Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hate Them, I Do.

So I'm reading this, and boy howdy does Chris Sims and David Uzimeri have a hate-on for Tom Wellands' Clark Kent in Smallville. Just reading, I'm remembering how much I hated Captain Archer by the last season of Enterprise, or the Buffy Summers of Seasons 5 and 6. (This is Google top return for "I hate Buffy." Google is smart.) I've a bad feeling the same about Jack on Lost, and judging from the spoilers, it would be more than a feeling if I hadn't managed to buy the Blu-Ray version of Season 6 instead of the DVD. Then there's Wesley on Angel, and Starbuck and Apollo on Battlestar Galactica.... And then there's the Seinfeld gang and the last seasons of Friends and on and on. Hate hate hate hate hate.

What all of these protagonists have going for them is that they're fully realised characters in more-or-less working stories. We see specific problems: Welland and Buffy seem self-centred because, duh, their world revolves around them. This is also the problem with too many zombie films. As I might have mentioned. (Sorry. Kind of gunshy about narcissism.) The sit-com people ...well, see below. Wesley has plot-related stupidity. Mostly. He's also about fanloathing, but that's another thing.

But I'm going to single out Starbuck and Apollo, because my hate for them comes out of good writing. (Contrast this with Captain Archer, who is starting to become hateful by the middle of the first season as a result of the  boneheaded, inconsistent decisions that the writers constantly made him make. By the fourth, he's an irredeemable jerkwad. A Scot Bakula character has turned into a monster faster than David Schwimmer! Take a bow, Enterprise writers!) We see Apollo swallowed up by his neuroses; and Starbuck going from charmingly crazy to signalling "get away from me while you still can" because this is what constant stress does to you. These characters are run to Earth. (Literally).

Contrast this with Sharon "Athena" and Karl "Helo" Agathon. I like the latter two. Oh. Wait. I might have mentioned that. They're attractive because they are supporting characters whose dramatic arc is over. They had a romance, they got together. "And they lived happily ever after." They pop back up again because you can tell stories about couples: specifically, sit-com stories, with Helo and Athena as two wacky pilots that have family hijinks aboard the Battlestar Galactica. And the writers do tell these stories now and again, because the two of them are the parents of Baby Cylon Jesus. The stories are admittedly not very funny, but there's no rule that says that sitcoms need to be funny. And instead of a bad excuse, BSG has the perfectly good one of being set on a can-of-death fleeing relentless genocidal hunters into a  darkness of chronic fatigue and PTSD. So good on the Agathons. Attractive, congenial, and not overexposed. Because that's what happens.

All heavy-going mystery aside, every TV show ends. Look! Someone (actually, Winston Rowntree of Cracked.Com) drew a picture:

If a series goes on too long, we'll hate the protagonists. Simple.

But back off for a moment. "Hate" and "unlikeable" are different things. There's a narrative reason that these characters become unlikeable. We understand, and often forgive it. Did we hate David Hythe Pierce's Niles by the end of Frasier, when the show was limping home to the finish? No. We liked his unlikeability. So where does the hate come from? Why don't we understand?

Well, Chris and Dave hate that Clark won't just be Superman. That's one thing. But the interpersonal relationships seem a realer objection. They hate the way that Clark mistreated Lex, just like I hated the way that Wesley mooned over Fred. I hate that Buffy spent two seasons sitting on her couch while her friends fell apart around her, but I hated the way that the only action she took was on her attraction for Spike more.

 I'm going to put it out there that for Chris and Dave, what matters is that Welland/Clark doesn't get together with Lex. Hee. What's a discussion of Smallville without some homoerotic hilarity? Put it that way, and I think I'm seeing my problem with Wesley. He had a steady, and he threw her over. Sure, she ended up an evil lich working for an evil law firm, but everyone has issues! Now that they're working at the same firm, they're bound to see each other more. Right? But when the new season starts, no Lilah, just more crushing on Fred. (So far. I've only been able to sit through 7 episodes of the final season of Angel so far. Maybe it'll turn out that Lilith's in the next office, and he could just go over and knock her up if he weren't such a chicken.)

When you look at it, there are a lot of protagonists actively avoiding anyone who might like them until they go away or do something even worse.  Just be mean to anyone who seems to like you until they give up! What kind of rule of living is that? "Go away, Lilith," says Wesley. "You like me. No girl worth dating would want me. Look at Fred. She hates everything I say or do and has zero chemistry with me. Now there's a girl!" Buffy even drops Riley in favour of a soulless, demonic mass murderer. Admittedly, that's because the internet wanted it, but ..really.

So what's going on here? Duh. They're derailing plot culminations to sell more episodes. ("Tah, everybody. I'm leaving Angel Investigations to start a consulting firm and make babies with Lilith." Okay, admittedly, Angel would have gone on without Wesley. How about, "hey, Scooby Gang, don't be sad. After the wedding, you can come visit Riley and me at our suburban split level. Sometimes. Look. Call first.") Sometimes the derailment works, as with Niles and Daphne. But that's a lot less important than squeezing out a few more episodes and making some money!

By way of contrast, actual people make every mistake a serial protagonist makes, for much less excusable reasons. We're winded and we want to stop jogging. It's early and we don't want to get out of bed into a cold apartment. If we apply for a new job, people might  reject us. If we get it, we'll have to move. We snack because dieting is hard, and blog instead of writing a review for H-Net because we're lazy. The one thing that all of these reasons have in common is that they're harmful. That's why we have an inner drill-sergeant yelling at us to get moving. ("Stop the insanity!" I wonder what ever happened to her?)

So the hating? That's our inner drill sergeant acting out. We should leave Buffy and Clark and Wesley alone, since, after all, they're just earning residuals. We should yell at ourselves, until we actually are writing that review. Sigh.

(Edit: Thought I'd try to get Stephanie Romanov's character's name right.

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