be a far more challenging one from an active standpoint than anyone realizes. Basically, you have to find a way to enter each episode and deliver something that feels different than what you saw the weeks before. You have to pick and choose the moments to stand out, whether it be a small line or even a facial expression at a given moment. Hargitay (likely through twenty incredible seasons of SVU) has found a way to pick and choose these moments and make them all feel different.
Legacy – Let’s be clear — this is not a lifetime achievement award. Hargitay’s performance for season 20 ran the gamut from emotionally heart-wrenching to powerful and inspiring. Yet, we certainly do think Emmy voters should consider that this is one of the most important characters in TV history and yet, they haven’t given the performer behind the role a nomination in close to a decade. That needs correcting.
Is Hargitay an underdog in 2019?
Most certainly, and we understand why — the pool of talent these days is so vast, and the common tendency among Emmy voters is to steer away from network television, in particular, long-running shows. Yet, there is still so much of value here in terms of performance and meaning that the Emmys shouldn’t just ignore it due to their typical criteria. It should be viewed, no matter when they choose to do so.
If you want to preview the next new episode of SVU, be sure to visit the link here now. Meanwhile, let us know in the comments — do you think Mariska Hargitay should be considered an Emmy contender for season 20? (Photo: NBC.)