September 12, 2006

Progressive Five-0

A followup note to my previous posting on Hawaii Five-0. In one episode, a woman journalist interrogates McGarrett about not having any women on his staff. In another, a girl helping an IRA terrorist notes that she was at Wounded Knee, where she smuggled supplies to the Indians.

Hmm. Is that the only mention of the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee to appear on non-news network TV? Could be.

The point is that Hawaii Five-0 was consciously progressive, not just unconsciously progressive. Not bad for a 1970s cop show. Sure, it was still a white male fantasy, but at least it questioned itself sometimes.

When it comes to Indians, today's TV shows could stand to be so progressive. Instead, we get a mix of the good (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Wonderfalls, King of the Hill) and the not-so-good (Numb3rs, LAX, Smallville). I doubt the rate of stereotyping has decreased much since I began keeping track in the 1990s.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
As I recall HAWAII 5-0, there was another reason why it stands so prominently in one's mind. It was not afraid to defy standard 'rules' about network TV series. As they once existed, the 'rules' were that no story could change the series' concepts, nor could one introduce a new continuing character, nor could one alter a continuing character's life, and neither could a continuing character be killed. The most adamant rules were that all stories MUST show the continuing characters at least 3/4ths of the time and they must interact in dialog scenes.
Case in point was an episode that began with a hit man hunting through a flophouse on skid row, finding his quarry, and shooting him six times. The hit man leaves, assured his job is done; but the victim rouses, stuffs his shirt and pants with newspaper and stumbles out into the street.
He makes it to a woman's apartment, breaks in, and dies in her living room. She finds the man and calls police. She had known the man years before but not anytime recently. The mystery and circumstances then involve 5-0 and McGarrett.
Other men are killed in various parts of the islands, all well-told in visuals rather than in dialog, much like a motion picture. Through the whole episode, you see McGarrett and co. all of three times and each time for less than 90 seconds.
The story resolves that five men kidnapped a judge's son years before on the mainland, killed the boy and fled with the ransom. They all agreed to wait as long as possible before finally laundering the money overseas. But one or two got tired of waiting and so dug up some of it and began to spend it. With ransom money back in circulation, it only would be a matter of time before it revived the case and the hunt for the kidnappers. Why? Because the ransom had been paid in the late 1950s, in silver certificates!
The hit man turns out to be the leader, now intent on being the last man standing. He kills all the others and recovers the rest of the ransom money. In the last minute of the episode, the leader is in line at an airport, only to find that 5-0 awaits him, having replaced the ticket counter people.
That episode stands as one of my very favorite pieces of TV writing ever, first because it flew in the face of the rules, and second because the producers had the wits about them to recognize a neatly suspenseful movie-like story, broken rules or not. How very rare...
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

I haven't seen that episode yet, but the shows often start unconventionally. The criminals and the bit players all get a substantial amount of screen time. In other words, it isn't a show about the "cult" (i.e., the star power) of the central character.

Rob said...

In today's episode of Hawaii 5-0, two old guys kidnap a child and hole up in a concrete bunker on a hillside. The show has used the bunker plot before--it may even be the same bunker--so that's lame. But McGarrett and company don't appear on the scene for a full 15 minutes.