Why Must Everyone On Network TV Fight Crime? Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh writes,


I watched the pilot of iZombie, probably the most fun and zippy new show of this season. It had smart screwball comedy dialogue delivered at a fair clip and an irreverent, snarky attitude. I also saw how much it changed from the original comic series, which was about the heroine finding her place in a world full of supernatural creatures like werewolves and vampires after she becomes one herself. The show streamlines the supernatural elements to focus only on the heroine's undead condition, and turning the show into a crime investigation procedural: she teams up with an earnest cop and THEY FIGHT CRIME! As run by Rob Thomas, it was basically "Veronica Mars as a zombie".


Then I was following the progress of the Lucifer pilot, which takes the basic premise of the comic and turns it into a police procedural where The Prince of Darkness teams up with a single mother cop to fight crime in LA. Serious. Never mind the theological and mythical themes of the comic, the debates about free will and morality in the comics. They just fight crime in the TV version, complete with the cop's cute little daughter. "He's The Devil! She's a cop and a single mother! THEY FIGHT CRIME!"


Then there's Powers, which is about cops fighting superpowered crime. At least they didn't change the premise of the origin comic, which was already a made-for-TV pitch anyway. "They're cops in a world full of superpowers! THEY FIGHT CRIME!"

Remember the "THEY FIGHT CRIME!" meme from years ago? The game was to think up the most silly and outlandish characters and combine them as a crime show pitch. "He's a genius' brain in a jar! She's a stripper paying her way through college! THEY FIGHT CRIME!" "He's a disgraced music hall comedian! She's an Eldritch horror from beyond space! THEY FIGHT CRIME!" "He's a bipolar, two-fisted psychiatrist! He's a sentient puddle of swamp water! THEY FIGHT CRIME!" I'm starting to feel like network television is hitting that kind of nadir.

American network TV is just full of crime shows. It seems to be the default mode of scripted drama, the comfort food. I get it. It's easier to write drama when you have extreme situations, and crime is a good fallback. They're also easier for networks to sell to advertisers and overseas sales. Crime is an easy commercial hook. The networks are not starving for crime and cop shows. Virtually all of CBS' hour-long dramas are "THEY FIGHT CRIME!" shows. There are actually barely any hour-long dramas left on the major networks that aren't crime shows anymore. The new Netflix potboiler series Bloodline has to have its hero be the town sheriff, so that "HE FIGHTS CRIME!" Even Cinemax's crime series Banshee has main characters that are criminals who FIGHT CRIME! That's why when shows on British television come along like Russell T. Davies' Cucumber and Banana where they're actually about normal people not solving crimes, it's not only refreshing but also a bit of culture shock. At least in the UK, half the dramas on TV are stories other than "THEY FIGHT CRIME!"

Next to superheroes. "THEY FIGHT CRIME!" is the other wishfulfillment power fantasy in popular genres. At worst, it can be a reductive fantasy yearning for order and control. This now feels like an increasingly lazy and desperate default for show premises, to the point where adaptations from books like Lucifer and iZombie are forced into "THEY FIGHT CRIME!" pitches. What superheroes are to the US comics industry, "THEY FIGHT CRIME!" is to the TV industry.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that there's finally a show about a crime-fighting zombie.

It's a fair cop at lookitmoves@gmail.com

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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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