Thursday, January 14, 2010

Maggie's Films of 2010, January 14: Medium, Season One

#12. Medium, Season One

I am breaking the sacrosanct Viewing Order Protocol to talk about season one of Medium, because fool that I am I decided to throw some TV series in the mix, and as much fun as I've had with a slew of other items these past few days, I can't focus on any of them until I'm done sharing this one. I'd watched an episode or two of Medium before, always intrigued by the curious commingling of 7th Heaven (yes, I grew up without cable and options were limited) and the Crime Show Bandwagon that sprung up around the success of CSI, but I'd never before felt compelled to watch the show in depth. This is because, unlike its superficially gritty, hyper-sarcastic counterparts in the crime show spectrum, Medium's script and production values don't stamp their feet like an insistent six-year-old demanding to be heard. This is especially remarkable when one realizes that Medium isn't just a crime show: since the main character, Allison Dubois, is gifted/cursed with the ability to sense the dead, the future, and the past, it's also an entry in the Supernatural Bandwagon, where Heroes surely stars as the spoiled teen-aged cousin ruining everyone else's good time.

Are these child comparisons getting under your skin? Then Medium's probably not for you, because the spotlight of this show isn't really on Allison's gift, but her family, and the nuanced interplay of real life responsibility framing all her crime-fighting exploits. I actually didn't expect this show to last as long as it did for precisely this reason: Her husband is a calm, sensible scientist whose engagement with the rational doesn't mean always digging for an explanation (as the boyfriend in Paranormal Activity does, and we all know how well that worked out!); but instead recognizing that since a clear trail of happenstance exists, what matters most is how his family goes forward. Meanwhile, her daughters are plain-old children: the middle one's decidedly not twiggy (nor is Allison!), and they're all as demanding and present as any children in real life. And Allison herself? She's an atheist who copes with the facts of her condition without high-tailing it to the nearest church for answers. Truly, considering how down-to-earth the whole gang is, it's a wonder this show progressed into its second season, let alone its sixth.

But as I finally watched the first season in full, in order, I decided I had perhaps been too hard on the show (out of love, of course). The scripts are intelligent, the camerawork is playful while maintaining subtlety, and -- did I mention this already? -- the entire tone of the show is not screaming for attention in the most dramatic, insincere, fast-talking way possible. An absolute idiosyncrasy in Crime Show-verse, to be sure.

One of the best summations of this show's balance actually emerges halfway through the first season, in episode nine, "Coded." In the preceding episodes it's been slowly revealed that Allison's daughters inherited her sensitivity, yielding adverse effects in their own young lives. In episode nine, these adverse effects reach a whole new level when the eldest, ten-year-old Bridgette, dreams of a girl her own age being imprisoned by a very sick older man. Over the course of the episode, Allison and her husband, Joe, struggle with how best to address Bridgette's scary dreams, especially as the underlying truth of them comes to light. After Bridgette describes her dream to a police officer, Allison comes over to her brooding husband on the porch:

ALLISON: He just left. She was wonderful. I think it's going to be fine, I really do. And I believe it could still all go away. The dreams, the prescience. I mean, what choice do we have? A little girl's life could be at stake.
JOE: I know, you're right. I know you had no choice. It's just that two days ago she didn't know there were really monsters. Grown men who snatch little girls and keep them. Or kill them. And now she does. And I hate that.

Yes, a lot of crime shows cope with children. Tangentially, as an add-in every odd episode, and almost always by trotting out the tired stereotype of the absent parent losing touch with his or her kids. Meanwhile, Medium rarely ends an episode with the case, the arrest. Instead it focuses with what comes after: Going home. Gaining perspective. Moving on. And bizarre as this sounds (referring as it does to a show about people who talk to murder victims in their sleep) this simple fact, this universality of responsibility, makes Medium just about the most realistic crime show on air today. And if that doesn't give you nightmares, congratulations: nothing will.

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