A Loftier Motivation for Two of Today’s Top Crime Dramas

Join Linwood Barclay, author of Elevator Pitch, for a conversation about a unique motivation for protagonists in two of television’s best crime dramas, Get Shorty and The Deuce. Bonus: once you’ve read the essay, comment on this post to enter for a chance to win a copy of Linwood Barclay’s new book—Elevator Pitch.

We think we have a pretty good idea what motivates our lead players in a crime drama. If they’re on the side of the angels, it’s justice. They’re on a mission to right wrongs, to see that victims are avenged, that bad guys are punished. And if we’re wondering what makes those bad guys tick, we don’t have to think that hard. They act out of greed. Maybe they’re seeking payback. It could be they’re just really sick puppies, sadistically driven to inflict pain for the hell of it.

Sometimes, however, while the motivations may be as primal, they’re a little more complicated.

Two of the best crime dramas over the last couple of years are Get Shorty and The Deuce. And while two shows could hardly be more different in style, content, and approach, they have something in common. What drives the lead characters is something we’re not used to seeing in television crime dramas, something a bit loftier.

What drives these characters is art.

Get Shorty, while it bears little resemblance to the 1990 Elmore Leonard novel, or the 1995 film adaptation starring John Travolta, does draw its inspiration from Leonard’s original concept: Loan shark Chili Palmer finds that his skills with violence, intimidation, and outthinking his adversaries translate well into making him an ideal Hollywood producer. In the television series, Chris O’Dowd plays Miles Daly, who’s been known, in his life as a thug, to take things a few steps further than Chili. Miles will kill if that’s what the job entails.

But when Miles’s work takes him to Hollywood, he is mesmerized not so much by the glitz and glamor and magnificent cars and beautiful women as he is by the opportunity to make a great movie, to tell a compelling story. In his quest to settle old debts and save his own skin, Miles increasingly insinuates himself into the movie business and becomes obsessed by the need to make a great film, to make a statement.

Even when Miles realizes the FBI has him in its sights, he’s willing to give them what they want on the condition they let him finish making his movie. Once that’s done, well, he’s willing to let things play out whatever way they have to. (Unless, of course, he can find a new angle to save himself.) Miles believes completing this film is his pathway to redemption. Not only will it absolve him of past sins, but it will also win him the respect of his wife and, especially, his daughter.

In The Deuce, the original David Simon-George Pelecanos series about the rise of the pornography industry in New York, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Eileen “Candy” Merrell, a prostitute whose work draws her into the world of adult films, as an actress. But she has an eye, a sense of story, and slowly starts to make herself heard. She argues that a film about sex can be more than a “fuck film.” It can aspire to greater things, act as a metaphor, provide insight into the human condition.

Eventually, Candy pulls together the financial resources—not without having to humiliate herself in the process—to make her own movie, an erotic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood called “Red Hot,” and it receives much of the kind of adulation she was hoping for from the artistic community. But it is her family’s respect that Candy needs most. Can directing an artistic film about sex, rather than taking money to perform it, elevate her in their eyes? Candy has as much of an uphill battle here as Miles, if not more so.

There are, of course, multiple storylines in both series, and the casts of characters in Get Shorty and The Deuce are broad. The latter series, in particular, is more ambitious in terms of the issues it’s exploring, and is markedly darker. Get Shorty is a lighter, breezier show. Both are examples of the fine writing that is taking place in this new, so-called Golden Age of television.

But in both Get Shorty and The Deuce, we can find an underlying message: art holds the power to redeem. Its pursuit is as primal as any of those other motivations we’ve come to know.

About Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay:

It all begins on a Monday, when four people board an elevator in a Manhattan office tower. Each presses a button for their floor, but the elevator proceeds, non-stop, to the top. Once there, it stops for a few seconds, and then plummets.

Right to the bottom of the shaft.

It appears to be a horrific, random tragedy. But then, on Tuesday, it happens again, in a different Manhattan skyscraper. And when Wednesday brings yet another high-rise catastrophe, one of the most vertical cities in the world—and the nation’s capital of media, finance, and entertainment—is plunged into chaos.

Clearly, this is anything but random. This is a cold, calculated bid to terrorize the city. And it’s working. Fearing for their lives, thousands of men in women working in offices across the city refuse leave their homes. Commerce has slowed to a trickle. Emergency calls to the top floors of apartment buildings go unanswered.

