Minority Report: Why Comparing it to Sleepy Hollow isn’t a Bad Thing

So Minority Report’s first two episodes are under our belts, and the overall response has been mixed at best. It’s to be expected, when a network chooses to take on creating a show inspired by a movie. It’s even more risky when it involves something that falls within the genre of Science-Fiction. It’s putting a show in the position of being scrutinized, critiqued, and damn near crucified by two of the hardest audiences to please, Sci-fi geeks and Film Nerds. Minority Report has not gotten out unscathed.

One of the biggest (and most frustrating) complaints that I keep seeing about the show so far is the fact that it reminds too many people of too many other shows. To put it bluntly, Minority Report is the illegitimate love-child of FOX’s tragically cancelled “Almost Human” and their instant cult hit ( I’m actively choosing to ignore the hellish Sophomore slump of last season) “Sleepy Hollow.” There’s no getting around that.

My response? So what!

On the surface, yes, Minority Report gives off similar Sleepy Hollow vibes. An interracial (BWWM) “platonic” duo with the equal parts fierce and vulnerable female lead and the chronic do-gooder, socially inept man out of his time and/or element male counterpart. Like Sleepy Hollow, the Minority Report leads have instant electric chemistry.There are shippers already. (Team Daga) Ship them, don’t ship them. I don’t care. I’m always in for really close bonds and connections regardless of if they end up romantic or not. To put it simply, I’m not a shipper, but I crush a lot. So the amazing chemistry between Megan Good and Stark Sands piqued my interest in the pilot and the relationship that forms between Vega and Dash will  certainly be one of the highlights of the series. It was and still is one of the most intriguing aspects of Sleepy Hollow as well. Vega and Dash even have the same ridiculously adorable height difference. And the futuristic element and Dash’s earnest quality is definitely a nod to the lovable bot, Dorian, on Almost Human.

Here’s the thing, why is anyone letting that interfere with them enjoying what has the potential to be a very solid show? Why be so hard on this particular dynamic, but only give an eye-roll or two to others? I keep reading things about Minority Report lacking originality, or being another rip-off, and then being instantly dismissed as something not worthy of people’s time and I honestly don’t get that. Why are you so surprised that there would be similarities at all?

I’m a bit of a self-professed television addict, who will watch some of every genre if the plot and characters hold my interest. So let me be one of many to point out the irony of critiquing Minority Report for its “lack of originality” when within the past 15 years we’ve had six, count them, six versions of Law and Order, including the short-lived Law & Order: Los Angeles, L &O: Trial by Jury, and L & O: UK. (Yes, there was a Law and order UK. Google it. It was…bad). There are four NCIS‘ if you choose to include its origin show that started it all J.A.G). Not to mention there will be a total of three Criminal Minds, whenever the latest spin-off is scheduled to air, four C.S.I’s, and let me just get back to the Dick Wolf TV dynasty, and bring up Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D, and Chicago Med. These are just the shows with spin-offs, lest we go further and address Castle, The Mentalist, Perception, Elementary, and The Blacklist. There’s also House, if you want the same formula but within a medical profession.There’s the buddy-cop (insert other profession) formula with White Collar, Suits, Psych,Hawaii 5-0…and too many more for me to even count. Then, there’s the merry-band of misfits shows, like Leverage, Breakout Kings, and Scorpion, or for that concept combined with the cop procedural concept, we have shows like Graceland. Don’t get me wrong, many of these are and were great shows. I can admit, I’ve probably watched all of them at one point or another, and some of the others are some of my favorite shows.  My point being, why are some of us so much harder on shows like Minority Report, when they come in less frequency and barely get to stay?

If we’re talking the glaring whiteness and mostly male homogeneity of procedural shows, then yeah, these shows come a dime a dozen. At any given moment there’s six or seven of the exact same type of show with the exact same kind of plot, with the exact same type of characters right down to their haircuts. But if we’re talking about diverse casts with diverse and female leads, than no. You don’t have the right to dismiss that as “status quo” and raise a critical finger citing “lack of originality.” You just don’t. I can compare Castle to ten other shows without having to go back more than five years. I can compare Minority Report to two while going back ten years. It has taken decades for minorities to break the mold and get into parts that mostly white and mostly males have dominated from the very beginning. What we are witnessing, is women and minorities breaking glass ceilings just to play what is deemed “status quo” and then their achievement is being dismissed by those who haven’t taken the time to truly think about the diversity struggle and the harmful, yes I’ll say harmful, effects that come with comparing and contrasting with a colorblind eye.. The only reason so many people are tired of the same procedural formula is because no one ever bothered to switch it up and diversify the formula to begin with. Castle could have easily been about a bisexual male author and a homosexual cop. White Collar could have been about two women. Perception’s leads could  have  been a Latino schizophrenic and his Asian F.B.I handler. Mike Ross from Suits could have just as easily been played by Avan Jogia as he was by Patrick J. Adams.  Psych‘s lead actors were both technically minorities, and one overtly so in the actual show, and at least Elementary dared to be different by not only making Watson a woman but an Asian-American woman at that, and to this day, there’s still controversy behind it. Maybe if the same formulaic tropes were diversified years ago and with more frequency it wouldn’t feel so stale now.

