Since the dawn of history, stories of courageous warriors combating the devious exploits of the bad guys have thrilled nearly every faction of the human race. Whether it’s a fable from the Brothers Grimm, one of the three-million morality tales featured in that Bible book, or just a good ol’ cops and robbers flick from the ‘70s, the whole “good vs. evil” thing fascinates us to no end. In 1989, a television series entitled COPS came to pass — and with it came about a new era of exploitation: that of the “reality crime” show.
The series, which depicted law enforcement officers pursuing and apprehending some of the scuzziest denizens of America, became a big hit with its viewers — many of whom fell into the same category as the real-life criminals depicted onscreen. And, while there is probably some question as to whether or not COPS was the first program of its kind, it definitely succeeded in breaking the mold of traditional crime series. In fact, the mold was subsequently reshaped in its image. From that point in television history on, it seemed that a good 99% of “reality crime” series focused on nothing but chasing crack-heads and drunk folk.
Twenty-years later, things haven’t changed much. Take, for example, Steven Seagal: Lawman and Dog The Bounty Hunter, two of the more popular shows out there today. Both series have just started up a new season on A&E, and basically present viewers with more crack-heads and drunk folk.
So, what makes them so popular if it’s just the same ol’ shit? Well, for starters, each series features a celebrity (or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof) who sticks his neck out in the name of justice.
Steven Seagal: Lawman (which has just started its Second Season) brings us the adventures of its titular cinematic action icon. In the late ’80s, Seagal became a fully commissioned deputy of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana after being asked to train deputies in the fine arts of self-defense and marksmanship. In 2009, someone had the bright idea to follow Señor Esteban around while he was on patrol and make a TV series out of it. The result was a surprisingly successful show; one that replaced the usual “random police officer” sitting in the front seat with a face that they could identify with (and, as such, relate to).
The series also throws in the occasional peek at Seagal’s personal life. Moments such as Steven playing the blues on his guitar at a benefit for a Children’s Hospital, or of him handing $20 to an intoxicated homeless man on his birthday (as featured in this season) help to remind viewers that this isn’t the stereotypical, hardened and cynical cop kicking suspects in the torso while they’re down on the ground — dispensing spurts of fruity philosophy along the way in the hopes of sounding all-knowing and wise to viewers. Instead, Deputy Seagal — a devout Buddhist — uses his peaceful demeanor, calming (albeit gravelly) voice, and star-status to convince suspects to chill out.
Sure, some of Steven Seagal: Lawman looks like it might be a little too conveniently edited at times in order to appear more “cutesy,” but, hey, it’s Steven Seagal, folks! How cool is that?
The new season of Steven Seagal: Lawman aired on October 6 with “They Drive By Night,” a look at the many perils to be found out on the streets when our endless supply of faithful crack-heads and drunk folk decide to get behind the wheel. New episodes are expected to start airing Wednesday, October 13 at 10/9C.
Another famous face in the world of “reality crime” TV is that of Dog The Bounty Hunter. Imagine, if you will, that some of the white trash periodically seen in Cops were given their own reality show and that would pretty much sum this one up. First broadcast in 2004, Dog The Bounty Hunter brings us the outrageous antics of Duane “Dog” Chapman, an obnoxious and thoroughly unlikable scumbag who looks like he could be a steroid-fueled Joe Dirt. Set in Hawaii, the series follows “Dog” and his equally-icky family of trained bounty hunters as they track down more scuzzy individuals (including crack-heads and drunk folk).
The season premiere (which I suppose is no different than any other episode in the series, really) has the Dog-House running through barren plains of Colorado in an attempt to find “The Ice Man,” a meth-dealer who has been on the run with his pregnant girlfriend since skipping bail. Throughout the episode, Dog and his wife — the incorrigibly trashy Beth Smith — yell at a lot of people; occasionally bringing up how wonderful God is in order to sound like there was indeed some sort of justification in their being born in the first place. They also find the bad guy. Really, that’s about it. As to how the show made it to its Eighth Season is beyond me: it’s a harrowing, nerve-grating homage to all things white trashian — and could serve as proof that even a network like A&E will air just about anything for ratings if someone wanted to present such an argument.
In case you’re interested, the new episode of Dog The Bounty Hunter (“Trouble In Paradise”) will also air on Wednesday, October 13 at 9/8C.
Personally, I’ll take my chances with Steven Seagal. He hasn’t been divorced nearly as many times as “Dog” (the score is currently Steven: 2, Dog: 4), so he must be doing something right.