How to Write a Killer Moody Police Drama Series

So, you want to write one of those moody police detective dramas seen on TV. Well, here are the secret ingredients necessary to make it happen. Firstly, you need two characters who will be the main protagonists in your riveting episodic series. These will be two of the most fucked up cops ever let loose on an unsuspecting general public. Personal problems? Each of these young- and good-looking police detectives will be riddled with a full menu of intimate and social dysfunctional issues. The producers will cast two actors who look like they have been working as apprentice hairdressers and are the least likely looking cops ever to have walked the earth. This kind of thing is par for the course when it comes to moody detective shows on Netflix and the other streaming services. They understand that the networks and TV people desperately want to appeal to a younger demographic and will cast authenticity to the four winds to do it. Now, pay attention because this is how to write a killer moody police drama series.

Tips for Writing Drop-Dead Good Cop Shows

Next, you begin the story with a crime scene complete with forensic team in white protective jump suits. A naked dead girl or child should be artfully displayed in a fashion to engender a visceral response from your audience. Of course, a touch of dry comedic banter between our police boy and girl and a grizzled youngish forensic pathologist would go down a treat here. This is your moment to introduce the main character and his or her problems. Their mood and appearance will be coloured by their marriage/relationship issues, drug or alcohol substance abuse problem, parenting dilemma, and/or trendy minor disability or mental illness. Mild autism/Asperger Syndrome is currently the flavour of the month, but it could be cerebral palsy, MS, blindness, deafness, or a rare genetic disorder. The second of our main police detectives could be on the LGBTQI+ spectrum to add further spice to our gritty cop show. These are all a part of how to write a killer moody police drama series. Perhaps, some Nordic noir or a sardonic Belgian affair.

The Golden Rule of Successful Police Shows

The police HQ setting, and ensemble of supporting characters is of infinite importance here. This is your blue family home, where viewers will be subject to hours of situation-based interactions between our protagonists and their sidekicks on the force. Desks with prominent computer screens will take centre stage in most shots. Here your viewers will meet another incredibly youthful chief of police who will endeavour to make life and policing as difficult as possible for our main characters. The golden rule of all successful police dramas is to make the police as nasty and inflexible within their interactions with each other as possible. Why anyone would ever choose to join the police force after watching these shows is a mystery to me. The other vital setting here is the situation room with large white board or state of the art tablet surfaces for sweeping gestures. Here photographs of key suspects, witnesses and the like are prominently displayed throughout the series. In many ways, this is a storyboard to assist the audience in following the many ups and downs, twists and turns of our convoluted story. Possible villains are ranked on the case evidence boards with lines connecting them to victims and crimes. Many an hour will be passed by faithful viewers watching their favourite characters present updates to their fellow officers on the case.

Netflix demands at least 12-16 episodes for the first series of one of these uber moody crime shows. Much of the filming of the show will be taken up with scenic shots of landscapes. Geographic features like hills, valleys, cliffs, crevices, dells, rivers, lakes, dunes, oceans, bays, plains, moors, plateaus, mountains, whatever but it must be strikingly beautiful if at all possible. These exterior landscapes will be your motifs of the inner landscapes residing within your characters. The tone of the production is set here amid the stark natural beauty of your program’s backdrop. These images when combined with your show’s moody music create the whole ambience of the unfolding mystery for the viewer. During the first 8-10 episodes of the series your main characters will have no idea who dunnit. These two detectives will aimlessly wander around in a miasma of self-induced pain caused by their fucked-up lives and dysfunctional relationships. I sometimes feel like the director of these shows has dunked his or her head in a fish tank and filmed scenes on this basis. Thus, we the viewers must follow this lead and journey down into the depths of a murky story. The writer need not bother with clever clues and red herrings in these 21C productions, as it is all about the personal stories of our detectives. Mothers who cannot be there for their children. Partners who have burnt their bridges with their husbands and wives.  Bent cops struggling with gambling debts. Immoral policemen battling with their inner demons. These characters barely have the time to bother with the murder case at hand being so busy with their legions of personal issues and challenges. Our young lead actors may even appear to be stressed by the odd bad hair day at this juncture in the series.

By this stage in your writing process, you will have established all the necessary facets of the moody police detective drama. Your audience will have journeyed with you up until this crucial fork in the road. They will have shared the adulterous behaviour of one of your lead detectives, empathised with their desperate search for meaning in a frantic one-night stand. They will have suffered the disappointment of letting their child down by working late and missing a key school performance. They will have ground their teeth in frustration at their repeated inability to come to terms with the nefarious criminal at large. Everyone is getting sick and tired of nothing really happening and the very limited progress with the case. Now, is the time to wind up the loose strings, join some of the dots, and attempt to conclude your narrative with some modicum of rationality. It is here that many viewers will roll their eyes and mutter to themselves “come on, there is no way that could happen!” However, despite this you must soldier on and string out the audience for another half dozen or so episodes. Yes, he really was her half-sister’s amor prior to meeting her long-lost uncle on that fateful evening. Of course, mitochondrial DNA revealed that they shared a maternal link. The forensic science lab is a great source for unlikely solutions to faintly ridiculous possibilities.

Remember that you will want to bring back at least one of your main characters for the second series. So, don’t be too hasty in killing off much loved characters. These inventions, these figments of your imagination are your investments in a possible future for your writing career. Treat them with some degree of care upon the pages of your gritty police story. New lows in policing behaviour in terms of strategy and protocols are regularly depicted in these shows, especially at crucial moments. Highly trained cops suddenly drop their guns, get knocked out by villains, fail to adequately guard prisoners, turn their backs, quite literally, on danger, and fail to nail the baddies. Real police watching these shows must shake their heads in disbelief at the antics displayed by these hairdresser’s apprentices pretending to be senior detectives on the murder squad. So, good luck with your writing and I hope to see your moody offering up there on the TV screen very soon.

©Robert Hamilton