In 1973, Robert Altman released a neo-noir called The Long Goodbye based on a 1953 novel by Raymond Chandler starring the iconic Philip Marlowe. Altman imagined Marlowe as a loser, a man out-of-time in the 1970s. This, arguably, was the first.
The first what?
Well, apparently the moniker neo-noir has gotten too big, too encompassing, since it now includes satires like The Long Goodbye, resettings in modern-day high school like Brick or Veronica Mars, tongue-in-cheek modernizations like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and even sci-fi couched detective fiction like Blade Runner.
Then we got The Big Lebowski in 1998, wherein the Coen Brothers, geniuses that they are, re-imagined Chandler’s The Big Sleep as a modern-day inverse of the original–consider: in The Big Sleep, a dead body goes missing from a rug; in The Big Lebowski, a rug goes missing from under an unconscious body. No longer was the Marlowe character a jaded P.I. Now we had the Dude, an unemployed bowling and marijuana enthusiast, pulled into the detective role with only the cliches of detective fiction to guide him. This was the second.
Now with Inherent Vice, we have a third. And the third makes a pattern. Or in this case, the third makes a sub-genre. In Inherent Vice, the detective isn’t so closely related to Philip Marlowe, but the plot has consistent elements to The Big Sleep. A man goes missing only to turn up in a club miles out of town. A man’s fortune is at stake. “Doc” is an actual Private Dick, unlike the Dude, but like the Dude, he’s constantly smoking weed. Or inhaling laughing gas. Or snorting coke in the rare case it happens to appear before him. And though Doc may appear as clueless and bumbling as the Dude, in fact, he’s pretty darned good at getting the job done.
So now we have a new sub-genre: slacker noir. Slate’s Chris Wade, in a short video essay, attempts to figure out what makes this mash-up genre–arguably stoner comedy and film noir–work so well. Although they don’t get mentioned, I think these would also qualify: the television shows Bored to Death and Terriers. Apologies for requiring the click-through, but it’s worth it.