A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about how being a writer has ruined watching TV for me. It hasn’t stopped me from indulging in numerous shows and documentaries (I even review true crime docs for my podcast), but today I want to discuss one of my all-time favorite procedural shows, “Cold Case.” Not to be confused with “Cold Case Files,” Cold Case featured fictional stories and premiered on CBS in 2003, running for seven seasons. Each episode focused on a cold case unit in Philadelphia, and it had an amazing soundtrack that tied into the time period of the case. I rediscovered the TV show on the streaming service Max (formerly HBO Max) awhile back, and I’ve analyzed how different episodes often pulled from important times in U.S. history. (And isn’t it ironic how much history repeats itself?) I can also tell certain episodes were inspired by real life cases, such as the pilot, “Look Again,” which featured the unsolved murder of a young girl who closely resembled Martha Moxley, who was at the center of a murder scandal involving the Kennedy family in the 1970s.
Here are other important episodes of note:
Season 2, Episode 7-It’s Raining Men. The start of the AIDS epidemic is revisited when a survivor asks the unit to investigate the unsolved murder of his former partner, who was an outspoken activist against the disease.
Season 3, Episode 5- Committed. This episode takes a heartbreaking look at how people living with mental illness were treated in the early 1950s, and treatments that are now considered barbaric, when a Jane Doe is identified as a patient who went missing after leaving an institution.
Season 4, Episode 1-Rampage. When this episode aired in 2006, it drew inspiration from the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, taking place at a shopping mall rather than a school. The team works to uncover whether or not a third shooter secretly got away with murder after two young men shoot dozens of shoppers in the food court and then take their own lives.
Season 4, Episode 8-Fireflies. This tearjerker explores the friendship between a young white girl and African-American girl in a time where segregation was still a hot-button topic. One of the girls went missing and was presumed murdered, but in an unexpected twist the story doesn’t end the way you think it will.
Season 5, Episode 9-Boy Crazy. The team takes a closer look at the unsolved 1963 murder of a high school girl who preferred dressing like a boy, and explores what the expected gender norms were from the time period and how psychiatrists chose to treat what they called a mental disorder.
Season 6, Episode 3-Wednesday’s Women. This episode told the story of a murdered housewife and Tupperware sales consultant who was inspired to travel to Mississippi and volunteer during the Freedom Summer.
I enjoy rewatching all the old episodes and studying the formulas (there are always at least three different suspects presented), the historical context, and the topics covered (cults, Civil Rights, women’s reproductive rights, sports, LGBTQ+ issues, gun control, mental health awareness, and much more). And more often than not, I have myself a good cry at the end of the episodes when the final song is played, like Joan Osborne’s “What if God Was One of Us?” at the end of the mall shooting storyline.
Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and podcaster at Missing in the Carolinas, which has reached more than 120,000 downloads.