My favorite new TV show this season is “Cold Case.” In general, I like cop shows, and I love solving crimes, both on TV and in my personal life.
In this show, a female lady detective woman in Philadelphia, Lily Rush, investigates old crimes that were never solved (“cold cases,” as they say in the biz). The detective work itself is pretty standard, as TV crime dramas go; the fact that the cases are old doesn’t, in and of itself, make it any more compelling.
What makes it work is the style in which it is all presented. As each case is investigated, and suspects and witnesses are interviewed, we see flashbacks to the time period in question. Accompanying this on the soundtrack are whatever songs were popular that year, which is surprisingly helpful (along with hair and fashion choices, of course) in establishing the mood.
In addition — and this is my favorite detail — through cinematographic trickery, the flashbacks are made to look like they were shot in the year in question. Scenes from 1973 in a recent episode looked bleak and washed-out, as if the film stock had deteriorated for 30 years. Last week’s episode, with a murder from 1981, had scenes shot on grainy, cheap video. Wonderful details like that make the show that much better, as they exhibit a bit of imagination.
There’s also Kathryn Morris, who plays Lily Rush. I don’t remember seeing her before, though I see now that she played Tom Cruise’s dead wife in “Minority Report.” In “Cold Case,” she’s fantastic. Lily is adorably cute and perky, but also sharp-tongued and quick. She’s Meg Ryan, but with a backbone. I love watching her. She’s the kind of woman you could fall in love with, but who you know better than to mess with, and that’s one of the things you love about her.
Finally, there’s a certain satisfaction in seeing crimes solved after so many years in limbo. Usually there are family members who finally get some closure, and it appeals to our sense of justice to see bad guys punished. In real life, sometimes there never is closure, and sometimes evil-doers actually get away with murder. But in this show, we can pretend we live in a perfect world, where every crime must be answered for, better late than never.