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CSI, Law and Order, Without a Trace, etc, etc, etc, etc...


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#1 Overstreet

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Posted 07 April 2006 - 11:49 AM

The other night, I sat feeling humiliated that I had been hooked by yet another episode of Law and Order: SVU.

It could have been CSI, Without a Trace, or any of the other cop procedurals.

If I didn't watch the first five minutes, I would have been fine and felt better about myself.

But those five minutes hooked me, and I couldn't muster the willpower to turn it off. Man, I could have been reading.

I've heard different ideas about why these shows are so prevalent and popular, but I'm still not sure I'm satisfied.

Is it that, in a chaotic day when we feel like things haven't gone our way, it just feels good to watch someone get justice?

Is it the same thing that draws people to watch Jerry Springer: the need to look at some kind of person who's more screwed up than us, so we can feel superior (even if we have to look at the lowest of lowlives in order to achieve that?)

Is it a fascination with the sordid and the grisly? Or the assurance that those who commit such crimes won't get away with them?

Or is it something more redeeming that draws viewers: strong performances from some of the best actors on television; smart scripts; stylish editing... ?

These shows take their good versus evil stories so seriously, and yet, when I walk away I feel like I've eaten a cheap hamburger... that there's nothing there of lasting significance. In the morning, I've forgotten all about it and a few nights later, I stumble into another one and can't break free.

Does anybody here have any thoughts about what's really appealing to people with these shows? What is it that we need that we think it will satisfy?

#2 Jason Bortz

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Posted 07 April 2006 - 01:02 PM

QUOTE
Or is it something more redeeming that draws viewers: strong performances from some of the best actors on television; smart scripts; stylish editing... ?


That's #1.

#2: My brain wants to figure it out.

#3: My brain almost always figures it out--which is why I watch it, because it makes up for all the &^%$ second guessing I do while watching Lost.

Edited by Jason Bortz, 07 April 2006 - 01:03 PM.


#3 Christian

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Posted 07 April 2006 - 02:06 PM

You actually try to figure out the guilty party? See, that’s my problem. I DON’T CARE who did it, or why. I watch these shows to learn more about the main characters, but once the writers develop the characters and return to the weekly procedurals, I lose interest.

That’s why I’ve never much cared for the original “Law and Order,” which is always case-based. “SVU” started out terribly; my wife would watch it on Friday nights, and I’d come in about halfway through after returning from my Friday-night seminary classes. The writing was painful. I’d scoff and walk out of the room. But a year or two into the show, it improved measurably. The two central characters are quite good, although the episodes don’t often focus on their personal lives.

Better still, for a year or two, was “Criminal Intent,” but Vincent D’Onofrio’s character wore out his welcome, and the show didn’t hold up well.

I was captivated by the use of music in “Cold Case” during its terrific first year, but by the end of Season 2, the plot lines had settled into the usual clichés of whatever era that episode’s crime was committed. Sarah still watches this show faithfully, but whenever I catch it, it always lets me down.

“CSI” was great both visually and as a character study for a few years. Then it got tawdry and gross. It always had those elements, but the show’s success seemed to encourage a certain wallowing in darkness and filth, and I found that increasingly distasteful and pointless.

So much for my own interest in these shows. I’ve asked Sarah why she watches so many of these programs. Her answer is rarely thought-out, but it boils down to the same reason, I think, she polishes off one mystery book after the next. These are a form of “comfort food” for her; they offer some sort of puzzle (whodunit?) that she, and many of the show’s fans, latch on to. But like Jeffrey said, they’re instantly forgettable. Disposable. When an episode comes on that turns out to be a repeat, Sarah has zero interest in watching it again. I’m not sure that’s reflective of the shows’ quality, but it reveals how little there is to these shows BEYOND the whodunit aspect. Once you know the punchline, why bother with the set-up?


#4 Ann D.

