... on CBS Sunday nights actually takes place in Philadelphia, instead of the usual cities. There is some connection to A&E's Cold Case Files, which looks at the real evidence of long unsolved cases. So we have fact versus fiction. What makes this show brilliant is three things. The show has two timelines, then and now. And they have two casts, most times, of the principle players, then and now. Through creative staging and cuts, sometimes we see the younger version in place of the present to remind us of the connections. Next, they have interesting plots as they try to ferret out the cold leads, and some people lie to them, even after all this time (grin). Finally, they have an endearing main cast, not the prettiest bunch of cops. The lead is a lady detective who is just one of the guys -- and has two torn up cats, one missing an eye and one missing a leg. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to see such great cats on a prime time television show, loved and purring and furry. I've a friend who is a cat veterinarian and has adopted some similarly unusual cats over the years.
Oh, wait -- there's a fourth thing which really makes Cold Case work. They nail the old time period, with clothes, fashion, cars, set dressing, but most especially the music. Given a compelling and convoluted story, these guys have even made Disco sound good... and I had to live through the Disco Era.
Without a Trace...
... on CBS Thursday nights is an FBI missing persons show. There is, once again, too much sleeping around with people working for the same law enforcement unit -- this is the FBI for gosh sakes! -- and there is a bit of the soap opera story in the background. But there is a haunting soundtrack and they have a great opening hook, where you see the initial situation and then the about-to-be missing person just fades away. Sometimes we guess who/when the fade is going to happen. And sometimes they don't waste any time at all. Bam... gone. What you don't know with each case is whether they are dead or alive, missing or kidnapped, good guy or villain. And they mix it up quite a bit.
Of all the shows here, this one is the closest to losing it this season. The unit has too many internal demons. Doesn't the FBI psychologically vet their agents anymore? And the teaser ad for this week shows the lead standing on a rooftop looking to jump off? This is either stupid or a herring -- a bad dream. I am SO tired of teaser ads (and movie trailers) which purport to show too much.
Trust me. If you want impact, waste one of your characters. Do NOT advertise to me that "One of these people won't make it tonight..."
Numbers... aka NUMB3RS...
... on CBS Friday nights is a show about MATHEMATICS! Well, not precisely, but it does try to bring in some math and science. And the FBI. One brother is a math professor and a charming scatterbrained geek whose best friend is an even more scatterbrained theoretical astrophysicist/mathematician. The other brother is an FBI agent. And the brothers end up consulting and solving cases. Their father is charming and low key -- and sometimes the key to the solution.
And did I mention that this is show about MATH and SCIENCE?
My complaint is the usual. Underlying theory and examples mostly seem sound to me, but they make computers do amazing things. As in "this is not possible" and "not this fast" and "there's not enough information for you to come to that exclusive conclusion." I "think" they were trying to tell me this weekend that they could look at recorded data of previous radar tracks, from an aircraft tracking radar and a weather radar, and "change the frequency." How exactly does one change the frequency in data? Wow, we don't have to run new experiments, just change the data to represent the new experiment. Yikes!
However, just as CSI: Crime Scene Investigators has turned a whole lotta people onto the idea of forensic science, it surely doesn't hurt for a little math and science to disturb their waking slumber in front of the boob tube. As I learn to write SF stories, I know very much that I can't have my way and make everything science perfect all the time. So I will apologize in advance for the occasional rant, thankful they are at least trying.
Because I would really scream and rant if the mathematician was the ONLY person doing physics calculations -- there's a bit of a difference of opinion between Mathematicians and Physicists, which goes back all the way to whether Leibnitz or Newton invented calculus -- but they do have this other egghead on the payroll. And anyway, I am just happy to have a show about MATH and SCIENCE! On television!
But does the math prof and his pretty graduate student have to be discussing whether she might stick around and work on a second Ph.D., working with the astrophysicist, so that she's no longer his advisee and they can... date? I mean, does EVERY person who works together HAVE to have a RELATIONSHIP with each other? Geesh.