Who is behind this? Why are they doing it? What do these deadly acts of sabotage have to do with the fingerless body found on the High Line? Two seasoned New York detectives and a straight-shooting journalist must race against time to find the answers before the city’s newest, and tallest, residential tower has its ribbon-cutting on Thursday.

With each diabolical twist, Linwood Barclay ratchets up the suspense, building to a shattering finale. Pulsating with tension, Elevator Pitch is a riveting tale of psychological suspense that is all too plausible . . . and will chill readers to the bone.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

Elevator Pitch Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at http://www.criminalelement.com/a-loftier-motivation-for-two-of-todays-top-crime-dramas/ beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) September 16, 2019. Sweepstakes ends at 11:59 a.m. ET September 30, 2019. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.

Learn More Or Order A Copy


  1. Jody Darden

    A kind of new and different terror idea. I am interested!

  2. Anne

    Intriguing novel. I have read all of this author’s captivating novels. Wonderful!

  3. Ruth

    Enthralling and unique plot which interests me greatly. Creative and talented writer.

  4. carloshmarlo

    I love The Deuce! Never miss an episode. Thanks for the chance to win this great looking book!

  5. Padmini Rao

    This books sounds intriguing. I would love to win it.

  6. Dana Damato

    I’m currently watching The Deuce, but haven’t tried Get Shorty, yet. The Deuce has such an excellent cast and the story lines are riveting. I also like my books to be riveting and Elevator Pitch sounds like it definitely is!

  7. Michael Carter

    Sounds good!
    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  8. Darlene Reid-Rericha

    Elevator Pitch sounds extraordinary. I would love to read it!

  9. Sally Kohlenberg

    It sounds very different and very exciting. wouldd love a copy

  10. Karen Parisot

    Looks like “Elevator Pitch” has a terrifyingly great plot. Sounds like a winner to me.

  11. Jay Dela Cruz

    I love the exciting premise of this book. Sound like another “unputdownable” book for me to read!

  12. Joyce Benzing


  13. Jill Porco

    Bradley’s books make for compulsive reading! Loved his last one about the typewriter. He can take something commonplace and make it sinister! Look forward to reading this one.

  14. Joye I

    I have yet to read this author. Would welcome the chance to win his book

  15. Karen Hester

    great plot idea – I would love to read this book

  16. Karen Terry

    Can’t wait to read it enter me to win.

  17. John Davis

    With art as a primal motivation in the previous works by Mr. Barclay, I’m caught. I wonder, however, how from the depths of murder most bizarre, through sabotaged elevators, Barclay can pull it off again. I’m game.

  18. Steve Cooper

    Looking forward to reading this as soon as it comes out.

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  20. Lori P

    Got stuck in an elevator once, but nothing as terrifying as this. Gives me the high-rise creeps, and bet the plot never lets you go!


    I would like to read this.

  22. Diana Hardt

    It sounds like a really interesting book.

  23. Janet Gould

    Looks like a great scare.

  24. Tiffany

    Cannot wait

  25. Jennifer Cecil

    Would love to read.

  26. Autumn Trapani

    Elevator Pitch sounds like a fun book. Thanks for the chance to win.

  27. Saundra K. Warren

    I love Linwood Barclay! I didn’t care for Get Shorty and didn’t see The Duece

  28. paul klumbach

    looks like i’ll be walking up from now on.

  29. cathleen penner

    WOW! hope this doesn’t happen to me.

  30. Rebecca Gatzlaff

    Sounds Fun!

  31. donna graham

    Barclay’s book sounds like a winner to me. I love psychological thrillers and Elevator Pitch is going on my reading list.

  32. Sally Schmidt

    Interesting essay, and looking forward to reading Elevator Pitch as well.

  33. Susan Morris

    Will I ever want to ride an elevator again??

  34. Christal M

    Looks like a great read

  35. Doreen Moran

    Elevator Pitch sounds cool!

  36. Marisa Young

    Interesting article. Plot for Elevator Pitch sounds fascinating. I want to read this book.

  37. Rhonda Stefani

    While I haven’t yet seen either, I’m interested in seeing these now with your insight. Can not wait to read Elevator Pitch! Sounds terrific, I’ve been looking forward to it for awhile.

  38. susan beamon

    When they told me action in an elevator, I said I’ve already read Escape Plan. They said that wasn’t it. So now I need a copy of the book to see/read.

  39. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  40. Tiffany

    This looks great! Can’t wait!

  41. Pat Askins

    Wow can’t wait to read this !

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