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Posted 07 April 2006 - 04:11 PM

QUOTE(Christian @ Apr 7 2006, 02:06 PM) View Post


That’s why I’ve never much cared for the original “Law and Order,” which is always case-based.



That's exactly why I DO like it, especially the first few years. The characters were interesting by how they reacted to the case, or to each other about the case. Too many times a show turns from a character study into a soap opera, and until the later years L&O (the original) didn't do that. It also stayed very true to its characters.

I used to watch CSI because forensics is interesting (to an extent). Then, as Christian says, it became too impressed with itself and was gross, plus it focused too much on two of the main characters, Gil and Catherine.

I loved the first season of Without a Trace, mostly because I love Anthony LaPaglia. But then...I don't know...I just lost interest in it.

Right now I'm currently in a crime/espionage story phase with the books I read. I enjoy mysteries and puzzles, though I rarely try to figure them out. I'm not analytical enough. Really, the only "crime" shows I'll watch anymore are L&O, the early years, on DVD, and occasionally Numb3rs, because I like the Rob Morrow character. It's rare that you see anyone so nice, yet so often faulty, on TV. Usually a crime investigator has to be either rude or mysterious. It gets tiring.

As to why? Hmm...I think I'm rather like Sarah, I can't really articulate it. It's escapist, but it's more intellectual escapism than imaginative escapism.

#5 Jason Bortz

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Posted 07 April 2006 - 05:19 PM

Law & Order: SVU & CSI: Vegas are really the only two I bother with when they’re on. Occasionally I’ll tune in to CSI: Miami just to brush up on my David Caruso impersonation—but it’s really not hard to maintain, as I am convinced he basically only has 6 tonal variations and 8 line delivery templates…

I liked Law & Order: CI for about 8 episodes. I liked all the episodes with Olivia D’Abo because D’Onofrio finally got to have a weakness. His character is just too intuitive for me.

“So you’ve been going over this body for 2 days?”

“Yeah, nothing conclusive.”

“Hmm…” (Ponders. Leans down.) “Can I see that?”

“What?” (Forensics guy hands him Q-Tip™. D’Onofrio inserts it up nose of corpse, removing it. He eyes it, sniffs it. Touches it.)

“Calcium silicate hydrate. Brick dust. But this is white—there’s only one place that used this kind of stuff, but it closed down about 17 years ago up in Allegheny County, on the water near the old fish market. Let’s go.”

Edited by Jason Bortz, 07 April 2006 - 05:20 PM.


#6 Sara Zarr

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Posted 08 April 2006 - 07:00 PM

I'm with Alan. Law & Order (I've only ever been into the original permutation) is so different from CSI. CSI is too much for me, and I have to leave the room when my hub wants to watch it. I can still watch and rewatch and rewatch again the Law & Order reruns on TNT - Bricoe & Green, Briscoe & Curtis, Bricoe & Logan...as long as Jerry Orbach is in it, I'm there. I love the detective footwork in the first half, but what always makes it morally interesting is watching how Sam Waterston's character (love Waterston...love him) loves the law so much that his quest to exact justice sometimes overrides what truly seems right and fair, and his female assistants are always there, providing a different voice, challenging him and questioning him in interesting ways.

Without a Trace is a good show, for me, in a different way. I like the idea of rescue, that this team of FBI people (no matter unrealistic it all may be) can rescue almost anyone from almost any situation. Meanwhile, several of the FBI characters are desperately in need of rescue themselves. (Same reason I love the show House...Dr. House can fix anything, anyone, except for himself. Between that and his other characteristics, he is pretty much the human condition, embodied).

Edited to add: With L&O, I also like the "ripped from the headlines" aspect. You can hear about something in the news, and shortly thereafter the event is interpreted on L&O in some interesting way.

Edited by Sara Zarr, 08 April 2006 - 07:06 PM.


#7 Sara Zarr

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Posted 08 April 2006 - 11:34 PM

QUOTE(Alan Thomas @ Apr 8 2006, 10:18 PM) View Post

You're just saying that becuase you got a free t-shirt...


