For a long time now, I been arguing all over cyberspace that primetime soaps are doing a much better job of what daytime soaps used to: telling character-driven stories with intimacy, depth and complexity. But primetime isn’t daytime, and crime procedurals like Law & Order, CSI and Cold Case aren’t serials. In fact, exactly the opposite: one case; one episode. But many of these crime shows have begun incorporating backstories for characters, and small story arcs, which I’ve liked. But still: one case; one episode, or, in a few cases, one case at a time spread out over two episodes. At least that was the case until this season on Without a Trace.
Kudos to the show’s creative team for pushing the limits of the form: now, don’t do it again, at least not the way you did it this time.
It took me a couple of episodes to figure out what was going on. The “previously on” started referencing a previous case, then there was the set up of the case for that episode. The episode then alternated between the two cases. It absolutely drove me nuts, because even with the “previously on” info, I had absolutely no recollection of the continuing case, or why special agent, Jack Malone, was so obsessed with the victim – of what, I could not remember. And therein lies the problem; in shows like this, you remember the characters and their relationships, but not the case itself. And this went on for almost the entire season; the writers’ strike only exacerbated my frustration.
So, points for trying, but from now on, one case at a time.
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