Monday, August 19

Pop Psychology: Take a break from your daily drama and watch crime TV

Skeet Ulrich stars in "Law & Order: Los Angeles," the latest in crime procedurals. (Credit: NBC)

Skeet Ulrich stars in "Law & Order: Los Angeles," the latest in crime procedurals. (Credit: NBC)

Alex Goodman / Daily Bruin

As a college student, you may have noticed that your life is very busy, your nights and weekends always filled with studying and essay writing. You might have overheard some people ““ maybe friends who are still in high school ““ mention something called “free time;” they probably laughed when you asked them to define that term, didn’t they?

Don’t worry, it’s perfectly natural to be curious. And lucky for you, this is a great time to explore, during those few weeks between midterms and finals when you can sit back for a moment and only stress out about next quarter’s schedule.

Might I suggest you take this opportunity to rediscover one of life’s simple joys ““ it’s called television. In the olden days, people bought special electronic boxes just for this purpose, but now you can just use your computer. It’ll seem strange at first, but soon you’ll learn to love the very same laptop you curse at in the wee hours of the morning when it crashes and erases the last six pages of your research paper.

There’s a lot of TV out there, some of it rather complex, so let’s start small, with what’s known as the crime procedural. Basically, it’s a show in which a crime is committed at the beginning of the episode, and a fairly standard cast of characters spends the next half-hour or hour trying to solve it.

Now, you might be wondering: How do I know which crime procedural is right for me? It’s a valid question, because there are literally a billion of them. The good news is, they’re all pretty much the same thing.

A lot of them are about cops. There’s a new one this season, called “Detroit 1-8-7,” which is shaping up to be one of the better examples. And it has two crimes per episode, which is kind of like a buy one, get one free sale ““ except for you, they’ll both be free because you’ll be watching on the Internet.

If you’re looking for less poverty and more palm trees, this season also brought us “Hawaii Five-O,” which is actually a remake of a show from the 1970s.

Like I said, these procedurals are all pretty much interchangeable, so there’s nothing wrong with waiting a few years and then trying the same thing again.

Often the person solving the crime has a special ability, like your roommate who aces midterms without studying, only more applicable to real life.

Patrick Jane on “The Mentalist” used to scam people as a psychic, but now uses his observational powers for good. Richard Castle on “Castle” is a mystery novelist who follows his storytelling instincts to the killer, a clever little in-joke about the predictability of these shows.

If this is getting too complicated, you can always try the USA Network, a one-stop shop for procedurals with slightly quirky characters and not too much darkness. “Burn Notice” has spies; “Psych” is about a fake psychic; “In Plain Sight” follows the Witness Protection Program; and “White Collar” focuses mainly on fraud and art theft.

But if you’re ready for the major leagues, there are two series that have proliferated into multi-limbed behemoths of formulaic television.

“CSI” is about crime scene investigators, and “Law & Order” is about lawyers.

They’re both about solving crimes, and they’ve both spawned enough spin-offs to cover every geographical niche in the country ““ the latest version, appropriately enough, is “Law & Order: Los Angeles.” Someday they’ll join forces with the “Real Housewives” brand of reality shows, and TV will have reached its point of singularity.

Why do we like these shows so much, you might ask? Why do we make so many of them? Well, because they’re entertaining without making us think too much, and because we’d all like to believe that if we weren’t in our dorm rooms studying, we’d be out saving the world, one derivative crime at a time.

Alas, finals will be upon us soon. So, while you still can, pick a show with a cast you like, and join the great American tradition of watching the same thing happen over and over again.

If you love the reliable entertainment of a good crime procedural, e-mail Goodman at
[email protected]

Goodman’s blog, “The Good pick,” runs every Monday at

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