Criminal Minds v Singapore: TV hates reality
The latest episode of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders is set against a backdrop of Singapore, which has set Singaporeans against Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.
Among the various sins in the episode called Cinderella And The Dragon there's calling Geylang an overcrowded slum; showing the island as an identikit Chinatown with an exceptionally high crime rate; a bogus proverb; and an opening shot that looks like the dusty expanse of Bolivia rather than the lush greenery we know.
Aside from the fact that the Criminal Minds franchise is that much of a fantasy it may as well be set on Mars, to read some of the outraged moans, you'd think nobody had got Singapore wrong before.
Singapore has rarely fared well in TV or film. Soon after I moved here, I remember some nondescript crime show, possibly starring David Hasselhoff, describing Singapore as the global hub of the white slave trade.
I suppose Singapore gets a rough ride because the name is more famous than the place. The images that the name conjures are usually far from the reality.
Of course, not every show has gone into so many "details" stated so matter-of-factly by the cast — the Criminal Minds series have a special po-faced nature that gives every detail a veneer of plausibility, not matter how ridiculous.
But generally, things have improved. Our profile has grown globally in recent years - albeit the profile of Marina Bay Sands which is the new de facto icon of Singapore. Set your production in Singapore, it must feature MBS. Even aliens have targeted it.
It was recently revealed that the makers of British dramedy Cold Feet found their footage of Club Street did not look Singaporean enough for them. In fact, it was so unlike what they expected that they dubbed it "English Town".
How did they remedy the situation? They digitally altered the street signs to be in Chinese and stuck MBS in the background, always there, looming as though it was stalking the actors.
The show also suggested the bumboats in Marina Bay are a viable taxi service for commuters. Why? Probably because regular taxis just aren't exotic enough and tuk-tuks are a bit too downmarket.
But those who are crying out, "How could they get it wrong? Why did they not do any research?", should not expect anything to change soon.
The fact is, this is not just TV against Singapore. TV hates reality and always has. It gets in the way of the story.
If Criminal Minds wanted to do things realistically, the fugitive the FBI were chasing would probably be cuffed and ready for collection at the airport before they'd even finished reciting their daft proverb.
If a show features a foreign location, forget accuracy. They will make the location fit to their ideas. And when I say ideas, I mean cliches.
All story locations appear to be based on information heard from some "bloke down the pub". The one who maintains dog can't look up, bananas cure baldness, the moon landings are faked and you can be imprisoned for asking for bubblegum in Singapore.
My former home country of the UK has had its fair share of lazy attempts at truth. It seems it took decades for Hollywood to realise that Mary Poppins was not a documentary.
A few years ago, short-lived US show Constantine had the lead character, apparently born and bred in Liverpool, describing life in the coal mines there. There aren't any. As a former resident of the famous port city, it made me wonder if there's a Google ban in Hollywood.
But then, in US films and movies, anywhere in the UK that is not London or a serene Jane Austen manor, may as well be an urban industrial Hogwarts.
Even documentaries play with facts.
During my youth, one of my parent's friends had been chosen to feature in a low-key religious TV show. You'd expect some level of veracity there, it's semi-holy after all.
What surprised us about the filmed house visit was, shockingly, it wasn't her house.
It was a posher-looking house further down the road that had the climbing flowers in bloom.
I don't know how they broke it to our neighbour that her house was not pretty enough, but she gamely kept up the illusion, answering the prettier door and inviting them in, before sitting in a prettier lounge and talking about how important faith was to her.
We have all been lied to, at some point, by film and TV. A visit to any city will tell you that.
You then see that car chases sometimes take utterly impossible routes to ensure notable landmarks are featured.
There are monuments all over the world where you would be tasered into a twitching heap before you got even half as close as the actors have.
Maybe the people who come off worst are the tourists.
It's like people who go to see the pyramids in Egypt expecting a trek into the desert — only to find they are pretty much at the end of a street. The illusion comes from always being filmed from one side.
Imagine the disappointment if people watching the Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders episode - the few without a brain condition - come here hoping to experience some fiery street food cooking in Bedok or edgy frisson in the dark side of Geylang.
So yes, Criminal Minds got it wrong about Singapore. I doubt they'll be the last to do so. As far as TV is concerned, if the facts get in the way of the story the facts will be pushed aside...
The full list of what Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders got wrong can be found at geekculture.
To see the episode in all its glory, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders episode “Cinderella And The Dragon” (Season 2 Episode 6) can be found on Hub VOD Entertainment (StarHub TV Channel 500) under AXN On Demand. It will be available until May 1 2017.
The channel can be viewed by Entertainment Basic HD Upsize subscribers. Do note that an HD-enabled set-top box is required to access the channel.
Hub VOD Entertainment can also be viewed on mobile devices via StarHub Go.