Cold Case: 8 Years

I've been doing a deep dive into Bruce Springsteen's catalog lately, along with a Very Special Guest with whom I'll be blogging it all up in these pages in the months to come. As a result of notes-gathering for that, I came across this episode of Cold Case from 2006. 

Cold Case is not a show with which I'm terribly familiar. It sounds interesting enough, but I only ever saw a handful of episodes, and those only on day shifts when I was bartending at the VFW, when it came on mid-afternoons after re-runs of Las Vegas. Interested parties can learn more at that link, but I'll assume you know the basic set-up: Philadelphia police detectives try and solve unsolved cases no longer being actively pursued by the department.

Re-enactments and guest stars like Emily from Beverly Hills 90210 here -
bring the cases to life.

The leads are Danny Pinto (later of Law and Order: SVU) and Kathryn Morris. (Also Pacey Witter's Dad, who was a Sheriff, so it amused me to think of this Cold Case character and the subplot with his ex-wife he gets this episode as Dawson's-related.)

Extra points would have been if they got Jane Lynch to play the ex. Ah well. I pretended it was her.

I had to look Kathryn Morris up for this next part because I wanted to make sure she didn't have some kind of medical condition or was some kind of real-life Ferengi. If she was then of course I'd never even mention it, but she's clearly a very beautiful woman. So... what the hell gives? 

Did Morris ever sue the Cold Case execs for styling her hair like this and adding an inch of ear to either side of her head? I need to know the rationale for this decision, as it's so immediately crazy-looking, at least to me. Who decides "Hey what the female lead needs is a hairdo that makes her head and ears look way bigger than they actually are! For no reason!" 

(Cold Case fans: is there a reason, maybe? Like this is an important plot point in later seasons?)

And yet, go ahead and google "Kathryn Morris Ferengi" and what comes up? Zero. This blog, maybe, when I hit publish. Like I'm the crazy one for noticing. Maybe it's a cover-up. If I was Kathryn Morris, though, I'd be pissed.

My tedious antics and Dawson's Tourette's aside, both the show and her character and all the performances and other characters seem fine. I might have to give it a whirl one of these days, although seven seasons of solving unsolved murders seems like kind of a stretch. It's rare for any detective to solve a single cold case, much less seven seasons worth, but I'll hold out on judgment until I see some more. For tonight's purposes, though, here's how the New York Times described "8 Years:"

"Tomorrow night, the CBS crime drama Cold Case will feature the work of an unlikely guest writer. He has won twelve Grammy Awards, has sold tens of millions of albums, and has never worked behind the scenes in television. What's more, he did not type out a single word for the show's script. Instead, he sang it all.

That writer is Bruce Springsteen, from whom Cold Case licensed * nine songs, building a murder mystery around his lyrics. The episode, titled '8 Years,' follows four high school friends from 1980 through 1988, when one of them is found dead."

* I wonder how much they paid? I imagine the Boss had to give them a discount; otherwise, for eight songs, this single episode would be among the most expensive TV ever produced.

"But instead of turning Mr. Springsteen's songs, all originally released from 1980 to 1987, into mere backdrops, Meredith Stiehm, the show's creator and the writer of this episode, used them to construct and advance the story. Graduation day is narrated by the exultant 'No Surrender,' while the climactic murder scene is set to the poignant 'Atlantic City.' 'The idea originally was to use no dialogue at all,' Ms. Stiehm said. 'His songs are that rich, so full of characters and vignettes.' Suffice it to say, cars, highways and the Jersey Shore figure heavily into the plot."

"Wende Crowley, the show's music supervisor, said 'His management was very interested from the start,' she said. 'Once we had a script, we sent it over, and they said yes.' Ms. Stiehm added, with a laugh, 'We have a theory that his wife is a huge fan.' It certainly did not hurt that the episode's director, Mark Pellington, also directed the video for Mr. Springsteen's 2002 single 'Lonesome Day.' Ms. Stiehm said that relationship created "a comfort zone."

