Cold Case Files (1999– )

TV Series  -  Documentary | Crime | Mystery
8.2
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Title: Cold Case Files (1999– )

Cold Case Files (1999– ) on IMDb 8.2/10

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Nominated for 2 Primetime Emmys. See more awards »
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1999 (USA)  »

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Referenced in Saturday Night Live: Jason Bateman/Kelly Clarkson (2005) See more »

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Serious stories, laughable delivery
28 December 2004 | by (USA) – See all my reviews

A&E's prime-time whodunit show is chock full of mysteries, but perhaps the biggest puzzler came in late 2003, when the program received an actual nomination for an actual Emmy Award. While nobody claims that the Emmys represent the paragon of mankind's artistic achievement, the fact that "Cold Case Files" managed to sneak into the Outstanding Nonfiction race was a disservice to all the truly talented folks who work in television.

"Cold Case Files," which examines murder cases solved years after their initial investigations, has no trouble rounding up intriguing tales; the real-life crime world, after all, comes with as much drama as any season of "CSI." The show's problem lies in its presentation.

Most glaring is the writing, which is downright atrocious -- often laugh-out-loud bad. It's purple prose at its most ludicrous, loaded with narrative along the lines of, "Jane Smith and her sister have just driven across a rough patch in the road called life." It's bad enough that "Cold Case Files," like so many of today's documentary shows, tells its stories in a jarring present tense. (What's called the historical present tense, to be precise: "John Jones is sentenced to murder in 1978.") Making it worse, though, is that many of the scripts can't keep up with themselves; you'll hear the present tense followed immediately by the past tense, despite no shift in the story's actual chronology. It's almost understandable: Events that took place in the past should be recounted in the past tense, and it's easy to imagine writers occasionally slipping during the struggle against this natural instinct.

Whatever the case, it's bad, bad writing.

There's an air of melodrama, too, oozing out of "Cold Case Files." The show's most inadvertently funny device is the occasional use of dark re-verb on the voices of interviewees, intended to transform certain sound bites ("That's when I knew we had a homicide on our hands") into chilling comments. Instead, in my family room at least, the cheesy gimmick serves as a reliable cue for hearty guffaws all around.

For solid real-life crime drama, Court TV's nightly lineup is a far better bet. Even A&E's own "American Justice" -- produced, inexplicably, by the same folks who botch "Cold Case Files" every week -- is a masterpiece next to this unintended chuckle fest.


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