Producing TV that’s fresh and interesting is a challenge.
The moment we, the audience, gets a whiff of formula, we’re gone.
What’s an actor to do? If he’s Scott Caan, there’s not one problem but three.
First, he’s got a part in a police procedural. If there is something that is over-formed and formulaic it’s the police procedural, that great work horse of American television. (I’m guessing that between them the Law and Order and CSI series produced maybe 10% of prime time.) We know this formula inside out.
Second, Caan is playing a familiar character (Danno). Third, he’s playing this character on a once famous show (Hawaii Five-O). So Caan is trebly bound: familiar character, familiar show, familiar form. Caan had virtually no degrees of freedom. His hands were tied. He was virtually obliged to "phone it in."
Caan found a way out of this artistic captivity. As he told Entertainment Weekly,
The last thing I wanted to end up being was a cliche. I wanted to be fresh and different, so I actually based my character on a criminal
Hey presto. You play "criminal" and when this gets strained through "cop," something magical happens. We the audience can’t see "criminal" any longer. But "cop" looks a little like something we haven’t seen before. This cop zigs when we expect him to zag. Who knows what he’s going to do next.
It’s a clever tactic. It would be interesting to know if this is something Caan devised or whether it is a traditional tactic in the actor’s skill set.
Let’s assume the former and call this the Caanian culturematic, a way to make popular culture that does not feel like predictable culture.
McCracken, Grant. 2009. Culturematic: a device for making culture in two easy steps. This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. September 21. here.
Rice, Lynette. 2010. Scott Caan: Fall TV’s new action star. Entertainment Weekly. November 5. here.