The crime procedural genre is far deeper and more varied than you might think. TV shows can differ drastically in how they approach the subject of law and order, crime and punishment. Let’s explore that.
There is a spectrum of style in the crime genre, authentic is at one end of the scale, stylised on the other. Works such as ‘Whitechapel’ and ‘Luther’ sit at the more theatrical, stylised end of the scale.
‘Luther’ is an interesting one because it is very accurate in its psychological profiling but otherwise it is very theatrical. The show is strongly influenced by the action-thriller genre; John Luther is a maverick who would not get away with a lot of his actions in real life.
The writers romanticise the archetype of the rogue detective. It is meant to have a glamorous atmosphere, hence the sexually charged relationship between Alice and John as well as the alluring vocals of Hope Sandoval in the main theme.
‘Whitechapel’ is as dramatic and stylised as a crime show can get. Ben Court and Caroline Ip brought supernatural horror inflections to the crime procedural.
The criminals at first appear to have paranormal abilities, disappearing from inside a locked room to confound the police. Or, they look to be the ressurection of a notorious serial killer from history like Jack The Ripper.
The mystery of the season’s killer is always debunked with a perfectly rational explanation, however, the tone and directing style takes a lot of cues from horror.
At the opposite side of the scale, sits ‘Line of Duty’. The inner workings of the police force are on display, the show delves into the minor details of police work.
All of the protocol feels extremely authentic. Internal police investigations and corruption is not a subject that many crime writers touch, ‘Line of Duty’ makes it the focus.
‘Happy Valley’ sits somewhere in-between dramatic and realistic. The show has a compelling back-story which informs all of Sergeant Cawood’s decisions. The villian of the piece is truely evil and responsible for that central tragedy in her past.
With that said, the police work rings true. Writer extrodinaire, Sally Wainwright clearly does her research. This blend of drama and realism makes for a fascinating world that you compulsively return to.
I enjoy all of the shows mentioned but ‘Happy Valley’ is by far the strongest. Perhaps it is a balance of drama and realism that is needed for the best possible experience.