Sunday, September 26, 2010

When did Texas get progressive?

Weighing in on another new show of the season, here's our guest-blogger, Jason!

So let’s just get the embarrassing admission of out the way: in the compliment of new characters this season on television, my favorite one is probably on the lamest show the lineups have to offer. What she lacks in a quality-written drama, though, she definitely gains in a pretty wicked pedigree.

I speak of Annie Frost, the lead character in NBC’s new police procedural, Chase. Played by Kelli Giddish, Annie is a U.S. Marshall based in Houston, Texas. She spends her days, Tommy Lee Jones-like, hunting down the worst of the worst and being haunted by a horrific past (natch) that has something to do with her father.

Midriff baring shirts are fast becoming the uniform of choice at Quantico.

Despite the hard-boiled teaser, the show (at least the pilot episode) doesn’t quite live up to its expectations of itself. With television being clogged with procedural dramas, the viewer needs something to set a new one apart. In that respect, Chase fails pretty spectacularly. No high tech camera angles whereby we learn that the mud actually came from a vulcanized rubber boot heel only manufactured in a San Bernardino warehouse. No stories wherein the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. Just a bunch of Texans drawlin’ ther way through the scenery ‘n catchin’ the bad gah.

Despite this, Annie herself shines through for a couple of reasons. First, and let’s not underplay this too much, this is a story about hard-hitting police officers that take down extremely dangerous criminals. And the person that they trust most to do it? A girl. Throughout the pilot, Annie competently and capably leads the team, including the requisite comic relief sidekicks, to a successful apprehension of the villain. And while the show certainly doesn’t seem to be aiming to take any story-telling risks, such as maybe letting the villain get away, Annie is consistently portrayed as the best one for the job without the show hitting you over the head about it. Her coworkers, even the good ol-boy alpha males, accept Annie’s leadership without a second thought. It’s not odd for them to look to a woman as their commander. We don’t have to sit through some awkward “yes, but can this little lady really handle the pressure?” conversation from the men-folk. It’s never questioned that Annie can do the job and, more so, the show doesn’t feel the need to raise the issue. This isn’t girl-power: this is just confidence.

Well okay, that and firearms.

The second point of cool for Annie is that she’s an extension of a lot of familiar people that we’ve already seen without being a total copycat. She’s Veronica Mars, if Veronica had decided to leave southern California and eat more red meat. There’s more than a little Philip Marlow in her. She’s really more archetype than character, but one that’s played against expectations of gender, owing more to Alan Ladd’s Shane than she does to Gloria Steinem.

The third reason for Annie’s success is undoubtedly her primary creator, Jennifer Johnson. Ms. Johnson is a long-time television writer who most recently put her talents writing for Lost (and winning awards for it) back in the first couple of seasons. You know, the ones where the show was still good. Johnson writes Annie realistically, sympathetically and smartly. While the pilot certainly had to make a couple of sloppy character-by-numbers points to get going, Annie feels like she’s got an entire history behind her that’s compelling.

And frankly, it’s just cool to see a gritty-ish crime drama created and launched by a successful woman writer, featuring a strong woman character. Although the pilot did very little to establish itself as a particularly good show, there’s a least some consolation to be taken from a new iteration of an old form – a female-centric show that doesn’t have to try to be as tough as the boys.

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