TV Shows Shouldn't Rely On 'Cheap Tricks'
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
"Homeland" is considered one of television's best dramas. It's collected a shelf full of awards for Showtime. It has a complex storyline about a CIA agent who's chasing a war hero-turned terrorist.
The season finale airs Sunday, and as TV critic Eric Deggans watches, he'll keep his eye out for what he sees as a flaw he sees in a lot of shows: the hero who is always being doubted.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Carrie Mathison might be the world's most dysfunctional CIA agent.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOMELAND")
CLAIRE DANES: (Carrie Mathison) I have never been so sure and so wrong. And it's that fact that I still can't get my head around.
DEGGANS: Carrie is a bipolar, impulsive, live wire. But it turns out she was right when she insisted an American war hero had become a terrorist agent. In fact, she was the only one who got it right. So why does everybody on this show still doubt her?
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOMELAND")
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) OK, so who was responsible for directing the actual search?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Carrie? Excuse me, please. What are you doing?
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) I want to talk to people who cleared the tunnel.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Talk to them?
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) To ask them a few questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Like what, if they're working for the other side? They are all ex-military.
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) So?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) So you do not want to be questioning the loyalty on a hunch.
DEGGANS: That moment, when Carrie searches for a terrorist mastermind, recalls something TV producers have used for decades. I call it: Persistent Disbelief Syndrome. It's a handy device for adding tension to a scene.
No matter how many times these heroes solve problems no one else can, other characters must act as if they're outrageous and totally illogical - until, of course, they're right. It makes the hero look more heroic.
On "Homeland," Carrie fights the terrorists, and she's fighting knuckleheads at the CIA - all men, by the way - who remain stubbornly skeptical. Or consider CBS's update of the Sherlock Holmes story, "Elementary." Holmes is a recovering drug addict with a trust fund, who helps New York police solve crimes.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ELEMENTARY")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Yesterday you gave us Iganol(ph) on a silver platter. Now you're telling me he did every bomb except for the one from two days ago?
JOHNNY LEE MILLER: (as Sherlock Holmes) As I said before, that bomb was full of using potassium chlorate.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Yeah, and those only use the one with cow manure. I heard you.
DEGGANS: Here's the thing about Persistent Disbelief Syndrome: After you see it on one TV show, you realize its everywhere.
Like USA Network's "Psych," which features a super-observant goofball who pretends to be a psychic and helps police.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PSYCH")
JAMES RODAY: (as Shawn Spencer) Just thought you might want to know that this thing here, not a suicide.
DULE HILL: (as Burton "Gus" Guster) Great. Thanks for that, really. And thanks also for bringing a snap to the crime scene.
DEGGANS: Or Holmsian Detective Bobby Goren on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT")
DEGGANS: TV is too good right now to get away with this stuff. In the era of excellent series like "Mad Men" and "Homeland," why do producers turn, time and again, to the simple crutch of Persistent Disbelief Syndrome?
In my own TV-watching world, "Breaking Bad"'s writers pulled me into rooting for a high school teacher turned murdering meth dealer. How wild is that? Surely the minds who pulled that off can build tension in a crime drama without a cheap trick like PDS.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MONTAGNE: Eric Deggans is a TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.