Harry Dresden has a problem. People keep turning up at his door and dying. Its good for us, the viewers, because we can watch him go and figure out why and how, but it must get really frustrating for him.
As the only wizard to advertise his services in the Chicago phone book, I guess it makes sense that people being threatened by supernatural menaces would seek him out for help, but as a plot device the many deaths get a little old. I guess that’s true of any detective show, and despite the mystical trappings, The Dresden Files is a detective show in the old-school mode of Simon & Simon or Magnum, P.I. Each episode stands alone, and except for a slowly developing back story of Harry and his murderous Uncle there is no narrative arc that defines the show. It’s less one-off than CSI: Des Moines, since we learn a little more about Harry every episode but it seldom has a bearing on the plot.
This became readily apparent when I sat down with some DVR’ed episodes and tried to watch them back-to-back. Since there is no slow burning reveal like Lost and no over-arching story like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the episodes can get redundant. That’s not to say it has House-like levels of repetition where every single act is structured the same way from show to show, but there is enough pattern and predictability to make watching a weekly affair at best. It’s okay to catch it when it airs and then forget about. I am a sucker for stories where magic and the supernatural happen in an otherwise realistic modern setting. Something about the way Harry uses his hockey stick for a magic wand entertains me for reasons I can’t fully articulate. I suppose it has something to do with the juxtaposition and the possibility that things like this might be happening in some dark alley I’ll never get to see. But its not for everybody. The Dresden Files plays it straight, and the ghosts, vampires, and werewolves that Harry contends with can become a little too outrageous, even for this sort of show.
But if you can get past the strangeness and the repetition, and you miss Remington Steele but always wish he had solved murders involving Bird Demons, The Dresden Files might be for you. It airs on the SciFi Channel, on Sunday nights.