April 24, 2013
TV Version Of FBI Can’t Compare To Real Deal
Last week’s tragic terror attack in Boston showed a number of things. It showed that bad people will sadly do bad things, but it also showed that good people, strangers many of them, will rush to help in bad times. It showed that this great nation will rally together.
It also showed that the FBI can gather clues, look at evidence and track down the suspects in a few days time.
If this were on TV, the FBI would be shown to bumble through week after week, only slooowwwly closing in on the suspects.
On Showtime’s Dexter, the FBI has been called in to track down numerous serial killers, but barely trained blood spatter analyst Dexter Morgan is always one step ahead. While he typically brings those bad guys to “justice,” the FBI, on the other hand, seldom gets its man.
An even worse offender is this year’s smash hit The Following, starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy. In this arch-driven drama, Purefoy plays a serial killer who not only has recruited a large cult of followers (hence the title of the show), but he also has escaped from prison, kidnapped his wife and son and, most impressively (from the bad guy’s point of view), continued to allude the FBI.
Now in fairness, would a show be interesting if the bad guy was caught in a week?
Probably not, but this is just another example where it suggests TV writers don’t really do a whole lot of research. The irony is that many TV shows sort of make the heroes capable of many things.
We see military and science-fiction themed shows where the best pilots are also crack shots and are called upon to go on secret missions. These jack-of-all-trades can do it all, and perhaps that is why, when we get more “realistic” dramas involving the FBI, the writers take a step back.
The reasoning, of course, is that shows like The Following are character driven. Kevin Bacon is the star and hence he’s the guy knocking on doors and chasing down leads. In real life, the FBI relied on large teams, had support from the National Guard and, in essence, a small army of law enforcement was mobilized.
Few movies have budgets to call in so many, and no TV show could close down a city to film the story. The result is that TV needs to make these types of events smaller and more intimate.
The question is why many of these shows, whether it is The Following or 24 or Dexter, needs to up the ante in terms of the bad guy. Part of this could be that reality has a way of influencing the story. We live in times where each tragedy gets massive amounts of media coverage, and the writers are forced to make fictional events seem as big.
It isn’t enough in a show about the FBI to merely have a murder or two. Every detective tale out there has that already. Instead, it needs to be bigger and bolder. In real life this means, of course, the aforementioned army of law enforcement, but in TV land it is just a handful of FBI agents who get the call.
As noted in the world of TV, a few good shots can save the world week after week, but in real life it takes an army to keep us safe. Fortunately, in the real world those efforts not only caught the bad guys in less than a week, but have also foiled other plots since 9/11.