Will cliches in TV detective dramas never end?
May 8, 2013
A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about my favorite mystery show clichés. Since then, people have been writing and calling me telling not to forget all of theirs. It’s tempting to make fun of television and movie writers who use these, but the truth is that we love them. I love them. If I didn’t, I’d stop watching television mysteries.
Here are three new ones:
1. Exceptionally Hungry Coroners:
Crime scenes and morgues are places where filmmakers like to show just how long their characters have worked at a job, and how gritty they have become. I’ve been a professor for a lot of years now, but if I were to eat a sloppy roast beef sub, dropping bits of lettuce and getting mustard on my shirt, I would expect a student to raise her hand. “Do you think you could eat during a lunch break?” she would ask.
“You don’t understand,” I would say, “I’ve been teaching 20 years now, and I no longer am affected by being in front of a class. It doesn’t disgust or frighten me any longer.”
“Yeah, I’d expect that, but the sandwich is kind of distracting you from your job.”
“I’m just so jaded about teaching that I’m willing to eat in inappropriate places.”
“Um, maybe you could wait until your lunch break.”
2. Bomb Cliches:
I would like to see inside a television bomb maker’s lab as he puts the finishing touches on his bombs. “This simply will not do. I have the red wire where the blue wire should be. I’m going to have to rewire the entire thing.”
Of course, the red wire/blue wire cliché is so old it’s not used often any longer, but that doesn’t mean that television makers have stopped.
What about the comically oversized digital clock with a glowing red display. It keeps nearly perfect time. Why? Do the bad guys not know when they’ve set the bomb? Do they not own watches? And where do they get these ubiquitous bomb timers? Stores should stop selling those timers. They have only one use.
“This will not do. How is the other side ever going to identify this as a bomb if we don’t have the bomb clock? How are they going to know how much time they have left? No, this will not do!”
Of course, the bomb timer is not exactly correct. It’s only pretty close. There’s always a moment after the clock hits zero when there’s a pause so everyone can look at each other dramatically.
Finally, explosions can throw the lead actor across the room and halfway through the drywall, but the concussive force is never enough to kill. Our hero, grunts once or twice comically and pulls himself out of the wall deadpanning a line.
3. Fairly Stupid Bosses – Comically Impractical Investigators
This scene generally plays out like this:
“Sir, I think I know who the killer is.”
“Didn’t I tell you that you are off the case.”
“Yes, but I remember that the governor’s son was on the island right at the hour of the murder. We have footage of him too.”
“MacLamore, when I say you’re off the case, that means you’re off. We follow playground rules here, son. Once a rule is laid down we don’t bend for any reason. EVER!”
“But he confessed.”
“Detective MacLamore, I don’t want to hear it!” He slams down a fist on his desk.
The corollary to the exceptionally stupid boss who can’t see what our hero Detective MacLamore says is the impossibly impractical homicide detective (think Law and Order) who doesn’t come up with the easiest solutions.
“He seems to have been waiting on the street for hours.”
“Did you check traffic cameras and parking tickets in the area?”
“Good one Lieutenant. We also might have gotten a partial print.”
“Well, have the lab run the prints.”
“Oh yeah, good idea. Also there was a bit of the car registration left.”
“Check the DMV.”
The detectives nod their heads seriously and head out in different directions.
Of course, all of these are done with us in mind. It’s great to be one step ahead of everyone in the show. The best is to figure out who did it just moments before the detective do. One of my favorite clichés is that the murderer is always one of the first people introduced in the show — someone you wouldn’t expect. I spend the next hour trying to second guess and figure out which one it is. Fantastic.
This is the third installment of this series. What are your favorite cliches? Let me know.