I don’t want to put too much pressure on Mariska Hargitay , but this is a really big time for her. Not only does she turn fifty years old on this very day, but she’s also leaving Law And Order: Special Victims Unit, a show that she’s been starring on since 1999. No big deal, right? It’s only fifteen years of her life playing the same character, Sergeant Olivia Benson.
And fifteen years of my life, too! That’s fifteen years in which anytime I was looking for something to watch on TV, I would put on an episode of SVU, if it was on. I wasn’t so into the original version, and had a very low tolerance for Criminal Intent, but something about the chemistry between Mariska and Christopher Meloni was always soothing in an odd way, no matter how disturbing the subject matter of the show or how many times I’d seen the episode. I liked knowing two things — that they always had the best interests of the victims at heart, and that they would never ever hook up.
But Chris left the show after the twelfth season, and Mariska leaves incredibly soon as well, so I think my life’s longest relationship is finally coming to an end. Maybe it’ll still be great, but I just can’t imagine the show without the two of them on it. And that got me to thinking about other shows that foolishly think they can soldier on after their lead stars leave; it’s a nice idea, but most of the time it falls flat. Never underestimate the power of lead actor chemistry in keeping your audience!
…at least that’s what I’d tell the following shows, if I had a time machine and could go back and give them advice.
1. Mariska Hargitay, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit
It’s possible that they’ll be able to make the transition seamlessly, but I can tell you right now that I already don’t watch any L&O franchises that doesn’t feature Benson and Stabler, so why should this one be any different?
2. Steve Carrell, The Office
Steve had starred as Michael Scott since the show’s creation in 2005, but he left to pursue a film career when his contract expired after the 2010 – 2011 season. It was really cute of NBC to think that they could keep the show on the air after that, but Steve was the most talented person on television at that point, and I think everybody knew it. They weren’t even comfortable doing the finale without him. Maybe if we’d given him that Emmy he so richly deserved? Yeah.
3. Paula Abdul, American Idol
Paula was my shining star on AI from the show’s inception in 2002 until 2009, when she was unceremoniously removed. And no disrespect to the talent that comes through there, but is anybody really watching anymore, now that Paula isn’t clapping for everyone like a trained seal, falling out of her chair onto Simon, and stealing surreptitious sips out of her mysterious Coke cup? Never forget.
This is an ensemble show, and I respect that, but c’mon. Kristen was the star, and when she left in 2012 after seven years on the show, my heart dried up a little. As did the Emmy nominations, which Kristen had snagged four years in a row, from 2009 to 2012. They’re coming back into their own, but I think we can all agree that it was a dark time for a while there.
5. David Duchovny, The X Files
I never watched this show, but wasn’t the chemistry between Mulder and Scully like…the whole point of watching? I mean I know there was alien stuff as well, but let’s get real. David quit in 2001 due to a contract dispute that emerged after season seven had wrapped filming, and even though he came back for various cameos, the show was never quite the same. DUH.