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  • Writer's picturePaul C Mollitt

What is it about crime shows?

Much like the adrenaline rush we get from riding rollercoasters, crime shows allow us to experience a similar thrill from the safety of our sofa. We love to solve puzzles and crime shows cast us as detective alongside the rest of the cast, searching for evidence, scrutinising facts, faces and evidence. We enjoy betting on an outcome based on instinct which can be thrilling when we predict accurately. These shows also tap into our innate sense of good and evil as well as our thirst for justice: the majority of crime shows lead to a satisfying resolution where justice is served - a reassuring restoration of good triumphing over evil.

We all have a darker, shadowy side that often doesn’t get to be expressed and via the comfort of our living rooms crime shows allow us to explore this safely and vicariously. Whilst we are more likely to side with the victims or investigators, crime shows enable us to see through the eyes of criminals for a while, walk in their shoes. True crime in particular grants us access to elements of society that are hidden and frightening - we get to peek inside the minds of criminals and attempt to understand their motives – knowledge is power, as they say. This plus a very human morbid curiosity, perhaps itself a way of contemplating our own mortality from a distance, keeps us glued to the screen, simultaneously excited and appalled.

Crime shows are also pure escapism – exciting and dramatic they take us away from the sometimes routine, ordered predictability of life. However, the immersion in this chaos and danger is controlled and transient and once the show is over, we can return to the bright lights and comfort of our daily lives.

Just like watching a horror film adrenaline is released when watching crime show. When adrenaline is not required as a response to a real-world emergency, it can provide a pleasurable feeling. In addition, our brain may produce endorphins (usually associated with heart-pumping exercise or sex) as well as feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin. The usually discordant feelings of fear and pleasure combined in a safe environment such as watching a crime show can provide an addictive experience that makes you want to keep watching. And come back for more.

Line of Duty in particular has caught the attention of the British public – now in its 6th series it is wildly popular, attracting almost 10 million viewers with its 5th episode this season. We recognise ourselves in Steve Arnott, Kate Flemming and Ted Hastings – imperfections, personal struggles, a sense of duty - and we care about them. The stakes they face are sky high – not only are they police officers, they are anti-corruption police officers and investigate in the most difficult, political, combative circumstances. They are the faces of good over evil and we root for them throughout.

Whilst some crime programmes rely on gore and shock violence to attract viewers, Line of Duty relies on its psychological drama, breathless pace, weekly cliff-hangers and constantly shifting sands to keep oiur invested and rapt attention. Many of the most thrilling scenes aren’t high speed chases or shootings but the police interviews in the transparent rooms of AC-12. In other police procedurals these interviews can be a little dull but in Line of Duty they are gripping – every glance, every word, every newly revealed piece of evidence keeps us on the edge of our seats. A final element that makes LoD so compelling is that the actors don’t often know what is ahead in the plot for their characters, which, along with its litany of abbreviations, past characters arcs and political manoeuvring create one huge jigsaw puzzle with just the right around of frustration and satisfaction.

Whilst US dramas seem to get most of the love and audience share, when a British drama get its right, it gets it very right. Building on the past success of the show, the captive audience during lockdown has translated into record viewing figures – it seems we have longed for the excitement and escapism that LoD provides.

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