It’s safe to say that the police procedural format has been around for a while – it’s a well we keep going to since Dragnet back in the ’50s because people always have (and always will) like them. I think of them as a given, like death and taxes. We’ve seen it go through quite the iterations over the years; everything from the more standard fare like NYPD Blue, to supernatural like The X-Files, to just plain gross like the CSI franchise and its followers. It’s hard to reinvent the wheel, but this year (and last year) has sure found some interesting twists on the common form.
Now, we’ve seen supernatural procedurals before, but have we seen apocalyptic/Revolutionary War/witchcraft tropes all rolled into one big capital-c Concept? No, I think it’s safe to say we have not. Sleepy Hollow has old archetypes (people are already rushing to call Lt. Abbie Mills Scully 2.0) and concepts all mixed in with brand new ones: what other show would think to cast John Cho as the most-likable-ever undead servant of Moloch? Now that is some creative thinking.
Okay, so full disclosure, the idea of a sitcom police procedural seemed novel and brand new to me, but I admit that I grew up in a time without Barney Miller. Apparently, the idea of a comedic procedural featuring one of the most diverse casts on television has already been done. But shouldn’t it be done again? It’s about time: Barney Miller ended in the early ’80s. Plus, it’s got some solid writing, and a great ensemble cast that makes it all its own. The recent Halloween episode was especially excellent – Andy Samberg’s immature Detective Jake Peralta secretly gets most of the squad in on a bet which involves drunken Royal Babies (no offense, Prince George), a half dozen pigeons, excellent lock picking, and a lot of red herrings. Come on, doesn’t that pique your interest?
Like the other two “fresh takes,” this show has its precursors – it was inspired by the wildly-popular fangirl-generating BBC mini series Sherlock. But, keep in mind that Sherlock was based around 90-minute episodes: that’s like a (short) feature length film. Elementary takes things, sanitizes them a little for the sake of network TV, and carefully packages it into the hour-long procedural drama. Masterful, right? Plus, it takes a traditionally white, male character, and cast it as Asian American and female. If that’s not something of a new lease on life, I don’t know what is.
Honorable Mention: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – as Jordan Smith pointed out earlier this week: it’s like “NCIS on a jet.”