They’re called procedurals, crime shows where the police work their way through bits and pieces of clues, half-statements, forensics reports.
We get our fix from PBS: mostly polite British cops without guns staring hard at the landscape, trees, stones, a car, till a secret reveals itself. The sweep of the land is important, the gritty urban clutter, moors, the North Sea, the conflicted star brooding over man’s inhumanity to man, but mostly to women, lots of terrorized women, brutalized and dead.
We jump from character to character, another lead, another witness, a boyfriend, always landing back in the incident room, desks and computers, a board on which the lead sticks pictures of the victim(s), the suspects, lines drawn from one to another, the four or five junior detectives calling out information in tidy order as the star shouts or despairs or claps her hands to her head.
And always, always in these shows, standing as audience to the boss, leaning over a computer, looking up from a phone call at the star, nameless detectives, moving in and out of frame, photocopying, carrying coffee, looking concerned as the lead harangues his charges to dig deeper, solve faster—extras—not a word passes their lips, not a line to the boss, there to swell a progress, deferential, glad to be of use.
Their names are uncredited at the end of the program. They go home at close of day to husbands, wives. What did you do today? Get the boss her coffee? Nah, that was the co-star. I got some for the others and nodded a lot.
Coffee and agreement: In all our procedurals you could do worse.
Italicized phrases are from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” The Waste Land.