Shows based on mysterious investigations have been a staple of American television for years, and have had the public entranced by the logical explanations of Mr. Spock , fascinated by the resourcefulness of MacGyver, and wondering at the possibilities rattled off by Agent Fox Mulder.
But until this point, television wasn’t necessarily concerned with the accuracy of what was represented, leading to episodes of Star Trek that made viewers pause and wonder at the plausibility of a giant hand in space. We are at a strange point in time – one where what the public finds entertaining happens to be logic and science, even if the edges of the scientific accuracy are blurred.
At this particular moment in time, there are nine investigation shows where a scientist is a lead character. Lie to Me, The Eleventh Hour, Fringe, Criminal Minds, House, Numb3rs, and of course, all three incarnations of CSI. There is also a grouping of shows whose lead characters have honed real-life skills to become super investigators: Psych, Monk, and The Mentalist.
In fact, even though The Mentalist is only in its first season, it has been topping the ratings – and beating CSI, which regularly pulls in 18 million viewers.
In the past, I have slammed some of the science-based shows as being so impossible that I’m continually shooting caffeine free Diet Pepsi out my nose when I watch as a shock reaction, but right now I’m so awed by the fact that science is playing a part at all that my Diet Pepsi is staying where it belongs. What is popular right now indicates a shift in public thinking that may well open doors for critical thinkers everywhere – and help bring new ones into the fold.
Maybe the public has gotten sick of the paranormal hullaballoo, and wants real answers. This would seem to be the case, at least, if you have watched the most recent episode of House – ‘Here, Kitty,’ – which had a basis in the real-life exploits of Oscar, the psychic death cat, who predicted the deaths of several nursing home residents.
You can even see the shift in comedies, like 30 Rock, when Jack Donaghy explains to Liz that reiki is the art of laying on hands to improve one’s life. “How does your life improve?” Liz asks, “Do the hands have money in them?”
If you’re reading this article at all, it is probably because you’ve come to the JREF as a critical thinker and skeptic, and want that to be a major part of your life. So the big question is: What are we going to do with this shift?