Has it ever struck you how dominant the presence of recovering alcoholic Catholic characters is in American dramatic TV series? Or is it just the shows I happen to watch?
Last night, while channel-surfing, I happened to watch an entire episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." The episode was named "Hammered," and it originally aired on 14. October 2009. I'm not a big fan of the series. I think Mariska Hargitay is very good-looking, and that's usually about the extent of my interest in the show. But last night, I happened to pause on whatever channel was running a block of episodes of the show, a few minutes from the end of the previous episode, "Solitary," because Stephen Rea's face was onscreen and he was talking about how you can't know what solitary confinement is like without experiencing it, and I watched the rest of the episode, where Christopher Meloni decides to find out what it's like and spends 3 days in the cell Rea was in and goes a bit cuckoo, and then Rea is convicted and sentenced to go back to prison and back to solitary, and as he's dragged from the courtroom he screams at the judge to please just kill him instead, the way a suffering dog would mercifully be killed -- and I guess I don't have to spoil the ending for you in case you haven't seen that episode yet.
Anyway, I kept pausing my surf, which took me right into "Hammered," which begins with Scott Foley, whom I know mostly from his good work portraying Sean Kelly, waking up face-down on the floor in a big apartment with a dead woman in the next room and blood all over the place. Anyway, I guess I don't have to spoil that episode either; let's just say that it could've been entitled "An Extremely Unsubtle Argument For The 12-Step View Of Alcoholism."
The thing is, exactly the same title would fit very well on lots and lots of episodes of the shows in the "Law & Order" franchise, and "NYPD Blue," and "Ray Donovan," and, come to think of it, "Scrubs" as well, although it tends to fit better with drama than comedy.
Come to think of it: a whole lot of those recovering alcoholic Catholic characters on the tube are Irish recovering alcoholic Catholic characters. Add "Hack" to that list of shows.
I suppose it's possible that I've just stumbled across shows with such characters by accident, and that American TV as a whole does not feature Irish Catholic recovering alcoholics in 12-step programs all that prominently.
I used to assume that there were an awful lot of Irish Catholic recovering alcoholics among the higher tiers of the entertainment industry, where it is decided what TV shows will be made. But I've begun to reconsider that. Look at it this way: there are an awful lot of TV shows and movies with characters who are Italian gangsters. Does this mean that the Mafia runs a big chunk of Hollywood? I don't think so. Mafias shows are a genre. Westerns are a genre. Maybe all of these shows with Catholics (often Irish Catholics) who are recovering alcoholics and cops, or ex-cops, or other people who work with or against the cops, or sometimes with the cops and sometimes against them -- maybe that's all just another genre.
Westerns have elements like cattle drives and campfires, and one-street towns in the middle of the desert, and saloons and showgirls and shootouts -- elements which are familiar to viewers, and for which there are well-established rules about using them to build stories, rules you can follow or bend or satirize, but they're there in everyone's minds in any case.
In these shows I'm thinking about, alcoholism (as explained by 12-step programs) and law enforcement, and a protagonist (often Irish) who is a tough guy but a good guy, and is good friends with the same priest he goes to for confession (often not as often as the priest thinks he should), and the interesting visuals of churches and bars and police squad rooms and confessional booths and jails -- now that I come to think about, these are used very much like the common elements of other genres.
Maybe these kinds of shows have little or nothing to do with actual Irish-Americans deciding what kinds of shows get made, and much or everything to do with simply being another genre, like Westerns or Mafia shows. Maybe actual Irish-Americans react to these shows in ways similar to how Italian-Americans react to typical Mafia shows.
I don't know. I'm just sayin' is all.