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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cold Case and crime dramas

August 17, 2005

Being a TV critic often involves solving mysteries. The latest: why is America so fascinated with procedural crime dramas?

I began my investigation by collecting evidence. Last week, four of the five top-rated programs were crime dramas: CSI, Without A Trace, CSI: Miami and NCIS. (Rounding out the top five was Two and a Half Men, which, frankly, is a puzzle that never may be solved.) A look at the 10 highest-rated programs last week, revealed four more crime dramas among the elite: three versions of Law and Order and the absolute best of the bunch, Cold Case.

Apparently, we are a nation obsessed with justice. We want criminals to pay for their crimes. And they do, in primetime. But it’s a little disheartening to the TV-lover in me that eight of the top-10 programs are of one genre.

Seriously, if aliens landed here and watched our most popular shows, they’d be so intimidated, they would never commit a crime. And maybe, therein, lies the attraction of these programs. The good guys usually win, and they do it with panache, earning the respect of audiences everywhere and giving us mere mortals something to believe in.

I’ve watched at least one episode of all the top-rated crime shows. Yep, I’ve tried them all. And while they’re good dramas, the only one that compels me to watch is Cold Case. It’s the standout of the bunch.

The show centers on Lilly Rush, played by the wonderful Kathryn Morris. She is an investigator whose team tackles “cold cases” or crimes that have never been solved. They use modern science and their sleuthing skills to try and give families peace. Sometimes, it opens up old wounds for families and sometimes it leads to new crimes being committed.

The great thing about Cold Case is that it isn’t cold, like some of the other crime shows. Each episode feels more like a movie than a TV show. When the old cases are reopened, the time periods come alive. It plays like a video history of the decades in America, complete with music, fashions, hairstyles, and the slang of the era.

Music lovers, you will appreciate the show on a different level. No matter the year, the music is carefully chosen to reflect the time period and set the mood. A recent Cold Case set in the 1980s was like reliving my childhood all over again. The 1981 Trans Am was a key player. As the case played out, tunes from REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Styx, Air Supply, and Kim Carnes provided the background music. If you didn’t grow up in the ‘80s, that was as good a feel as you could get. Trust me.

I don’t normally watch procedural crime shows. I prefer character-driven dramas to plot-driven, villain-of-the-week shows. But, if I want to watch a crime drama, Cold Case is my choice.

For those of you who like these types of shows, and even those who don’t, check out Cold Case. Missing this one really would be a crime.

Cold Case airs at 8 p.m. on Sundays on CBS.

Originally published 8/17/05 in The Exponent Telegram newspaper.


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