Crime Television… Europe vs USA

In terms of crime television two major variations are present, one being the American crime fiction and the other being European, but mainly British, crime fiction. The two differ greatly in some areas. For example, in American crime television there is a greater amount of dialogue. I feel that this may be used as they do not believe that the visual image is enough for American audiences to engage with. Also American crime fiction has a greater amount of violence in comparison to European crime fiction. This may show that visual images and sound are both not enough as a stand alone medium but must be combined for an American audience. Compare this to European crime fiction. Usually one extreme act of violence takes place as opposed to many violent acts. This one act of violence then forms the basis of the programme as the investigation into this act of violence slowly unravels the plot to show the entire narrative.

Another difference between American and European crime television is that in American crime television the law takes centre stage. By this I mean that the central character is often bound by laws and red tape and is unable to enact full justice unless he acts outside the law. This creates the character of the American maverick detective who often operates outside the law and always solves the case. With European crime television the central character will often be bound by corruption within the law system. This usually involves police men doing deals with criminals. The central character in European crime television will usually have to act alone as there is little differentiation between the criminals and the police. In usual circumstances the law structure will turn against the character that refuses to engage with the corruption. This in turn sets up the battle for the character to clear his name and battle against all organisations that oppose him. When the central character solves the case in European crime fiction it is a great triumph as he/she has taken down mush more that just one criminal organisation.

In my opinion European crime television contains higher levels of realism in comparison to American crime television. In American television, the characters are superficial and do not reflect the average person living with in the society which they are portraying. I feel that this is because the average American mentality is much more different to the mentality of Europeans. The average American see’s superficial characters and aspires to be like them. The average European see’s superficial characters and immediately spots the falseness of that character. This is why more ‘average’ looking people play the central character in Euro crime fiction. Also it is easier for people to relate to ‘real’ people. I say that European crime is more realistic but there are exceptions. For example, in the series “Midsummer Murders” more than one inhabitant of a small English village is killed every day. If this program was to contain any realism then the village would uninhabited within a few weeks.

There is a great difference between American and European crime television. It is hard to say if these programs are made to suit the taste of the viewers or if the viewers adapted to these programs over time. If the latter is true then it may be fair to say that television has moulded and shaped the minds of people everywhere.

2 thoughts on “Crime Television… Europe vs USA

  1. I was born in America (of Danish and Spanish parents), but I’ve always considered myself European. You can see that in my musical tastes. Only 2 Americans made my list of essential listening in the 70’s.

    I love British Telly, and your analysis is spot on. Perhaps that helps explain why I currently do not own a T.V.


  2. Personally, I can’t speak much to this topic because I don’t watch many crime shows, but I know of at least three examples that don’t come close to your stereotypes.

    Luther, an excellent and highly popular British series, is all about a frustrated but brilliant guy who can’t get things done within the law. The first scene of the series is about him letting a criminal fall to his death because red tape prevented him from stopping him the first time. The rest of the series is about constant criminal activity by Luther in order to evade the law and get things done.

    The Wire, probably the greatest crime drama ever made, in notorious for how insanely realistic it is, discussing politics and corruption in mind numbing detail, and not of some hypothetical government, but the ACTUAL Washington, D.C. government. Freaking crazy.

    Then there’s Sherlock, a British show with 1.5 hour long episodes rife with the most unrealistic (they were torn out of the books after all), astonishingly boring characters ever conceived. Holmes himself looks like he’s freaking 12 and he’s supposed to be this world renowned detective with this rich past?!

    I think sure, on shows like Law and Order where you have to generate massive numbers of episodes every season (and after 15+ previous seasons), plot holes and quickie, one dimensional characters will be all over the place because writers just can’t do better in that short a time frame and that much material to pump out without repeating oneself. But I think you’re oversimplifying here. The U.S. has its solidly written, character driven, highly realistic, low episode count shows, and it’s popular shows like Law and Order. It’s not an and/or proposition.


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