Law & Order: Viewers Like Us (An Episode Guide)
Law & Order: Viewers Like Us arose from series creator Aaron Davis’s
theory that younger viewers, having been raised by mass media, were more
engaged by their own television-watching habits than by television itself.
At the time,
police procedural/courtroom drama Law & Order and its spinoffs were witnessing
a decline in ratings, particularly in the coveted eighteen- to forty-nine-year-old
Davis considered the popularity of reality television and speculated that “millenials” were
a self-referential generation. They’d grown up watching Law & Order,
and would feel naturally drawn to characters like themselves who also grew
up watching Law & Order, and whose lives remained shaped by their viewing
A recent graduate of the screenwriting program at the University of Southern
California, Davis pitched his concept to Law & Order Executive Producer
Dick Wolf, and
after Wolf green-lit Davis’s series, NBC picked up the pilot, pleased
by the show’s minimal production costs; shot on a single set with a
two-person cast of lesser-known actors, the series was significantly cheaper
than the average nighttime drama.
Law & Order: Viewers Like Us profiled a young college dropout named Simon
Smith, who along with his best friend, Jools, was an avid fan of Law & Order and its
spinoffs, especially Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Simon’s character
arc builds gradually over the course of the series toward the revelation of
a secret from his past.
The series debuted with strong ratings, then saw a steep drop-off following
its second episode. Ultimately, only seven half-hour episodes were produced
the show was canceled. Nonetheless, Viewers Like Us developed a strong cult
following, most especially among academics and on the Internet, where fans
continue to dissect its plots.
In the criminal justice system, there are the police who investigate crimes,
and the viewers who watch television shows about their investigations. These
are the stories of viewers like us.
1. “Who’s Watching?” (Pilot)
The pilot introduces viewers to Simon Smith, a rabid viewer of the Law & Order series, particularly Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Law & Order:
SVU). In his opening voiceover, Simon calls Law & Order his “comfort
says he watches it to relax.
As the pilot begins, Simon is watching an episode of Law & Order: SVU in
which detectives discover the sexually violated corpse of a young female
inside a residential trash compactor. Via voiceover, Simon muses that a compactor
would cut down on the trash piled outside the window of his garden apartment.
On television, Special Victims Unit cuts to a commercial for a phone sex
service that advertises, “Girls standing by waiting to talk to you.” Simon
picks up his telephone and dials. The woman at the other end asks Simon what
he’s doing, her bright red mouth all that’s visible to viewers. Simon
tells her he’s watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The woman
asks Simon whether Special Victims Unit is the show about sex crimes, and wonders
what fascinates him about sexual violence. Simon quickly hangs up.
Immediately, the telephone rings, and Simon answers anxiously. A woman at
the other end, older than the phone sex operator, asks Simon whether he’s all
right, and viewers discover she’s his mother. Simon tells his mother
everything is fine. His mother asks how his job search is going, and Simon
“I’m supposed to be a grownup now. Every morning, I look at myself
in the mirror and repeat what my high school P.E. teacher Mr. Clemenson always
to say: ‘You’re with the big dogs now, little puppy.’” —Simon,
“You want to sex-crime me, baby? Tell me how you want to crime. You want
to ravage me in a dumpster? You want to part my labia with a melon rind? Stuff
with dirty tissues? Stuff me, baby.” —Phone sex operator, addressing
“What are you eating!? Dr. Oz says raw almonds are the new superfood. Dietary
fiber, Simon! They sell canisters at Costco. Canisters, Simon! I’ll
send you a care package.” —Simon’s mother, addressing Simon
~Before the series’ budget was slashed after its third episode, Law
and Order: Viewers Like Us produced original scenes from Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit “episodes” Simon viewed. Although the
actual cast of SVU was
employed in their production, these are not considered SVU episodes
in the strictest sense, as they occur outside SVU’s continuity,
and none were filmed nor aired to completion.
~In the SVU segment from Viewers Like Us’s pilot, the trash compactor where
detectives discover the young woman’s body is labeled “Compactrax,” a
manufacturer owned by the brother of Viewers Like Us creator and showrunner
~When the pilot first aired, viewers questioned whether a commercial for
phone sex operators would appear during a primetime network drama. In response,
Davis clarified that Simon was watching late night SVU reruns in syndication
on a local station, “emblematic,” he said, “of the character’s
urban alienation.” Davis has not responded to the ensuing Internet speculation
about whether Simon’s mother would realistically call him so late at
2. “The Viewing Party”
In this episode, viewers meet Jools, Simon Smith’s best friend and fellow
Law & Order aficionado. Jools arrives at Simon’s doorstep bearing ice
cream for a Law & Order viewing party. She tells Simon he has no idea the
week she’s had. Simon tells her he can imagine, as he’s had quite
the week himself.
