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It’s Noirvember again, and with everyone feeling rattled from the present day world around, this is the ideal month to celebrate the noir genre and time travel back to when independent investigators and nail-tough “everymen” took to the crime-infested streets of the The City, and when femme fatales controlled every private dick.
The noir genre has never left the cinematic world, but the sultry black and white era of the 1940s and early 50s is how we love it bit best. This is part of the reason so many modern-day television series (including shows in the superhero, fantasy, and science fiction genres that already rely heavily on escapism to entertain the masses) embrace it. (RELATED: 5 Extremely Goofy and Fun Monster Movie Style Videos from the 1980s)
Star Trek’s original series, Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Next Generation have all had their little tributes to noir, my favorite being when Jean Luc Picard is stuck on the holodeck in the persona of Private Investigator Dixon Hill.
Something about the mashup between the future and the fantastic with the dark romance of past eras is just appealing to writers, even when the fans don’t completely embrace it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it most definitely does not. These episodes are often panned by viewers (heck, just read IMDB comments on some of these), and seem to come in later seasons when writers say, “Hey, let’s do a noir,” but it feels like nearly every long-running show has one.
If you aren’t looking to take anything too seriously and need some escape, here are five episodes from contemporary shows that embraced the noir world for one episode, with varying results.
Quantum Leap: “Play It Again, Seymour – April 14, 1953.” Quantum Leap was one of those fun fantasies that helped us transition from the Back to the Future loving 80s to the grungy 90s, and with Scott Bakula’s Sam Beckett jumping all over the Twentieth century, it was inevitable he would land in the body of a private detective and Humphrey Bogart doppelgänger. This isn’t the most action packed of episodes, but provides some witty banter, especially when a still young Woody Allen mistakes Beckett for Bogey.
Lucifer: “It Never Ends Well for the Chicken.” In the latest season of this year’s Netflix dominator, this was the episode I was most looking forward to but enjoyed the least. Set up as a flashback style story to Trixie (about how Lucifer acquired his ring) this episode fell a little short of its potential, especially with the deliberate gender-bending casting that was more distracting than useful. Still, it’s worth a watch as the use of noir style effects and lighting made it visually appealing, even if the story couldn’t live up to the look. The best line, however, wasn’t in the 40s flashback but when Lucifer says, “Forget it, Trix, it’s Chinatown,” and she has no idea to what he was referring. The nuance was there in the episode, but it could have been so much better.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: “Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me.” I feel like I should be watching this show more than I do, but really the only episodes that are interesting to me have the underused character of John Constantine. One of these episodes took place in 1940s Los Angeles, and Constantine was still underused. Still, it is always cool to see how different shows take a fictional look at real life people like “Bugsy” Siegel. Set in 1947 when the real life Bugsy was “offed” it came across a little campy, but that seemed the intention.
Supernatural: “A Most Holy Man.” This quest for the blood of a “most holy man” follows much of the elements of The Maltese Falcon, but unlike many noir episodes, they keep it in modern day. I actually appreciated this fact, because it showed how noir is more of style of filming and storytelling that doesn’t necessarily have to be set in the 1940s. Of course, some fans jumped on this one as not being action packed and dark enough, but I like the more light hearted episodes. My teen has been a Supernatural fan for several years, and you can only take so much brotherly brooding. I mean, this episode is no “Scoobynatural,” but still…there’s copious use of the word “chicanery.”
Doctor Who: “The Angels Take Manhattan.” This Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) episode wasn’t just a trip back to 1930s New York, it was a pivotal episode in the series. It’s the last time we see companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams, who lived out the remainder of their lives “in the past,” and most importantly, we learn the Statue of Liberty is a Weeping Angel (or at least possessed by one), one of the most terrifying villains in the series (seriously, Google them). One big noir connection is the mystery, particularly the tie-in of a prophetic pulp novel, Melody Malone: Private Detective in Old New York, written by “The Doctor’s Wife,” River Song. Therefore, expect “spoilers.”
Judge for yourself, but love these episodes or find them straight cringe, writers can’t help but tackle a good (or not so good) noir story. I’m just glad they are giving it a go. And if these episodes open up a door of curiosity for some viewers to pursue some older classics, then I hope more contemporary shows keep dabbling in the genre.
And if you don’t like these, well, “We’ll always have Paris.”