Cynicism versus Idealism -- Crime Serials: UK vs. US

By Dustin Rowles | TV | July 18, 2011 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | TV | July 18, 2011 |


But it also emphasizes a common fault to British crime shows, at least in my estimation. What "The Wire" has and what "Wire in the Blood," "Luther," "MI:5," and "Shadow Line" all seem to be missing is any semblance of a sense of humor. The same mostly goes for "Life on Mars" and "Ashes to Ashes," which were somewhat lighter comparatively, but still lacking much in the way of humor, although there is far more pathos in those two shows in the other four mentioned above.

It brings me to this question: Why is it that, when it comes to televised brutality and intensity in cop shows, the UK has giant balls of steel, but when it comes to a sense of humor, the UK seems to have a steel rod up its ass? Why so glum? Do crime show writers in the UK not understand how much more impactful the many shocking death scenes could be if we not only got to know the characters, but actually liked them? Nobody important ever dies in an American procedural, but it almost feels at this point that UK crime shows have fallen into the opposite cliche: Don't get too attached to anyone because he or she will invariably die. "Shadow Line," for all its bleak intensity, dense writing, and unpredictability, almost felt like a caricature of this British trope.

Another burning question: Why is everyone so distrustful of authority? Thematically, the UK media -- as filtered through its cop shows, paid for in some cases by the taxpayers -- seems to have very little respect for the police and government. Of course, I understand now, given what's going on with the News of the World scandal (a whistleblower was just found dead) and how it seemed to corrupt both the media and the government at every level. Was this sort of distrust and fear common before the phone hacking scandal? Because "Shadow Line" plays like a movie about the phone hacking scandal if you replace News of the World with drugs. Indeed, watching "Shadow Line" while much of the News of the World stories were breaking was eerie, given all the echoes between the real-life and fictional scandals.

What I'm getting at, besides asking real questions of our UK readership, is this: For all that's terribly, terribly wrong with American crime shows -- their tiresome, predictable, formulaic nature -- there is something occasionally satisfying about a neat and tidy ending that doesn't question your faith in government, media, and humanity in general. When it comes to sci-fi -- "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood," in particular -- the UK seems to have a higher expectations of its citizenry. But where it concerns stories that more closely echo reality, the UK seems to be a far more cynical place. As far as storytelling goes, with the lone exception of "The Wire," the UK wins in a route. But as far as an outlook on the world, I think I almost prefer the idealism of the United States.


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