The friends commiserate, ripping open the ice cream container and consuming
its contents. They watch an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in which
Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler infiltrate a satanic cult where young women
are raped, mutilated, and offered as sacrifices to Lucifer. The cultists
contend the women volunteer to be sacrificed, and so the sex and murder are
At the station, Benson and Stabler argue the case’s ethics with detectives
Munch and Tutuola.
While watching the scene, Jools expresses her sexual attraction to Christopher
Meloni’s Stabler. Simon asks Jools how her boyfriend Daniel would react
to Jools’ declaration. Jools confesses her love life is in crisis, as she
and Daniel have not had intercourse in seven weeks. Simon tells her she’s
lucky she has someone. Jools consoles Simon, reminding him the love of his life
is “out there” and it’s only a matter of time until they
“The interrogation room, the evidence
locker, hell, I’d do him nasty
all over the precinct.”—Jools, regarding Elliot Stabler
“All I’ve ever wanted is somebody to eat ice cream with.” (Jools
mean, with tongue.” —Simon
~The character of Jools appeared in an earlier version of the pilot, but
her scenes were excised following the firing of High School Musical’s
Vanessa Hudgens, the actress initially hired to portray her. Hudgens’ departure
ignited a public feud with series creator and showrunner Aaron Davis, in
which Davis accused Hudgens of “diva tantrums,” and Hudgens called
Davis a “talentless hack whose series is destined for cancellation.” Shortly
after the edited pilot aired, Hudgens was replaced by Canadian actress Cassie
Steele, best known to audiences as DeGrassi the Next Generation’s Manuella
Santos. Ironically, Steele was originally cast as Gabriella Montez in High
School Musical, the role Hudgens herself made famous, but bowed out to shoot
season of Degrassi. Steele’s role on Law & Order: Viewers Like Us made
her the latest in a series of former DeGrassi actresses cast in starring
roles on American series. Prior to Steele’s appearance on Viewers
Like Us, Nina Dobrev (DeGrassi’s Mia) and Shenae Grimes (DeGrassi’s
Darcy) starred on the CW Network’s The Vampire Diaries and 90210, respectively.
~Jools brings Simon a carton of Ben and Jerry’s “Mission to Marzipan,” a
flavor that actor Chad Wilson, Simon’s portrayer, once promoted as his favorite.
Viewers cried product placement, but Aaron Davis denied Ben and Jerry’s
paid for the publicity.
3. “The Sculpture Gardener”
Simon watches an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit about a serial
rapist and murderer who victimizes men he solicits for sex online. The perpetrator
sculpts his victims’ genitals into elaborate centerpieces he leaves
behind on victims’ dining room tables, while disposing of what’s
left of their remains.
Just after the episode begins, Simon receives a phone call from his mother.
He sighs, visibly annoyed she’s interrupted him watching television. His mother
asks whether he’s had any job interviews this week. He tells her he interviewed
for two retail positions, and both interviews felt solid. Through voiceover,
Simon admits he hasn’t left the apartment in over a week. Simon’s
mother reminds him that she and his father cannot support him forever. She understands
if he’s reluctant to communicate with strangers, given everything he’s
endured. Simon tells her he can take care of himself and hangs up the phone.
While watching the rest of Law & Order: SVU, Simon surfs the Internet.
He loads Manhunt.net, a Web site where gay men cruise for sex. A chime sounds,
receives a text message from a naked-torsoed beefcake named NYCStud69. Quickly,
Simon closes his laptop and thrusts it aside.
“You had better not be lying, Simon. You of all people should know the
wages of deceit!” —Simon’s mother, addressing Simon
“I wish they’d show the dick sculptures.” —Simon, watching
~After the revelation of Simon’s homosexuality, a spokesperson from the
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) said that by “outing” himself
early in the series, Simon was a significant improvement over the Law & Order franchise’s previous gay contract character, the original series’ A.D.A.
Serena Southerlyn (played by Elisabeth Rohm), who after four seasons announced
she was a lesbian immediately before departing the canvas. “However,” GLAAD’s
spokesperson continued, “it remains to be seen whether Simon’s
depiction will be wholly positive, given the implication that a dark secret
in his past.”
~After Simon’s “outing,” viewers questioned why, in the pilot,
a gay character would’ve called a female phone sex operator. “Can’t
a gay dude be curious about the ladies?” Aaron Davis replied.“What,
will somebody revoke his gay card? Frankly, I think that’s a little
close-minded. It’s like
reverse discrimination or something.”
4. “Critical Theories”
In this episode, Jools engages Simon in a critical conversation about Law
and Order: Special Victims Unit in which she attempts to deconstruct their
fascination with the series. Jools says that by producing the same anxieties
it allays, the series is complicit in the so-called “culture of fear.” According
to Jools, this “culture of fear,” which exploits middle America’s
terror of urban crime, has enabled the United States to incarcerate more
citizens than other “First World” nations do, while establishing
the construction and operation of prisons as profit-generating enterprises.
