Happy New Year! As every year brings some novelty, our amazing Reviewbrain has been kind and patient enough to do me an infinite honor: I’ve become a contributor to her precious blog. I can’t say how grateful I am. And one of the very first entries in my resolution list thus reads: “I shall not disappoint!”
The comments for the previous post about the Cultural References in TM made me realize I should have included a part about TV shows. So, thanks to the invaluable suggestions and comments from C Hill, Windsparrow and T, here is a preliminary analysis about references from TV shows: again, it is “a work in progress” and is only meant to complete at least a little bit the previous list of references. It’s still sketchy and obviously incomplete, but I hope it would do for a start!
I Jane’s character
• is an inspiration for Jane’s character. T proposed: “ that from Columbo we get create an iconic character 101. Dress a certain special way, drive a special car and iconic phraseology and gesture which PJ certainly possesses. Columbo was also a small guy, endearing and famously rumpled and didn’t carry a gun.”
• Like Jane has been for the most part of the show, Columbo’s a very much married man (he always refers to his wife).
• The trademark structure where every episode starts with giving out the killer’s identity is also Jane’s ideal situation: indeed, it’s difficult to pinpoint every time when Jane knows who the murderer is, but we can guess that he understands it pretty soon most of the time (I’ll call it “method of investigating 1”: he knows beforehand who the killer is and tricks him by distracting him).
• This peculiar structure has been used in ‘Every Rose Has its Thorns’, where Jane tells Lisbon at the very beginning that Erica is the murderer. Indeed, as T pointed out “TM has played with the format of the show from time to time, with Erica Flynn we probably came closest to Columbo in that we knew who was guilty and it was the dogged pursuit and the ego of the villain at play”. The rest of the ep shows how he caught her.
2) “Remington Steele” (unofficial reference): Steele hasn’t been mentioned so far in TM, but there are enough similarities to draw a parallel between both shows.
• First, the humor is common to both: Steele’s character is definitely funny. He’s witty, spontaneous and has a errr… disputable take on legality. Steele’s comicality may become quite visual too, and as T mentioned Chaplin, a master at this kind of humor, inspired directly “the physical humor at which Baker is particularly adept”.
• Like Poirot in books, Steele completes the set of qualities brought by Columbo: Poirot influences the annoying parts of Jane’s personality (in T’s words: “from Poirot we get the fussiness, the ego, clarity of mind and elegance and well lack of physicality”), while Steele might be responsible for the charming conman vibe: Columbo is a professional investigator, whereas Steele is a fraud: he passes himself as a private eye while he’s actually just a professional liar.
• His stylish look coupled with Columbo’s crumpled suits provide the two sides of Jane’s appearance…
• Columbo plays dumb but he’s actually pretty smart; Steele plays the genius, with a bit of arrogance, but he doesn’t know a thing in fact (most of the time, his discoveries are lucky guesses… at the very best…)
• Columbo really investigates, even though he may come up with a scheme to force the killer to confess, while Steele often comes up with improvised crazy schemes first (his associate is the skilled investigator instead). That’s Jane’s “method of investigating 2”: the “I have no idea who the killer is but I’m going to flush them out nonetheless with a cunning scheme” method…
But the most interesting aspect in Steele’s show is his relation with his partner, private investigator Laura Holt…
II dynamics between characters
… so we have the following dynamic :
• a professional female investigator together with a male dilettante;
• she’s no-nonsense, he’s basically uncontrollable.
• She shares her knowledge of the field and everything technical; he relies on pop culture (hence the numerous references) and he gives her a new insight on cases because he’s very intuitive. And, just like Jane, his first goal on cases is to entertain himself.
• She’s valorized by him professionally (“Remington Steele” was at first a fictional name she came up with because people tended to dismiss her because she was a woman). In TM, this idea is played up with: Jane gives Lisbon’s team the highest closing rate in the CBI but he risks her career continuously… Moreover, he steals the spot light from her: here, Lisbon is the boss, but Jane has never acknowledged this and he keeps his golden boy status no matter what happens. She’s the one who takes the blame for him, may it be with Hightower or with Bertram.
• They get along. They are close friends, partners. He keeps using and amusing her, she tolerates him. They banter, they tease each other, they investigate together. And they flirt, even if the attraction is a far bigger part of the Holt/Steele partnership.
3) “Burns and Allen” (unofficial reference, courtesy of Windsparrow)
The vaudeville duo seems to have accentuated our pair’s comedic vibe. (Since I didn’t know the show beforehand, please bear with me and feel free to complete/correct):
• The “old married couple” vibe many times has been referenced by wonderful Windsparrow. There might also have been an allusion to this precise aspect in the show in S2 ‘The Red Box’ where an undercover English cop pretends to mistake them for a couple because they are bantering.
