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Friday, November 09, 2012

Cold Case

Before we begin with this week’s case study in the world of television, I would first and foremost like to apologize for not being able to post the intended blog entry for Thursday night.  I had some major computer problems which forced me to uninstall and reinstall several programs last night, and the piece that I was working on ended up being an innocent casualty in the war against my computer.

I am back up and running again, and I will try my best to remember what I typed out the last time so that I can attempt once more to kick off the new weekly feature for Thursdays.  So stay tuned for November 15th, you hear?

Today’s topic is a show that happened to combine two of my all-time favourite things, which is why I was so miffed that the show was cancelled without much fanfare or warning despite a seven year run on CBS.

I think it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of pop culture.  But to be a little more specific, I am a huge fan of retro pop culture.  Sure, I do talk about a few current events here and there, however the majority of these entries are based on pop culture references that are twenty years or older.  I’ve always been fascinated by older songs, movies, television shows, and other miscellaneous tidbits involving the world of entertainment.  Part of the reason why I started up the Tuesday Timeline feature was because of my love of pop culture from the past.  Every time I do a Tuesday Timeline, I always have a blast because I learn a lot of things that I did not know.  And sometimes it’s cool to flash back to the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s to experience another time period that I wasn’t around for.

And I’ve admitted this on the blog before but I have always loved a good mystery.  In particular, murder mysteries.  I love watching along, trying to find out who the murderer is.  Finding clues, watching the suspects being interrogated, searching for answers at crime scenes...yeah, I get a high watching them, reading about them.  In fact, I’d love to take part in one of those murder mystery dinners or theatre performances one of these days.  I think I might just add that to my bucket list!

Would you be shocked if I told you that today’s television spotlight deals with a show that successfully blends together murder mysteries and pop culture of the past?

It’s true! 

Have you ever heard of a term known as a “cold case”?  Well, a cold case is what happens when a murder investigation or a missing persons case remains unsolved because the trail to find the perpetrator or victim has no resolution.  Sometimes, cold cases can be reopened when a new clue is found, a new witness comes forward, or a family member contacts the police in the quest of finding closure for the death of their loved one.  And when cold cases are reopened, the detectives who investigate the case never know what they will find.

Just ask Detective Lilly Rush.

Who’s Lilly Rush?  She happens to be the main character of today’s show.

Today is the day that we’re going to be discussing the CBS drama “Cold Case”.  Debuting on September 28, 2003 and ending on May 2, 2010, the show starred Kathryn Morris as Lilly Rush, the only female detective on the homicide squad of the Philadelphia Police Department.  She was the detective who specialized in “cold cases”, attempting to solve old cases from Philadelphia’s police records.  The series was created by Meredith Stiehm, and was produced by Stiehm and Jerry Bruckheimer.

When the show first began, Lilly was partnered up with Detective Chris Lassing (Justin Chambers) for the first four episodes of the series, and after Chambers left the series, Lilly’s new partner was Detective Scotty Valens (Danny Pino) who stayed until the end of the series.

Other regular characters included John Finn as Lieutenant John Stillman, Thom Barry as Will Jeffries, Jeremy Ratchford as Nick Vera, and Tracie Thoms as Kat Miller.

For the most part, each episode of the show focused on one particular case that took place during a different time period.  The very first episode of “Cold Case” for example was set in the summer of 1976, where Lilly had to investigate the murder of a teenage girl.  In that episode, as Lilly interviewed the people who were linked to the murder victim twenty-seven years after the murder occurred, the viewer was taken back to 1976 through flashbacks of what really happened the day she died.  In a lot of cases, two sets of actors were brought in to play the same this case we’d see the characters as they appeared in 1976, and how they appeared in 2003.

As a result of this, it wasn’t uncommon for “Cold Case” to have at least ten or more guest stars appearing in one episode.

The show also made great use of its musical soundtrack.  In fact, I think part of the reason why I was so fascinated by “Cold Case” was largely due to the fact that we would hear music from the era that the particular episode was set in.  If the cold case was set in...oh, say...1994, then we’d likely hear a lot of grunge music.  If the case was set in 1979, the episode would be filled with a selection of disco favourites.  If the episode featured a case from 1965, you might expect to hear a lot of songs from the “British Invasion”. 

TRIVIA:  There were even episodes of “Cold Case” filmed that featured several songs by the same artist.  Some of the artists and bands that ended up getting their own episode filled with their music included Bruce Springsteen, U2, Pearl Jam, Johnny Cash, Nirvana, The Doors, John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan, and Tim McGraw.  The show even featured soundtracks from films and musicals including “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Cabaret”.

And whenever we were taken back to the flashback scenes, we really got a glimpse of just how hard the costume and prop people had to work in order to recreate various years.  Mind you, if the case was set in the 2000s (which some were), there was very little work that had to be done.  But when you consider that the show went as far back in time as 1919 to solve a cold case, you know that a lot of work went into designing the period costumes, transforming modern neighbourhoods into 1920s America, and making the flashbacks seem as realistic as possible.  Most of the time, the episodes got it right.

