I weep for women in crime shows

Prompted by the One Millions Mom (who you may or may not remember protested against a Jiffy Lube ad), I watched the trailer for Fox’s new show Lucifer. It is about Lucifer who has left hell because he got bored of torturing souls or something and is instead concerned with justice. A petition to cancel the show has been started because it disrespects Christianity, but that is not at all what I want to discuss. What struck me most is the same tired and repetitive character dynamic of the show.

There is an interesting and charismatic guy with an unusual insight into every situation and an ability to manipulate or read or do something that no one else can. Standing next to him is a woman. What can she do? Often not much. Occasionally look attractive, but not always. Most of the time she is in trouble. Frequently she has difficult moral decisions and is unable to compromise. Plainly put, she is often really boring.

It sounds like a pretty specific scenario and would seem unlikely to be repeated too frequently and yet…let the list begin:

Fringe
Olivia Dunham: Federal Agent of boring wearing boring suits, apparently because she is a solider to keep our world safe. Seems a weak excuse.
Dr Walter Bishop: the archetype of a mad scientist who is so dangerous he voluntarily had a section of his own brain cut out to stop him destroying the world.

The Mentalist
Teresa Libson: Not even allowed in the Bureau she had to be an agent of the Californian Bureau of Investigation.
Patrick Jane: Intelligent, sophisticated, nearly always in control. He can read people and has more special abilities than you can shake a stick at.

Sleepy Hollow
Lt Abigail Mills: Her mother was a nut job (I don’t think that is a technical term). Her sister got locked up because Abbie wouldn’t corroborate seeing a demon. She thought she might join the Bureau, but then a sheriff had his head cut off so she stayed only to find…
Ichabod Crane: He was married to a witch. His son was Walter Bishop, I mean the Horseman of War and a sin eater (I am not sure which is better). And he knew just about every revolutionary war hero there ever was.

Elementary
Dr Joan Watson: Despite being Lucy Lui she is still Dr Watson.
Sherlock Holmes: Yeah, you know Sherlock Holmes.

Forever
Detective Jo Martineze: Her dad was a cop. She is a cop.
Dr Henry Morgan: He has been alive for a couple of hundred years and as a consequence he has a Sherlock Holmes style ability with the added advantage of never being able to be killed. He investigated Jack the Ripper, he fought in World War II, he got shot by a gangster and has done like everything.

Castle
Detective Kate Beckett: Mum was murdered in an unsolved murder case so she became a cop. Bruce Wayne but without Batman, money, toys and anything else that might be considered cool.
Richard Castle: Best-selling mystery writer who is a friend of the major. He is sometimes a womanizer, has an infectious enthusiasm for life and catches bad guys to be helpful.

Blacklist
Elizabeth Keen: Does she know anything? An FBI agent, wait, no a former FBI agent who is also a profiler whose ability to profile is, well…it could be better.
Raymond Reddington: Does he even know all the things he knows. Err…yes? This guy is into everything, does everything, knows everything.

While I may watch some shows that share certain characteristics, this does seem slightly too coincidental. I weep for the female characters on TV. You are boring and often seem little more than inexperienced sidekicks or women in power with serious flaws. If anything, this system of character dynamics is flawed.

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10 thoughts on “I weep for women in crime shows

  1. I agree with you. I haven’t watched but one show on your list, The Blacklist. Elizabeth Keen’s ignorance is astounding for somebody who is supposed to be an FBI agent.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is totally true. There are a lot of shows (not comparatively or anything, I just mean there are “more than a handful” of them) with great, standout female characters, but of the type of show you’re listing, where there is a big over-arching plot balanced with a (usually police/crime-ish) procedural, the straight man character is the woman (ironically) and the more interesting character is always the man.

    Same thing can be seen with fathers and mothers (and to a lesser extent, husbands and wives) in situation comedies — or at least it could, in the nineties, they’ve moved away from this a bit now. The father/father-in-law/grandfather/husband character would be zany, weird, rude, imaginative, lazy, or any other out-of-the-box characteristic you’d name. That character’s wife would be the stick-in-the-mud “reasonable” person. I’m unsure where this comes from, but it’s sad.

    At least I think we’re moving away from it, slowly but surely. The dynamics you list are all initially very much inside the stereotype, but given time, the “boring” female usually gets to grow, while the “interesting” male has little room to go anywhere, being strange and exciting from the get go. I haven’t seen the other shows on your list, but compare pilot Dunham, Watson and Keen to the finale (or latest season finale in the case of the latter two) version of themselves. They’re far more complex and interesting now, and have far less of the characteristics you accurately list them possessing in the beginning. So maybe there’s hope. Even if it’d be nice if a network procedural actually changed the dynamic around from the get-go one of these days. That way, you’d also avoid the very unfortunate subtext that these women could only get interesting once exposed to an active, energetic male figure in their lives. 😛

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