I wish it wasn’t so annoying that the utterly predictable is often so utterly satisfying. I say this after watching the first season of the British police drama ‘Happy Valley’. Good writing, sure. Good acting, sure. People calling each other “scrotes” – awesome! Plotting by numbers – absolutely. There were practically no scenes in these six episodes that couldn’t have been drawn out of a hat by a deaf, dumb and blind lover of crime fiction. Will the child be endangered? You betcha. Will the hero have a meltdown and tear off her stripes? Of course she will. Will the bad guys all be punished and the victims come through coping well enough? You’d better believe it.
I was browsing through one of the few truly excellent bookstores still standing in the Bay Area yesterday (Moe’s in Berkeley – there aren’t many left) and stood amazed before the used ‘mystery’ section which was filled with classics of the genre, from Simenon to Jim Thompson to Chandler and Hammett and the many, many others who have been copied and pasted and copied and pasted down through the decades to surprisingly still effective results. Those guys plotted the hell out of the numbers, too!
It works. Of course it does, the same way a perfectly catch pop tune gets you tapping your feet. It’s infuriating but you can’t go arguing with it. They’re throwing a strike down the middle every time. Who doesn’t love the thing that just works? Even though you know that many try and few succeed although they are ALL trying to do exactly the same thing! How many crime dramas are there on the telly? How many of them are really the same? Almost all, and yet, I don’t know, maybe it’s the pallette itself. Maybe plotting by numbers comes down to the numbers themselves, like a lucky winning lottery ticket. There’s nothing special about 8, 23, 19, 47, 75 except when they happen to win somebody millions of dollars.
Plotting by numbers is guaranteed success, as long as you’re plotting with the right ones.