by Madeline Iva
Talking crime dramas today. Not only good crime drama, but shows that highlight a female detective as the lead — and (bonus points) include a hot male side-kick. Clearly there are bright people in television who are figuring out what women (like me) want to see. Not only do we get the hot male lurking about but the men are the more sensitive and caring, yet perhaps a bit edgy too. That’s right, the women are in charge, and the men are care-givers. Welcome to a whole new world.
No doubt all three series are indebted to PRIME SUSPECT, that ground breaking British television drama starring Dame Helen Mirren. There was even an American version of Prime Suspect that was completely different but still pretty good. So why was it cancelled? It’s possible studio executives thought Americans didn’t want to watch a strong female character who loves her job, doesn’t have kids, and doesn’t want to get married–whereas the brits soaked it up like a sponge.
Let’s prove them wrong, shall we? Here are three series to check out:
Tiny, tiny woman: Vera is 5′ 2″ and played by that great actress Brenda Blethyn. She speaks in a high voice, with a nervous-tremor like a diabetic woman about to topple if she doesn’t get some sugar in her. Meanwhile, she dresses like your mother on her way to the grocery store on a rainy day. It was as if the powers that be in British broadcasting said: If people want to watch someone like themselves, then let’s give them your high strung middle-aged mum as the main character. Frankly, she’s not very believable as a detective. Yet Vera’s super strengths are three-fold:
- She’s so un-policeman like, people often forget she’s a copper and confide in her.
- Her father was a local bird-watching, taxidermy fanatic. So she knows the local scene, and can use that context to help peel apart close mouthed locals as well as layers of recent history that hides secrets.
- Finally, Vera focusses relentlessly upon on the trivial details that don’t add up. These are usually revealed to be nuggets of the truth about how the murders occurred.
Male Hotness Factor: Joe Ashworth is Vera’s junior. I’d say about forty to fifty percent of why I watch the show is because of the Joe candy and his relationship with Vera. He is the dark good looking ‘bloke’ who tags along with her, asks questions, and remains attractive and innocent in the face of evil.
Personal Vulnerability: Sugar and alcohol and a wonky childhood. At a certain point Vera is diagnosed with angina and it’s her Joe who’s knocking the biscuits (cookies) out of her hand, nagging her to take care of herself. Their relationship is awfully interesting. It’s a little bit uneasy, like that of a single mom with a terribly attractive grown up son, or like an older woman with a much younger lover. The relationship is so interesting to me because through the first four seasons at least, it remained so undefined and it kept me watching.
Beautiful Scenery?: VERA takes place in Northumberland, shot in almost perpetual ‘golden hour’ with streaming late afternoon sun. So glorious it hurts the eyes.
Family free? Child free? Very much so. She’s one of those people who is alone and takes a sorrowful joy in it. It’s so awesome watching her perfect lack of interest around Joe’s darling children. (Because there are women like that.) The series starts after her father died, and it’s bittersweet memories of him that tend to fill her farmhouse kitchen.
The tiniest of the tiny: Linden is 5′ 2″ has a plain pony tail for her glorious red hair and the face of a Danish viking. But she is so tiny with a runner’s body. Her twelve year old boy is the same height as her, soon to be taller.
Family free? Child free?: We find out that Linden faced neglect as a child and was put into the foster system after her mother abandoned her. Given her tiny size and her sometimes nervous tremblies (reminding me a little of Vera’s character) one suspects that in the past she’s been held down by those meaner and stronger than her and been victimized. She has something about her that said she had to take it and then turn away from it or fall into a well of weakness and despair. All this makes her empathize with the victims–perhaps too much, and become relentlessly driven to find the murderer.
The other problem she faces is being a 24/7 detective and a single mother with a teenage child at the same time. There is no one else there to pick up the slack when her engagement falls apart. She doesn’t have the time to find a new apartment, or cook, or spend time with her son every day, because of the murder investigation. And unlike almost every other woman presented in TV history as a heroine, she doesn’t make the choice you’d expect when it comes down to it.
