The Return of Character?

The New York Times has an interesting take on the departure of  Gil Grissom (William Petersen) from CSI tonight…and what it says about the current state of TV mysteries.

Grissom has found a successor,Dr. Raymond Langston (Laurence Fishburne), a pathologist and college professor who seems to share Grissom’s slavish work ethic and kindly reticence. But Langston is not his only successor. Simon Baker, who plays Patrick Jane on “The Mentalist,” the new CBS hit, is a greater threat to the Grissom legacy. More than any other show, “The Mentalist” signals that intuition is the big new thing, while forensic science and nerdy, obsessive lab workersGrissom, the lead investigator on the show, makes a forlorn plea for his life’s work in his last episode. “People lie,” Grissom tells Langston. “The only thing we can count on is the evidence.”
Nowadays it’s the evidence that fibs.

Perhaps we are finally seeing the end of cold, forensics-driven procedural, where a team of science-spouting professionals in designer clothes track one serial killer after another.  But I would argue that it's not the success of "The Mentalist" that is driving the change…rather the continued popularity and durability of cable shows like "The Closer," "Saving Grace," "Monk," "Psych," and "Burn Notice" (not to mention that they are also less costly to produce than a glitzy procedural).

The new formula, which seems to take a nod from "Monk,"  is the eccentric detective and his no-nonsense female partner…as seen today in "The Mentalist," "Life,"  "Fringe," and "The 11th Hour."  And there's more to come. ABC's upcoming "Castle" teams up an eccentric mystery novelist with a no-nonsense female cop. I don't know yet if  the eccentric detective who can spot lies in Fox's "Life to Me" is also teamed up with a no-nonsense lady cop…but I would be surprised if he isn't.

Even with the over-reliance on that formula, I'm glad to see character making a comeback and forensics fading a bit in importance.  Character is a lot more fun to watch..and to write.

3 thoughts on “The Return of Character?”

  1. Lee,
    I think this bodes well for tv. Who can forget Kojak, Columbo, McMillan, McCloud, and more? They were more than just about solving mysteries but well developed characters (and Mannix and Harry O, etc.)
    I personally do not care for the Mentalist because I do not think the network folks have figured out what they want him to be – mind-reading magician, or just good and figuring things out- and this makes the episodes I have watched pretty lame where there is a great mystery and the lead character just shows up at the end and says “I figured it out” and solves it without the benefit of any clues for the audience.
    That non-withstanding, if it helps (as surley as Monk and other shows) bring back good characters to our mystery shows…so be it.

  2. While I like the CSI franchise, I tend to agree that the end of their run is near. I do like the Monk, Psyche, Burn Notice mix of a little humor with characters that make the story.
    I haven’t watched The Mentalist. Maybe I’ve missed something.


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