Which arrived today - thank you!

..

#8 Backrow Baptist

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 08:02 PM

I'm a Robbery Homicide investigator and my wife is a victim advocate at our DA's Office so I couldn't resist posting my 2 cents here. Most of these shows are absolutely ridiculous. I can't even watch CSI anymore. The last one I watched was the Tarantino directed season finale. The last straw for me was an episode about a year ago about a wife who was killed by a stray bullet. The estranged husband was abusive, had a domestic dispute with her, had a protective order against him, and had recently been practice firing with a handgun in the backyard. So you'd think he did it right? Well, no it was just the wind! They actually showed hurricaine force winds picking up the bullet from the backyard and launching the bullet through the window and into the victim, killing her. That was a one of the few times in my life I actually yelled and talked back to the TV. I could not believe this was being put out there. I know it's fiction and all but the problem is that people actually believe things like that are realistic. There will be a murder trial some day with a juror who saw that episode and won't want to believe in a solid case because the prosecution did not prove that the wind didn't fire the bullet instead of the defendant. My wife tells me the prosecutors actually have to ask the prospective jurors if they watch shows like CSI and whether they think they're realistic or not.

Anyway, now that I'm done ranting ... I loved Homicide: Life on the Streets. The writing was always interesting and Pembleton (Andre Brauer) was the man. How many other conflicted Jesuit detectives have there ever been? Other than his lack of empathy, he was the type of investigator I wanted to be. That was the first cop show I remember that did not solve every case in one episode. Some cases never got solved. Unfortunately, I've learned how realistic that actually is. The first few episodes of Cold Case were interesting. I'm a sucker for period music that continues to play over the scenes. The Law and Orders are starting to run together but so far Conviction has been interesting. Don't really care for the usual cliche', office sex story lines (Let's be honest, it's never really even about "romance" anymore.). Also, the goatee'd Red Bull drinking Backstreet Boy prosecutor really annoys me. Jason, your Criminal Intent riff was perfect by the way.

#9 Darrel Manson

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 08:57 PM

Seems as good a place as any for this.

Stepping back in time a bit, we've just started watching the 1st season of Hill Street Blues, which I rank among the best tv shows ever. I didn't pick up watching it for a year or two, and my wife never got into it, but she's hooked now after 1 dvd. Maybe what I liked about it was that there is really so little police action involved. It's the personal story. It is certainly the direct opposite of the Jack Webb shows in which the cops had no life apart from being cops.

What gives CSI and the rest any real value isn't so much the science or investigation as much as the personal lives of the people. CSI is letting this slip away.

Law & Order, on the other hand I think is good because we don't really know about the cops, and just see them working to get what will be needed in court. They may well "solve" the crime early, but to get the DA to take it the rest of the way, there needs to be more.

#10 Cunningham

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 09:56 PM

Anyone notice that there's been a spate of voodoo themed episodes on crime shows in the last week? I've seen three so far: Bones, A&O: Criminal Intent, and Crossing Jordan.

#11 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 11:18 PM

QUOTE(solishu @ Apr 23 2006, 10:56 PM) View Post
Anyone notice that there's been a spate of voodoo themed episodes on crime shows in the last week? I've seen three so far: Bones, A&O: Criminal Intent, and Crossing Jordan.

Saw the teasers tonight during West Wing and made the same observation to my wife about the back to back shows, Criminal Intent and Crossing Jordan. We stood pat with the usual Sopranos and Big Love which, oddly, are becoming subtly similar in some ways.

#12 Sara Zarr

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Posted 06 December 2006 - 07:07 PM

For those of you who love, love to hate, or hate to love CSI Miami - this is good fun:



(See David Caruso say about 100 lines the exact same way.)

