I hate that when an actor, especially a female one, reaches a certain age (*cough* 40 *cough*), his or her employability drops like a body wearing cement shoes in the ocean. It’s as if Hollywood doesn’t want us to know older people exist.
But there’s one place where I think veteran actors don’t belong: crime procedurals on TV. I can’t tell you how many times the mystery has been ruined for me on those shows (OK, three in the last week alone), even before the opening credits are over, because I’d see the “special guest star” billing followed by the likes of Brian Dennehy or Mary Kay Place. The minute those star’s names appear, I say to my husband, “S/he did it.” I don’t need to know who they play or what the case is about. They did it. Producers would not pay top money for high-caliber, award-winning character actors just to give them one scene on the witness stand spouting expositional information.
In the show that had Place as the murderer (I won’t say which it is in case you haven’t seen it), she was the mother of the lead suspect, but had no lines in the first scenes she appeared in. She was just fluttering in the background, wringing her hands and giving worried looks at her son being grilled by police. After two scenes like this, I was practically screaming at my TV: “Come on! Mary Kay Place did it! She’s not an extra. Who are you trying to fool?!” Forty-five minutes later, she got her big moment when she was revealed as the killer, but I was off eating ice cream or flipping through a magazine, because I’d already figured that out at top of show.
This trend is unfortunate because the writing is sometimes good and I wouldn’t be able to guess the culprit’s identity so often if not for the casting. If a less recognizable actor had played Place’s role in that one show, I probably wouldn’t have even paid attention to her in the beginning when she’s mostly in the background.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that actors don’t have to be famous for me to recognize them. Since I watch way too much TV, I’m familiar with those respected thespians who may not be household names but work all the time. If Gregory Itzin shows up on a crime show? More likely than not, he did it. Michael Massee? Guilty. Currie Graham? Get a warrant for his car!
There are other tells that point toward the guilty party in police procedurals. If a character hasn’t been declared a suspect and the show is more than halfway over, that person did it. It’s not going to be the guy the cops drag down to the station in the first ten minutes. The person who acts most bereaved by someone’s death? Killer! In a show I saw two weeks ago, the father of a murdered girl could not stop crying when he had to identify her body. I know that’s an awful thing to have to do, and his reaction was probably realistic, but the way the camera stayed on him while he was shaking and snot was coming out of his nose made me think he was guilty. And I was right. Oh, and the fact he was played by veteran actor Barry Shabaka Henley tipped me off, too.
If I sound like a grouch begrudging these actors a paycheck, that is definitely not my intention. I want them to keep working, but maybe producers need to stop pigeonholing them or provide meatier roles that aren’t bad guys on crime shows.