TNT Crime Dramas Push Political Points

TNT crime drama I have long argued that contemporary U.S. entertainment offers a much greater variety of ideas and points of view than conservatives usually seem to realize, pointing out that many TV shows, movies, and music releases convey very sound values and ideas that traditionalists and lovers of liberty should appreciate.

But there are still plenty of times when the producers of even good series that aren't usually political (in contrast to, say, the intensely political Law and Order) have to take their jabs at the dangerously ignorant boobs they see as populating Middle America. Two crime dramas in the past week have done just that.

Last week's episode of The Closer, on TNT, set up a typical serial killer story but with an obviously political angle: the people being killed were all female illegal immigrants. Even more pointedly (spoiler alert), it turns out that the murderer is an agent of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) who chooses them as his targets because their lack of documentation makes it less likely he'll be caught.

The point of all of this is absurdly obvious, intended to suggest that illegal immigrants are unfairly singled our for abuse in the United States and made extremely vulnerable by their lack of legal status. Of course, the fact that they are in the country illegally ought to indicate (to any person with common sense) that they are taking known risks and that changing the laws to relieve people of the consequences of their own recklessness is not a reasonable position.

Moreover, the writers' choice of villain doesn't make internal sense, given that the killer's status as an INS agent is precisely what leads to him getting caught. He would have to be incredibly stupid to make such a mistake, and the episode does not portray him as such at any time prior to the revelation that he is the killer-an eventuality that was obvious from very early on in the episode, making it a very poor whodunit indeed.

In addition, the episode is a ripoff of an earlier and equally crappy episode of Criminal Minds.

The Closer is usually a quite entertaining show and projects good values in a relatively (for television) sophisticated manner, so we may hope that this is an aberration.

Similarly overt in conveying Obama administration talking points was last night's episode of Leverage, also on TNT. In this vigilante-caper series, the protagonists, a team of benevolent confidence tricksters, tackles a former IRS agent turned debt-collector, thief, and money launderer. The IRS is presented as mildly annoying but necessary and by no means oppressive, whereas the former IRS agent is a caricatured criminal mastermind.

He is the leader and financier of a dangerously violent patriot militia group which is planning to detonate a large bomb at some unknown site, and his criminal enterprises are used to finance the group's operations. The paramilitary patriots are depicted in standard Hollywood clownish-villain fashion, unable, for example, to defeat a pair of unarmed, handcuffed people whom they outnumber by at least six to one and while they're equipped with numerous weapons. The patriots and their mastermind speak in phrases lifted from Glenn Beck and Tea Party speeches, which is obviously intended to make these real-life people-and the scores of millions of Americans who agree with their positions if often embarrassed by their rhetoric-appear silly and dangerous by putting their words in the mouths of madly incompetent but armed and treasonous Keystone Crooks.

It's the kind of technique bad writers use all the time, and the writing in this Leverage episode is indeed absurdly poor. As with the Closer episode noted above, crucial plot elements don't make any sense, the scam the protagonists play out (the central element of each episode) is absurdly thin and unnecessary (they could have gotten the information they seek much more easily), and the female characters are given almost nothing interesting to do. All in all, the episode is a real dud, even aside from its political sliming of a majority of the nation's population.

Like The Closer, Leverage is usually a rather entertaining show that refrains from taking partisan political stands. Last season's two-part closing narrative was particularly good, showing the team taking down a corrupt politician. It's worth noting that the narrative did not identify the politician's party affiliation or political orientation, correctly judging that what was important was his corruptness and that neither party has a monopoly on that.

It's rather telling that both of the new episodes outlined here include more implausible events than usual and the characterizations of both the central characters and the villains are weak: that's a common problem with didactic fiction. If the people making these shows really want to make the world a better place, they'll do well to concentrate on what they're best at: creating interesting stories and believable characters. Their efforts to score cheap political points convince nobody and make for awful television.

Crossposted at Big Hollywood.