Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mystery narratives partake of ritual

"The whodunits we make," says Marlowe Producer-Writer Gene Wang, "are as ritualistic as a bullfight." A veteran of Perry Mason and radio's Thin Man, Wang speaks with authority. "The bullfight parade," he explains, "is, for us, the parade of suspects. The entrance of the torero is the entrance of the detective, the point at which he takes the case. You cannot leave the audience wondering why the detective's clients have not gone to the police. The cape work is when the detective sees his various suspects. The picadors come on, and it's the time of murder. The moment of truth is when the Private Eye says, 'You killed Cock Robin.'"

He ascribes the longevity of the show to its formulaic plot and format. "It's almost like a ritual. You know there's going to be a body found, and we're going to look for who did it, and then there's going to be some twist at the trial. People tune in. They know what's coming and they like it that way."
-- Law and Order star Jerry Orbach, quoted in the Boston Globe, 4 January 2004

"It's like a ritual," Jerry Orbach is fond of saying of Law and Order, "like the Latin high Mass." Nothing on the show ever changes; every episode of Law and Order is just like every other one. Some are a little better than others, some a little worse, but in the end they're all interchangeable, and that's precisely what makes them so valuable.

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