Bitchin' Channels

A blog about television and radio with Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly: Crime show car porn

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The 'Red Tomato' Gran Torino played a starring role in Starsky and Hutch. Photo/supplied
The 'Red Tomato' Gran Torino played a starring role in Starsky and Hutch. Photo/supplied

Like many of you out there I've been gorging myself on Scandinavian murder porn: The Killing, The Killing 2, The Killing 3, and my favourite The Bridge. I've even ordered a DVD of Borgen, the political version of The Killing. By which stage I expect to feel like a kid who has eaten both trays of the chocolate box.

Part of the attraction of these Viking CSI's is their cool Scandi demeanour.

While their kitchens, lamps and soft furnishings are way nicer than their American cousins, I did note that the cars used in The Killing are somewhat understated.

There's a smattering of Volvos and Saabs but the heroes drive Ford Focus's and Mondeos.

It's been a time-honoured tradition that cars are very important in crime shows.

Naturally there's the classic TV Batmobile as well as a plethora of hulking units like the one driven by 70's PI Frank Cannon, star of Cannon. The overweight private dick had an enormous 1971 Lincoln Continental, sometimes referred to as the "fatmobile". On Hawaii 50, Jack Lord not only foolishly wore a black suit on the tropical island, but he drove around in a black Mercury Parklane as well.

The car on Starksy and Hutch, a 1975 Gran Torino, inspired a million bad paintjobs on Datsun 120y's and Vauxhall Chevettes.

On Miami Vice it was a white 1986 Ferrari. Don's first car, a 1972 Ferrari Daytona Spyder, was blown up by a rocket launcher in the first episode.

This possibly inspired our own Street Legal in which Jay Laga'aia played a sassy Samoan lawyer. His co-star was a hotted up 1944 Ford Jailbar ute, which he picks up after his Holden Kingswood ute is stolen and broken up for parts. Probably would have used a rocket launcher if the budget had allowed.

I even bought a car partly based on the fact that it appeared in a cop show. It was 1985 Saab 900, as seen on the excellent British cop show Between The Lines. My mechanic congratulated me when I first bought it in for repair, telling me with glee that the only car with more expensive parts was a Rolls Royce. The years that followed proved him right.

In my younger days I also almost bought a Ford Capri because they looked so cool on The Professionals. I even lusted after the beautiful Volvo 1800, as featured on The Saint, until I went for a drive in one. Imagine going over the Waitakere ranges in a chest freezer.

The best cars weren't always cool, but they were usually memorable, especially if they matched the demeanour of the cops or the crims. Rusty old Columbo, played by Peter Falk and his raincoat, drove a rusty old 1959 Peugeot convertible while crusty Inspector Morse ambled around in a dowdy Mark 2 Jaguar.

Breaking Bad has excelled in matching car with star. For most of the show Walter White drove a fugly SUV called a Pontiac Aztec, which was apparently painted in a non-factory beige at the behest of the producer. It's a symbol of the baby-boomer family man who has given up his dreams, but it also signifies someone who has no interest in looking cool, which is ultimately very cool, and befitting a science teacher.

The Aztec is oft sighted in lists of the worst or ugliest cars of all time. (If you have yet to see series 5 of the show an Aztec related surprise awaits you.) His sidekick, Jesse Pinkman, began the series in a garish Chevy Monte Carlo before quickly realising that he looked less like a drug dealer driving a rundown Toyota Tercel. (Corolla Corsa in NZ)

On The Sopranos, cars were symbols of greed and hubris. Tony started out in a large Chevy Suburban but ended up in a gigantic Cadillac Escalade. His nephew Christopher went from a Lexus to a Hummer, while Carmela traded her Mercedes station wagon for a Porsche Cayenne, a bribe from Tony to get her to come back to the family.

Despite my love of cars I really liked that The Killing wasn't playing the game. Having your star tooling around in a Ford Mondeo is like dressing your cast in Glassons or Farmers rather than some designer carry on. It's a non-car, like the ones we drive in real life. It's saying "It's not about the bloody car stupid, it's about the story." The bland car theme even transferred to the American remake, with the American version of Lund driving some nondescript GM sedan, although her wigga sidekick Holder's clapped out Ford seemed a little more art directed.

On the latest and greatest Scandi crime show, The Bridge, the male cop, Martin Rohde, has taken a leaf out of Walter White's book and drives a family man's van, but his partner, Saga Noren is not playing the understated game. Her leather pants should have been a sign but I still got a shock when I saw her pull up in an olive green 1970s Porsche 911. I felt that familiar feeling I had all those years ago when I was watching Between The Lines, just for a second I really, really, wanted that car.

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