Head to head: Crime dramas overdramatize to point of unreality


Police procedurals, television shows that focus on how crimes are solved, and other crime fighting shows make for great TV, but don’t really hold up in the real world. For a genre that is supposed to highlight the reality of crime, a lot of things get passed over in the name of entertainment. Stories that are actually terrifying – the rate of crime, police brutality or the actual techniques used in crime fighting – are used just as a backdrop for entertainment.

Perhaps the best example of this is the show “Psych.” The show’s antics are a prime example of entertainment trumping reality. Crime and murder are not serious problems like they are in the “Law and Order” series; here they are an excuse for comedy. Shawn Spencer, the protagonist, pretends to be a psychic to draw a paycheck from the police department. Somebody is dead, the suspect is at large and it’s time for Shawn to wave his hands and make jokes instead of showing respect for the situation.

“Psych” isn’t the only show to do this though. ABC’s “Castle” is also guilty of this with Nathan Fillion’s titular character, Richard Castle. In the vein of the buddy-cop show, where one is a real detective and the other is goofy sidekick with crime fighting abilities, “Castle” is a murder mystery writer who bribes the mayor to let him use real cases to sell books. The help he provides is usually the comedy relief of the show, bouncing ideas off of the detective assigned to handle him. The ideas are never serious: the killer was actually a zombie, an alien, or (in regards to a Christmas episode) Santa Claus.

These shows aren’t bad, but in the grand scale of things, people dying is being used as a punchline and makes people not take violent crime all that seriously.

However, writing for laughs isn’t the only way that the subject is being presented in a false light.

Most crime dramas are about murders. Many of them are set in New York. Now, with New York City being such a big place, it would make a certain amount of sense that with more people comes the chance for higher crime rates. According to a Dec. 20, 2013 Huffington Post article, New York City experienced 333 murders in 2013. That’s 333 out of approximately 8.4 million people according to the city’s census. These are things the show doesn’t tell you.

Similarly, not only is the violent crime rate down over the last two decades in the city, but 2013 was the historic low total. The show won’t say things are getting better because that destroys the tension and illusion. It’s almost saying that the hero’s job is done, and that won’t happen as long as there are episodes and viewers. Other shows distort such realities to drum up the “drama” part of crime dramas.

The most distorted show of them all is “Hawaii 5-0.” The series staple is police brutality. Every episode has an obligatory chase scene where the suspect runs, only to be outsmarted and dive-tackled. The suspect is then locked in a room, without lights and tortured until they confess to other crimes or give up information about the case. Ladies and gentlemen, our heroes win again.

Aside from that weekly eyesore, the show’s premise doesn’t make sense. The show starts with crime being rampant and corruption running amok among the ranks of the island’s police force. So what happens? A police task force is created to handle this rising problem and given immunity from prosecution. Who creates the task force? The corrupt governor who works with the locally organized crime faction. So they created a task force to hunt themselves down?

It’s things like this that give crime dramas more intrigue than sense. Especially since “Hawaii 5-0” doubles the murder rate of Hawaii in order to have a weekly show – with syndication and the new season, there are 52 deaths a year from watching the show. In 2010, the year the show premiered, there were only 24 murders recorded in the state of Hawaii. The next year, 2011, it fell to 17. It’s hard to be scared of problems people have invented.

Most crime drama is aptly named: it’s drama with cops. They try to dress it up by calling it a “police procedural,” but when you don’t use the same procedures that the police use, it’s hard to make that shoe fit. It isn’t entirely reflective of real life. When it does it try, it ends up over the top and becomes a parody unto itself.

Patrick White is a senior in mass communications. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.