American Crime TV Drama: a PhD Project

At some level, this is also a very personal blog; a diary, a record of my encounter of a fascinating world. A ‘project’ that helps me temper my thinking process as well as help me keep my sanity through the journey as a graduate student. Informal, discursive thoughts and ramblings on things that demand more serious contemplation. This is a place to raise questions, both rhetorical and sincere. A way of sharing some ideas, but also a way of learning from others – by seeking to respond and seeking response. But it is also an invitation to begin conversations, collaborate and participate.

One of the recurrent features of this blog would be shared fragments of my work on the topic of American Crime Television series in the 2000s. My primary texts are The Wire (HBO 2002-08), The Shield (FX 2002-08) and Breaking Bad (AMC 2008-13). I am looking at these three critically acclaimed series as the pinnacle of American Crime Television drama which goes back to the earliest days of TV in the 1950s. My selection of the texts are geographically and historically very narrow, as is the expectation from a graduate thesis. However it is also that much interesting to go back and forth in time to see how a confluence of genres and other media forms have shaped these shows from the past, as well as how they have come to influence the current crop of TV shows in significant, if subtle ways. I am not going to assert that no cop show can get away with just a simple procedural approach after The Wire and The Shield, but only that the viewing audience are suddenly aware of the gaps in those procedural shows.  Of course, the important issue to be addressed about the focus of the project is the exclusion of shows from other cultures, which is ironic considering the exceptional quality of Crime Dramas from Europe just within the past ten years. On a side note, I think that some of these recent European Crime shows like Broen (The Bridge, Sweden/Denmark, 2011-), Forbrydelsen (The Killing, Denmark, 2007-12), Borgen (Denmark, 2010-), Engrenages (Spirals, France, 2005-), Broadchurch (Britain, 2013-) to name a few, have been outpacing their American counterparts (and tiring remakes) for quite a while now. These ground breaking and revolutionary TV shows defy the standardization of American TV so much, that they are constituting their own genre of quality TV that has no parallel in the American mainstream. My research sticks closely to an English-speaking diegetic and receptive worlds, for the sake of convenience and avoiding negotiations with issues of language and subtitling. So, such comparisons between shows and cultures are very important to this discussion, and will be introduced in the due course.

At present, I intend to post reflections, discussions and reviews of the shows and responses to existing critical conversations about them. These posts will also at other shows to construct a narrative about the genre and its variations. But the core of the blog will remain an ethical project, that raises questions about the good’ in Television. Is there any ‘good’ in TV at all? Is it good, for you? How do these shows that portray some of the absolute worst moments of humanity help us in any way? Is our cynicism in response to these programs, an expression of our morality? What are the differences between ‘good’,  ‘evil’ and ‘bad’ characters? The intersection between moral philosophy and spectatorship is not a new one, but is something that constantly renews old questions in the light of changes arising from new technologies, different authorial styles, social attitudes, and political contexts. In this sense, this site lies between a fansite and a project blog, as these posts are my way of reflecting on my thesis, as well as sharing them with those who really enjoy crime television.

-Mani, 30 April 2016.