Showing posts with label police procedurals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label police procedurals. Show all posts

08 November 2023

TATORT ("Crime Scene")

In my ongoing quest for something watchable, meaning a bingeable series – and preferably crime – I stumbled across Dresden Detectives, streaming on PBS Masterpiece.

Police procedural, of course, and (yes) German.  Not that much like an American or Brit show, though, even if the basic lineaments are familiar.  (I suspect that a goodly number of UK productions are made with an eye to export, to the US, or to Commonwealth countries, Australia and New Zealand, which return the favor.) In the case of Dresden Detectives, a crime occurs, and the cops show up, but after that, the rhythms shuffle and change pitch.  Not that it seems distinctly German, to my less-than-Europeanized ear and eye, but neither do they seem to be homogenizing it, or repackaging it for a different market. 

I noticed the same thing with Dahad, the Hindi cop show, and I liked the fact that it was unapologetically Indian in concept and execution.  These cross-cultural currents are interesting in and of themselves – although it obviously makes all the difference when the storyline, like Dahad, is compelling, as well.

Dresden Detectives is a team of two women, mid-thirties, working for Kripo, the equivalent of CID, who catch serious crime: the Murder Squad, essentially.  You get some domestic, single-mom stuff, but it’s mostly shop – more Barney Miller than Candice Renoir.  They work under an older, male supervisor, who’s stuck somewhere in the later Stone Age, which allows for some labored workplace chauvinism, played for laughs but unhappily unfunny, a trope that does feel German, to me.  My apologies, but I never got German cabaret humor; it always seemed underdone and overbearing, mockery at the expense of a captive audience.  On the other hand, the dynamic between the two women cops is quite genuine, sympathetic but competitive, a real sense of a work relationship that isn’t static.

As the series goes on, there’s thankfully less to the running joke that Schnabel, the senior cop, is a fool, or a Neanderthal.  The actor playing him was actually born in Dresden, in 1967, when it was still the DDR, East Germany.  The actresses who play the leads, in contrast, were both born in West Germany, but less than ten years before reunification.  Point being, that Schnabel, the character, would have spent his formative years – into his early twenties – under the East German regime of informers and toadies, and that’s when he would have joined the police.  This disconnect is a subtext to the show, any German viewer would realize it immediately and instinctively.

In other words, there’s a tension, here.  In spite of the lame office humor, and the more authentic shuck-and-jive going on between the two cops hitting the pavement, you can feel a kind of thickness in the air.  I don’t know how actually real the procedural stuff is.  I always thought German cops worked more hand-in-glove with prosecutors, and less independently, on the streets, but I could be wrong.  The cops also seem more diffident than I’d imagine they are in life, less sure of themselves.  Dramatic license?

Dresden Detectives is actually excerpted separate episodes from a larger, umbrella series called Tatort (or “Crime Scene,” in German), which has been running since 1970, if you can believe it.  This gives it longer legs by far than Law & Order, or even Gunsmoke, in this country.  Midsomer Murders, in the UK, has only been running since 1997, which makes it still in short pants. 

The overall conceit of Tatort is cop shows done on location in different German cities, Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt, West Berlin, Munich, and so on, produced by locals.  Everybody gets one, a dozen or more, and the locations themselves become a character in each story.  Austria and the German-language arm of Swiss TV got in on it, and it was a big enough hit that East Germany cloned it.  Now, since reunification, cities from the former East are part of the package, Dresden, Leipzig, and others.  At last count, there are some 1200 episodes of the show, and with a 90-minute runtime, they’re basically made-for-TV movies.

Dresden Detectives is running thirteen episodes on PBS Masterpiece, one of the Amazon Prime channels.  Tatort, the whole series, is available on MHz Choice, with Prime. 

27 September 2023

DAHAAD ("Roar")

In my continuing quest for something consistently watchable (and knowing full well that Season Two of Bosch: Legacy is coming back in October), I happened across the web-based series Dahaad, and it’s a keeper.  The title translates as “Roar,” in Hindi, and the show itself might be described as Bollywood noir.  This is not to damn it with faint praise.

For openers, the Indian film industry is the biggest in the world; “Bollywood” refers more particularly to the subset of Hindi cinema, and as a pejorative, to the happy-sappy musical features and romances (masala movies) that have historically been tentpole successes for the major studios.  There’s more diversity than these labels suggest.

Dahaad begins with the customary product awareness warning, but instead of assuring us no animals were hurt, it tells us we might get hurt feelings.  There is, for example, Hindu-Muslim violence; there’s caste discrimination; the police and body politic are corrupt; brutality against women is a commonplace.  There’s even sex – discreet, by American standards, but the fact that it’s there at all is probably grounds for pearl-clutching.  In fact, my guess is that Dahaad has something to offend everybody.

The basics.  It’s a police procedural.  They’re trying to chase down a guy who preys on women.  A serial.  So far, so good.  You’re thinking you’ve seen it before.  But not exactly.  The thing that drew me in is that the crimes – the opportunity, the M.O., and the baseline, what makes the victims victims – is generated by the culture.  It’s in no way separate, or free-floating.  The brutalization of these women, as we might say of all women, is socialized.

This is of course not peculiar to Indian society, or to Hindu social practices specifically, but in this case, the women have been led to believe they’re of no value, if they haven’t married by a certain age.  The bait is a love match, an escape from convention, deceit masquerading as rescue.  They elope, and abandon their families – the families return the favor, their daughters having shamed them – and when the women later turn up dead, suicides, who will claim them?  They’re nobodies twice over.

So the first hurdle in the story is even realizing there’s been a crime, then the realization that there have been dozens of murders, over a period of years, and lastly to understand that it’s a pattern, that they’re dealing with a hidden, methodical psychopath. 

Other pressures and prejudices interfere with an effective pursuit.  Predictably, the chain of command is influenced by politics and religion, not to mention nepotism, bribery, class, and clan.  The investigating officer is a woman, still single in her early 30’s, and of a lower caste, so she’s unclean.  All the minor aggravations and humiliations obtain.  But she keeps plugging away.

You know early on who the guy is, and so do they, about halfway through.  But they can’t pin it on him.  One of the sidelights is that the series is really procedural.  The storyline doesn’t get wrapped up all that neatly; it plods, a bit.  The cops get frustrated.

You have to give it two episodes, at least (out of eight, total), to get used to the rhythm.  It’s in Hindi, or a choice of language soundtracks, subtitled in English.  The subject matter is definitely creepy.  These things mitigate against.  I, on the other hand, think the positives reward attention.  The two lead cops, and the bad guy, held me all the way.  The heroine, Sonakshi Sinha, is well-known as an actress – if not to me – and exceedingly glam, from her stills in previous parts.  She definitely mutes it, in this show.

There’s one scene I thought was gratuitous, or even cruel.  The cop’s mom keeps bugging her to settle into marriage, and tries to set her up with potential suitables.  Finally, the daughter blows up at her, and deals out crime scene photographs of the dead women.  This is what happens, the cop tells her mother, to desperate people, because they’ve been led to believe they have no value, and they grasp at straws.  This is what happens.  They’re found dead.  Do you understand how a mother like you made them victims?

Of course I’m not a Hindu woman of marriageable age, and I felt the scene was preachy and hurtful.  But when I thought it through, it occurred to me that there might be quite a few young Hindu women who’d watch that scene and pump their fists, and shout out loud, You go, girl!

Dahaad is about being heard.