A Rant About Television

Police procedurals are fascinating in their sameness much the same way romantic comedy movies are.  Every episode of every network television procedural is the same.  In the first scene a crime is committed or a dead body is discovered.  In the next scene, our heroes arrive, there is an exposition dump mixed with witty banter between the cops.  The next scene is usually the investigators speaking to the surviving friends/relatives in which they get a clue that leads to the first obvious suspect of the episode.  There is usually a scene or two of “investigating” that leads the cops to bring in this obvious suspect for interrogation.  At this point usually the suspect produces some kind of alibi or piece of evidence that rules them out of the running.  From here on, the show becomes about the investigators chasing their tails and glomming onto whatever shiny lead pops up until the final twist occurs at the beginning of final act and the path to the actual perpetrator becomes clear.  This is only interrupted by the exposition recap that comes after the middle commercial break.  The bad guy is caught and arrested in the penultimate scene with the final scene being another information dump to tell you what has happened to all the parties involved.  

However, with all of these shows there is a better show lurking in there that never sees the light of the network day.  In Criminal Minds the most interesting minds and lives on the show are those of the BAU.  These are characters whose whole job is to sink into the minds of criminals who often visit the most egregious acts upon other humans.  How does that effect you?  How long before reading the reports, seeing the photos, and visiting those crime scenes eats away at your own humanity?

In the premiere episode of the show, Hotchner and Gideon are talking on the FBI’s jet on the way back from catching a serial rape/murder duo.  Hotchner’s wife is pregnant with their son and he talks about how hard it is to pick a name because so many of them remind him of the serial killers he has studied and captured.   That is a more interesting way to spend your time with these characters then having the writers and directors come up with new and interesting ways to violate, murder, and dismember human bodies. 

That seems to be what the show was originally supposed to focus on at least from how Mandy Patinkin loudly and abruptly left the show.  Why did the showrunners and their handlers at the network tack towards the familiar and safe grounds of case of the week and a little character development?  The obvious and easy answer is, to get as many viewers as possible.  However, it is viewer aggregation through rote and well-worn plotting and titillation.  Is that really all people want out of their entertainment? 

I get the idea of turning off the brain and just letting the easy to follow plot and salaciousness wash over you after a long day, but there are so many of these shows on via new episodes on the networks and the reruns all over cable stations that we as a group should want something different.  Even better are the vacation days where you just leave your television on a channel and get episode after episode of show nonstop.  It’s like eating popcorn in how easy it is to just devour one after another before you notice hours have passed and you haven’t moved. 

Watch a large chunk of these kind of shows in particular and you will be astonished with just how badly written they actually are when you pay attention.  I get it that each episode’s central mystery is simply an excuse to watch characters interact, but maybe the writers should spend some time reading Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe mysteries to see how to write a good mystery and how to make your investigators not look like morons.  If I ever commit a murder I want the detectives of network television to be the ones chasing me because they follow whatever shiny object you throw into their path down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. 

However, the best of the new breed of police procedural shows are the ones on cable that take the novelistic approach to storytelling and allow you to get into the lives of all the characters while creating a world for them to operate and grow.  Why don’t they create more shows like these? 

Maybe a better question is, does our throw away entertainment have to be so bad and why do we accept it being this bad?  I get that these television shows exist because they make a lot of people a lot of money including the creatives that do all the writing, directing, and acting.  However, shouldn’t pride in your work make some kind appearance in the creation of these shows?  Probably not as long as we all keep watching. 

So much of what appears on networks is sloppy cookie cutter crap or cynically insulting cash grabs.  This is such the case that the exceptions to those categories seem like someone at the networks thought they were green lighting something completely different.  Watching The Good Wife, Hannibal, or Sleepy Hollow makes me wonder, how did this show end up here?

I guess the only point to this was to yell at the sky to stop raining, but it still felt good. 


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