As a woman of color, I find myself watching shows for my pure enjoyment and entertainment always, but also with the critical eye of someone who is only just now getting used to seeing people who look like me, or my family, or my friends not just onscreen but actually leading in shows. So the first thing that popped out about Minority Report, was that three members of the main cast are minorities. A black woman, an Asian American woman, and a Latino.And in a genre that has notoriously excluded women and people of color. And never once was race so much as brought up, which passes the racial equivalent of the Bedchel test.

Speaking of the Bedchel test, with the exception of Akeela (Li Jun Li) occasionally inquiring about Lara Vega’s mysterious past relationship with her boss Will Blake (Wilmer Valderrama) neither of the women spend an exceptional amount of time talking about men, or their love lives. They speak of their cases, their jobs, and confidently speak of how damn good they are at them. The second episode fleshed out the pair’s relationship more when Akeela questioned Vega’s work in the previous case. When Vega needed her help with pulling a cold case, she assures Akeela that she’s not being forthcoming with her because Akeela is her friend and she’s trying to protect her. We’re more often than not, boggled down with heterosexual friendships that may or may not develop into something more, but we don’t often get a solid female friendship. We certainly don’t get one among minority women. It’s an inexplicable yet inevitable byproduct of trying to portray the independent, strong female at the expense of her having healthy friendships with the same gender.

Wilmer Valderrama’s “Blake”, comes off smarmy on the surface. He’s a little too cocky and definitely flirty on the brink of inappropriate in the workplace, but one thing that was made abundantly clear in the second episode was how much he actually cares about Vega. It’s evident they have a past, and Good and Valderrama sell it quite well. The two of them have great chemistry. In fact, Megan Good has great chemistry with everyone she seems to come into contact with on this show, which kudos to her. But for every moment Vega brings up that Blake somehow trampled over her on his ambitious path to the top, there are just as many moments where Blake expresses a genuine desire to help her succeed. He wants her to succeed with him. He may have rode her coattails until he secured a position of authority above her, but he wants her up there with him. He alludes to teaching her the ropes, to showing her how to play the game and do the song and dance to get to the top, because he wants both of them at the top . It’s subtle, but there’s a nod to a concept that women and minorities in the workforce know all too well. When you make it, you reach back and help others like yourself, so that they can make it too. Solidarity in the success. He’s arrogant, overbearing, and exceptionally flirtatious but two episodes in and I don’t doubt that Blake doesn’t have Vega’s best interest at heart.

Those were little moments that I smiled at. I noticed. I cherished. Those are the moments that Viola Davis was alluding to in her acceptance speech after her historic win at the Emmys. A speech that made my sixty-something year old grandmother tear up.Women of color leading on shows, playing rich characters with successful lives, who are complex and beautiful and vulnerable and messy. Women in general, being showcased as being all of these things and more. Diversity onscreen, and an accurate, realistic, non stereotypical depiction of it at that.

It’s those simple moments that are comparable to Sleepy Hollow. But why is that being hurled about like it’s an insult? Sleepy Hollow in its first year was a groundbreaking series, for casting a petite black woman in a lead role of a supernatural genre show, and having a predominately non-white cast. And it worked. It was magical. It was great. People responded and responded well, and it basically was a big middle-finger to everyone who ever so much as uttered the excuse that the reason shows aren’t more diverse is because there isn’t a big enough audience and it doesn’t sell. We know better now, diversity sells. It sells hard, when you’re finally reaching audiences who have been largely ignored for so long.

Sleepy Hollow is one of, if not the first supernatural shows where a black woman isn’t relegated to the sidekick. Abbie Mills is no Bonnie Bennett. She’s not conveniently brought out to undo the latest mess that the white leads got themselves into only to disappear again. She’s not lacking in character depth. She’s not a human plot device. She’s front and center, leading the helm, or at least she’s supposed to be. The treatment of Abbie Mills’ character in Sleepy Hollow‘s second season was abysmal, but there was a time when they actually knew what they were doing with her character and Sleepy Heads all over are hoping that season 3 will have the show back on track.

So why is the comparison of Minority Report to Sleepy Hollow viewed as a bad thing?

