Aren’t mystery novels kind of weird? Like, what does their prevalence say about our culture?

MV5BNDkzNjkwMDk2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDMyMDczMDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_The most popular kind of fiction (in terms of sales) is, by a huge margin, the romance genre. And that makes sense to me. Falling in love is a major focus in our culture. I'd say it's even more important than finding the right work, since, for most people, the latter is a pretty constricted thing: people generally only have access to a few occupations, and most of those aren't very much fun. Whereas there's _always_ the possibility that you'll fall in love, and your whole life will be transformed.

But the second most popular genre are mysteries. And what is up with that? Murder is an extremely uncommon thing in our culture. And most murders aren't particularly mysterious. They're one spouse killing each another, or maybe someone flying off the handle during an argument. Nor does murder feel, to me, like a particularly common wish-fulfillment scenario. I consider myself a pretty evil-minded person, but there aren't very many people who I'd want to murder. Also, it feels like the the nexus of identification during a mystery novel is usually with the detective: the person who solves the crime and brings the murderer to justice.

So what's the appeal? And why is that appeal particularly strong during this day and age?

I don't know, maybe it's that we live in a time of decreasing social mobility, when people are working more hours and earning less, and people want to be reassuring that stepping outside the system is actually a doomed scenario. They want to be reassured that justice will out and criminals will always be caught, because otherwise their decision to refrain from committing crimes would be more difficult.

That feels particularly true of the crop of anti-hero shows. They're a weird sort of wish-fulfillment. It feels as though people want to imagine what it'd be like to be a meth kingpin or Jersey gangster, but they also want to be reassured that those lives are ultimately difficult, doomed, and unsatisfying.

Also weird: all the shows where the heroes are cops. Like, it's strange to think that the heroes of Law and Order and Brooklyn Nine-Nine are the NYPD: the same cops who're so frequently the target of all this controversy. It'd be easy to say that cop shows are only enjoyed by conservative and retrograde parts of society, but that's obviously not true. For instance, I love a number of cop shows, even though I'm not particularly enamored of real cops.

Oh well, a hundred years from now, some French sociologist will explicate this for the benefit of everyone who's still alive.

Spent the weekend watching two sitcoms that I straight-up loved

brooklyn-nine-nineSo, I am one day from the Bay Area. So many terrible things have happened this week. But I will talk about none of them, and instead talk about the sit-com. I love sitcoms. I even like bad sitcoms. There's something about the form that's very comforting. I like them for the same reason that I like romantic comedies. Most media--even most comedy--portrays the world as a dark and friendless place. But sit-coms and rom-coms take place in a different universe. A nicer universe. One where there are no villains and everyone is good-intentioned and even the most utterly annoying people are beloved by all.

Anyway, this week I've seen two great sit-coms. The first, unfortunately, is cancelled. It also has a really bad name: Don't Mess With The B____ In Apartment 23. It sounds like a pretty terrible (and probably sexist) sit-com, but it was surprisingly good. A twentysomething woman from Indiana moves to NYC for a Wall Street job that she loses on day one. And she falls in with a party girl who is, perhaps, a sociopath. And then, obv, they bond. Also, the party girl's best friend is James Van Der Beek, playing himself. Basically, it's 2 Broke Girls, but much sharper.

The most genius part of the show is probably James Van Der Beek. They wrote him in perfectly. He's a self-obsessed washed-up star, but he's also adorably well-intentioned. I think what makes it work is that his two best friends are these fairly ordinary girls. Most shows about celebrities put their celeb characters into a bubble (think Entourage) where everything is Hollywood and show business. Here, though, you've got people gabbing away in a coffeeshop like it's Friends, but one of them is James Van Der Beek.

How do people even think of this stuff? What do you say at the pitch meeting for this show? I can't even imagine it. Especially since it might not necessarily have been James Van Der Beek attached, right? Like it could've been any number of washed-up celebrities?

Also, James Van Der Beek is surprisingly handsome. I only knew him, up to now, from his guest appearances on How I Met Your Mother, where he was always fat and balding.

Oh, also, the other girl, titular bitch, is amazing. I loved her. She was also a very sharply drawn character. What makes her work is that she's based on something specific: she's one of those NYC club kids who're famous for being outrageous and partying really hard. At one point, James Van Der Beek even talks about how she's the It girl right now. I liked that a lot. She doesn't exist in a vacuum: she is enabled by an entire social setting that the show only intermittently delves into. It's very easy to imagine a version of this show that was much fuzzier, where she was just a girl who drank a lot and went to the bars every night.


The other show I'm watching is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is a sit-com about a Brooklyn detective squad. I'm really fascinated by workplace comedies where people are not terrible at their jobs. In Parks and Recreation, for instance, their main innovation, over the course of the series' run, was ratcheting up the Amy Poehler character's competence level and making her more and more effective at her job. But even in that show, most of the characters are pretty incompetent.

In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, they're not only all superb detectives (even the workaday schmuck who's the butt of everyone's jokes is actually a pretty decent crime-solver), but also all appear to like each other? There are no antagonists at all. It's pretty fascinating. Again, the closest comparison that comes to mind is Parks and Recreation. But in that show, the antagonist was usually the apathy and slovenliness of the city of Pawnee itself. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, even the criminals are pretty genteel and friendly.

I have watched ten episodes of this show and I honestly could not tell you what's happened in any of them. Basically, each episode is just each character doing their thing. Each episode is Andy Samberg grinning an impossibly wide smile and making a funny face; each episode is Andre Braugher using his dour face to deliver a laugh line; each episode is Stephanie Beatriz being unemotional and terrifying.

I don't know. Maybe it'd get old after awhile?

But also maybe not. Sometimes I think sit-coms' primary appeal is their continuity and predictability. They're how I wish the world would be: wide and colorful and warm.