"A representative of Mr. Springsteen said he was unavailable for comment."

Okay, so. I'm going to have to disagree with the NYT writer on this one. The idea of characters from Springsteen songs interacting with the tropes of a police procedural is good - maybe even great. There's lots of potential there. But you have to be careful. As Ms. Stiehm points out, the Boss' songs are so full of characters and vignettes that they overpower the meager story  concocted here. The characters and their conflict just never engaged me, and the covering fire of Springsteen ends up being an atomic blast that obliterates them.

They're also employed in rather hammer-on-nail fashion. "Stolen Car" begins the sequence where Clem steals a car and - get this! - he's conflicted about it and his motives aren't entirely bad. "Brilliant Disguise" accompanies a similar "Marriage isn't what I thought it would be" montage.

And "Glory Days" is maybe the Springsteensplotationiest of them all.

"Atlantic City" is totally the wrong song to close this episode with, as it just underlines, circles, and highlights how totally inadequate the Springsteeniness of this story is compared to actual Springsteen, especially anything off Nebraska. FFS. Springsteeniness aside, though, it's a 5-star song for a 2-and-a-half-star-at-best scene.

While we're here, the four teenagers are driving along listening to "No Surrender" in the beginning, in 1980. "No Surrender" came out on Born in the USA (1984). Which would be fine if - like the other Springsteen songs the episode uses - it was just used as soundtrack, but in this scene the kids are singing along with it on the radio. So unless the point is to announce to the viewer that the story takes place on a Nozz-A-La level of The Tower, it's an avoidably confusing mistake to make. Had the rest of the episode been a less superficial evocation of the Springsteen gestalt, perhaps this wouldn't have bugged me. 

And yet the 8 tunes selected ("No Surrender," "Born to Run," "Glory Days," "Atlantic City," "One Step Up," "Bobby Jean," "I'm On Fire," "Drive All Night") still carry enough power to imbue even the scenes they accompany (slightly better than karaoke videos) with enough emotional punch to make it entirely watchable TV. Not knowing the main characters I was still moved by some of their reactions to things. If nothing else, "8 Songs" is a broad strokes Illustrated History of Certain Perceptions of Springsteen. And that is not without value even when I suspect it might have just gotten lucky with certain imagery.

Any Cold Case fans out there with a more comprehensive history of the show under the belt, feel free to set me straight. But to any Springsteen fans out there who might be wondering whether or not to watch it, you can probably skip it. 

Unless you're bored and it comes round on cable or something, in which case, hey, you could do worse. Although you could always just put the tunes on a playlist and let the lyrics take you a better movie in your head. Cool idea but needed more time in the oven.

Full cast and crew here.


  1. (1) "Cold Case" is one of the many series I've never seen an episode of.

    (2) Kathryn Morris, Super-Hot Ferengi. I'd give her oo-mox any day.

    (3) I swear to God, I was thinking, "I wonder if Patti was a fan of this show" right before you delivered that quote from Stiehm.

    (4) "The characters and their conflict just never engaged me, and the covering fire of Springsteen ends up being an atomic blast that obliterates them." -- One hopes this means we'll never have to endure one of those "Jersey Boys" style Broadway shows that rounds up a bunch of disparate Springsteen songs. As you suggest, each one is a story in itself; add 'em together, you've got so much that you've got nothing.

    (5) That "No Surrender" anachronism gaffe is unforgivable. Tells you everything you need to know about the shallowness of the producers' approach. Tourists pretending to be residents.

    (6) Good lord, "Drive All Night" is the odd man out in that group, isn't it?

  2. (4) I'm kinda surprised this hasn't happened already. Happy, but surprised.

    (5) Tourists pretending to be residents sums it up.

    (6) Totally. And it seems to have been picked only because it's the beginning of the flashback where Clem steals the car he's stealing (for someone else) and "drives all night" to pick up his true love, i.e. the girl from high school who married his best friend, yadda yadda.