SPOILERS: CSI & WAKING THE DEAD
Many thanks to the one person a week average who has emailed me over the last couple of months, telling me that my “10 on TV Drama” series has only 9 articles. I had noticed, ta: it was all part of a deliberate plan. Honest. Basically I wanted to see how the latest series of CSI and Waking The Dead would pan out before concluding this series in the hope that it would help me decide, once and for all, how I feel about the state of UK drama versus the US model.
It’s been discussed many times in The Blogosphere and the general consensus of opinion *seems* to be (at least in the blogs I hang out on regularly) that the US do it better. I’ve read that Bloggers feel the UK have too few writers writing too many programmes; that we’re choking in admin; that we should have a US-style writers’ room system; that UK drama is underwritten; that we don’t spend enough money on adult UK drama; that series runs should be longer; that initiatives like The BBC Writers’ Academy is keeping new people out and doing veteran writers out of jobs; that we don’t celebrate diversity or new writers enough; even that most drama in the UK is just plain drivel.
I am not a professional television writer, so I do not feel I can comment on the politics of television drama because I have not experienced them first hand nor had them impact my writing. However I have watched thousands of hours of television and responded to them as a both an audience member AND a writer, so I will talk about that instead with reference to CSI and Waking The Dead.
So, Warrick is dead. I actually already knew that thanks to the 40 people a day surfing in here over the last couple of weeks via Google looking for “Warrick’s death spoilers” or variant. Thanks for that. However, it was inevitable: I’d already figured that Gary Dourdan’s real life arrest for drugs surely meant his days were numbered. CSI and its offshoots have a long history of putting its characters in jeopardy for the end series finale (Sara in the last one courtesy of The Dollshouse Killer; Nick in the one before that, buried alive; Mac and his friends in CSI:NY taken over by terrorists; Horatio’s revenge in Miami are just a few examples). Yet I’m struggling to think of one that’s actually died, so it made a welcome change that SOMEONE in the team finally bought it. How paradoxically unlucky AND lucky are these guys??
And that’s just it: Warrick is TOO lucky I think. From the offset, he has behaved as “recklessly and self destructive” as the interrogating police officer points out during the episode, yet he never comes to book for it. When he succeeded in getting Holly killed, right at the beginning of CSI, Grissom is told to get rid of Warrick, terminate his contract. He says no. Why? “He’s a good CSI.” That’s lovely, but he’s also “reckless and self destructive” and even a rogue as it turns out, going behind the department’s back by hiring the PI as we discovered in last night’s episode. And guess what: this behaviour continues. Not once but TWICE this series just past Warrick has been framed for murder, yet his buddies in CSI have come to the rescue.
You know how much I love CSI and Warrick was a good character. THAT’S why I wanted his exit to have more “bite”. When Grissom became convinced that Warrick had been framed, I turned to my husband and said, “Yeah, but that’s what happened when Joanna was killed, so the twist will be this time he’s actually guilty.” I was so convinced of this, that when Grissom came in and told Warrick about the evidence and how it was all set up and Warrick hugged Grissom, crying, I was waiting for him to pull back and say something like: “Thanks for believing in me…Again. You’ve been like a father to me, (blah blah – come on they like their schmaltzy stuff in CSI don’t they??)…But it’s true. I killed Gedda.” Can you imagine? How cool would that be! One of their own ranks, a self confessed murderer! How would each of them deal with THAT bombshell??
Except it wasn’t like that. Warrick got off again, thanks to his mates (again) and whilst it was a nice touch that it was the under sherriff (we think?) who kills Warrick and not the other supposed rogue cop, it all fell rather flat for me. It sets up the next series rather inevitably too, for that will undoubtedly be its serial element – find Warrick’s killer and Gedda’s mole, but more importantly, WHY the mole turned killer to the point that poor Warrick was implicated.
And that’s a recurring problem for me with US TV characterisation: it’s like they don’t want to think badly of their characters; no matter how badly a character behaves – and Warrick really has over the years – we’re asked to understand, no matter what. It’s like the parents of the obnoxious child: “We don’t want to stifle him.” In lots of ways, it can really work; Grissom’s favouritism over Warrick in the early years in particular caused some major conflicts, especially with Catherine, yet recently that seems to have faded away – just as Warrick really steps up with his errant behaviour. Quite a few things seem to have gone the same way this series: what’s happened to Grissom’s deafness by the way? Did he have some kind of miracle cure in an episode I missed somewhere?
What I admire then about UK TV Drama is it’s not afraid to give its characters unlikable character traits. Whilst Grissom is an interesting character and team leader, ultimately it’s Trevor Eve’s character DSI Boyd as the leader of the Cold Case Team (the UK’s CSI equivalent, in effect) who really captures my attention. Why? Well, in comparison to Grissom’s geeky boyish charm, Boyd is irascible, even downright nasty sometimes. He will shout and swear, he will humiliate his staff, he will dismiss their observations, the works. As he says in Adrian Mead’s episode I think it was: “Thanks but that is not even remotely helpful.” He is, I think, THE BOSS FROM HELL. If it were real life, his staff turnover would be high on sick leave from the stress alone. In lots of ways, Boyd reminds me of Fitz, the similarly irascible and enigmatic psychologist from Jimmy McGovern’s Cracker.
Yet Boyd’s unlikable character traits are not apologised for: we’re not asked to excuse him because of any tragedy in his life (and he’s had plenty), he is just a git. But those horrible traits are contrasted against an array of other qualities and attributes. His good ones include a concern for others and fearsome bravery, rushing in to help in rescues, particularly that of women and children. But more importantly, those grey areas are included too, like his impetuous nature: his notion of “protecting” his junkie rent boy son Luke was by hanging a punter out the window for example. He can’t talk about his feelings, even to the only woman who really understands him – Grace Foley: she had to hear about Luke’s death from the team’s pathologist, a woman as cold as she is efficient.
I love many things about CSI, including Warrick, and as a character study of the whole team I think it’s brilliant as you know from this post. However, it has never involved me in the same way as Waking The Dead. It’s like characters in US TV have to be heroes, even when then they’re doing bad things – and when they can’t get themselves out of it, their best bud will. If a a character is an antagonist in US TV, then they are that from the offset it seems…Here it seems to me we have more a yin/yang thing going on, with characters evolving into antagonists, or antagonists and protagonists at the same time (like Boyd) and even back again sometimes (like Adam in Spooks).
Funnily enough, I don’t always like the stories in Waking The Dead (whereas I generally do in CSI); I can find WtD’s a bit *too* covoluted sometimes, with MacGuffins aplenty, yet the characters and their stories – usually the “smaller” serial elements – have more impact for me. This last episode of Waking the Dead, with Boyd confronted with Luke’s body at the morgue was a case in point: I cried. Like a baby. Now some of that was obviously Trevor Eve’s excellent acting – he’s always brilliant – but more than half of it was the investment in his character in the series. I BELIEVED this strong character, this guy who cannot express his feelings (unless they are irritation or anger) would be reduced to a blubbering wreck, for Luke’s death WAS his fault. Had Boyd not been so busy saving everyone else, he could have saved Luke… Yet crucially that was left unsaid.
So – which do you prefer: US or UK TV drama? Why? Just because I prefer UK Drama doesn’t mean you have to btw, all opinions welcome! Over to you…