05 April 2011

A Swing and a Miss

Okay, I was kind of eagerly anticipating ABC's new show, Body of Proof, ever since last fall (when I thought it was going to debut). I love me some procedural cop shows, I love me some shows with lady leads, I love me some Jeri Ryan and Sonja Sohn (both in supporting roles), and I can certainly get behind Dana Delaney. So this had a bunch of elements that make me happy, -- really, all it was missing was some cute boys. Well, that was the theory.

I planned to watch the first three episodes and then toss some thought back. I made it through the first two, and then ten o'clock rolled around this evening, and I just could not do it. Maybe I'll catch up? On Hulu? If I'm bored?

Because -- look, I don't expect perfection from a pilot and the beginning of a season, but this show has some flaws that are killing it pretty dead (heh, yes, pun, whatever) for me. But they're really interesting flaws.

With as much Castle as I watch, I am really not allowed to say anything about unrealistic portrayals of cops on TV. Well, I'm allowed, but it looks kind of hypocritical. Still, when I found out Body of Proof was about a hotshot medical examiner, I sort of thought most of it would take place in the lab. You know, getting the proof? From the dead body? Like... the title? I was expecting a kind of grittier, fleshier Bones, really. Instead, Megan Hunt (ME extraordinaire) and her partner tag along on interrogations (which she messes up) and take time to snark at suspects. It's kind of disrespectful to its own premise -- were they worried that Bones is too science-y and boring? (It isn't.) Either the proof is in the body, or you have to gather evidence by being rude to suspects, but pick one, because there are a million procedural shows out there, they each have their own gimmick, and your gimmick being "we're sort of borrowing some other gimmicks but then kind of lightening them up and combining them so no one can sue us," doesn't actually work very well.

But a lady lead! That's good, right? Lots of ladies on this show. Jeri Ryan plays Megan's boss, the head of the something at the something place (don't look at me. She dresses nice and gets to tell Megan what to do). Sonja Sohn is one of the detectives with whom she works. There are assorted other ladies. Megan herself is actually that most elusive of beasts: the female maverick, whose lack of representation I lamented a few months ago on this very blog. So, this should be a win. And yet -- something is off. Megan isn't particularly funny, and she doesn't manage to have that sort of ascended audience quality. (You know -- House says the things you wish you could get away with saying, Castle says things that are kind of doofy in a familiar and genre-savvy way, you see in them someone you want to be.) Megan's just rude. She holds others in contempt for little discernible reason; she disregards the rules with little discernible benefit. They've tried to stick in bits of exposition to show her as the smartest doctor around, but she hasn't yet justified that characterization, and smugs her way through her scenes when simple politeness would get her better results. House seems to know how to behave but can't be bothered, and objects for ideological reasons; Hunt doesn't seem to notice that she's a jerk. (They've also saddled her with a load of stereotypes, including the dreaded She is a Bad Mother who Cannot Connect to Her Child -- there's a whole other analysis to be written about that.)

I don't know how much to blame the writers for this. I suspect they don't know what they're trying to do, the tone they're trying to set, the niche they're trying to fill. I also suspect that I don't cut Delaney the slack I might a male actor portraying a similar character. I'd like to think I'm not "like that," but I know better. I know I have culture whispering in my ear that it's all right for guys to be devil-may-care but a woman better have a damned good reason for not being nice. I have enough awareness to recognize the influence but not enough to see its quantity or overall effect. And I still suspect the writers are the same.

One thing, however, I can say with confidence. TV writers of the world, listen up. Yes, you UK ones too. As a former philosophy major, I am thrilled -- thrilled, I tell you -- to see the resurgence of Sherlock Holmes-ian logic on television. Love it. Standard form of: notice small detail, quickly deduce cause of small detail, make amazing pronouncement that turns out to be correct. As an entertaining tool, when well deployed, it can work beautifully. However. Please be aware that some people watching your shows have actually had a bit of training in logic (oh, Aristotle) and therefore, you need to think these things through carefully if you're going to go this route. Because your character just looks so much less brilliant if I can pick holes in their deduction, d'you see?

Happened at least once per episode in the two that I saw (minor spoiler) -- one of the victims has gun residue on her eyelids. Therefore, the killer shot her and then closed her eyes.

No. Maybe the killer shot her and then with his gun residue-y hand closed her eyes. Maybe, she pulled the trigger herself with her eyes closed. Maybe she had her eyes closed as she was killed and the gun residue got on her lids that way. Hell, maybe she was a witness (an eyes-closed witness) at an entirely different shooting earlier in the day. Maybe she was out hunting with her buddy and after firing, he touched her eyelids. Maybe there's something you don't know about her damn eyeshadow. Your deduction might be most likely, and I don't know enough about the spread pattern of gunpowder to say how plausible any of the others are. But it is not the only solution, and when your show focuses on "odd" and "baffling" cases, where things keep not adding up, you need to be a hell of a lot more careful.

(Drives me nuts when it shows up on Castle, too, which it does about once every few episodes. An egregious example: they were killed by the same gun, so they must have been killed by the same person! No. Guns are not attached to people's arms. Guns can be given to friends. Guns can be picked up off of victims. Guns can be stolen. Guns can be dumped, and picked up, by two unrelated people. It is likely that if they were connected and also killed by the same gun, they were killed by the same person. But it is not the only solution.)

Ahh, that particular brand of frustration that only comes from taking TV too seriously.

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