I have always liked detective stories. I started with The Bobbsey Twins, graduated to the Hardy Boys and the Ken Holt Mysteries, then began to pick up more adult fare. I read almost all of Earle Stanley Gardner (lawyer Perry Mason), Dashiell Hammett (hard-boiled detective Sam Spade), Raymond Chandler (harder-boiled detective Philip Marlowe), and even Mickey Spillane (hardest-boiled detective Mike Hammer)—I must confess with a mea culpa—who went further than the others in hardboiled sex and violence.
I’ve also always enjoyed TV detective stories, like the old Perry Mason series. Alternatively, on TV, I’ve always enjoyed a good comedy. I can go back to classics like the Dick van Dyke Show with Mary Tyler Moore.
However, it has now become almost impossible to watch TV detective stories or situation comedies due to the incredibly tawdry and superficial treatment of sexuality running rampant throughout, turning every show into a superficial soap opera thoroughly out of connection with any genuine human reality.
This is not to even talk about the categories of sin: fornication, adultery, active homosexual relations, etc. I’m talking about the way sex is just casually added in—as I say—with an unbearable lightness, as if it is nothing, as if it is on the level of having a cup of coffee together. Then, in this superficial depiction, such scenes and relationships are forced on the viewer time and again without any grounding in the story or the characters that would make it believable. At least when Mike Hammer took down a blonde, whether as a lover or as a murderer, it was believable and something special. Now, it is just disconnected soap opera level trash, completely demeaning of the whole unique sphere of sexuality. A few examples.
First, recall the JAG series, which did have many decent story lines and values focusing on honor, duty, country, self-sacrifice, etc. In fact, it is often named to the Top 10 of conservative values TV shows and was endorsed by both the Navy and the Marine Corps. Yet, none of this honor, chivalry, duty, and self-sacrifice seems to inform the sexual relationships of the characters. This always highly annoyed me. Honor and chivalry used to mean something primarily in relation to the opposite sex. Yet Harm and Mac carry on one affair after another during the series. It’s supposed to be understandably funny when one female officer shows up unannounced to be bedded by Harm, but then embarrassment ensues because he has a hot latin babe in the shower at the time. Now it is true that in one story line Mac offers herself to Harm—their implicit love had never been consummated—but Harm resists, saying that it (their relationship, she) just means too much to him for it to happen that way. This seems more “noble,” except that it is presented as a mere psychological fact about Harm at the time, not as an insight into wisdom, maturity, responsibility, happiness, or goodness. To the credit of the series, they do get married in the grand finale and, as far as I know, seem to have waited until this commitment was made before uniting in the marital act.
Another such show, NCIS, most popular on TV, is similar in terms of the duties, sacrifices, responsibility, faithfulness, and long-term commitment that are expected when working for the Navy—yet none of these values translate over into the personal lives of the characters, making the show ludicrously inconsistent. Gibbs is married 4 times and has affairs, Tony is notorious for womanizing, and all the other male and female characters are similar. The one with seemingly the least experience in bed (and in sin), Special Agent McGee, is generally made fun of for that fact. Yet, NCIS also is listed as a Top 10 conservative values TV show. So, JAG and NCIS are two of the better ones.
Thus I haven’t mentioned CSI, where everyone again is having affairs like it is the most natural thing in the world and where liberal TV critics praised the “mature” shenanigans of the two lead characters Grissom and Sarah as if they were exemplary. Intra-office affairs are forbidden in the Las Vegas crime lab of course, so they have to break the rules and be deceptive, yet this is a show that emphasizes professional honesty, responsibility, dedication, and commitment—and the following of all the rules. So again, not only on the level of assault on the moral sense, but also just in terms of character development and internal consistency, the whole story line is annoyingly unjustified and thus distracting from the mystery story itself, the kind of superficial baloney prominent in the cheapest soap operas. Also, this is one of many shows now where, if ever a rendezvous is necessary at a restaurant or bar, it has to be a strip joint. Why? Why? Why? It is so annoying and often scuttles what might have been an interesting detective story. You just have to turn the lousy thing off, even if other aspects of the story might be interesting and creative.
The recent show Unforgettable has an interesting character at the center, a female cop with perfect total memory recall—comes in handy for a detective. Well and good, but last night the show opened up for no reason with our heroine semi-nude in bed with some guy indulging in pillow talk. I switched over to the local news and checked back in a few minutes to see if the silly scene was over and the detective story had started. It seemed to go on forever. Then finally when the cops are all walking into the station to work on the new case, so the viewer thinks the superficial titillation is over, our perfect memory girl begins to have perfect flashbacks to her love-making. Once a show starts into something like that, you know there’s no getting away from it. It will not be a self-contained few moments that you can skip away from and come back when it’s over; rather, you know you can be assaulted by an unwanted flashback at any moment for the next hour. So, again, you just have to turn the lousy thing off.
And, of course, situation comedies have become completely unbearable! I don’t even attempt to watch them anymore. NBC has been frantically promoting its new comedy Whitney for the past couple of months. I watched about 5 minutes of it once. The basic plot, not bad fodder for a comedy about a couple, was that Whitney wanted her live-in boyfriend (of 3 years, that’s about as close to marriage and commitment as these shows get) to take her out on a date (as if making believe they weren’t living together), because the way they met and got together didn’t include dating. So how did they get together? Well, it seems they both jumped in the same cab while blind drunk and when Whitney got out she vomited all over the place and he helped her and they both thought that all this was so cute that they jumped in bed together and stayed together for 3 years. Naturally, I turned the lousy thing off. Do the writers, producers, actors, and advertisers think this is funny? Does nobody in the whole chain of command stop and say, “No, I will not do this disgusting tripe!” This show is on at 8pm/7pm, so it is considered part of the family hour. Unbelievable! But at least all this lowers the amount of time I spend with TV at all. That’s the only silver lining I can find.
It is a very sad and deadly serious commentary on the moral state of our society that this is what TV has come to, compared to Perry Mason and Dick van Dyke.
I think that only prayer and fasting can drive out this kind. A serious consideration as we begin the penitential season of Lent.