The Guardian newspaper (UK) contains a very funny interview with writers Charlie Brooker and Daniel Maier for their upcoming spoof cop show series A Touch Of Cloth. Here, they discuss which body parts are needed to make the perfect TV detective.
The head of Lewis
The heart of Sarah Lund
CB You’ve got to have constant conflict. It’s not like they ever go home to their wife and she says, “I know you forgot our anniversary, but it’s fine.” Every 10 minutes in The Killing, Sarah Lund was getting phone calls from her fiance, or that fucking kid she had, always moaning on: “It was school sports day and you missed it.” And as a viewer you go, “For God’s sake, she’s on the trail of a killer … ” This new bloke her mother’s seeing has a nut allergy. Sarah Lund isn’t listening because she’s looking at a clue, so she nearly kills him with a cake.
DM It’s the married-to-the-job business. It’s the spirit vacuum, sucking all the life and hope out of you, and all the ability to love. There’s no point in falling in love, because everyone dies.
The tongues of Starsky & Hutch
CB They usually talk back, because the boss is an arsehole. Or one who is “I’ve got statistics I’ve got to keep up and you’re letting the side down … Can’t you cut a few corners?” We’ve gone for a slightly grand boss: he thinks the world swirls around him. Which it sort of does with some of the Steadicam nonsense we’ve got going on. The boss is an arsehole, and even if the cop is an arsehole, he’s generally still in the right.
DM There’s quite a limited range of boss tropes: the paper-pusher, so you get the renegade cop coming up against the suit. Starsky & Hutch’s boss was always, “I’ve got the mayor breathing down my neck – you’ve got 24 hours to clean up the town and get him off my case.”
The livers of Bunk, McNulty and Tennison
McNulty and Bunk give up their parts. Illustration: Matt Blease
CB The Wire had Bunk and McNulty constantly boozing and they would play it comically. But you were also left in no doubt that they were two broken individuals. These detectives aren’t dancing around with traffic cones on their heads and taking Facebook photos. They like to imply that to catch people who are fucked up, you have to be fucked up yourself.
DM It ties in with the dead wife; it’s a wife replacement. And, of course, it’s more jeopardy, another thing to keep from the boss. It took them a few series before they did it, but they did it in Prime Suspect. “In case of emergency, you can break the ‘alcoholic’ glass.”
The stomach of Laure Berthaud
CB There was an autopsy scene from Spiral where Berthaud was like, “Let me just scalp this corpse and wear its hair like a hat.” There’s a cliche of a pathologist who is eating a sandwich while dissecting someone. One of the reasons these shows exist is to deliver a morbid thrill, like those supermarket magazines called ‘Take A Chat!’. The front page is always “I WAS STABBED IN THE EYE!” above a picture of someone smiling. It delivers horror and gore, but in a way that it isn’t like a horror movie. Showing your detective being miserable means you can have a five-minute autopsy scene, because it helps to illustrate why the detective is such a mess.
DM It’s quite a contemporary thing, very post-Se7en. It became more acceptable to do these baroque murders, to show the blood and guts. It gave rise to its own tropes: the vomiting rookie, the nonchalant pathologist. I call those “blue boob shows” because there’s always a woman in the mortuary, where you get a glimpse of a slightly rotten tit in the corner of the screen.
The groins of Rohde & Morse
CB If you put a man and a woman on screen, you start thinking, “Oh, I wonder if they’re going to do it?” When I first watched The Bridge I thought they were setting it up that the two of them [Saga Norén and Martin Rohde] were going to go off together. They still had to imply that he was a waster who sleeps around. You then realise that they’ve only done that to illustrate something about his past. Basically, the whole thing is his penis’s fault. He should have offered to blow his penis off with a gun.
DM Whenever that theme starts, whether it’s with Morse or Lewis or whoever, you’ve got this whole zip file that you can unpack to see what’s going to happen: a flirtation, a missed opportunity because he’s not going to want to expose himself to the risk. And if he does it’ll go wrong or the woman will be murdered.
A Touch of Cloth is on Sunday, 9pm, Sky1