We can’t all be perfect all of the time, and let’s face it, flawed characters are eminently more interesting, but there is a difference between a character who is deeply flawed and a character who makes mistakes to move the story along.
Let’s examine a few cases in-depth:
Flynn & Provenza, The Closer
Quite a partnership, these two can be quite good at their jobs, but when they blow it, they really blow it. Like the time where they were arguing about where Provenza kept his gun in front of a suspect who then grabbed the gun. Or when they lost all the evidence in a case because they wanted breakfast. Or my personal favorite: when they found a dead body in Provenza’s garage and left it there because they were already late for skybox seats at the Dodger game.
Verdict: Flynn & Provenza mistakes are always a joy to watch.
Sheriff Emma Swan, Once Upon A Time
There are many people in Storybrooke, Maine who are not qualified for their jobs (Jiminy Cricket as a psychiatrist for one) but Emma Swan sure got that sheriff job fast and has managed to keep it. Still, one would hope that she would apply reasonable amounts of rigor to a murder investigation, but time and time again she makes mistakes I don’t see a real sheriff making, like when she accepted the phone records of a murder suspect from a former newspaper reporter rather than calling the phone company directly. Or when she sent a new employee, with no police experience, to look for a potential dead body by herself in the woods.
Verdict: While I love watching this show, I am not impressed with Emma’s detective skills.
Detective Kate Beckett, Castle
This one I will admit is a little unfair. We wouldn’t have a show if the fictional Mayor of New York hadn’t blessed best-selling mystery writer Richard Castle’s shadowing of Kate. And I love this show. Love the characters. Love the premise. Love it when Castle figures out who the bad guy is. But sometimes I just have to wonder why:
- Beckett never even tries to call for backup
- It doesn’t faze her to walk into serious crime scenes with Castle unarmed and untrained
- She allowed Castle to carry her away from Captain Roy Montgomery like a sack of potatoes right before the Captain sacrificed himself. Seeing her flail about in his arms just didn’t ring true to me.
Verdict: I still love this show.
Detective Rebecca Madsen & Special Agent Emerson Hauser, Alcatraz
Admittedly chasing after a passel of escaped murderous inmates from Alcatraz circa 1963, who haven’t aged at all, is a super tough job, and having an expert on The Rock is useful, but does Detective Rebecca Madsen have to bring the unarmed civilian (comic book store owner, Doc Soto) on every dangerous mission? Even when she leaves him in the car outside and tells him to keep his head down, the car is too small for him to actually keep his head down.
Special Agent Hauser has his own issues that make him less than ideal–like needing to be convinced that saving a child’s life today is as important as capturing the kidnapper/killer.
Verdict: Hauser’s single-minded focus makes him more interesting while Detective Madsen’s putting a civilian in harms way, doesn’t. Sorry Detective. There are other issues with Alcatraz that you can read about here, but I still like the show.
Brenda Leigh Johnson, The Closer
Yes, I already mentioned Flynn & Provenza, but Brenda belongs in a category all by herself. We have seen her do almost anything to close a case time and time again. The most recent big example was dropping off a gang member in gang territory knowing he would be killed. Whether or not Brenda’s actions a justified is a big theme in this last, very split season.
Verdict: Nobody does mistakes better than Brenda Leigh and The Closer.
Have you seen any sloppy TV detective work lately?
Deborah Lacy is an avid mystery reader and aspiring novelist. You can follow her on Twitter @quippy.
Check out all of Deborah Lacy’s posts for Criminal Element.