• They are total opposites: in the Burns and Allen show, the wife is eccentric, bubbly, illogic and uncontrollable, while her husband is rational, by the book and a bit overwhelmed by her general insane attitude. The genders are inversed with cunning Jane and by the book Lisbon.
• That’s not explicitly stated in the show, but there are hints that people at the office are amused by the pair’s antics: the smiling lady in the elevator when Jane was trying to give Lisbon advice about her brother and she was being stubborn about it; Grace’s grin when Jane was telling Lisbon that it was kind of romantic that she got to ride his bicycle with him… with her “head” in the bike basket; Rigsby’s amused “you’re blushing, boss” earlier in the show when Jane told her he could read her mind…
4) “Sesame Street”: “Bert and Ernie” were the nicknames given to Cho and Rigsby by the other teams to mock their close friendship…
The format used in ‘Every Rose Has its Thorns’ alludes to Columbo’s trademark openings revealing the killer, as well as Erica’s friendliness towards Jane was a reference to those ingenuous and falsely friendly murderers featured in this show. But it isn’t an isolated reference: indeed, some shows seem so far to lend a basis for some episodes in particular.
5) “The Rockford Files” (courtesy of C Hill as well as the reference to the TV movie “If It Bleeds, It Leads”). As I didn’t know the show beforehand, I’m in dire need of watching some more episodes. But as far as I gathered, we have:
• another iconic car
• Rockford lives in Malibu, where Jane has a house.
• He has a criminal past (he spent years in jail even though he was innocent) and started a new life as a private eye. Jane was a conman/ fake psychic and has taken a job as a consultant when his life has changed.
• The TV movie “If It Bleeds, It Leads” seems to be about Rockford helping a friend unjustly accused of a crime. One aspect of the story is that the media cover the case as a juicy one. I wonder if that’s not the link with TM: in the corresponding episode, the team investigates the death of a journalist, who was about to uncover a terrible story about Volker. The whole episode showed the difference between two types of journalism: the sensationalistic type represented by the TV set, where good looks and apparent sincerity are assets (Jane and Lisbon being scouted for an interview), where people gossip and are jealous of the most successful ones (the “weather lady”) and where people are eager to do anything to satisfy their ambitions (the news anchor sabotaging his coworker’s car). In opposition to this shallow world, the victim was a real investigator, who was “wasted on TV” and was skilled enough not to be manipulated by Volker’s attentions. The media theme was previously introduced by character Karen Cross but this episode develops the duality between shallow “media as entertainment” and “media as information”. In some ways, this duality might reflect Jane’s: he was part of the first one as a TV psychic and a showman, while now he tries to redeem himself in conducing real investigations instead of wasting his skills too solely for money and fame… Moreover this episode might become a turning point in the relation between Jane and Lisbon, depending on how she would identify her own quest against Volker with Jane’s revenge, and the reference to a classic might be a way to enhance further the special status of the episode. Am I overreaching much?
6) “Starsky and Hutch”: this show has a particular status, as it doesn’t seem to relate to the big story in TM but it tells us something about the episode where it’s been referred to (‘Rhapsody In Red’). The reference is humorous: Cho is dark-haired while Jane is blond; Jane’s urging his coworker to climb in his iconic vintage car to chase down a suspect. But, to some extent, it also enlighten Cho’s arc in this episode, which has a definite “street” vibe (the gangs, Cho striking a deal with a delinquent for information, him relating to them and passing above rules to do what is right). His arc is more action-oriented, while Jane’s part of the investigation tends to work as a whodunit.
Last, I’ve hesitated before including “Psych” in this list. The show predates TM by two years and shares the same premise: a very observant man, who is a bit of a jerk but still very charming and funny, comes to work for the police as a consultant and decides to pose as a fake psychic. Nevertheless, there are some pretty big differences, as Jane no longer pretends to be a psychic when he began working for the CBI. Shawn Spencer on the other hand works outside of the police as a private investigator, he has a childhood friend, family and a love life: his whole live isn’t confined to seeking revenge and living at his team’s workplace (or a dusty attic or, at best, a gloomy motel room)… He also doesn’t share Jane’s drama and interrogations: while TM is a procedural with hints of drama and comedy, “Psych” is purely comedic. So I find it is rather hard to say if TM is truly inspired to some extent by it, or if both show have been created with a more or less coincidental common basis, both using a fake psychic as a variation of the “consultant” figure, like for instance “Castle” has been using the “writer” variation without imitating directly Ellery Queen’s style. Either way, it’s rather amusing that “Psych” keeps mentioning the other show in humorous ways…
Like the books from the detective stories golden era, the vast majority of these shows are classic or at least rather old-school. If someone has ideas concerning some others ones or even more modern ones, feel free to share!