Tuesday, 20 March 2012

TV Crime Shows: Characters


Characters


  1. As befitting the patriarchal society we live in, the majority of central characters are male.  Exceptions e.g. – Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect; Cagney and Lacey; Sara Lund in The Killing.
  2. Majority of cast members are male. Homicide: Life on the Street = one female detective compared with seven male.
  3. Central character is usually white Euro/American.  Some shows have countered this.  Homicide = three Black detectives, including the lieutenant of the squad and the show’s main character – reflects the racial diversity of the area (Baltimore). Luther = UK detective show with a Black protagonist.
  4. Some shows feature one central character e.g. Wallander, Morse, Luther; some have pairs of detectives = Cagney and Lacey, Starsky and Hutch; others have an ensemble cast where one character is usually dominant = Homicide: Life on the Street; The Wire; the versions of CSI; Whitechapel
  5. Even where the focus is on one or two detectives, there is usually a small cast of supporting characters in the squad to back up the protagonists or cause them irritation – Spiral, for example.
  6. The lead character is often a maverick, reluctant to abide by the rules so there will be conflict with his bosses as well as with the criminals.  Spiral and Wallander, for example. You can also see this in ensemble shows that have a notably stronger character that many stories revolve around – McNulty in The Wire; Frank Pembleton in Homicide.  They are often marked out by their more informal dress or, perhaps, unshaven appearance; they may have family/relationship or drink problems – or both (McNulty in The Wire).
  7. Criminals – some shows focus on the criminals (Hustle, Inside Job, or The Sopranos, for example) sympathy and, therefore, audience interest is maintained by making the criminals engaging or pitting the odds against them.  The Sopranos (created by David Chase, who had cut his teeth as a writer on the private detective series, The Rockford Files in the 1970s), for example, is about a family man undergoing analysis who happens to be a ruthless mafia boss who has to deal not only with the law but also with other Mafia families.
  8. Supporting characters – these may be partners or members (sometimes estranged) of the family of the leading characters; people in related professions that the lead characters have to deal with (the legal profession, for example); criminals; informants; other policemen/detectives/forensic scientists. The private detective show, The Rockford Files had the lead character, Jim Rockford, an ex-(but not guilty) con who lived alone, but his supporting cast consisted of his father, who was there to be helpful, but also to be an irritant for comic value; an informant more interested in saving his own skin; a female lawyer, who, at times, was his girlfriend and who was adept at getting him released from jail; a friendly police detective; the detective’s hostile superior (to ensure regular conflict).
  9. Corrupt policemen or lawyers feature in many shows, but the American show, The Shield, focussed on a corrupt team of officers led by their corrupt boss.  Although they went to any lengths to put criminals behind bars, they were involved in crime themselves and went to any lengths (including murder) to protect their interests.

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