THE SHOW "Law & Order: SVU"
WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night at 9 on NBC/4
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Newspaper columnist Jimmy MacArthur (Alec Baldwin) has been given carte blanche by One Police Plaza to tail Sgt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay, who also directed the episode). Still recovering from her abduction trauma, she thinks "Jimmy Mac" wants dirt -- on her, or maybe Det. Rollins (Kelli Giddish), who had a serious gambling problem. But a suspected hate crime quickly diverts her -- and his -- attention.
MY SAY What's Alec Baldwin doing in a place like this? Murder, rape, kidnapping, shootings . . . and that's just Olivia Benson's story line this season. "SVU," in fact, does seem like an unusual swan song for an actor who just swore off New York City and the media that -- as he said in New York Magazine last month -- "I loathe and despise . . . in a way I did not think possible."
But keep in mind that Baldwin was talking about the news media, and therefore this may actually be his ice-cold revenge served not once -- but twice. He turns "Jimmy Mac" into a self-promoting, bloviating gasbag who swills expensive bourbon, dismisses inconvenient facts and is possibly in the tank for his newspaper's corrupt owner. His MacArthur embraces the threadworn cliche of the crusading New York tabloid columnist, dating from at least the 1930s, accessorized with a sinister twist.
To Baldwin's credit -- or "SVU's" -- Jimmy is redeemed by episode's end. The overall message, however, remains: New York tabloids and their paid hit men aren't merely corruptible but evidently morons, too.
On second thought, this wasn't just a swan song. This was a parting shot.
BOTTOM LINE As usual, Baldwin is good, even if his character is a cardboard cutout.