Why Are There No Working-Class Procedurals?

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 10 2012 4:57 PM

Where Are the Working-Class Procedurals?

madeinjersey
Janet Montgomery on Made in Jersey

Photo byHeather Wines– © CBS Broadcasting

So, Made in Jersey will enter the record books as the first cancelation of the 2012-13 TV season. I’m devastated. It was my favorite pilot of the fall—yes, including Nashville, the season’s critical darling.

Before you call in my critic’s card, please notice that I used the world favorite. I didn’t think it was the best show of the season, or the most original, or the best-written. It wasn’t. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, it was a show incapable or subtlety or subtext—I like to imagine that every bit of dialogue written for our Jersey girl heroine’s effusive Italian family was presented IN ALL CAPS. But it was fun and, most important, it was different.

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There are other procedurals with female leads—The Good Wife and Bones come to mind—but there are precious few where the heroine is working class, and fewer still that acknowledge the issues that arise when a working-class woman tries to connect with her upper-class colleagues without denying what Oprah would call her authentic self. I wish that the explorations of class conflict on Made in Jersey had risen above topics like tight jeans and cheap hair dye, but I had faith that would happen once the show got into its groove.

In the pilot, lawyer Martina Garretti (Janet Montgomery) forged class connections with the other young state-college grads in the secretarial and paralegal pool and with the firm’s blue-collar investigator. That interesting dynamic was de-emphasized in the second episode, in part, I suspect, because the legal team was almost completely recast, and viewers needed to get to know the lawyers who were suddenly standing in for the absent Stephanie March and Pablo Schreiber. (Something similar happened with Harry’s Law, another short-lived show.) Now that seems like a wasted opportunity. When television tackles class, it tends to be on the prestige dramas of premium cable or in comedies—though blue-collar sitcoms, as Todd VanDerWerff recently noted, are harder to find than they used to be. We’re still waiting for the first great blue-collar procedural.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section.