Monday, April 04, 2005

How I Solve CRIME!

During the school year, Margaret likes to watch a little television to unwind before she sleeps. We generally watch either a half hour (which means The Daily Show) or one of the hour shows I tape for these occasions. These days they are: Boston Legal, Numbers, American Dreams, The West Wing, three Law & Orders (all but the Special Crimes Unit) and when it has new shows, Monk.

Most of those shows turn out to be crime shows, partly because most of the shows on TV are crime shows, when they aren't just a crime against humanity. We steer a course between my curmurgeonness (I have still never seen a 'reality show' nor used a cell phone) and Margaret's desire not to have nightmares (which leaves out certain crime shows.) We tend towards the whodunit variety. I have consequently become adept at solving the crimes or at least figuring out who the key people are, generally before halftime.

How do I do it? I'll tell you my secret. No, it's not learning to "think like a criminal." At least, not the kind of criminal the shows are about. No, the secret is to think like a TV writer.

The writers have less than 40 minutes to give you the wrong impression, the false clues and the innocent suspects, while slipping in somebody who really did it, or knows who did, or is the key to finding who did. That's not a lot of time. There aren't a lot of false clues or a lot of people who won't turn out to be the killer, etc.

How about CLUES? Yes, very important. And what are they? Well, motive and opportunity and all that are important, but the biggest clue is generally casting. If you recognize the actor as a current or past heavyweight (for few Law & Orders go by without my recognizing an actor I've actually met in a small part) in a seemingly innocuous one-scene role...probably not so innocuous.

Casting comes into play with physical attributes and how the actor plays the character. Cause you know the actor knows, and he or she has got to play it. Is the innocent guy too innocent looking, and the guilty guys too obviously guilty? Does the superficially innocent bystander have a little too ingratiating a manner, and a little shiftiness in his glance? You'll be seeing him again, being chased by the FBI.

Of course, TV writers almost always cheat, at least a little. There is always something, even if it's too add drama to a scene or exposition, that doesn't make sense. Sometimes they spend so much time building false motives and tearing them down, that the real killer has a flimsy motive at best, if you find out what it is. But then, it's only 40 minutes. And since I taped it, I didn't even have to deal with the commercials. Sometimes crime does pay.