And Then There Are The Other Shows
It's not so much that we waste a great deal of time watching television -- okay, maybe sortof sometimes we do -- as we have it on in the background while reading, quilting, pounding on the computer keyboard, or otherwise providing a resting place for one or more of the cats. So I won't call these next three the bottom feeders of television, because there are far worse shows that we simply won't waste any time on. But they're definitely flawed.
Take House on FOX-TV Tuesday nights. It's quirky and endearing, all due to Hugh Laurie as the curmudgeonly Dr. House. He leads a small team of the best and the brightest through cases resistant to diagnosis. The formula, alas, has them going through about five snap judgments and rush to treatment, as well as 1.8 ethical violations per episode, because "we know what's best and we're smarter than you are." But all the initial treatments either have no effect or even better they make it worse. Meanwhile, the patient or the patient's guardian gets pissed off at having been handled rudely and they are threatened two or three times that their inaction will result in the death of their loved ones. There was an awful subplot with a "benefactor" who came in with his hundred million dollar gift to the hospital and shoved everyone around and naturally butted heads with House and wanted him gone. Bad. Sleazy. The big shot, that is. Let's call House, Guilty Pleasures.
Grey's Anatomy on ABC-TV Sunday nights is another medical intern soap opera. Michael Crichton's e.r. may or may not be ending this year, but it is pretty sure that Dr. John Carter will quit County and leave Chicago. That show started with Carter trying to become a surgeon, but getting stuck in the ER. Over the years they've rolled much of the cast over, but it is a mix of ER disasters and general soap opera between the staff. Grey's Anatomy isn't anything like that. It's about brand new surgical interns desperate to get the juicy surgical cases from the ER and operate, as well as the general soap opera aspects of the interns' private lives. The opening credits are clearly selling sex and medicine.
It ought to be awful. They desperately try to poach each other's cases, and position themselves to be picked to do surgery. But the first episode started with our lead intern's first day -- discovering the guy she slept with the night before is one of her supervisors. Oh goody. And we don't stop the relationship. Clever. And of the interns is an ex-underwear model. Great.
Except... our lead is the daughter of a famous surgeon who is, unbeknownst to the staff at the hospital, losing her mind to Altheimer's (the mother that is). And the model saved her money from all that modeling to be able to pay for medical school without taking out a single loan. And the attendings are great characters. Dr. Bailey, aka "The Nazi", doesn't take crap from anyone and doesn't allow anyone to curry favor, either. There have been some great rants in this show and a couple of poignant moments. They have the guts to showcase some truly stupid human behavior (As I write this temp file, we seem to have a normal 17-year-old college freshmen who had her stomach badly stapled... in Mexico. I hate to worry about whether this show is ahead of the curve or merely showing the latest in designer desperation.)(Or how many will take this as a good idea.) and some of the tragic stories of the human condition. Yikes -- there's STUFF going on in this show.
No doubt the show benefits from a great lead-in, though we may be the only couple in the U.S. who isn't watching Desperate Housewives. (Hey, Miss Marple is on our PBS station!) Two or three weeks ago we gave it "one more chance", sure it was about to Jump the Shark. And yet we keep watching.
Then there's Medical Investigation which is on, hold it... canceled already? Damn. We barely saw a dozen episodes. Are we sure it's canceled? Or is it in hiatus? I mean that white-haired guy, he already had the terrific NBC show Boomtown shot out from under him.
This show was sort of like the movie Outbreak, but on a week-to-week basis. National Institute of Health, Centers for Disease Control, whatever. Government hot scientists who deal with only the nastiest cases. Here, there, around the world. A few biohazard suits from time to time, but you can't let the leads wear even face masks all the time, because they you can't see their faces. (Dr. House has the same problem, walking in and out of isolation units without gloves, masks, little booties, etc. Guess he's just too mean for bad germs to live on his skin.)
I guess it doesn't matter that Medical Investigation was just like House, in that they rushed to judgment repeatedly on what treatment to use, only to screw up the patients worse. Kind of like the networks, which rush to judgment on television shows, never letting them live long enough in good time slots to see if they survive. As if I couldn't name half a dozen of the biggest hit shows which weren't big hit shows in their first season... or their first six episodes...