Jools argues that
while Law & Order helps stoke the culture of fear, the franchise’s
ongoing popularity also results from this same culture, generating a self-perpetuating
While Jools talks, Simon checks his e-mail and social networking Web sites,
consumes snacks, and handles his cell phone, presumably sending and receiving
“Sure, the characters of color kick ass, but did you ever stop to think
kicking ass for the same criminal-industrial complex that disproportionately
incarcerates them?” —Jools
“This popcorn is totally burnt. It tastes like ass. Here, taste it.” —Simon,
~Although the script was credited to staff writer Elaine Wilkinson, Aaron
Davis later admitted this episode was in fact written by intern Dharma DeSantis,
an undergraduate cultural studies major at New York University. Davis said
to air, as an experiment, an episode of Law & Order: Viewers Like Us written “by
and for viewers like us.” Though panned by critics and viewers alike,
the episode has since become the subject of numerous scholarly treatments,
a frequent topic of conversation at the annual Law & Order Studies
conference at the University of Hawaii.
~Viewers criticized Jools’ behavior as out of character, given this episode
was the only time she’d appeared at all critical of Law & Order. Actress
Cassie Steele rejected these criticisms, saying, “People think pretty girls
can’t be smart, but Jools has a brain. She’s complicated. She thinks
~Although Simon’s television remains muted through the episode, Law
and Order: SVU continues in the background. Astute viewers recognized the silent
episode as Season seven’s “Storm,” in which a group of sisters
are kidnapped from New Orleans and brought to New York City following Hurricane
Katrina. This was the first time Davis’s crew did not produce original
SVU clips to air during Viewers Like Us, a practice that would continue through
the series’ final three episodes.
5. “Necessary Categories”
In this episode, Simon Smith reorganizes his iTunes library. He assigns his
music to one of four categories: “exuberant,” “ponderous,” “tranquil,” or “obscure.” He
retypes the track titles and artist names using all-lowercase letters. Through
voiceover, he informs viewers that the lowercase letters calm him.
While reorganizing his library, he watches an episode of Law & Order: SVU where a young boy witnesses his stepmother’s rape and murder. Midway through
the episode, Jools telephones, and Simon mutes the television to speak with her.
Jools asks him what’s up, as she hasn’t heard from him all week.
Simon says he’s been busy. Jools says he’s lying, she can hear it
in his voice. She tells him he’s been acting strange lately. He denies
her accusation. She reminds him he can tell her anything. He hangs up the phone.
“Are you getting laid and not telling me!? Tell me the truth! Don’t
think I won’t anal rape you with a broken Izze bottle!” —Jools,
~When the camera focuses on Simon’s laptop monitor, he can be seen recategorizing
tracks by an artist named Emily Bezar, a little-known singer-songwriter from
the Bay Area. Bezar was a family friend of staff writer Tina Schiller. Bezar’s
music is somewhat similar to artists Kate Bush and Tori Amos, but more influenced
by jazz and avant garde composition. She has since become a favorite among
Viewers Like Us’s remaining Internet fan-base.
~Visible in a stack of books on Simon’s desk is Severance by Pulitzer Prize–winning
author Robert Olen Butler. Severance is a collection of short fiction based
upon famous historical decapitations, and features a story about the automobile
that killed Jayne Mansfield, mother of Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay.
6. “Secrets and Liars”
The episode begins with Simon in the bathtub, hunched beneath a running faucet,
washing black dye from his hair. A buzzer sounds. Simon calls down to ask
there and Jools announces herself. Simon buzzes her up and puts on his bathrobe
to answer the door.
Immediately upon entering the apartment, Jools asks Simon why he altered
his hair color. He tells her, For the hell of it. She tells him, Bullshit,
she knows he’s been hiding something. She has come to confront him, she
tells him, and to discover what’s been going on with him.
After a sequence of entreaties and denials, Simon finally tells Jools he
dyed his hair because he feels safer when nobody recognizes him. He tells
he leaves the apartment, he has the sensation that somebody is following
He tells Jools that he moved to New York City because something terrible happened
at home. When Simon was fourteen years old, he began a sexual relationship
with his older cousin, who at the time was twenty-one. Shortly after Simon’s
seventeenth birthday, his parents discovered the relationship and prosecuted
Simon’s cousin as a sexual offender.
Simon left for college the following year, but never felt secure. Unable
to focus on his studies, he failed his second term. Moving to New York City,
Jools, was his therapist’s idea, an experiment in independent living.
