Columnist

When I first saw the suspicious anthropology student in the British murder mystery set on the remote Scottish island, she was wearing her hair in pigtails. In the next scene, she was not.

“Is that the suspicious anthropology student?” I asked My Lovely Wife.

“Yes,” she said.

“Oh, okay,” I said. “I thought maybe it was.”

But what I wanted to say was: “Well, why did she take her pigtails out? How am I supposed to recognize her with no pigtails? She looks just like the junior police detective and the daughter of the senior police detective and that girl at the pub.”

This is an increasing problem. These days, everyone in TV dramas looks alike. We may be in television’s second golden age, but for some reason casting directors insist on filling their shows with doppelgängers. They’ll cast a pale, floppy-haired 20-something actor as the harried junior executive and a different pale, floppy-haired 20-something actor as the friend from college with the can’t-miss moneymaking scheme.

It’s a different character! They should look different. Really different. Pigtail different. Mustache different. Dueling-scar-across-the-cheek different.

If I were the head of the Federal Communications Commission, I wouldn’t waste my time on net neutrality. I’d be busy approving casting decisions.

“No, those guys look too much like each other,” I’d say, head shots spread out on the desk in front of me. “Either make that one bald or give that one red hair.”

Some shows even let the exact same person play two different roles: Ewan McGregor in the last “Fargo,” James Franco in “The Deuce.”

That’s inconsiderate. I think entertainment executives should take a page from commedia dell’arte, that classic Italian style of theater popular in the 17th century. Back then, if a husband turned to his wife and whispered, “Is that Pierrot?” she’d smack him and say, “Is he wearing a white outfit with big, round buttons? No, he isn’t. He’s dressed in red with a long black coat, and that makes him Pantalone.”

Perhaps I’m falling victim to some kind of creeping facial aphasia. It renders me unable to tell my Isla Fishers from my Amy Adamses and my Amy Adamses from my Rachel McAdamses.

But I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s that nobody wants character actors any more. Hollywood wants all its actors to be attractive, the men especially. Actors play down what is unique about them to the point that everyone is practically interchangeable.

We need more Karl Maldens. Him you remembered.

If I can’t trust what I see on the screen, I can’t trust what I hear, either. My wife and I have been watching this Netflix show called “Altered Carbon.” And watching is pretty much all we can do. I keep hitting the volume-up button. The dialogue gets louder, but it doesn’t get any more comprehensible.

Some of that could be the nature of the show itself. It’s a sci-fi miniseries set in a dystopian future where people are able to download their personalities into little medallions that they can move from body to body like USB sticks, making them immortal.

People don’t die in the future, and apparently they don’t enunciate, either.

“What did he say?” my wife asks after the taciturn, trench-coated hero has spouted a bit of gibberish.

“I think it was something about ‘needlecasting into the virtual,’ ” I respond. “But he just ate at a futuristic ramen stand, so maybe he said ‘noodlecasting.’ ”

“ ‘Noodlecasting into the virtual’? Does that make sense?”

“None of this makes sense. Like, is that blond woman a clone?”

“The one they found dead in the water?”

“No, the one who never wears a bra.”

“Beats me.”

When we get tired of the future, we jump into the past, courtesy of “The Alienist” on TNT. Things are just as grim there — a serial killer is butchering child prostitutes in 1890s New York City — and they speak just as unintelligibly. Mumble, mumble, mumble. We did a better job in my high school production of “You Can’t Take It With You.”

And just when I think I’ve got it figured out, two actors appear on screen at the same time.

“Wait!” I exclaim. “That’s not the same guy?”

“No,” my wife says. “One’s the doctor and the other one’s the corrupt police sergeant.”

They should have given one of them pigtails.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.