Cold Case Files shows how timing, persistence and high-tech police work combine to catch people who have slipped through the cracks for decades.Cold Case Files shows how timing, persistence and high-tech police work combine to catch people who have slipped through the cracks for decades.Cold Case Files shows how timing, persistence and high-tech police work combine to catch people who have slipped through the cracks for decades.
"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.
- Dec 28, 2004