elementarySecond only to my love of all things genre is all things crime. I spend a good portion of my television viewing immersed in dastardly deeds done by (usually) the second person interviewed – or, which is more often my clue to the culprit, an actor I actually recognise. From rogue consultants like Castle and The Mentalist to professional team ups like Rizzoli and Isles or Scott and Bailey – to the joyous blending of the two that is the folks at Elementary – there is nary an outrage I have not seen perpetrated and/or investigated and/or prosecuted within the space of 42 minutes.

But there are times when watching these crime shows feels a lot like watching sci-fi, after all. From the holo-tech they use on Bones to the chem-tech they use on the various CSIs to the physics-defying physics they use on Scorpion, it is all very questionable indeed. I mean, I’d be fine with it if Cisco created these gadgets in the depths of Star Labs. It’s quite another when it is all supposed to be government issue.

magicthegatheringI am not suggesting here that I am the most scientifically-minded person in the world. Hell, I still have trouble with the concept of relativity, despite my years reading Orson Scott Card. And while I get all the pop culture references in The Big Bang Theory – yes, even when they’re playing that Magic: The Gathering knockoff – I often struggle to follow when the talk turns to formula-based puns. Quite frankly, I’ll take science fiction over science fact any day.

But when a show is supposedly set in the world in which I actually live, being presented with simply impossible zoom-in-and-enhance security videos and ludicrously instant fingerprint or facial recognition matches jars me out of the constructed reality and reminds me that it is all just one big game of playing pretend.

Not that I want the crimes to be real! Hell, no. If there is one genre of literary endeavor I scorn it is True Crime. Ugh. But really, shows, stop trying to convince me that you can detect a particle of unobtanium in a metric tonne of cosmic mutagen by running it through your uberspectrazoomoscope, and therefore Old Mr. Weatherby must have been the one haunting the amusement park all along. It’s silly.

When Sherlock Holmes, or Patrick Jane, or Shawn Spencer, or Unforgettable’s Carrie Wells zeroes in on some small, otherwise unnoticed, detail and solves a case, I can buy it, because while theirs are skills most of us can only dream of, body language expertise and hyper-awareness and hyperthymesia do, in fact, exist. They are just very rare, which is why they are worth watching on TV. But when your friendly neighborhood NCIS has an on-site laboratory turning out detailed analyses of delicate, occasionally unstable, samples within minutes, and without the aid of a single lab tech, there is no way I can convince myself this is possible without a little science fiction sprinkled into the backstory. Like, maybe, Area 51 is the source of all this maguffinery and Abby is an alien in disguise. (This might actually explain a lot.)

Will I still watch these crimes get solved as the technology gets more and more far-fetched? Oh, probably. I really don’t want our lead detectives to have to sit around for days waiting for DNA results to come back, and I do perforce get a thrill when a blunt instrument is somehow identified by its angle of impact. But even just some lip service to real science would do me a world of good. And in the meantime, at least Angie Tribeca is telling it like it is:

TANNER: How’d he die?
DR. SCHOLLS: His brain and heart stopped. After that, he had no chance.

About the author


Rachel Hyland is Editor-in-Chief of Geek Speak Magazine and, she is pretty sure, the one true queen of Fantastica, raised in obscurity to protect her from the dark lord Sinisterium. If you see her magic sword, get in touch via twitter: @rachyland or Instagram: @rachelseesdeadpeople. The fate of the many worlds may just depend upon it.

  • Another Kate

    There was a “Monk” episode that played with this. Monk and team were called to the set of a popular procedural, and they watched the actors film a scene: “Look! A single red thread in this rope that was used to hang the victim. THE BROTHERHOOD OF [Something].” It was pretty funny. See also: Every medical show, like, ever. (I’m looking at you, HOUSE. Seriously, in real life that asshole would have been spending so much time in front of various disciplinary boards he wouldn’t have had enough hours in the day to actually practice medicine — and that’s if [a BIG if] he was allowed to keep his job in the first place.)

    • Rachel Hyland

      I loved HOUSE, but my goodness, his tendency to diagnose by life-threatening treatment was very disturbing indeed.

      MONK was one crime show (of very few) I didn’t stick with past the pilot episode, but I have long thought I should go back and give it another go.