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The Mentalist

Posted on September 15, 2015

Can a Procedural be Horror-Lite?: Considering Red John


There have been some wonderful think pieces recently about the graphic nature of procedural drama and whether the violence and depravity depicted impacts viewers in the long term. Many of the arguments revolve around whether disturbing images trigger thoughts and even actions in viewers. To horror fans, those concerns are familiar ones. And so I was interested in looking at a procedural and how the images presented echoed or contradicted what we see so often in horror.

Selecting the right procedural, however, was complicated. Initially, I thought that the Law and Order franchise, with its graphic depictions of a wide variety of perverse crimes, would most easily fit the bill. However, in viewing numerous episodes, it became clear that the narratives in this franchise were almost exclusively focused on the aftermath of the crimes. The audience is neither asked to participate in the crime as a spectator nor to have an emotional reaction to the crime as it is being perpetuated. The series fails to deliver the emotional arc inherent to the horror film because there is no anticipation of the horrors to come. And so I finally settled on taking a closer look at The Mentalist (CBS, 2008-2015) a procedural that used victimology and gore in a wholly new way.

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