Thursday, April 20, 2006

The USG (Yeah, You Know Me)

He's as old and reliable as television himself. He's been around, in one form or another, in all crime and mystery shows and their offshoots.

I call him the Unreasonably Skeptical Guy, or USG.

The USG shows up everywhere, but nowhere did he show up more frequently than on Murder, She Wrote. Now for those of you under twenty years old, Murder, She Wrote was a show where Angela Lansbury played Jessica Fletcher, a famous mystery writer who would travel the country visiting cousins.

Every cousin she visited would be accused of murder, and would ask Jessica to please help clear him or her of this wrongful accusation. If I were Jessica's cousin, of course, I would ask her to please go to Howe Caverns or Mount Rushmore and skip my house altogether, since I have enough trouble without running afoul of John Law.

Anyhoo, this show ran forever, and Jessica solved hundreds of unsolvable mysteries, almost all of which had baffled the local police. Just as the cops were about to fry Jessica's cousin, she would step forward and say, "Not so fast, Lieutenant." And then she'd explain what all the cops in Moab, Utah or Truth or Consequences, New Mexico had apparently missed. And they'd put Abby Dalton or Richard Moll in handcuffs and release Kristy McNichol or Danny Pintauro and that's that until next week.

So, back to USG: Next week, when she arrives in the new town, and her cousin (let's say Judith Light) takes her to the local diner she meets the town sheriff (let's say J.T. Walsh) who's a huge fan of hers, just thrilled to meet her. After all, a famous author! He's read all her books! She's solved over a hundred real-life murders! If you need anything while you're in town let me know!

Then a murder happens -- in a locked room with no windows in the middle of a parade -- and Judith Light is a suspect. Jessica asks if she can see the murder scene.

Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, Sheriff J.T. Huge Fan turns into Sheriff USG. Imagine a tone, dripping with unctious patronization: "Mrs. Fletcher, why don't you leave the 'investigating' to the 'professionals'? Mm-kay? Don't you bother your pretty little head about such things. We have a lovely seashell museum. Why don't you spend your day there?"

WTF?? He's the sheriff of Butthead Junction, meanwhile she's got a murder clearance rate of a HUNDRED PERCENT, and he's sassing her? And yet someone did it every week. And then had to eat shit at the end of the episode.

There were shows where the same person had to be USG every week, like Simon Oakland on Kolchak, or Joe Santos on Rockford Files, or Stephen Lang on Millennium. Talk about thick as a brick.

The same thing is true of that guy who always used to give Grissom a hard time on C.S.I. My god, lay off! That squad has the best clearance rate west of NYPD Blue, where Andy and his partners never had anything other than their psychic powers to go by -- "I don't like this guy for it." -- and they were never once wrong... and yet they still got grief from upstairs or downtown or 1PP or whatever.

And why is Courtney Vance always so gloomy on L&O: CI? Jesus, Vincent D'Onofrio has a way of getting people to waive Miranda and make full confessions like no TV detective since Columbo! Cut him some slack, why don'tcha?! (Also, does anyone else have the feeling that breakfast at home with Courtney Vance and Angela Bassett must take hours? "Paaaaassss the maaaaaaaple syyyrrrrrup?" "Iiiiiii'ddd beeeeee glaaaaaaaaaad tooooooooo.")

It's not just cops, either. At this point, why does anyone bother disagreeing with Luka on E.R.? (Especially Kerry, who might as well be wearing a fright wig and carrying a big cartoon saw. Patients, if you hear her coming, even with her new T2 hip, run!)

Anyway, the truth is, I love the USG. There's something satisfying about a good USG. About seeing him get his comeuppance, seeing him have to apologize to Ryan Atwood for misjudging him for the seven hundredth time.

And by the way, the USG used to always be a guy, but no more. In fact, the champion USG of all time is a woman, thanks to the Rosa Parks-slash-Babe Ruth of Unreasonable Skepticism: Special Agent Dana Scully.


Sean Tisdall said...

And now I'm reminded of Richard Diamond continually resented and blocked by quintessential USG, Desk Sergent Otis, the cynical desk jockey with ulcers on his ulcers. Oh, Happy memories of old radio shows.

Thanks for the reminder.

gina said...

Scully, the Quintessential Skeptic! "Mulder, are you suggesting..."

I was never a "Murder She Wrote" fan, but I know *exactly* what you're talking about. Columbo never had a USG, did he?

gina said...

Ooops, sorry Sean - I didn't see that we already had a quintessential skeptic in Desk Sergeant Otis.

norm said...

And the USG is not restricted to American TV.
My son and I were watching some old Japanese Ultraman DVDs yesterday and in one episode (not the first one) a man tries to explain to the Science Patrol that a giant monster destroyed an oil tanker.
The Science Patrol, who's sole job is battling giant monsters, scoffs at the man's story and says he must be drunk.
Boy were they red faced when it turned out the guy was telling the truth!

Michael Markowitz said...

I am unfamiliar with Desk Sgt. Otis, but Scully was, is and always will be THE quintessential skeptic. After my first glowing forest or chupacabra or cancer-eating guy, I would have been incapable of saying "Mulder, are you suggesting...", but goddamn if she didn't stick to her guns. I loved that show more than is reasonable.

Speaking of shows I loved too much, Bruce Kirby showed up on Columbo from time to time as another cop who was, to my mind, a USG.

Also, nearly every cop Sarah Connor meets in the first Terminator movie is, if memory serves, a USG.

Michael Markowitz said...

Norm, you reminded me that the Dick Cheney guy in "Day After Tomorrow" may be cinema's greatest USG... except of course for the real Cheney.

gina said...

I can't believe you're (or were) a huge X-Files fan. I hesitate to reveal the lengths to which I was driven by my love of that show.

This is really beginning to freak me out. Except for that Kellie thing, we may very well be the same person.

Michael Markowitz said...

Don't worry, I fear Kellie will be gone soon and then nothing will come between us.

Here's how devoted a fan I am: I actually watched the Lone Gunmen pilot again yesterday! Eerie to watch them foil a plot to crash a hijacked plane into the World Trade Center...

gina said...

Wow, The Lone Gunmen?! My obsession didn't carry me that far, Mike. ;)

I was not a happy girl when they got killed off, though. Not happy at all.

Michael Markowitz said...

In my defense this is my first time seeing it since it first aired. I am not wearing a pocket-protector or anything. ;-)

gina said...

No need to worry, Mike. When it comes to being a geek, and I mean that in the "pocket-protector/fan-girl" sense, I've probably got you beat!

BTW, my condolences on your girl's elimination the other night on Idol. I can't say I'll miss her, but she did give a very nice little goodbye speech.

Michael Markowitz said...

Thanks for the condolences, but it was time for poor Kellie. I was stunned that the judges were as hard on Kat (my ACTUAL girl) as they were. I thought she was fantastico. I was glad they apologized the next night.

Later, geekette.

Moni said...

Thanks so much for the laugh! I think thats just the way Courtney Vance talks though, his voice is just so relaxing...but its probably more appealing to females!

Breakfast at the Bassett-Vance residence would be real slow...since Angela pronounces every--single--syllable--of every--single--word!! I still love em' though.

They even wrote a book together (Friends:A Love Story) detailing their long relationship as friends before they married. Look for it this Jan!!!

Michael Markowitz said...

Thanks for the tip, Moni! I'm a tremendous fan of both of theirs, but I couldn't resist poking a little fun.