Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Mentalist - The Rote of Police Drama

I never liked Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Miss Marple, Poirot, Inspector Wexford. You can keep your Rebus and your Scarpettas... I just don't do cop shows and and crime fiction.

Why is it then that I am enjoying the Mentalist, have watched Seasons 1 to 3 of The Wire in a couple of weeks, and dip in and out of CSI?

Tis the same reason why we all hang on those other genres (which are layered upon the established groundwork of crime and mysteries): because we like to be surprised, love to try to solve the puzzle, worry about our characters and hope they don't take a hit.

It's just cop dramas are boring (aren't they?). We love sci-fi and fantasy mysteries, from Firefly to Buffy to Battlestar, and high energised shows like 24 and Prison Break, because the hooks keep coming.

Jack Bauer's 24 is a cop drama on a rollercoaster. Bauer must find the badguys... in 60 minutes, or the wheels will fall off his wagon!

So, they're not boring procedurals, are they? This is most apparant while watching CSI and the Mentalist.

Take away CSI's little torches and their "let's recreate the scene" and you've got a boring procedural. Take away the Mentalist's moments of "psychic" ingenuity, and you've got boring procedural. In fact, the Mentalist's non-ingenue moments are really boring.

Don't even get me started on how formulaic it is with him "always" being right.

Anyhoo, take this scene,
In it our hero, Patrick Jane, uses his psychological know-how to flummox the sherrif at Rock-Paper-Scissors. Not only do we see Patrick use his ability, but we get to see how it upsets the sherrif, so much so that his anger is used against him. It's not magic... it's psychology, and without it the Mentalist would be dull-dull-dull.

Just think on what marks your novel out from all the others. What's the high-concept idea about it, that stops it from being procedural? Do you have a Deren Brown character like the Mentalist, whose every action makes you wonder where he's going, or do you have sci-fi technology, weapons and space flight?

Are you using it enough to keep you audience entertained... hooked even?

1 comment:

|dvh| said...

As a fellow aspiring writer, what would your suggestion be? How do you avoid the procedural in a cop drama?