L.A. Noire is set against the backdrop of Hollywood’s Golden Age; a long since forgotten era of crime and mystique. Figures like Al Capone, Bonnie & Clyde and John Dillinger loomed large in the criminal underworld. To many people at the time, these were the true “American Idols” and they captivated us in ways reality television stars could only dream of.
The criminal genre has held a strong presence in American television over the last two decades. Some shows raised the bar (The Wire, The Sopranos, Law & Order); others keep networks afloat (CSI, Leverage, Criminal Minds, Burn Notice); and some simply miss the mark (we’ll refrain from name calling here…)
If police procedurals litter the TV landscape, most of them are modeled around a predictable set of rules: setup, conflict, resolution…all packaged in a 30/60 minute window of time. As the average American television viewer—and network executive—will tell you, this is the format that sells.
Yet a problem arises when attention to detail is replaced by attention to ratings. Gone are the engaging story arcs, the nuances of a villain and the complexities of a crime spree. Even the people solving these mysteries lose their edge. With the exception of shows like The Wire, Twin Peaks, Oz or The Sopranos, you’d be hard-pressed to find a series in the last several years that pays homage to these subtleties.
Enter L.A. Noire.
Acting as the ultimate throwback, this game transports us to a time when criminals were revered and police followed a strict set of ethics. Long before Hollywood found a way to modernize the crime genre (and exploit it for millions), there was L.A. Noire. This is where it all began.
The initial buzz surrounding this game has been huge, to say the least. But marketing hype aside, LA Noire sheds light on an intriguing fact: American entertainment audiences might not be as predictable as once thought. When searching for the next big thing, Rockstar Games eschewed the future in favor of the past. What they found was a world of crime rich in drama, excitement and secrecy.
History, as L.A. Noire aims to prove, isn’t so boring after all.
So where does this leave our avid TV viewers? Are we entering a new era of programming—one that glorifies the past? Shows like HBO’s Boardwalk Empire or AMC’s Mad Men would have you believe so. If done right, these types of series put a unique spin on the entertainment landscape, while exposing younger viewers to time period they never grew up knowing.
However, it would be naïve to think that all television is headed this direction. There are shows presently airing that illustrate masterful attention to detail (Dexter, Breaking Bad & Luther to name a few)—and they do so without much historical reference at all. We may never get a TV lineup devoted solely to the classic crime genre, but it’s comforting to know that the past isn’t completely dead.