Vision Thing

Vision Things
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  • Crime & Punishment on TV

    On television, as the year turns, the evil lurking in the heart of man is so mysterious, not even the Shadow knows. In its evolution from Dragnet to Hill Street, the cop show developed compunctions. Furillo and Goldblume were as alert to wounds of class and race as card-carrying members of the ACLU, as conscience-stricken as social workers and as injured in their idealism as any bleeding-heart private eye, from saintly Marlowe to soft-boiled Rockford. But they would end up stunned by urban pathologies that were increasingly mindless and random, beyond greed or social science, unto the depraved indifference of gangbangers, drug cartels, terrorists and lo, the lurid scripts of serial killers. Pervasive menace! Nameless dread! Postliberalism!

    So, as the cop show now sees it, the Big Picture is chaos and cataclysm. Peace of mind is a losing cause. So is a civil society. The cop is a member of a vanguard or a sect, a Thin Blue Line between solid citizens and the savage tribes. If we're white, behind the razor-wire walls of our gated strategic hamlets, inside our triple-locked computer-coded home entertainment centers, lost in louche mediascapes of abduction and dismemberment, we rely on him to die for us.

    And he can't count on a soul but his own. His bunker is besieged—not only by pathogens but by pettifogging defense lawyers, hair-splitting judges, grandstanding politicians, with the vampire media, glory-hound Feds, knee-jerk civil libertarians and other paid hand-wringers bringing up the rear. No wonder the camera gets jerkier every season, as if on the speed-tweaked verge of a nervous breakdown from all that its pixilated eye must contemplate.

    Homicide: Life on the Street:, Purgatory lost.
    Homicide:  Life on the Street (NBC)
    The Baltimore bunker itself got shot up in the concluding episode last spring. Andre Braugher as Frank Pembleton is gone, which means that God is no longer a player in the holding action against evil. So Richard Belzer's cynical Munch will hide behind wisecracks and Clark Johnson's Lewis will nurse his silent rage and Jon Seda's Falsone will try to save all the children in the burning world and Kyle Secor's Bayliss, who hasn't yet decided on his own sexuality, is suddenly sounding like a Zen Buddhist high on the Void, while Yaphet Kotto's Giardello, half black and half Italian, has rediscovered the punchline of the Oedipus joke as embodied in his long-lost FBI-agent son, Giancarlo Esposito. They also have their own bar, a microbrewery of ambivalence.

    Law & Order: Personal lives are not allowed.
    Law & Order (NBC)
    In order to accommodate an excess of plot—usually a surprise twist on tabloid tales like the Mayflower Madam and Tawana Brawley, or cautionary ones: Malcolm X, abortion-clinic bombings, the World Trade Center bombing—nobody ever gets to go home. The deepest ambivalence in this program is about the death penalty, newly restored in the State of New York. They think they want it in order to even the impossible odds, but it makes them secretly sick. Except maybe for Sam Waterston who will do anything to win a case, any case. From the good liberal of I'll Fly Away he has turned into Robespierre.

    NYPD Blue: Gone Hobbes.
    NYPD Blue (ABC)
    Whether his partner is David Caruso, Jimmy Smits or (I find this very hard to imagine) Rick Schroder, Dennis Franz as Andy Sipowicz will continue week after week to trample on the weedy rights of suspects, smack snitches upside their plug-uglies, coerce confessions from uppity pimpled perps and, in general, use his badge to pry open cans of worms. The very idea of lethal injection makes him sizzle. Bochco, since Hill Street, has apparently decided that the Loyalists are going to lose the Spanish Civil War anyway so they might as well rape some nuns.

    The Profiler and Millennium: Bottom-feeding in Valhalla.
    The Profiler (NBC)
    [ The Profiler ]

    As Dr. Samantha Waters, the brilliantly intuitive forensic psychologist on Robert Davi's elite F.B.I. serial-crime team, Ally Walker had to profile herself in this season's opener in order to figure out that Jack (of All Trades) is in love with her, which is why he's been stalking her for two seasons. As for Lance Henriksen, he will be traveling light in the new year, despite his doubts about the Millennium group, now that his wife—Megan Gallagher, who never had enough to do—has perished from the plague. Although The Profiler fetishizes hi-tech atrocity-stopping while Millennium mucks about in the swamp of apocalyptic Christianity, both stylish series trawl the pulp depths of Ted Bundy, Son of Sam, Bret Easton Ellis and Brian De Palma, while longing for the high-culture pedigree of Weimar Lustmord, that aestheticizing of sexual murder so celebrated in paintings by Otto Dix, novels by Alfred Döblin and films by Fritz Lang.
    Millennium (FOX TV)
    [ Millennium ]

    Who needs hostile aliens or creatures risen from the grave moldering with malice undead? We have seen the evil, and we are it.

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