Why Most TV Detectives Don’t Have Powers


The Listener has gotten such terrible reviews (deservedly) that it seems pointless to kick it while it’s down, but it does answer a question that’s sometimes raised: why are there so many characters on TV who kinda sorta have unearthly abilities (like the Mentalist and the Lie to Me Guy) but so few who go all the way and have actual supernatural abilities? It isn’t just because networks don’t want the shows to be typed as fantasy/sci-fi. It’s also because, when your lead character has supernatural powers and nobody else on the show does, the show winds up tying itself in knots trying to come up with plausible conflicts for this absurdly powerful character.

Put it this way: if a real guy had the ability to read people’s minds, then he would solve every crime pretty easily. To create plots where this kind of power will not enable the lead character to solve crimes in three seconds, a show has to a) Set up situations where he should be able to use his powers, but doesn’t, b) Confuse us as to what he can and can’t do at any particular moment, c) Make him unusually ungrateful and whiny about his amazing gift.

The supernatural shows that work usually give the character more tightly-limited powers, so that they can only get a clue or a hint (this is what Pushing Daisies, Medium and Ghost Whisperer among others do) or give the supernatural hero equally supernatural antagonists, so it’s a fair fight. Then there’s the supernatural comedy, where everything the hero does will backfire in some way and good old-fashioned non-supernatural thinking will be required to save the day. But give us a character who is unusually powerful and unusually unimaginative at using his power, and you wind up with the mystery-show equivalent of Alexandra Cabot. Not a good thing.


Why Most TV Detectives Don’t Have Powers

  1. Jamie, I think you might be dismissing The Listener prematurely. The show has already been broadcast around the world, and had spectacular ratings. According to Variety, in Italy the show brought a 470% increase for the time slot, and double and tripled lead in audiences in a number of markets.

    Man, a Canadian show does THIS WELL worldwide, and you can't pause from pissing on it long enough to even acknowledge that? I normally love what you write, but I think you gave short shrift to this show.

    Mayhaps you are right, I've got all thirteen episode queued up right now, and after this week perhaps I will agree that the show blows. I never liked The Ghost Whisperer, but that show has done exceedingly well since it began, and you can't but show some respect for that. In regards to The Listener, even if I did not like it, I'd still have to give some respect to the fact that CTV, if you include Flashpoint, has created two bona fide internationally successful series. Hopefully The Bridge and Copper can do as well.

    Even CBC is in on the action! Diamonds was just broadcast in the US as an 8 part series.

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