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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

House & Hustle: What's in a Mystery?

The Girl and I are both big fans of House and Hustle, the former being the Peabody winning show about a acerbic but genius doctor and the latter being AMC's presentation of a BBC production about London "long con" artists. They're both smartly written and well-acted, and they both put the concept of a mystery into a spin.

Whenever I think of a mystery movie, I always think of an old werewolf movie which was setup like an Agathie Christie novel. I can't remember the name. Basically, people start dying at a hotel resort and one of the guests is suspected of being a werewolf. The whole movie is trying to figure out which one. You're given all the normal assortment of red herrings and clues in an attempt to keep you guessing until the end.

Even with misdirections and red herrings, however, you're given the auspice of being able to solve the mystery before the curtain closes. You're not expected to, but you're welcome to try. The closest show I can think of to this format that we watch right now is Monk.

Hustle twists this by showing it all from the angle of the crime. One might think this would simplify the process, but the show is written so that the viewer is usually being conned right along with the marks. It's still completely possible to guess what is happening, but the fact that you can't trust the narrative is deeply reinforced in Hustle. The characters are outright lying within the show and by not revealing the full story, lying to the audience as well. It's a lot of fun and even when you start to piece the full con together ... it's usually intricate enough to enjoy watching unfold anyway.

On the other side of the spectrum is House, a show described by the creators as a "mystery where a disease is the culprit" and the doctors play Scooby to the crime. Watching last night it occured to me that I have no chance of guessing this mystery. And unless you are a Clinical Oncologist, you probably don't either. Plus, the show is settling into a fairly predictable format where you know that the first three things that are tried on the patient will fail miserably.

And yet ... it's addictive as hell. Why? Because it's fun drama. Watching the hospital politics and the larger-than-life personalities clash is good conflict. You're still allowed to guess on details like a patient's honesty or past ... but you're mostly just along for the ride.

That being said, what gives a mystery it's core nature? Is it really the ability to try and be as smart as a detective ... or is it more of the thrill of knowing that the story is inherently unpredictable?

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Tablesaw said...

You really need to get the Season 1 DVDs of Veronica Mars.

Josh said...

I've actually heard that before, so I'll sneak it onto the Flix list.