Thursday, October 3, 2013

Assorted observations on the police characters

Oh dear, I was going to post about this in the last post but somehow forgot. I received an email from Amazon that their TV Deal of the Week is all of the Perry DVD sets combined! It still costs a pretty penny, and I imagine most of us have at least a few sets already and wouldn’t want to end up with duplicates of those, but just in case anyone has the spare cash on hand and wants to buy the whole series in one swoop, here’s a heads-up for you! The deal runs through Saturday, I would imagine, or possibly Sunday. (Now I can’t find the page that actually tells.) It seems to be doing very well in sales, judging from its overall placement in the entire Movies and TV section!

And just a note, since this seems to be of importance to some shoppers: These are all of the already-released sets. They are not different releases in a special boxset.

Last night I opted for my local station’s Perry, which was The Substitute Face. It’s one of my favorite season 1 ventures, but I remembered that I really should watch the uncut of it sometime soon; I think it’s chopped up particularly bad.

I spotted one very interesting thing in that episode: the mysterious voice on Hamilton’s intercom (probably Leon) is there again. This time he speaks more than he does in The Daring Decoy, and of course, there’s the added bonus that this time his bit is even kept in the cut version.

Also, this may be the earliest occurrence of Perry throwing an untrue accusation about Hamilton in court. Hamilton also throws some at Perry, which is pretty much par for the course in season 1, but seeing the scenario in reverse is unusual in the early episodes.

Moving on to the police characters, in both Perry and several private eye shows, I’ve noticed some interesting similarities and differences. I’m going to focus on four shows in particular: Perry Mason, The Rockford Files, Cannon, and Mannix.

All shows have in common that the main characters are not the actual police, but they’re out to solve crimes. To that end, they often have encounters with the police, which many times do not end well.

To some extent, the police’s reactions are both at least semi-realistic and formulaic. Especially in Perry and Rockford, the main characters are running afoul of the police and are accused of getting in the way or worse, committing illegal acts. Sometimes the police aren’t altogether unfair or wrong in their accusations. Other times, it seems like they just behave in certain ways for the formula’s sake or to be belligerent and sort of the “heavies” of a script.

In reality, I’m sure there are many police officers who become frustrated by the interference of private eyes, lawyers, and amateur detectives in their cases. There’s probably even some stereotypically so. But I think there are likely others who have a very nice working relationship with their fellow investigators into crime.

I’ve complained more than once about Rockford’s police often seeming to just be formulaically angry, while the police on Perry are more well-rounded in their emotions. That is generally true. Nevertheless, I have found an occasional venture where I really like the Rockford police; the two-parter To Protect and Serve is a very good example where the police characters really feel like three-dimensional people.

One interesting difference that’s actually in the Rockford police’s favor is that they don’t often seem to make the mistake of arresting the wrong person (except for those times when Rockford is arrested when he shouldn’t have been). To that end, they seem a bit more realistic and have a better track record than the Perry police. However, they are still stereotypical in their opposition to Rockford and in some of their general suspicions about him and others.

Cannon is a unique series where the main character actually was a police officer and quit his job to become a private investigator. He has things he still likes and dislikes about the police force, and he has both friends and enemies there. In one way, I’d think he might have less trouble with belligerent officers since he was once a policeman, and one thing I’m grateful for is that none of the police that I’ve seen feel that he’s betrayed them by becoming a private eye. But Cannon does have quite a few problems regardless, being accused of interfering and even being nuts with some of his theories. There are a lot of out-of-town police who think the latter. Some of them end up becoming friendly later on. Some are crooked. And others are honest but just remain disagreeable.

Overall, he has fewer problems with the city police (probably because he was one of them). But he does have his clashes with them too, occasionally surmounting almost to Perry Mason levels of accusations of interfering (interestingly enough, once by Wesley Lau). As much as I love Cannon for the intensity and adventure and drama, and even though I feel that it’s a better show than Rockford, I do get exasperated at times with the portrayal of the police.

Mannix takes a very different approach to all of these shows. While Joe Mannix does sometimes run up against a very disagreeable, antagonistic police officer (often out-of-towners, but not always), in general he seems to have the best working relationship with the local police. He has several close friends on the force, and they and others usually seem to be happy to work with him on cases instead of against him. They don’t usually run around trying to outsmart each other. And that’s definitely a nice change from all of the fireworks and the worry and fear over the police that’s prevalent especially in Rockford and Perry, even if those shows are arguably more realistic when it comes to the police’s attitudes.

