Thursday, February 19, 2009

Top Five Clues in Television Shows

I have told several people that I am composing a Top Five Clues in TV Show list and each and every one of them responded the same way. “Clues? Wait, what do you mean?” Perhaps my friends don’t watch any shows that have a mystery in any way (Yet I would argue that The Hills is a criminal in nature, but that’s another article) or perhaps they don’t realize the fun and interactivity that some shows provide.  Today I’m going to profile the clues that I think are fun, subtle and intelligent. Starting with….


#5. Pushing Daisies – Narrowing It Down

Pushing Daisies is one of the cleverest and most inventive shows to hit the small screen in quite a long time. So of course it has recently been canceled. (This will be a common theme in this article.)  The show follows a pie maker named Ned (Lee Pace) who has a unique ability. If he touches anything dead, it becomes alive again unless he retouches it and then it is permanent. If the dead is alive for longer than a minute, then someone else must die in its place. So every episode Ned teams up with his cynical private detective friend (Chi McBride) and his recently alive again love-of-his-life (Anna Friel) to solve a mystery by asking the corpse who killed them. In almost every episode, the victim doesn’t know who killed him or his clue is too cryptic to provide an easy answer. Yet in the first season in an episode entitled “Bitches” a dead man says that his wife killed him. Startled by his direct answer, they return him to his peaceful rest, until they discover that he was a polygamist and they have to figure out which of his four wives committed the crime. It was a clever touch on the writers part and, as always, the solving of the crime is way too much fun.

#4. Alias – Big heart = Loving Heart?

SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE FINALE. In the first season superspy Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Gardner) is a double agent for the CIA to help bring down the evil SD-6. Midway through the first season none other than Quentin Tarantino reveals there is a mysterious villain to both organizations named “The Man.” I caught up on this show on DVD so through the spoils of pop culture, I knew the identity of “The Man” from the very beginning. This did work in my favor so I was able to see the clues they laid out the denouement. Especially in the first season, Alias was jam packed with information. So many things happened in one episode, that a plot summary could take pages. So when the Q-esque character discovered “The Man” has an enlarged heart, no one took much note of it. Another part of the season deals with a doomsday prophecy of someone with descriptions that included an enlarged heart among other things. The CIA freaks out because Sydney matches all of those descriptions, but by the end of the episode they realize the prophecy can’t be talking about Sydney, but her KGB mother. Luckily she’s dead…or is she? She isn’t and it turns out “The Man” is actually a woman.

#3. Arrested Development – Cuter Forrest Gump

SPOILERS FOR SEASON THREE. I adore this show. Adore. I have yet to find comedy writing that is so clever and so layered. Don’t bother checking your TV Guide, it was canceled years ago. Luckily it was able to produce three seasons of genius as we followed the self-absorbed Bluth family. Michael (Jason Bateman) is often considered the only sane one on his family tree, but even he tends to be oblivious when it comes to certain things. The biggest blunder was not realizing the woman he was casually dating, Rita (Charlize Theron), was mentally challenged. The entire season was playing with the audience, having us think that she is mentally challenged or perhaps a secret agent trying to uncover all of the Bluth’s criminal actions. (Only this show could pull this off). Michael met Rita in a section of L.A. called Wee Britain, a spoof on places like Chinatown. While waiting for Michael to pick her up from preschool (He thinks she’s a teacher. She’s not.), she is sitting on a bench advertising that part of town, but she’s blocking the “it” in “Britain” to make the sign say “Wee Brain.” It is such as subtle joke/clue that I didn’t notice it until I saw the episode for a second or third time. Although this seems like the show is making fun of the mentally challenged, I swear that it isn’t. In the entire show there is no character who is sweeter and more sincere than Rita. It is her presence that reminds the audience how morally terrible the Bluths are, but also reminds us how fun it is to follow them.

#2 . LOST – Wonderwall

SPOILERS FOR MIDWAY THROUGH SEASON THREE. I love LOST. I think it’s one of the greatest achievements in storytelling and the best mystery show on TV right now. That said, I dislike LOST when I have to briefly summarize the show because I sound crazy. Here it goes. After miraculously surviving the explosion of the underground hatch on a mysterious island, it appeared that Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) is able to see visions of the future. He saves the life of Claire (Emilie de Ravin) twice before Hurley (Jorge Garcia) and Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) ask him what is going on. That is finally answered on the episode “Flashes Before Your Eyes” when we see what happened to him after the explosion via flashback. We see he had traveled back in England several years in the past. (More like Slaughterhouse-Five than Back to the Future). He is freaking out a little bit, as anyone should, for he has memories of being on the island. It isn’t until he sees Charlie performing the guitar on the street for him to seriously lose it. This is when the clue is placed. Charlie is playing the fantastic song “Wonderwall” by Oasis when Desmond is walking by. The line that Charlie sings as Desmond walks by is “Maybe, you’re going to be the one that saves me.” By the end of the episode back in the present on the island, we learn Desmond hasn’t had grave vision of Claire but of Charlie. Here he gives his haunting mini-speech. “I’ve tried twice to save you, but the universe has a way of course correcting and – I can’t stop it forever. I’m sorry. I’m sorry because no mater what I try to do you’re going to die, Charlie.” The reason I love this clue is because it’s very subtle, but rewarding. It further reminds us that every single time the show references a book or a song, it usually applies to the show’s mythology. It is also memorable because the clue is rich with emotion. Despite delving into sci-fi on occasion, LOST is a show about characters and their struggle with life and fate. The best example of that is Desmond and Charlie’s storyline in Season Three which really kicked off with this episode.

#1.  Veronica Mars – You dirty rat, you dirty rat…

SPOILERS FOR SEASON TWO. This show is the only show on the list that is a bona fide mystery show. It is also, I think, the greatest example of neo-noir as it follows a high schooler named Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) who has all of the essence of a great noir PI. She is an outcast in her society, she breaks the rules, gives amazing narration, and she has a real anti-social disposition. Season Two is the show’s opus. In the first episode of the season, a bus full of Veronica’s peers falls off a cliff and kills everyone. It was incredibly shocking and the rest of the season is about trying to figure who caused this to happen. The season is full of clues and misdirection and false leads. It’s miraculously plotted so much that I often felt overwhelmed on its first viewing. At the end of one episode, appropriately titled “Rat Saw God,” Veronica’s dad (Enrico Colantoni) found a dead rat was taped under a seat on the bus. Why the clue gets my #1 spot is because it successfully tricked me. Veronica automatically interprets the rat as a metaphor. That she ratted someone out and the bus was intended to kill her. There have been so many clues and so many threads in this mystery, the audience nods in agreement as we see where the story goes from here. Yet Veronica was wrong. It wasn’t until the very last episode as they confront the mastermind do we realize the rat was there entirely for its smell. For some students got off the bus early because of the horrid smell and that provided an alibi for the mastermind. It was incredibly subtle for the season finale doesn’t have time to go back to each and every clue and explain itself so they don’t even have time to mention this. It wasn’t until I re-watched this season with my family that I realized how they tricked me. The show is brilliant in that regard. So of course this was canceled as well. Oi.


Originally written for Pomp & Circumstantial Evidence. Learn more about that at

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