If you’ve ever seen The First 48 on A&E, you probably – as I do – have found yourself avoiding dramatic cop-shows such as Law and Order. Praised and time-honored as the Law and Order franchise might be, their storylines are pretty much crock. Their bad guys are over-the-top truly villainous people whose crimes are planned around L&O’s need for ratings and penchant for preachiness.
The First 48 however, is the real thing. Painfully, terribly so. It’s a reality show, of course! But what a reality! The premise for the series is this: the first forty-eight hours after a homicide are the most crucial. Evidence, witnesses, and the bad guy can simply disappear, fade, or be forever lost.
Each episode focuses on two homicide squads, in different cities. On any Thursday night the viewer might find herself involved in the investigation of a murder in Dallas, Kansas City, MO, Las Vegas, Memphis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, or Miami.
Of course, we develop favorites. The Memphis and Miami squads are superb and stand-outs are Sergeant Caroline Mason, Sergeant Doreen Shelton, Sergeant Tony Mullins, Sergeant Mitch Oliver, Sergeant Eunice Cooper, Sergeant Ervins Ford, Detective Kevin Ruggiero, Detective Emiliano Tamayo.
We see these cops in their humanity. We see the adrenalin pumping in the adrenalin junkies who live to get the bad guy. We see the grief when they have to inform a family member that their loved-one has been murdered. We see their grief for both the victims and the victimizers.
That’s probably the strangest thing about The First 48. These cops know something that most TV cops don’t know: that murderers are not particularly evil. They aren’t even smart. The murderers are generally kids who haven’t got a lick of sense, who get involved in something that goes awry, who gave the devil a finger and the devil took the whole hand. The cops are educated, and mature. They understand common sense and they come in all sizes and shades. The murderers, on the other hand, unfortunately are of a darker hue: hispanic and black, they are often involved in gangs, fighting over the little 1% of the American dream the rich have allowed to trickle down.
When Sergeant Caroline Mason of the Memphis PD is on the case, she shows us that being a cop involves being part spiritual counselor, part trickster-manipulator, part maternal voice of the community, and part investigator. Yet, she’s got to be one of the most ultra-feminine cops you’d ever see. The woman has style, but she also has heart. A young criminal is like putty in her hands. At the end of the investigation, he is usually blubbering as much as we are.
He knows he’s wasted his life. He knows he’s not being the good Christian kid his mom wanted him to be. He knows that one moment of stupidity has cost him his future and possibly his life. If it’s a girl who was playing one guy against another, she knows how volatile hormones can be. And, most importantly, the murderer knows that another human died and didn’t deserve to.
Okay, I’m sounding a bit like a bleeding-heart liberal with a Law and Order fixation. But I can’t help it. The show makes even hard hearts weep. I kid you not. I find myself watching the programs and shouting at those young stupid murderers, “My people! My people! What are you doing to yourselves! And for what? The little cash a drug deal will bring?”
I know many parents don’t feel like sitting their kids down to watch documentaries or straight-up reality shows. But I’m the kind of parent who forced my son to watch Maxed Out, a film about the evils of credit cards; and SuperSize Me, a film about the horrors of fast-food addiction.
So, okay, I’m telling you to plunk your kid down in front of this show. Especially if the kid – like many teenagers in the hood – still doesn’t know how to think before he acts.