Great Procedurals and the Downfall of Crime Shows

Great Procedurals and the Downfall of Crime Shows | Lexie WinslowI’ve given the Elementary/Highlander hybrid Forever a chance this fall because I am going through a huge mystery phase, and I’ve been a Ioan Gruffudd fan since his turn as Horatio Hornblower in the ‘90s. Besides, it feels like there isn’t much else on. But the series has crystallized for me the difficulty of watching dramas with shoddy police work in this age of great procedurals. The triumph of simultaneously accurate and compelling television writing these days means that lazier crime plotting ranks somewhere between distracting and unforgivable.

Forever has its fair share of plotting improbabilities from the start. A contributing factor to the zany crime solving plots has been the main character (an immortal medical examiner) Henry’s growing interest and participation in the investigatory side of police work. I’ve read commentary that the bumbling affectation is a deliberate expression of character development, as Henry starts to care about real people and their mysteries instead of just the study of death (apparently a challenge for jaded 300-year-olds), and in a domino effect it forces a tough NYC female detective into a grudging mentorship role for him. The whole dynamic doesn’t quite seem to come off, but it’s not the biggest problem here.

Everything inadequate about Forever is captured in the sixth episode, “The Frustrating Thing About Psychopaths.” There were three faux pas in particular that obliterated my suspension of disbelief.

  1. Henry finds an accessory to the murder in the course of his amateur sleuthing and steals a piece of evidence from this person, so he can examine it to his heart’s content before enlightening the police. When he finally does come clean to the detective and the police chief, they rush to obtain a warrant from a judge to get this valuable clue into evidence. Excuse me?! Has anyone ever heard of fruit of the poison tree? If Alicia Florrick were here, the police’s entire case would be destroyed at this point.
  2. Next, there’s Henry’s frequent appearance in the police department bullpen. Since when do M.E.s just chill with the detectives, eavesdropping on the investigation? At one point he interrupts proceedings to give a self-righteous speech to a suspect, specifically identifying the evidence they’ve collected against this guy, even naming witnesses. (The suspect promptly leaves and attacks one of the witnesses.) Why is no one stopping this?
  3. The final eye-roll-inducing scene takes place after Henry’s detective mentor shoots a suspect to death in a confrontation. The chief addresses the situation with a throwaway comment in the nature of, “Hey, are you okay? You did what you had to do.” So much for mandatory administrative leave following the shooting of a civilian.

I understand why Forever, and plenty of shows like it, let the details of real police procedure slide. Adhering to all of those fussy protocols can bog down the pacing of action-oriented shows. The thing is, I think it’s too late to go back to the slapdash investigative style of criminal dramas of the ‘90s and before. Too many shows have challenged themselves to make the regulations of criminal investigating add to the drama of their plots. The Good Wife, CSI, Law and Order, The Wire, and many others offer a veritable graduate education in law enforcement, served in weekly installments. It’s like the truism that the average TV viewer is potentially a much smarter criminal than he or she would’ve been 20 years ago—we all know too much now.

My point is, you want me to suspend my disbelief and accept the existence of a handsome immortal Brit who’s constantly getting killed and regenerating, naked, in the Hudson River? Fine. But then you ask me to believe that his police precinct doesn’t stick to careful chain of evidence procedures? In this crime show heyday, I just can’t do it.


Image via IMDB.


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