It was also quite interesting to see some of the real life issues that were hot-button issues in America at the time being explored in the various cases that “Cold Case” depicted.  When the topic of abortion became a huge concern in the late 1960s, the show did a case on that in which two people ended up getting murdered for helping women get them.  The subject of racism was touched upon a few times.  There were even some cases that were shown in parallel to real-life events, such as Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, the first time man walked on the moon, and the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

And that’s not counting the fact that we were also shown the personal trials and tribulations of each of the detectives.  In the seven years that “Cold Case” was on the air, Lilly’s been shot, kidnapped, had to deal with an alcoholic mother (played by former Family Ties actress Meredith Baxter), and had to endure heartbreak several times.  Her partner Scotty, had to deal with the death of someone he loved because of schizophrenia.  Vera went through a bitter divorce, Jeffries lost his wife in a hit-and-run car accident and almost died in a robbery attempt, and Stillman ended up being a detective who assisted in cases that had gone cold the first time around, helping Lilly find answers years later.

All in all, it was a really interesting program that I wish was still on the air...especially since the final episode didn’t exactly wrap things up nice and tidy in a big red bow.  But I ranted enough about CBS last week with my “Joan of Arcadia” entry.

Instead, I thought I would end this note off by sharing with you some of my favourite “Cold Case” episodes.  There’s a list of ten in all.  Seriously, check them out as many of them air in syndication today.  Unfortunately, you cannot get the series on DVD (and most likely you won’t due to the copyright laws surrounding some record companies), but here’s hoping that one day, it’ll be released.

These are my Top 10 Cold Case episodes, in order that they aired...

CHURCHGOING PEOPLE (Season 1, Episode 4)
Original Airdate:  October 19, 2003
Date of Crime:  February 1990

This episode was really one of the first ones that featured a storyline that drew me in.  The patriarch of a family that was very active in their church is found dead in 1990, and thirteen years later, the family is completely torn apart.  The two children are damaged beyond repair and the widow is suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.  But when the woman begins to remember bits and pieces of the day her husband died, Lilly is determined to decipher her cryptic clues.  In the end, the murder is probably one of the more graphic and scary ones of the first season.

DISCO INFERNO (Season 1, Episode 15)
Original Airdate:  February 22, 2004
Date of Crime:  February 1978

Sometimes the plots for "Cold Case" take inspiration from real life events to tell a story.  In this case, "The Station" night club fire served as the inspiration behind this tragic tale in which several people lost their lives in a fire at a discotheque.  But when one of the victims, Benny Rosen, is found to have a bullet hole in his skull, it's enough for Lilly to determine who killed Benny and set the dance floor on fire...literally.

THE SLEEPOVER (Season 2, Episode 6)
Original Airdate:  November 7, 2004
Date of Crime:  November 1990

This case was disturbing because of two things.  One, the victim was a twelve year old girl.  Two, the main suspects were all twelve year old girls at the time.  Initially, it was believed that the killer was a mentally disturbed man...but when the team discovers that some of the activities at the slumber party that the girl attended before her death were also disturbing, the true nature of the crime is revealed.

MIND HUNTERS (Season 2, Episode 9)
Original Airdate:  November 28, 2004
Date of Crime:  November 1985

This is the beginning of a story arc for Lilly, as the conclusion of this story actually airs as the final episode of season two.  In this episode, the team try to search for the identity of a serial killer who murdered eight women over a 20 year period.  And John Billingsley, who played the main suspect of this crime, was so creepy in his role.  I ended up getting goose bumps!

TIME TO CRIME (Season 2, Episode 13)
Original Airdate:  January 30, 2005
Date of Crime:  August 1987

The victim is one of the youngest to be killed on the show...a six year old girl is shot in a crowded inner city playground.  When the gun that was used in the shooting is turned into a gun exchange program, we're sent back in time over an eighteen year period to try and trace the gun's path, to find out who owned the gun at the time the girl was shot.

THE PROMISE (Season 3, Episode 2)
Original Airdate:  October 2, 2005
Date of Crime:  October 2004

This one made me cry.  I'm man enough to admit it.  Never mind the fact that the focus of this episode is bullying.  Never mind the fact that the victim of this crime was one of the sweetest girls to pass away on this show.  In the end, despite everything that happened, you'll witness a display of true friendship right until the end when the fire from the burning fraternity house claims the life of someone dear.

A PERFECT DAY (Season 3, Episode 9)
Original Airdate:  November 27, 2005
Date of Crime:  August 1965

This episode pulled in 19 million viewers, the highest rated episode of Cold Case ever.  It tells the story of a four year old girl whose remains washed up on the beach, and when Lilly investigates, she finds the twin sister who survived, as well as a case of child and spousal abuse, and one mother's desperate attempt to flee.

FIREFLIES (Season 4, Episode 8)
Original Airdate:  November 12, 2006
Date of Crime:  October 1975

This case was one that dealt with the discovery of a letter that was written by a child who went missing in 1975.  Everyone had given up on finding her...except the childhood friend who she used to send secret messages to during their childhood.

THE GOOD-BYE ROOM (Season 4, Episode 16)
Original Airdate:  March 4, 2007
Date of Crime:  May 1964

Teen pregnancy was a big no-no in 1964.  So big that whenever a teenage girl got pregnant, they were sent away to give birth and then forced to give the baby up for adoption.  When one of the mothers ended up dead, Lilly is sent to investigate.  What she discovers is a truly tragic story in which one mother sacrificed EVERYTHING for her child.

JUSTICE (Season 5, Episode 10)
Original Airdate:  November 25, 2007
Date of Crime:  May 1982

Did I mention that not all the victims in Cold Case were sympathetic or nice characters?  After you hear the story of this creep, you might actually cheer along with the people who tried to kill him (as well as celebrate the one who did).

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