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Friday, February 12, 2010  

Cold Case Cram

Until very recently, my only interaction with the show Cold Case was telling my DVR to start recording it because The Amazing Race was running over into its time slot again. My knowledge was purely general, but I understood that it's about a team of police detectives who work unsolved cases from the past, aided by highly evocative flashbacks and the fucked-up hair of lead actress Susanna Thompson. And even that knowledge proved imperfect, because the lead actress is in fact Kathryn Morris.

But lately, Trash has been keeping the TV on in our office during work days, and despite my best efforts to mentally tune it out, I've unwillingly absorbed several recent episodes in reruns on TNT. And more than one assumption I had about the show has proved incorrect.

For one, I thought it would be extra-challenging for our heroes to work these cases that date back decades. For someone whose experience with TV procedurals consists mainly of watching several seasons of CSI, I couldn't see how they could accomplish anything when all forensic evidence was long gone, if it had ever been properly collected at all, back in the days before anyone had ever seen so much as an episode of Quincy. Obviously that leaves nothing but yellowing documents and eyewitness accounts, which is where the evocative flashbacks come in.

Now, if you don't know any more about the show than I did a couple if weeks ago, here's where you might begin to wonder if it sometimes strays into the realm of philosophy. There are fertile fields to plow here, from meditations on the mutability of memory to explorations of the subjectivity of perception, and as many as half a dozen unreliable narrators a week whose every self-serving recollection should be fair game to be picked apart. If you can stop them from showily phasing back into their younger selves before your eyes all the time, that is.

Instead, it's a cross between Murder She Wrote and Quantum Leap, with an occasional dash of L&O:SVU-style sexual ickiness to keep the demo numbers from skewing older than they already are.

As previously mentioned, the show's all about the evocative flashbacks. No matter how long ago, or how peripheral the interview subject's involvement with the case, their memories are literally photographic. They remember every little detail of the relevant scene, right down to what carefully selected period song was playing at the time.

And we all know what it's like when someone tells us a story. There are digressions and omissions and interruptions any number of obstacles to getting at what really happened. But not on Cold Case. I think that what sets Detective Rush and her team apart from the rest of the force is their magical ability to listen to people's blurry memories and absorb everything in it as though they just watched the flashback themselves -- cheesy period-specific photography gimmicks and all. And nobody ever lies, except by omission. Often they'll re-interview a subject who left something out, but it's a whole, self-contained scene that they now share in its entirety -- including one recent episode in which a social worker gave a detailed account of how he hit on a toddler he was supposed to be looking out for.

So I've learned nothing about police work, perception, or memory. What I have learned is that I never want to live in Philadelphia, where the show is set. The music's too loud, there are perverts around every corner, and if you get killed, nobody's going to figure out who did it until years after you've withered away to a worm-ridden skeleton.

But obviously I'm thinking too much about this, especially with regard to a show that's not been on long enough that some of the "old" murders will soon start taking place during the years it's been on the air. I might even be thinking about it more than the writers of Cold Case do. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to figure out how I can find room in my busy weekend schedule to get to one of those showings of Rashomon.

posted by M. Giant 8:00 AM 2 comments

2 Comments:

At least it's not another reality show with the apparent goal of proving the premise: People Suck.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 12, 2010 at 9:47 PM  

TNT is quicksand for the work-at-home writer since it provides background noise but never particulatly engages the brain (like, for example, something enjoyable on TCM). I've probably seen most episodes of *Cold Case,* am on my second round of
*Las Vegas,* but thankfully only the first of *Supernatural* and *Numb3rs.* Thank goodness Bravo has saved me from *Charmed* by airing *The West Wing* at the same time.

By Anonymous Leslie, at February 17, 2010 at 4:12 AM  

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