Mr. Tom Shales has an interesting review of the new show Numb3rs on CBS. It caught my eye mostly for this line:
More and more, these shows are about laboratories and machines and chemicals and autopsies, not about characters and relationships and human conflict.
If you're not aware of the show, its a typical cop show with a twist: the brother of a cop is wild-crazy with numbers. Using his super cool abilities with a chalkboard and calculator, they find patterns that allow them to catch all the bad guys. Going on the review, though, it sounds like it's all about the gimmick. Other shows like Monk have given me the same reaction, and the new ABC show Blind Justice about a cop who loses his sight looks to be much the same.
The Shales review caught my eye in part because it ties in nicely to an article by Sam Howie in the most recent issue of Writer's Chronicle that I've been meaning to write on anyway. Howie writes on the idea of Southern Grotesque, stories that are not only set in the south but make use of unusual characters to create a moving end result. The best example used in his essay is the story "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor. The story's main character, Hulga, has a false leg. Howie's main point is that in the hands of a lesser writer, this character would be nothing but a false leg. When you read the story, the reaction should be "wow, this is a really moving story" and not "wow, what a wacky story about a crazy lady with a wooden leg". O'Connor, in her masterful, macabre manner, develops the character and uses the false leg in a style that ties in nicely to the themes of the story. Hulga is not just a character missing a limb; Hulga is seen as a real flesh and blood person with a history and deep psychology.
But I was talking about cop shows.
One of the big questions now is why CSI continues to do so well, and yet it's various spin-offs (Miami and New York) don't pull in numbers equal to the original. Some have blamed the cast. Sure, David Caruso's acting style is William Shatner minus the wry humor, but Caruso can't take all the blame. Gary Sinise is a fine actor, and CSI: New York is one of the more boring police shows on the air right now.
Personally, I blame the writers. William Petersen's character on the original CSI(Grissom), for example, is an odd fellow. He's anal retentive, an expert with bugs and quotes Shakespeare and Shelley for fun. But he's a developed persona with problems, both personal and professional, and an occassional social life. Caruso's character, Caine, (good lord, even the name is cheesy) on the otherhand is a man who appears to do little but pine for the wife of his dead brother and swagger around crime scenes. Unfortunately as more and more of these formulaic-driven shows spin-off and multiply they get worse and worse. And don't think I'm just picking on cop shows. If there's one more sitcom with a fat guy and a thin wife, I think I'll elvis my t.v.
I know, I know. As the saying goes, have a little entertainment with your art. But if they want me to keep coming back, I'll need a little art with my entertainment.