TV characters, don't fear the reaper

Last updated 09:05 11/07/2013

I had one more point to make about Chicago Fire yesterday, but I decided to keep it until today and explore it properly: one of the biggest reasons that a show like Chicago Fire has trouble maintaining dramatic intensity is that the characters will never be in any real danger.

20130711The problem seems to be endemic to most network shows. The producers and distributors of free-to-air shows rely on marketing campaigns that are tied more to performers than to the shows themselves. As a result, we can be sure that certain characters will always get out of every situation unscathed, no matter how dangerous it might seem. Attempts to make it appear as though the main characters are in danger always feel like a copout.

Castle (One, Mondays at 9.30pm) did a particularly awkward version of this last week after Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) found himself framed for a murder inspired by (what seemed like) a chapter in one of his books; it was later revealed to be a revenge ploy by a former nemesis.

At different points of the episode, the show went to commercial on minor cliffhangers that implied Castle would be going to jail for murder and, later, that he had been kidnapped by a murderous psychopath. However, both moments lacked real drama. There's no way they're killing off the guy whose name is the title of the show.

Person of Interest (One, Mondays at 8.30pm) just finished a two-episode arc that centred on the rescue of Finch (Michael Emerson), and scenes that cut across to Finch and his kidnapper lacked any real tension for the same reason: Finch is one of the two main characters on the show. His safety is guaranteed.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation finished its season with a cliffhanger that put low-level agent Morgan Brody (Elisabeth Harnois) in mortal danger. Spare me the heartbreak, CSI writers. I've sat through episodes that put everyone from Gil Grissom to Doc Robbins in danger, and they all emerged unscathed.

In fact, if memory serves, the only two people to die in the line of duty are Warrick Brown (who was shot at the end of the eighth season) and Holly Gribbs (an intended series regular who was shot dead in the pilot). Everyone gets happy endings on CSI. I mean, unless you're the only black character or are poorly received by test audiences.

Shows that tend to focus more on the show than the character still have the same problem, that certain characters are presumably getting to the end of the season alive*. We can safely assume that Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) isn't in any danger on Boardwalk Empire, and that Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is safe on Mad Men.

The difference, of course, is that those shows don't tend to stoop to these cheap dramatic tactics. If there's an episode or two of Boardwalk Empire that requires us to believe Nucky is dead, I can't think of it**.

I think I'm getting grumpier about this as time goes on, too. It took every ounce of my strength not to turn off Castle after Beckett (Stana Katic) slapped the cuffs on him last week, and I spent the opening episodes of Person of Interest wishing they would just get Finch and Reese (Jim Caviezel) back together, and back to business.

Honestly, I feel like I'm being duped whenever one of these shows puts a main character in danger, especially if that character lends his surname to the show. It's a waste of an episode.

Do you get mad at shows that make it seem a main character is in danger, even though they never are? Do you think it's as fraudulent as I do?

(*) The exception, of course, is Game of Thrones. George RR Martin is going to kill everyone you love.

(**) The third season episode where Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) blew up Babette's doesn't count - Nucky was clearly alive at the end of the episode, and was revealed to be fine at the start of the next.

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