When it comes down to why the attitudes are different, however, I don’t think it’s because characters like Jim Rockford and Perry Mason are not the police. While that may be part of it, I think the main problem is simply that those characters often tread into more gray territory and aren’t adverse to noticeably bending the law as far as they can in order to meet their goals and solve their cases. Characters such as Frank Cannon and Joe Mannix, by contrast, usually stick a lot closer to solving cases without going into gray areas (although they occasionally have done that as well). And most definitely, the police are not going to be realistically happy in dealing with people whom they know have been bending the law. Hence, Rockford and Perry often do not receive very warm welcomes, in spite of their efforts in fighting crime. It’s certainly understandable and I don’t blame the police for often feeling frustrated or upset. I have certainly felt exasperated by some of the things Perry does and wish that he would approach things in a different manner.

Even taking all of that into consideration, however, I still do not usually like the attitudes of Rockford’s police. Sometimes it seems like he runs into a lot of police characters who don’t even know him and rail against him pretty much just because he’s a private eye (although admittedly, it’s probably because they know a lot of shady ones). The Perry police might be reserved and cautious, but I don’t think they would behave in such uptight and angry ways when meeting a new private eye. I enjoy how the Perry police have such varied personalities (Tragg’s snark, Andy’s businesslike congeniality, and Steve’s outright friendliness and seriousness) instead of just being angry.

Also, it’s definitely obvious that Tragg and Steve respect Perry (and that Steve, at least, is also quite a close friend). It’s harder to tell what Andy thinks. At least once he comes to Perry as Tragg often does, wanting to know how Perry figured something out (in The Melancholy Marksman), but that’s before the writers really started writing him as his own person, so I’m not sure it counts. Once Andy develops his own personality, I don’t recall him ever coming around like that. Steve doesn’t either, for that matter, but he’s often around for other social reasons while Andy isn’t.

Regarding Rockford’s police friendship, it seems like Sergeant Dennis Becker does mellow over time. By seasons 5 and 6 he seems a lot less uptight than he did around season 3 and more comfortable with being Rockford’s friend (while of course still not upholding any of the gray areas Rockford sometimes explores). It’s nice to see that level of character development.

Sometimes I kind of wonder if at least part of the reason why Rockford’s police behave as they do is because that series seems to often be distrustful of the government and authority figures. They have many episodes with conspiracy theories and some claiming to show actual injustices of the government and/or the legal system. (And I should insert that where such injustices are real, Rockford should be applauded for daring to talk about them. It was certainly a unique approach that its fellow private eye and amateur detective series didn’t generally do.) But then something great in a positive way like To Protect and Serve comes along and I’m no longer sure what they’re thinking.

Perry sometimes feels like an interesting series of contrasts: it praises the good of the legal system and exposes the bad all at once. And while the police keep arresting the wrong person (only for formula’s sake), Perry is often commenting on their efficiency while investigating. Sometimes it’s a little hard to believe they’re really so efficient and it seems more like the writers were just trying not to get real police upset. Other times, however, the police are shown doing a lot of investigating, and the cases are definitely set up to make it look like the defendants really are guilty, so it’s hard to put too much blame on the police. I usually prefer to blame the writers for most of the screw-ups, rather than the characters, although it is impossible to not blame the police at all after so many false arrests!

In the end, all of the shows have their good and bad points in the way the police characters are handled. And there are things I like and dislike about each approach. If Perry and Rockford were not bending the law so much (and I would prefer they did not), they might be able to have as good of a relationship with the police as Cannon and especially Mannix do. However, the conflicts are intense and interesting (although I often sigh at them since they happen so much). If the Perry police had less trouble with false arrests, they would be more likely to seem as efficient as the police on the other series. Yet even as they are, they are very lovable. If the Rockford police were less uptight, they would be more likable. But at least they don't have trouble with making a lot of false arrests. The police on Cannon are often formulaic to some extent, but always colorful. And Mannix often has such a fun, symbiotic relationship between Mannix and the police.

Whatever one thinks of these assorted casts of characters, I find it very interesting how the angles are both similar and different in each series. Every show and each batch of characters brings something unique to the table.

You know, one other unrelated but still interesting thing: every one of these series takes place in Los Angeles. One thing I love about so many shows taking place there is that I can have the characters cross-over in stories and know or meet each other. Realistically, it seems like a very possible thing that could happen.

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