Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Procedurals: a Viewer’s Guide

Disappointed critics of the TV show “Blindspot  have suggested that it devolved to a mere police-procedural.   Actually it is not that:  it is less than that, aspiring to be more than that.

A police procedural is of interest  only if it actually gives you a glimpse of the procedures of the police (or FBI, or whoever).   Tradecraft above all.  As such, the Police Procedural, as a genre, is inherently neither more nor less interesting than insights into any other walk of life, such as:

* Plumber’s Procedural

This week, we learn how to really unclog a toilet.

* Philologist’s Procedural

This week, we meet a ferociously irregular verb.

* Penguin Procedural

Last week, we mostly just stood around motionless, just like the week before, and the week before that.   This week, we finally go get some fish.

On “Blindspot”, we see no real police-work at all.  The solution is handed to the team on a platter, based on the tattoos plus less a four seconds’ worth of mumbo-jumbo.  And that is all as well.  If you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it at all -- don’t waste screen-time.   Forensically, each episode’s crime-of-the-week  is no more than a featureless pushpin on a wall-map.   The question is whether that wall-map will eventually develop  an interesting pattern.


As pure a specimen of a broadcast police procedural  as you might hope to find, was the old “Dragnet” radio series of the 1950s.  I used to savor its re-runs on “The Big Broadcast” (Ed Walker, God rest your soul).  Though one may doubt how closely the scripts hewed to actual LAPD cases, they were conformable in pattern, in that they were -- basically boring.   No moles, no Dickensian witnesses from the past, very little gunplay (the cops might be investigating some previous gunplay, but you didn’t hear it in flashback), no interesting intricacy of plot.  Just the sort of dumb crimes that the sort of dullards who become petty criminals  typically perpetrate.  It took a sort of heroism to stick with that formula, week after week and year after year -- just as the actual flatfeet on the beat had to do.   They did not save the planet weekly, in fiction or in fact, based on helicopter gunships and cool cryptic naked-lady tattoos.


[Update 3 November 2015]  As the series lazily unrolls, it becomes apparent that it owes less than nothing to the humdrum but workmanlike procedurals.   Unfortunately, the genre it most resembles is computerized role-player games.  As there, there are indefinitely many bad-guys to shoot, like ducks in a gallery:  you can always do it, despite the fact that they are armed with automatic weapons and you with just a service revolver, because they contain nor flesh nor blood -- unlike reality, they can’t really shoot back. In Episode 6, a refreshingly skeptical badguy comments, to the FBI team, astray in the greenwood:  “What is this, a scavenger hunt?”  Well, exactly. To your right, there lies a mailbox; or, a dwarf offers you a key:  in this case, the payoff was a trunk full of automatic weapons plus a treasure map that led to a fully-fueled spanking-new helicopter waiting for your convenience in a meadow, under a tarp.   A deux ex machina that probably went down very well with a generation that lives in daily expectation of having cool stuff handed to them free.

[Update March 2016]  I finally gave up on it.  The program having by now amply demonstrated that Tattoo Girl is far smarter and more capable than any of the men around her, is now reduced (by way of nearest variation) to demonstrating the similar superiority of what’s-her-name (which I forgot;  she is referred to only by a business-like surname, but of course otherwise has all the babe stigmata) to whatever straw-Man is standing around waiting to be put smartly in his place -- his Y chromosome dangling from his neck  like a leper’s bell.
At the latest such instance, I discreetly pushed a buzzer at my desk, and the whole show dropped disappearing through a trap-door in the floor.

[Update April 2016]  Curious nevertheless to see if any dots were getting connected, I glanced at Wikipedia’s summaries recent episodes.  They may be summarized thus:

In the next episode, the shark jumps the monkey, and then they have sex.

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