I am a fan of TV shows about detectives. I watched Columbo, The Rockford Files, and Starsky and Hutch way back in the ’70s, and Law and Order, Special Victims Unit* now. I’ve wondered what draws people to this type of entertainment. I think that it is because we want to believe that people are essentially good; that they are moral and law-abiding. We hope that most of us behave according to the golden rule. We all know that this is not always the case (sigh) so, when we read or watch a show about crime, we want a champion for good. We want justice and vengeance. We want someone to have our backs.
Here are a few of my recent favorites:
Dexter is a Showtime series based on the character created by Jeffry Lindsay. Dexter works in the forensics department of the Miami Metro Police Department by day, and is a serial killer of serial killers by night. Like Batman, he was “born in blood” – a traumatic event in early childhood made him who he is, and, like Batman again, he has a strict moral code. The events in the first season coincide with the events of Lindsay’s first book Darkly Dreaming Dexter, but after that, the two story lines diverged. Here is a rare case where I like the TV show more than I like the books. I have to admit that one of the reasons is the strong and charismatic performance of the star Michael C. Hall. John Lithgow is especially brilliant as the main bad guy in the fourth season. If you get really into it, you can read Dexter and philosophy : mind over spatter, a series of essays about the phenomenon that is Dexter.
The strength of a show is a function of a good storyline coupled with good acting. This show has both (IMHO). Luther is a BBC show created and written by Neil Cross, and is about the intuitive, intense, and sometimes violent detective, John Luther. This is a dark and modern spin on Sherlock Holmes himself. Idris Elba is outstanding as Luther, and won the 2012 Golden Globe award for best actor in a miniseries for this role.
A list like this is not complete without homage to the grandfather of all fictional detectives, Sherlock Holmes. The newest BBC sendup has deservingly won a bunch of awards. I really like the little overlay of text or images on the screen showing you what Holmes is thinking. Shockingly, I have never read the original volumes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is on my summer reading list!
*One of the stars of this show, Mariska Hargitay, is a personal hero of mine. Her role as a detective on SVU led her to founding The Joyful Heart Foundation, whose mission is to “heal, educate, and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse.”