Ken Tucker
October 16, 2009 AT 04:13 PM EDT

The pre-publicity for tonight’s excellent episode of Law & Order, “Reality Bites,” suggested that it was going to be a ripped-from-the-ratings takedown of Jon & Kate Plus Eight. But, now in its 20th season, L&O is a sly old dog, and it’s taking nips at more than just the Gosselins.

Sure, there’s a Jon and Kate-ish couple, Larry and Joy. Joy is found dead; Larry, played by comic Jim Gaffigan turning on his fine skill for drama, is a suspect. The couple has been raising 10 kids, but they’re not their own — the children are “all special-needs” adoptions, Larry explains.

The plot quickly thickens when another woman, this one with ten children she gave birth to herself, admits she was jealous of the reality-TV series Larry and Joy were about to start filming. (Looking at early footage later in the hour, Sam Waterston’s D.A. McCoy speaks for many people in America when he remarks, “How much longer must this go on?”)

This character is clearly a stand-in for Nadya Suleman, the octomom. She hungers for reality-TV fame. But as Jeremy Sisto’s Lupo remarks, “I don’t think anything that woman is involved in could be considered reality.”

“Reality Bites” is superbly cast. Michael Showalter (again, a comic — The State; Michael and Michael Have Issues — who can go dramatic) is terrific as the cynical reality-TV producer who says on the trial stand that he helps to “manufacture emotional situations.”

And here’s a statistic: Larry’s defense lawyer claims that there have been at least “a dozen suicide attempts by reality-show contestants.” Given how well-researched Law & Order is, I wonder if that’s true.

Will you watch Law & Order tonight? C’mon, Jon & Kate haters — Dollhouse is preempted by baseball anyway…

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