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Though actor Christopher Meloni has had quite a few TV roles since vacating the role of Detective Eliot Stabler on Law & Order: SVU, Syfy's darkly comedic thriller Happy! provides him his first chance to show off the full spectrum of his acting skills back in a leading role. Disgraced detective Nick Sax is nothing like Eliot Stabler, but that doesn't mean Meloni's star-making role doesn't factor into Happy!. Comic and show creator Grant Morrison spoke with CinemaBlend about his bonkers and faithful adaptation, and he agreed with me that Meloni's dignified work on SVU added another level to his performance.
It was such a gift to have that, that he played Eliot Stabler for so long, and our character is almost just the worst nightmare of what could happen if Eliot's life went to hell. So [Meloni] comes already freighted with all these associations, which I think add the emotional depth and add the back end to the character.
While many actors bounce from role to role without ever necessarily landing a signature character, Christopher Meloni will likely always be remembered for his years on Law & Order: SVU. Not only because it's a show that's been watched by a bazillion people, but also because of the authoritative gravitas the actor brought on a weekly basis, much in the way his former co-star Mariska Hargitay is still delivering it. Having him go full-on wackadoo for Happy! likely would have come across as a misguided plan in the months after Meloni exited SVU.
But now, at a point in his career where he's shown off more of his dramatic talents on Underground and honed his comedic chops on quite a few shows -- he was one of the best parts of Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer shows -- Meloni is strengthened all the more by his past as Eliot Stabler, which serves as a fantastic way to almost unwittingly infer a backstory from Nick Sax himself. Even if the SVU vet wasn't playing another detective, I think audiences would still perceive Nick as a rough-edged hero rather than the permanently intoxicated assassin we're introduced to.
To give credit where it's due, we're only able to tack career nostalgia onto Christopher Meloni's performance because Grant Morrison & Co. were brilliant enough to land the actor in the first place. A comic icon whose library is full of adaptable works, Morrison told me it was co-writer and director Brian Taylor (of Crank and Mom and Dad fame) that played a big part in making that magic connection happen.
[Christopher Meloni] was very early on the top of the list. I think Brian went to speak with him, and it was almost a done deal from the very beginning. Meloni is really, to me, he's the heart of the show. He was astonishing to work with. I always talked his improv skills, he'd just come in and inhabit the character. And you kinda just have to press play and improvise scenes and action sequences and pratfalls and all kinds of stuff. So it was fantastic, and he really did inhabit that role. I think it's been, for him, it's been a challenge to stretch right across his entire range, from being the scary stone killer to being this ridiculous, almost goofy Three Stooges-style physical comedian.
With all of the roles Christopher Meloni has played in his post-SVU career, the actor quite evidently strove to distance himself from being typecast in Eliot Stabler-type roles. He's not likely to return to Law & Order: SVU at any point soon, so Happy!'s Nick Sax might be the closest TV fans get to revisiting the actor's broadcast network glory days. But even if it isn't, this is a Chris Meloni that audiences have never seen before, so make sure you watch. (Read our review.)