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November 17, 2003


Battle of the Red-Haired Crime Fighters

If you watch any primetime cop dramas, you might have noticed an abnormally high number of red-haired investigators tracking down bad guys lately. Obviously, CSI: Miami has veteran investigator David Caruso working cases, but the original CSI features Marg Helgenberger, Law & Order: SVU recently added Diane Neal as a red-haired assistant district attorney, and on Law & Order: Crimininal Intent, the pregnant Kathleen Erbe has been replaced by Samantha Buck, yet another redhead.

So why the sudden density of flame-haired investigators, particularly flame-haired female investigators? Is their hair a metaphor for their passioniate approach to their cases? A message that their steely exterior will become red hot if we push them too far? Or, perhaps, are they there to remind us of a certain investigators from the past, namely...Dana Scully.

scullyDoesn't TV feel a little empty since Scully left? It seems possible that the shows' producers have introduced these neo-Scullys to assuage, or take advantage of, our yearning for her. They knew we would tune in every week to watch Gillian Anderson redefine what it meant to be a crime-fighting woman on television, so maybe they assume we'll tune in again to watch these new ladies follow in Scully's footsteps, much as Scully picked up where Clarice Starling left off. But since the connections between these shows and the X-Files are not as close as X-Files was to Silence of the Lambs, they've relied on cosmetic, rather than conceptual, similarities. They figure our brains will make the subliminal connection between Scully and Marg, Samantha, and Diane, and project on to them all the lingering positive feelings we have for Scully. More, more, more. The trouble is, although all of these women approach their characters with the same cool temperament Scully made famous, they lack the softer side that she would reveal to us at the end of every few episodes. I don't watch CSI enough to know how Marg plays her emotional moments, but when SVU's Neal tried it, it felt tacked on and forced. On Criminal Intent, Buck hasn't been around long enough to do much self-reflection, but so far, she's played it completely straight around good ole Vincent D'Onofrio. Her character seems slightly in awe of his Sherlockian manner and brilliance, but doesn't want to let on, so she's tough all the time, and never emotional.

To tell you the truth, I think Caruso's character landed on CSI: Miami for a similar kind of nostalgia, except in this case, the producers are playing off of a nostalgia for Caruso himself. Not that I really watched his earlier show, but after Caruso left NYPD Blue in the early days to pursue what would become a failed film career, it seemed like he had been from the show untimely ripped, and the hole he left there was never filled. So fans of NYPD Blue have been sitting around for 10 years or so waiting for Caruso to return to a cop drama, and with CSI, they finally got their wish. His supporting cast is so invisible, they may as well call the show NYPD Miami.

I would like to think that the prevalence of red hair in mysteries could be reliably traced back to earlier influences than Scully and NYPD Blue, such as Holmes' case of The Red-Headed League, but without color TV back in the 1880s, how could we know? I think I'm not alone in this notion: when Mystery!/Granada TV put together the outstanding Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett, I believe Irene Adler, the nemesis from A Scandal in Bohemia whom Holmes would never forget, was cast as a redhead. Unless, of course, I'm just projecting my nostalgic love for Scully onto her, too.

ps. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Melissa Leo as Det. Kay Howard on Homicide: Life on the Street, a role she took on around the same time Gillian appeared as Scully. And: Did Nancy Drew have red hair? Not sure.

Update to this post.

categories: TV
posted by adm at 12:44 AM | #


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