Holding Cells Aren’t Sexy

With ABC’s new Take the Money and Run, Americans can cozy up to custody, interrogation, and being informed on by family and friends.

Screenshots courtesy of ABC

Maybe it’s my PTSD talking, but is this really the best time for people to be asking themselves if they can withstand a police interrogation? Sure, if you’re a television producer the answer is (spit-take) hell yes, but what about the rest of us?

If you haven’t seen ABC’s primetime show, Take the Money and Run, its proposition is simple: you and a partner hide $100,000 somewhere within a pre-chosen urban district while current and former cops come at you with their best information gathering techniques and tricks.  If the money is discovered, or if your partner turns on you because he or she can’t take sitting in a soundstage prison cell for the duration of a TV production day, the detectives – also your opponents – win the cash (allegedly contained in a suitcase handed off at the beginning of the show).

First off, there are a lot of desperate Americans these days; aren’t we already seeing each other’s breaking points on the news? Dressing the mind-bending pressures of pre-trial custody in the blinky lights of The Price Is Right is just cruel. Second, who are these people who take this dare, only to learn they’re quivering bowls of Jell-O in the face of a custody simulation? Ouch. The show’s losers forever relinquish their daydreams of participating in a heist and coolly walking away with the loot. Your suspension of disbelief is done! I mean, if you just allowed yourself to be revealed as the blubbering weak link, (on national television, no less), how could you ever again appreciate a good crime flick knowing your role is that of the squealer!

What of actual folks with “priors” watching the show, like yours truly? We’re left out of make-believe custody land because of the mind games, deceptions, and postures we experienced for real. If the producers were really aiming for accuracy, as soon as one or both of the “criminal” partners got placed in their “cell” for an extended period between interrogations, somebody would walk in and punch ‘em in the head. What, too much? People might as well know that for a real criminal suspect, county detention is where much pre-trial time is spent, and unacquainted jail inmates get usually beat on. Often, this’ll do the detectives’ or investigators’ work for them. They need only to drop you in with the Crips, Bloods, Vatos and Peckerwoods until you sing like a bird a week later to get plucked back out. Pretrial confinement can be so otherworldly and tormenting that suspects will wail and beg for their next interrogation and promptly forget to ask for a lawyer before making their deal. So the show would be more accurate if someone got punched in the head, is all I’m sayin.’ 

As for Take the Money’s police investigators coercing confessions and attempting to flip their “suspects,” I wonder if these cops are struggling to maintain game show etiquette and avoid embedded ethnic resentments or career bitterness. I thought I might’ve seen snippets of both in the premiere episode. 

Criminal custody has been satirized in literature, movies, and television for years with some success, from Mad Magazine, to SNL, to 1987’s The Running Man, where Schwarzenegger gets all blah-blah-blah, exploding heads, whatever. But this isn’t satire. Take the Money and Run is more like America’s prison fetish meets good old-fashioned one-party reeducation. To desensitize viewers to interrogation, snitching, and custody, “criminal contestants” are pitted against actual law-enforcement investigators and subjected to mock versions of all three. And to mollify the economic insecurity of contestants and viewers alike, it’s done in the name of grabbing all the cash one can.

I can’t say I won’t watch Take the Money and Run – I already DVR’d the next episode (or three). Neither can I predict that this formula will fail in the ratings; if it’s a measure of anything the show already has 31,000 Facebook “likes.” And with its Monday morning quarterbacking appeal, it reminds me of watching Cops in a Folsom day room, listening to inmates call play-by-plays and describe what they would’ve done differently.

I decided to call a friend who I figured would see past the bait and through the hype. “Damn straight I saw that show,” he said. “Talk about easy! Those burn-out cops weren’t interrogating anyone! It was more they were asking for directions! I wanna’ get on there before the producers figure out that they’re losing a hundred-grand a week. It’s free money!”

C’mon, ABC, at least consider adding the head punching…

Today's post is dedicated to Virgil Starkwell