What Simon has never told anybody is his relationship with his cousin was
consensual. On the stand, Simon called his cousin coercive so as not to upset
but in reality he was in love with his cousin and misses him terribly. He
has been haunted by guilt since the trial, feeling responsible for his cousin’s
incarceration. Because of this guilt, he feels self-conscious in public spaces,
as though everyone knows his misdeeds and is judging him.
Jools tells Simon perhaps his parents were correct, and he was too young
to knowingly consent. He shouldn’t blame himself. Simon says maybe Jools is right. Simon
falls asleep with his head in Jools’ lap, watching an episode of Law
and Order: Special Victims Unit where a piano teacher is arrested for molesting
“There were times I’d look at him and hope
his face was all I’d see forever.” —Simon, regarding his cousin
~A spokesperson from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation denounced
the revelation of Simon’s secret as perpetuating the conflation of
homosexuality with pedophilia, incest, and related forms of sexual deviance.
~A group calling themselves the United Federation of Cousin Lovers (UFCL)
sent Aaron Davis a letter thanking him for his “honest depiction of an experience
far more common than anybody realizes.” Shortly thereafter, a representative
of the organization named Clive MacGuffin appeared on the Today Show to give
testament to “the bonds of amorous fealty” that bound him to his
father’s brother’s son. When Today Show co-host Meredith Vieira asked
whether his relationship constituted incest, he proclaimed, “That’s
a bull*bleep* cultural construct!”
~Simon uses “Earth Tones” hair dye, an ecologically sustainable
brand promoted by former Law & Order: Special Victims Unit actress Michaela
whose ill-fated turn as A.D.A. Kim Greylek ended after only fourteen episodes.
7. “Seen Assailant”
As this episode begins, Simon is watching a Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit episode in which detectives discover the decomposing body of a sexually
five-year-old girl. His telephone rings just before a commercial break. Simon
answers. A recording asks him whether he’ll accept a collect call from “Gavin
Carlton.” Simon blanches, then approves the call.
An unseen male asks whether Simon is there and if he can hear him. Simon grunts
affirmatively. The man tells Simon he loves and forgives him, and viewers
realize the caller
is Simon’s incarcerated cousin. Simon is quiet. His cousin asks whether
he is still on the line. Staring at the television, Simon slides his finger
onto the switch hook button to disconnect the call.
Moving in an almost zombie-like state, Simon opens his laptop, logs onto
Manhunt, and views a message from NYCStud69. Simon types, “Come over?” After
a jump cut, a stocky white male dressed in black clothing arrives at Simon’s
apartment. Simon invites him in and they begin making out. The visitor violently
spins Simon and kicks his lower back. Simon collapses, and the visitor yanks
off Simon’s blue jeans. Simon cries out, but his assailant muffles his
After another jump cut, viewers see Jools outside Simon’s door, pounding
and calling his name. Finally, she pulls a key from under his doormat and pushes
inside. She finds Simon unconscious and bloodied. She panics, grabs the telephone,
and dials 911. As the episode ends, Simon is wheeled into an ambulance. A paramedic
informs Jools he’s in critical condition, and may not survive the night.
“Simon? Simon, are you there? I want you to know I forgive you. I want
you to know I think about you. I think about you every day.” —Gavin,
“Simon? Simon!? Don’t die on me, you asshole!” —Jools
~When this episode was written and produced, Aaron Davis believed the series
was entering a two-month rerun cycle, but after several months, NBC announced
Viewers Like Us would not receive a full-season pickup. Many viewers continue
to resent the network for leaving them with a cliffhanger, while
others speculate about Simon’s fate. In earlier interviews, Davis said
that rather than following a single protagonist throughout the series’ run,
he intended to present a different “viewer” each season in order
to represent a more diverse cross-section of Law & Order’s viewership.
Thus, Simon’s survival was far from a fait accompli.
~Many viewers have continued Simon’s story in fan fictions posted on the
Internet. One group of young women call themselves the “Simools” and
speculate an alternate reality in which Simon is alive, heterosexual, and married
~“Slash fiction,” erotica stories in which male characters are paired
with one another, are also popular. Most revolve around Simon’s relationship
with his cousin, Gavin Carlton. An entire subgenre of Viewers Like Us slash fiction
takes place in prison; in the majority of these stories, Simon has deliberately
committed a crime in order to land himself behind bars, and shares a cell with
Gavin. These tales are often wrought with romantic sturm und drang, as Simon
and Gavin confront their emotional demons and shared history. Inexplicably, most
slash writers describe Gavin as resembling the actor Christopher Walken. In fact,
Gavin Carlton’s association with Christopher Walken has become so deeply
entrenched in particular subcultures, “walken” has become a verb
used to describe incestual bonds similar to Gavin and Simon’s. The Web
site Urban Dictionary defines “to walken” as “to mack on one’s
own cousin, e.g., ‘My cousin’s a total hottie, I want to walken him
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