Personal Vulnerability: We find out at the top of season one that her last murder case in essence drove her crazy. Perhaps with neglected children involved, it turns her mind back to her own wounds. There’s so much pathos in watching her become the neglectful mother–even though as a neglected child, it’s the last thing on earth she’d ever want to be.
Male Hotness Factor: Linden’s partner is 6′ 2″ and his name is Holder. He is a tall drink of water, and by now, the point I’m at–which is late in season 3–he’s the one reason I keep watching this grim show. We find out Holder got hooked on drugs when he was in Narcotics as a police officer. He’s tried to recover, and he’s trying to redeem himself, take care of himself, and learn how to take care of those around him that he cares for.
Ultimately, solving a murder is Linden’s addiction. As things go on and political corruption in the department rears its ugly head, Holder is tainting his career to be at Linden’s side. You sense a spiraling co-dependent relationship forming between the two of them. It’s kinda bad–in a way some of us perversely crave–and it’s riveting to see how far down they might drag each other.
Beautiful Scenery: Seattle, Washington. Rainy. Beautiful. Sad.
Short and slinky: Gillian Anderson’s character Stella Gibson, is relatively tall by comparison at 5′ 3″. Probably the best dressed female detective on television ever, even hindered by blouses and other copper gear, she’s got the figure of a forties movie star, and it’s great to see someone–not young, not a size zero, and not tall and willowy, have that confident sizzle with men–in a way that doesn’t seem like pure fantasy. Her confidence and attitude seem more of the slaying factor than her feminine beauty–though surely her little side wrap sweaters don’t hurt.
The genius of Gillian Anderson as Stella is her sophistication. She has a soft quiet voice, but seems credible as someone who does a ton of police paperwork and does it proficiently, following up on things with proven modern methodology to catch criminals. Her leadership takes the form of urging her team up towards her own level–and we see how her cold analytical skills and training translate to the swift way she sums up her potential sex partners.
The real genius is watching her see some male hotness on the street and in an unapologetic, mature way, let the man know what she wants from him. There’s not a drop of brazen vulgarity, insecurity, or any other flawed default setting we’re so comfortable seeing in women who approach men. I think my mouth was open during these scenes.
Male Hotness Factor: Several hot males rove through this series. A hot sergeant grabs one’s attention in the beginning, a there’s a hot detective at the end, and—wait for it—the hottest serial killer ever on TV, Mr. 50 shades himself– Jamie Dornan.
I will admit to watching great swathes of the show simply carried along by his frowny-sad cute face. He’s also weirdly caring for a serial killer. Of his little girl. Of the women he kills (so icky). Another brilliant (if you could call it that) aspect of the show, is that they’ve clearly done their research. They go very deep into the cold, sorrowful, controlling, empty fantasy-land that comprises the soul of the serial killer. They show how his reality–always skewed and sad–begins to swiftly unravel, and while they really take their time with it, they do it very very well.
Personal Vulnerability: Nothing much. YAY! (There is one thing she does that trips her up, but I won’t add spoilers here.)
Beautiful Scenery: THE FALL takes place in Belfast and the beautiful county around it. It’s a different beastie from other Brit crime drama I’ve seen. The show doesn’t let you forget that Belfast is not England. It’s got Catholic overtones, and aspects of North Ireland’s violent history are very much present; for instance, the police all carry guns. I’m just not used to that when watching British TV.
Family free? Child free?: Oh, you betcha. All those detective stories about men who would never marry, would always roam as the lone wolf solving crime? That’s Stella in a nutshell, and she seems perfectly at home in that role as she does in the hotel bar late at night. She plays it so very very well that I can’t help think of Alexa Day aspirational posts about sophisticated single woman. I’m thinking that Stella is what Alexa’s been talking about all this time, and I finally get it.
Seen the shows? Seen any other great crime dramas you’d recommend? Sound off in the comments below and don’t forget to follow us here at Lady Smut. We’ll lead you straight to where the action is.
Madeline Iva writes fantasy, paranormal, and contemporary romance. Her novella ‘Sexsomnia’ is available in our LadySmut anthology HERE, and her fantasy romance, WICKED APPRENTICE, will be out March 15th.