Run for your life!

220px-Major_crimesUnless you live on another planet, you have watched your share of crime and cop shows. In first run, rerun, and who knows which run. Cops and crime are the ubiquitous backbone of prime time television and the fast-flowing mainstream of Hollywood. We are fascinated, even obsessed by criminals, cops, courtrooms and killers.

Add the alphabetic agencies,  CIA, FBI,  CSI, NCIS, then throw in some lawyers, car chases, bombs, guns and frontier justice and you have American television for the past 50 years, give or take a decade. There are now — and have been — so many series in this genre I defy anyone to remember all of them (though it might be fun to try). Is there a database for this somewhere?

It’s possible to watch crime 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. At one point, I became addicted to  “Law and Order.” I required frequent fixes. It turned out to be no problem because there’s a rerun of “Law and Order” playing somewhere all the time. You just have to look.

These days, Garry and I watch a great many cop shows, usually reruns of favorites from the recent or not-so-recent past. We can predict dialogue for all of them, including those we’ve never seen before. It turns out there are only a couple of plots, both of which use the same script.

If you watch enough of these shows, you could write them too. You know what’s going to happen before the first commercial break, sometimes before the credits. You know who the killer is. It’s the guest star if there is one, otherwise, it’s the irrelevant character or the first one who points the finger at someone else. One way or the other, you recognize the perp the moment he or she shows up on-screen.

I used to hope for something new and different. Now, I just hope they do the clichés well.


Some stuff has become so standard we hear it coming. As the words roll out, we sing along. At our house, we liven things up by laying odds on when the writers will leap on a cliché and what the precise wording will be. Our favorite is when a cop has someone with him or her in the cruiser — a child, relative reporter, friend, former cop (retired, of course), journalist — who is by chance and script on site when the star is called to the scene of a crime.

So. What does he or she say?

You got it.

“STAY IN THE CAR!” “Stay here!” “Whatever you do, don’t follow me!” “If I’m not back in 5 minutes, get away …”

You’ve seen it a zillion times. It never gets old and unlike most jokes, it always gets a laugh. It pops out of the mouths of television and movie heroes and it brings the house down every time. It actually showed up in a book I was reading earlier today. It’s included in every show … brand new shows, with brand new writers, directors and stars.

Nah. I bet they only look new. They are probably using the same script as all the others.

Whether it’s a 9-alarm fire, gun fight, crime scene, stalker, serial killer or zombie attack, it doesn’t matter. No one stays in the car. Cop, kid, or an extra destined to die before the opening credits, no one in film or television history has ever stayed in the car, truck, or anywhere else. They never will.

Pauley Perrette in the season opener of NCIS.

In life, we generally know when we should really stay in the car. Not get involved. Let someone else take this one.

Who stays in the car and who gets out?

Until recently, I never stayed in the car. I took chances. In a different world, I might have been a cop or a detective. Something exciting, anyhow. Alas, but the need for a steady paycheck sent me down a different professional path, one on which opportunities for adventure were rare. Okay, non-existent. Software development does not offer an edgy lifestyle.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (season 6)

So I did what I could to make up for it in my personal life. I had too much fun to regret it, and anyway the experience taught me to deal with the unexpected. There’s been a lot of unexpected to deal with. If you never venture out of your comfort zone you aren’t going to survive the disasters that drop like car bombs into your life. Sooner or later, you have to get out of the car, right? Especially if someone planted a car bomb … is that too much analogy?

Time has marched on. These days, I do stay in the car. Family drama is enough. More would be redundant. I can sustain my sense of adventure through television reruns, memories of the good old days and an occasional terrifying ride on a killer roller coaster. I’ve had a lot of out-of-car experiences. I could use a dose of calm, dull and ordinary.

But you never know. I mean, anything can happen, right? If I’m on the scene, if life  just puts me where stuff is happening … would I really stay in the car? Would you?