Cops and Bloggers: Two crime shows

I’m watching Flashpoint, a Canadian show about a sort of SWAT alternative team. They do high-stakes situations: The team includes crack-shot snipers and expert negotiators. I got into it because somebody said it was a cop show about talking people down instead of shooting them. It’s very CBS-y (I said that to a friend even before I found out that it in fact aired in the US on CBS). The dialogue can be pat, the cops’ personal drama can feel played and perfunctory, and the music is consistently, cheesily terrible.

But it really is a show about talking people down from violence. There’s a lot of discussion of one of the principles underlying motivational interviewing, aka the style of counseling I try to use fairly often at the pregnancy center: People often have a voice within them which speaks for peace and for right action, against wrong. They’re usually ambivalent about harming others. And if you listen to them and guide the conversation, they will begin to tell you about the places where you might find common ground, and they will come to want, for their own reasons, to do what you want them to do.

Or they won’t, which, in this show, is what the sniper is for.

So I basically really like three things about Flashpoint: 1. The careful depiction of using fairly subtle aspects of language to guide a conversation. Using everybody’s names, calling on shared experience, building a space in which even someone who started his day planning to kill can begin to see and respond to the imago Dei in his intended victim. And through this process the targets themselves so often begin to see the humanity in their attacker, as well. It’s fairly sitcom-ized, but even so, there are times when I’m watching and something I see rings really true to my counseling experience: earning trust, opening up people’s imaginations, and finding a peaceful path forward.

2. And yet there are these guns, pointing in both directions. There’s always the sniper waiting for negotiations to break down. The peacemaking is backed up by, or at least surrounded by, suspended violence. And yet that doesn’t make the surrenders insincere. A lot of actions on this show are both willing and coerced, and that overlap is something I’m semi obsessed with; it’s what the novel I’m editing is about.

3. Enrico Colantoni, aka Veronica Mars’s dad, leads this team. Enrico Colantoni also looks & sounds a lot like my dad. He’s great and it’s fun.

As always with procedurals this is propaganda for policing, they’re always morally in the right and their hearts are always in the right place. You know what’s just slightly more morally-complex? Ohhhh you know it: Miami Vice, season 1.

I continue to deeply and intensely love the show I now think of as “Miami Moral Police” since I learned its Russian title was “Miyamskaya politsiya nravov.” Here are some notes on this ridiculously pleasurable show.

1. Two men set out into the ocean. As they enter the surging waves they leave the moral world behind and embark upon the sea sublime. I seriously wonder whether the heart-racing shots of the ocean in this show are the reason I so strongly associate the sea with both relativism and sublimity, the alternatives to moral life.

2. Also there’s a scene where New Wave lesbians watch foxy boxing. Thank you, Miami Vice, God bless you.

3. Miami Vice pioneered the use of music-video cutting in TV montages and holy cats, it’s so great. The opening montage (maybe from “The Glades”?) with “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” as we pan and cut through the red-light district was especially fine.

4. Speaking of “The Glades,” mostly this show really mixes up the races. We get cops, general good folk, and big-time villains of all races. Where racial stereotypes start to emerge is in the in-betweeners, the small-time crooks. Black and Latino small-time or ambivalent criminals are almost always either goons or clowns. Whereas every time (at least in this first season) we meet somebody who just made some bad decisions and got in over his head, an audience-sympathy figure on the criminal side, every single time that person is white.

5. Hey and speaking of “The Glades,” what’s this show’s moral stance? Well, our buddy cops Crockett and Tubbs clearly expect you, the viewing audience at home, to approve and laugh when they threaten suspects with prison rape. They generally view the terrifying vulnerability of prisoners as a useful weapon in the cop’s hands. They even make the law-and-order political subtext explicit in the season’s final episode, which is a commercial for the 1984 omnibus crime bill (I’m not reading anything into it, they tell you this) and for expansion of asset forfeiture.

And yet. Every now and then, in something like the choice of tv show playing in the background of a scene or the angles at which a car chase is shot, something brushes against your face. The show makes these aesthetic choices to parallel cop and criminal, to suggest that the line between the two is crossed and re-crossed. This submerged possibility never bobs up above the water; Miami Vice is extremely not The Wire, it has no interest in making actual moral claims about how policing should be or even, really, how it is. (We’re meant to take the rape threats etc etc as exciting or funny or cool. They’re not necessarily “the right thing to do” in some Sunday-school sense but hey this ain’t your Sunday school, right?) So these strange artistic choices are like a bottle flung by the show’s castaway conscience, in hope of reaching shore.

I love it, I think I love this bad-conscience show more than I could ever love a cop show with a good conscience.

6. Edward James Olmos is in this! He comes on as the replacement head cop. He is skinny here, still with that harrowed face, and he talks like the last cigarette, the guy talks like a grave opening. Except that he doesn’t talk, he’s taciturn to the point of caricature. And in the season finale he suddenly has backstory and it’s amazing. He is a kung-fu fighter, my friends. He’s shot from behind in noir shadows, looming and spraddle-legged like a gunman at the OK Corral, his arms gently curving like they’re hovering above the six-guns, and Miami Vice skids from cop show to noir to Western to horror in ten seconds flat. It’s a truly amazing shot and the fact that it’s followed by utterly shameless ’80s kung-fu is only the cherry on this beautiful televisual sundae.

7. Not many sightings of the pet alligator, I gotta say. I suspect somebody swiftly regretted that alligator.

This is used in “The Glades” because apparently that was an episode made solely for future-me


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