Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBS. Season four in progress.
People who don’t like police procedurals often point out that they’re formulaic, one episode interchangeable with the next. As one who rather likes police procedurals, I respond, “Well … yeah.” It is, in fact, the formula that keeps me coming back. As simple and familiar as comfort food, the police procedural formula is the small-screen equivalent of macaroni and cheese after a long day at work. After all, it isn’t just any formula; it’s a primal one. Someone commits a great moral transgression, and someone else uncovers it. Watching that happen is a kind of ritual: entry into an illusory world in which wrongs are righted and the truth is revealed.
The creators of Cold Case understand that ritual. The CBS procedural, now in its fourth season, follows not only a narrative formula but also an aesthetic one. Using the same distinctive visual and auditory techniques each week, Cold Case serves as a lovely example of the genre, artfully singing each episode’s new stanza before returning to the show’s familiar refrain.