If Minority Report can stand on the back of Sleepy Hollow and break the mold, it will open the doors for so many shows like it to do the same. There is safety in numbers. The more shows in the supernatural/sci-fi genre that dare to showcase women and minorities in the forefront, the more opportunities will be made for them. Almost Human, sadly got cancelled, but it didn’t fail. Not if it paved the way for Minority Report. Sleepy Hollow‘s mega-success was affirmation that a genre show and a diverse cast could actually work. If that broke down the door for Minority Report and any show that comes after it, then compare away. Compare it until the cows come home. Compare it until there are so many shows like it that mental gymnastics aren’t made just to compare it. Compare it until there are dozens of shows just like it to compare it too.

There are many things to critique about Minority Report. It is by no means a perfect show. It’s not even the most solid new show of the season so far.

For one, it does have a procedural feel. To be perfectly honest, in order to successfully pull off any sort of genre television on network TV, it will require a procedural feel. It also will  involve great writing, great actors, and a lot of compromise. It’s too soon to determine if Minority Report‘s writing is great. It’s okay.So far it has been solid, not strong, but solid enough.

There’s also some of the props and effects. It’s a futuristic show, but some of the props and effects are laughable and borderline cringe-worthy. Vega’s investigation of the crime scene during the pilot was so heavily choreographed it was ridiculous, and we needn’t get into the unfortunate device used to hone in on the details of Dash’s visions. He was supposed to be in pain while it was being extracted, and Sands was convincing enough but the device itself had me laughing in hysterics, and was vaguely reminiscent of something put together for a middle-school play.

There’s also the issue of Arthur. In the age of the fantastic Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black, and the respectable and noteworthy performance of Nina Dobrev, formerly of The Vampire Diaries, playing multiple characters at once, I really would have preferred if Sands played both of the twins. Not that Zano isn’t gorgeous to look at and all, but I think Sands could have been up to the performance. He certainly would have been given the opportunity to show more range. It would have added an extra something to it, seeing the duality of the performances as Stark Sands played off of himself. Arthur is an intriguing character, but two episodes in and I’m already tired of  our dynamic duo Daga having to resort to running to Arthur so early on just to solve a case. Especially when it comes at some as of yet undetermined price. It’s borderline lazy to resort to that so early on and so often. Arthur as a character can be developed without having to resort to using him with such frequency (his covert meetings with the eldest pre-cog is interesting enough), and the partnership between Dash and Vega is fresh enough where the writers can exploit them being clumsy as a team without having to rely on using Arthur to highlight that they haven’t quite found their footing yet.

There’s even reason to critique the wardrobe choices. Megan Good is gorgeous. That’s just a fact of nature. It also should be noted that there is a difficult line that has to be drawn with female characters in general, but black female characters within that. There has to be a perfect balance of not desexualizing a black female character, which is a common and grossly overused and misused trope that is just as bad as the years spent making black women the hypersexualized jezebel, and oversexualizing a female character, particularly in genre television and even procedurals. For the latter, wardrobe has notoriously been as sexy as it is unrealistic and impractical given the activities. With that said, Vega shows all the boobs. So much cleavage. Impossible, ridiculous amounts of cleavage. Megan Good has great breasts. I’m jealous, honestly. But her great breasts and even greater leather jackets aside, it’s overdone. Low cut shirts, skin tight jeans, and heels just feels like the wardrobe department is trying just a bit too hard to make a sexy woman even sexier when they don’t have to. She’s solving crime. She’s saving the world. She can still look hot as hell but still be able to move without fear of her pants ripping, a heel catching, or her breasts spilling out of her shirt. Thank God leather has give.My idea of work attire would definitely involve a pair of Chucks…and okay maybe a leather jacket too, just not in a smedium if a medium will suffice.  But hey, whatever.

There is also the matter of the cases. If they are going to have a case of the week thing, they have to work a bit harder at developing the cases. While I was thoroughly amused by the “nice guy” bartender being, well, not so nice, it wasn’t shocking. It wasn’t even all that interesting. I called it instantly. I mean, you could just look at the guy. All he was missing was the ill fitting Fedora. Anyway, I love watching Dash and Vega partnering up and scurrying around a futuristic D.C trying to covertly stop murders before they happen with all the delicacy of a bull in a fine China shop. I just want the cases to be more interesting. Maybe a few more twists and turns, a curve-ball…I need them to be less obvious.

My point being, Minority Report is not without its flaws. It needs a little tweaking and some work, but what new show doesn’t? It’s just starting out. But one of the criticisms shouldn’t be that its too much like Sleepy Hollow. That’s not a critique. That’s the sound of diversity breaking ground in a previously closed off genre. That’s diversity trying to get its foot in the door. That’s another attempt at providing another show that reflects the society we live in, so that maybe when we get so used to seeing shows like that, they’ll be so embedded in the fabric of what television has to offer for us, that we won’t need to read or write pieces that explain why it’s so important that diverse shows like this exist to begin with. Because by then they’ll have the luxury of being the status quo.

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