I know there all these cool Scandinavian shows around and detective serials are the lifeblood of television, but this epidemic of having the murder victim be a 15-25 year-old girl has really got to stop, if for no other reason than that it’s gotten fucking boring.
While surfing the AV Club I came across a teaser for The Bridge, a new show with a fairly interesting conceit about solving crimes committed on or around the US/Mexican border (well, that’s what I think it’s about. I only watched it once, but potential plot accuracy isn’t really the point here. I stopped being interested as soon as I saw the still image that served as the banner for the ad: a young woman’s topless body, face down in the ground. Words cannot properly do justice to the body-quaking yawn that emanated from my entire being, and I decided that the show probably wasn’t for me.
Which is a shame, because it might well be a fine piece of television, but if you’ve seen Twin Peaks (and I’d hope that was most of us by now, but I’ll not judge if that ain’t the case) you’ll have witnessed a pretty thorough examination of how far a story about dead girls can be pushed. The last word, if you will, the exception that proves the rule and probably the reason that there’s no faster way to turn me off a new series (or movie, or novel, or comic, ad nauseum) than by showing painted nails covered in seaweed and long hair face down on a beach. I just don’t believe that I’m going to see anything new.
I’m not saying revolutionise the whole format. Every show can’t have Lynchian non-sequiturs (frankly, if every one did television would be interminable), but mixing up the formula even a little can be incredibly potent. Just look at Awake – Jason Isaacs solves crimes in two alternate realities; one where his wife survived a car accident and his son died and another where the reverse is true – or Jane Campion’s recent astounding mini-series Top of the Lake, which utilises detective show tropes but uses them to focus on character relationships and a plot more about making sure people don’t die than finding out who killed them.
[Seriously, even if you don’t like crime fiction, watch Top of the Lake. It’s got pathos, sex, disturbing revelations and killer performances from Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss and the ever-compelling Peter Mullan.]
One of the things that connected with me about that last show was its feminist agenda, but I’m not even asking for something as ideological as that. Solving someone’s murder in a story means reliving their life and discovering who they were, and I want to see stories about everyone, not just university-age white girls. Middle-aged men, elderly women, little children, even teenage boys would brings something new to the plate. This isn’t a conversation about women dying in art. That’s been going on a long time, and I’ve nothing to add to it just now. Over-egging even the most important topics can make them marginal given the apathy of most people, so I’ve no eggs today. This is about surprising people.
There’s something really quite morbid about the fact that police procedurals and casually amusing murder serials (Midsomer Murders, Murder She Wrote) are so popular, I find. But if people insist on telling those stories, why not tell them about someone else for a change?