This week’s question is a follow-up of sorts from last week’s. In that post, I discussed my transition from finding “Sex and the City” mildly enjoyable to finding it borderline contemptible. Part of it was a new appreciation for how materialistic and self-centered its main characters were. But part of it was my objection to its incredibly narrow, slanted depiction of New York City, the place I love most in this world and one that I felt deserved a richer and more nuanced portrayal. Several of the comments were along the same lines as where I’m going this week.
My objections to “SATC” stemmed largely from my own subjective experience of a particular place. My question this week is more concrete, and was inspired by yet another television show with a female protagonist. (Egads, I’m beginning to think I watch too much TV.) In this case, it was “Major Crimes,” TNT’s spin-off to “The Closer.”
As far as the show itself is concerned, so far I’m enjoying it well enough. What I really enjoy about it is that, like its predecessor, it gives a fitting showcase to a world-class actress who never quite made it big in movies. Kyra Sedgwick was wonderful as Brenda Leigh Johnson, and Mary McDonnell is just as good as Sharon Raydor. The two actresses are very different, and their interplay was one of my favorite parts of later seasons of “The Closer.” I think it’s a brave move on the producers’ part to keep most of the ensemble intact, along with the general theme of the show, but with an equally-talented yet distinctly dissimilar lead.
If you happen to watch the show but didn’t catch last week’s episode, Here Be Spoilers. (There will also be a mild spoiler later for 2009’s cinematic drek-fest “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”) Anyhow, the big reveal at the end of the episode is that the medical resident who mowed down a bunch of people standing outside a nightclub with her car hadn’t been drunk, but had been drugged by her duplicitous boyfriend. He had been calling in prescriptions for Valium and Vicodin using her DEA number, and then dosed her with some at a bar.
Except there’s a gigantic plot hole. The doctor in question was just starting her residency (it was relevant to the plot), which means she would have graduated from medical school scant weeks before. Given that medical license applications in California can take six to nine months to process (not a whole heck of a lot longer than in a few of the states where I’ve been licensed), and that a state medical license is required to get a DEA number, there is simply no way the soon-to-be-resident in question would have one at that point in her nascent career.
The plot hole in “Wolverine” is just as laughable for any pharmacist, nurse or physician that might have been in the audience. (And here comes the spoiler, if such a crappy movie could ever be truly “spoiled.”) A major plot point required that a character be drugged such that her heart rate slowed so much that she could be mistaken for dead. The writers of the movie chose the drug “hydrochlorothiazide.” Friends, hydrochlorothiazide is a real medication. It is a diuretic. It will do nothing to slow your heart. (It would have been a surprising and strange plot twist to have the character wet herself dramatically, but at least it would have been more accurate.)
What I found so galling is the abject laziness both of these mistakes evince. In the first one, if the writers had gone to the least bit of trouble to ask any doctors if the plot held up, they could have been told that changing “resident” to “fellow” would have tidied things up nicely. (Fellows are still in training, it would have still been in keeping with where the plot was going, but fellowships come after residencies and thus fellows pretty reliably have licenses and DEA numbers so they can function more autonomously than residents.) For that risible mess of a movie, it boggles the mind that the mythos that gave us “adamantium” would not admit a made-up drug to accomplish what the highfalutin’-sounding real medication they chose cannot. Just make up a name, you morons!
I realize several things about these objections. They occur in works of fiction, one outlandishly so, that absolutely nobody should be taking seriously as sources of fact. They involve minor plot points, and ones that would not appear on the radar except for a small number of professionally-trained viewers. They are, in the grand scheme of things, the very definition of No Big Deal.
First of all, it feels disrespectful to us professionally-trained viewers. The “Major Crimes” flub yanked me right out of the plot. (By the corresponding point in “Wolverine” I had already rolled my eyes so much I was getting a cluster headache.) It’s why I can’t watch medical shows, and why I imagine most attorneys can’t watch courtroom dramas. (“The Closer” also got a few legal points so wrong on occasion that even I noticed.) If the goal is to appeal to as many viewers as possible, it rankles me a little that carelessness means you’re willing to do without a few. Do a little homework so we can all enjoy your product!
My other beef is more about the principle of the thing. On a certain level, I feel that anything that gives people an inaccurate sense of the world does them a disservice. Maybe not so much with a flick about mutants wailing on each other with their bad-ass powers (of which there was not enough in “Wolverine,” by the bye), but in a show that seems to aspire to a baseline of verisimilitude, shouldn’t things that have an actual factual answer be verified? I’ve some notion, possibly apocryphal, that shows like “CSI” and “Bones” are making it harder for real-life forensics to succeed, in that juries unrealistically expect crime lab experts to take a fiber sample and tell them what brand of dog food the perpetrator’s schnauzer ate that day. Maybe I’ve gotten jaded, but it wouldn’t shock me terribly to learn that some hypertensive “Wolverine” viewer decided to stop taking her medication because she didn’t want it to stop her heart.
It’s one thing to grouse that the show you like is insufficiently comprehensive in its depiction of a particular place and/or time. Maybe you think a show set in New York should have included some aspect of life that didn’t revolve around designer goods or high-end cocktails. Perhaps you think life in WWI-era Britain should be more accurately reflected than through the viewpoint of a mostly good-hearted bunch of aristocrats. But one could argue that “SATC” and “Downton Abbey” offer a plausible view of some people’s lives in those places and times.
Is there an obligation to not simply get things wrong? Plainly, baldly wrong? If so, how big an error is acceptable? How much homework or fact-checking should script runners do? Or can everyone just make up whatever they want, and hope it seems accurate enough, and that maybe they too will one day be picked as a vice-presidential nominee? (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
Where does one draw the factual accuracy line? Is there a line? Or should I just lighten up?