September 07, 2013

US TV - the new noir?

I've just started watching the great show Southland's series 5. If you don't know it, it's set in the south of LA and follows a group of LA cops going about their daily lives, both in and out of uniform. Our introduction into the life of the cops was with young rookie Ben, who is now a seasoned officer and is beginning to toughen up.

What I like about the show is that it takes no prisoners. The language is raw, the photography has that docu-drama feel about it, and it doesn't cosset its lead players - a couple of seasons ago, one of the detectives in the show was shot dead in completely surprising and unanticipated circumstances. It's also non-judgmental - one of the lead cops turns out to be gay, but that hasn't become a major storyline (yet) and is being treated as just another aspect of his life. The fact that he's been a real bad-ass while training young Ben has been ironic but not an OMG moment.

And of course I've also been watching Breaking Bad's last series - 4 episodes in, 4 to go. POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!! I think the real grip that this series has on people comes from the twists and turns in the plot that are driven entirely by character, not by some attempt to twist events just to make them unusual. In other words, the plot turns come from decisions made by the characters - whether it's Walter White's attempts to make it up with his young apprentice, Jesse, or its Hank's coming to terms with the fact that his brother-in-law might be the bad guy he's been looking for all this time, making his own decision-making arbitrary at times.

These shows exhibit some of the true aspects of noir writing - dealing with the dark recesses of people's minds, not depending on happy endings, and showing people often operating at their worst. Because of this they're compelling, true-to-life and full of fascinating, dangerous characters. The kind of people played by Robert Mitchum and Sterling Hayden and Richard Widmark and Gloria Grahame in the forties and fifties would have fitted right into these stories.

There must be something in the way these stories are told - and the way in which noir stories and films were made - that sucks us in and enthralls us, because they're not enlightening or uplifting ... but they keep your eyes glued to the screen - or the page - until the awful denouements have played out.

No comments:

Post a Comment