#13 mrmando

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Posted 06 December 2006 - 11:26 PM

QUOTE(Backrow Baptist @ Apr 23 2006, 09:02 PM) View Post

There will be a murder trial some day with a juror who saw that episode and won't want to believe in a solid case because the prosecution did not prove that the wind didn't fire the bullet instead of the defendant.

I was the foreman of a jury like that.

OK, it was an auto theft case: the charge was 2nd-degree possession of stolen property. The police had a dog track from the driver's seat straight to the dumpster where they found the perp hiding. That wasn't good enough for some of the jurors, who wondered why the fuzz didn't dust for fingerprints or gather hairs and sloughed-off epithelial cells for DNA analysis.

And Jeffrey: Have a kid. You'll realize that it's not responsible to expose your child to TV violence, so you'll stop watching CSI all the time. Worked for us.

Edited by mrmando, 06 December 2006 - 11:27 PM.


#14 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 07 December 2006 - 06:10 AM

QUOTE(mrmando @ Dec 7 2006, 01:26 AM) View Post
I was the foreman of a jury like that.

OK, it was an auto theft case: the charge was 2nd-degree possession of stolen property. The police had a dog track from the driver's seat straight to the dumpster where they found the perp hiding. That wasn't good enough for some of the jurors, who wondered why the fuzz didn't dust for fingerprints or gather hairs and sloughed-off epithelial cells for DNA analysis.


Reminds me of some of the many juries I've sat on. How did it turn out?



#15 mrmando

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Posted 07 December 2006 - 10:48 AM

Eventually we voted to convict; there was one lady on the panel for whom the matter seemed to be a real crisis, but she finally acquiesced. I guess I was a little annoyed that the cops didn't collect any prints, but I thought the evidence met the reasonable-doubt standard anyway. We examined what doubts we could muster up and they didn't seem reasonable.

I think I heard the other day that you have to steal 7 cars in Washington before you get any jail time. It's not a crime that is given much priority.

#16 CrimsonLine

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Posted 23 March 2008 - 03:23 PM

Did anyone see last week's episode of Law & Order, that created a fictional Christian pastor to create an equivalence between Muslim terrorists and Christian extremists? What an awful episode.

Here's a TownHall column about it. Sean Astin played the lunatic pastor. It was a travesty of a show.

#17 mrmando

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Posted 23 March 2008 - 11:03 PM

Oh, there have been some really awful religious characters on these shows of late. An episode of "Numb3rs" concerned a guy who was abducting people whose names matched Jesus' apostles and then killing them in the same manner the apostles were killed. A "CSI" episode featured a pastor performing exorcisms and videotaping them; the subject of one exorcism subsequently kills her parents; the pastor's solution is to find her and throw her off a balcony. And there's an infamous "Cold Case" episode about a high-school abstinence club who aren't as abstinent as they might appear ... and when their newest member discovers their secrets, they lure her out to the woods and stone her to death. Yech.

Almost as bad is these shows' treatment of foster parents -- invariably they're portrayed as abusive, inattentive moneygrubbers. There's a CSI subplot involving some foster parent whose kids all grow up to be serial killers or something. If you ever catch a positive portrayal of a foster parent on TV, let me know.

#18 brdwaybeauty

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Posted 13 June 2008 - 01:32 PM

I like CSI Las Vegas, it is so interesting who they slove the crimes.

#19 Thom Wade

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Posted 14 June 2008 - 06:53 AM

QUOTE (CrimsonLine @ Mar 23 2008, 03:23 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Did anyone see last week's episode of Law & Order, that created a fictional Christian pastor to create an equivalence between Muslim terrorists and Christian extremists? What an awful episode.



Yes, because there are no Christian terrorist organizations. Unless the show was arguing that the crazy pastor was interpreting the Bible correctly? It not really that big of a deal. Christian extremists can easily be just as dangerous as any other kind of extremist.

#20 Overstreet

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Posted 18 August 2008 - 12:41 PM

Morpheus joins CSI.