The early 2000s were huge for procedurals. We had the Law & Orders in high swing, newbie CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was fresh on the case, and NCIS was steady and strong. And what they all had in common was we did not go home with the characters at the end of the day.
Procedurals are an offshoot of detective crime stories, and deal realistically with crime from the point of view of the police and how they solve crimes and catch criminals. The first ones were rather rehabilitating the image of the police (see also my article about Coplandia) as prior to the early 1900s, they were generally shown as Keystone Cops. Bumbling and inept, it was always the gumshoe who saved the day.
And of course back then, queers were always the criminals.
Even when you look to the 1980s, cops didn’t really have much of a personal life. You knew Columbo had a wife, but that was it. You didn’t go home with the cops or know much about them besides what was mentioned. Around the 1990s, things began to shift more noticeably. We started getting victim queers (… yay?) but also a look into their actual lives. A great example of this is NYPD Blue, which even went so far as to have queer cops. She died, but change had begun.
By the time the 2000s rolled around, though, we were back to barely knowing about personal lives, most of the time. We never saw Lenny Brisco’s home on Law & Order, and we were blindsided when Serena came out because of that.
The exception to that, at least with the L&O franchise, was SVU which did follow people home. Sort of.
A New Dawn
But if the procedurals had a bit of a of a step-back in the 2000s, then today in 2020 we can clearly identify the change. We’re seeing:
- more characters are people of color
- more characters are queer
- they are not only the victims/killers
And all this came to mind when I was watching the new NCIS: Hawai’i. That’s not the first of it’s franchise to have queer regulars (that honour goes to NCIS: New Orleans), but it is the first time we’ve been given an opportunity to actually see them being really queer.
Tonight, as it happens, is the return of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, with the revival series CSI: Vegas, and already were seeing a massive difference. The original had three men and two women, only one of which was a person of color (Warrick, who was killed off). For a brief time, Laurance Fishburne was on the show, but generally it was men and white men who led the show. Their revival tonight has two women of color, one of whom is leading the lab, a hispanic coroner, and promises to be more reflective on the real world. In addition, CSI has talked about how they are, in fact, going to be more personal. We will see people’s personal lives for a change.
The Heart of the Matter
It doesn’t go unnoticed that, yet again, we are seeing attempts to humanize the police after some of the most horrific abuses of power these last two years. Having the police more reflect ‘us’ means little when we know that (for some like CSI: Vegas) they won’t be addressing things like COVID, or the issues with the police.
Perhaps redemption and renovation can only go so far, or perhaps this is step one-hundred in the ever ongoing quest to accurately show the world and still be entertainment.