When I was a kid TV shows were simple. All you needed to make a televisual extravaganza that would run and run, year after year, requiring little to no effort or imaginative scripting and that would create an indelible impression on the malleable young minds of the day, were a few basic ingredients:
1.Ensure that the main character/s have either an interesting back story/shady past/cool skills, have superpowers, or are David Hasselhoff.
2. Throw in some comedy (either by way of side characters (on an episode by episode basis), or by having a main or recurring character who provides the laughs by being mean/bat-shit crazy/David Hasselhoff.
3. Add a few pieces of tech that are constructed out of pure awesome (or can be put together on screen in a musical montage to appear as if they are made of pure awesome by locking the main characters in a warehouse full of power tools, fireworks and heavy machinery).
4. Unleash on the many and varied bad guys of your chosen city/country/state.
5. Repeat the same story every week by simply changing character names, locations and the name of the dodgy corporation that’s responsible for the tribulations of that particular weeks’ hot single mum (if the show includes David Hasselhoff, ensure that there’s sexual tension without actually allowing the characters to form any kind of physical relationship (not even a quick one behind a nightclub at 1am) so that it can be shown around 6.45pm on a Saturday evening).
6. Give tantalising hints that the enduring mystery/issue surrounding the characters will progress or be resolved without actually providing any solid leads or new information (unless you’re desperate to boost flagging ratings, in which case get Napoleon Solo onboard and fuck up the entire show).
7. Sit back, relax, consider taking Ubu for a walk and ponder the possibility of changing your name to Donald P. Bellasario.
Voila! I’ve just described every show I watched between the ages of 6 and 11.
McGyver, The A-Team, Manimal, Knight Rider, Street Hawk, Airwolf, Automan, Whiz Kids, A Hard Time on Planet Earth, all of these shows (with the possible exception of Whiz Kids) followed the same basic rules, as stated above. And, for the most part, it worked (we’ll ignore the fact that some of them only ran for 1 season, but one of them had Martin Kove as a friggin’ alien criminal! That has to count for something, right?)
What this meant was, aside from ensuring that David Hasselhoff was paid enough to drink himself onto Youtube, the basic cast stayed the same, so that any characters that were just plain annoying were almost guaranteed to only last 1 episode (2 if it was a two-parter, which only ever happened if there hadn’t been enough time in the first episode for KITT to Turbo Boost through a billboard or to explain how McGyver managed to forge a SCUDD missile out of 3 paperclips, some gum and a birdcage).
In todays’ enlightened society, however, we expect more than a few gimmicks and the same plotline dragged out to be beaten over and over again. We expect overarching stories that twist, turn and disappear up their own arses, before reappearing as something entirely unrecognisable and guaranteed to piss off more than a few messageboard nerds (of whom I am glad to be a part) when the promised explanation bears no resemblance to the original question.
And, to ensure that an overarching story progresses, new characters will need to be added as time goes by, so that the main characters can develop and more money can be made by the studios execs (most of whom wouldn’t actually recognise a good TV show if it popped out of the ground and kicked them in the face).
Some new characters just work, and fit within the mythos of the show like a thing that fits somewhere really well. Bobby from Supernatural, played by Jim Beaver and added in season 2, is a perfect example of a character that does the fitting really well thing.
Others don’t work quite as well, but we endure them because we love the show. Emmett Milbarge, the Assistant Manager from Chuck, is one such character whose on screen presence makes me want to bite through my knuckles.
Some characters, though, don’t work. On any level. At all. Some have even made me not want to watch a show. House has had 2 of these: Edward Vogler, and that cop played by David Morse. Each character was placed within the show to be the thorn in Houses’ side, yet each did nothing but irritate the fucking crap out of me. They were smug bastards for a start, and if there’s one thing I hate in a bad guy/antagonist it’s smugness, and they completely distracted from the interesting medical condition being diagnosed.
And the plot line of ‘how will House get out of this one/will House get fired permanently’ was entirely redundant; the show’s called House for christs’ sake!! If they’d named it ‘Maverick Limping Doctor’ you might have a twinge of concern that Prince George is about to get fired and replaced by a younger model but, as the creator of Starsky and Hutch once said ‘Never name your show after the lead characters. You can’t fire them’.
Yet, even they, with their distracting, one-note performances (David Morse only has 2 expressions and Chi McBride always looks as though he’s about to shout ‘And she was so young and beautiful!!!’) can’t hold a candle to the fuck awfulness of the worst character ever burned onto a DVD. A character so bad, that I voluntarily skip an entire season and a half of the show, just to avoid. A character who made me want to tear off my face and feed it to the cat the first time around.
Who is it?
Well, it’s Connor from Angel.
Angel and Darla have a son. The only known child born to 2 vampires, one of which has been cursed with a soul. This child, kidnapped (sort of) by Angels’ arch nemesis, is raised in a hell dimension, where he learns to fight and live by his wits, until he follows an enormous demon through a dimensional portal and arrives back in Angels’ hotel, mere weeks after he disappears though now a teenager (time moves differently in other dimensions. Duh). After which he joins the team and fights bad guys.
That description of Connor should have ensured that his character was so chock full of hand built awesomeness that the rest of the cast would probably have been rendered obsolete (except Fred, obviously, ‘cos Amy Acker’s lovely), and reduced to being mere comic relief.
But, what did they do with his character? This ‘once in a blue moon, can’t possibly do this again, will never get the chance to create a character this cool again within the lifetime of this show’ son of vampires?
They made him a snivveling, whiney, ‘you’re not my real dad’, teen angst fuelled, petulent moron.
Just as every Levellers song had to contain the word ‘revolution’, every scene that Connor appeared in had to have him mention that Angel wasn’t his real dad, or that he hated him for being a vampire, or that he couldn’t cope because he thought Edward Cullen was cooler than he was.
I’ve only watched season 4 of Angel once and, as disturbing as it is to admit (and believe me, I’m me and it disturbs the shit out of me), I’d rather watch the entire Twilight saga without being strapped to a chair or being pumped full of Morphine, than watch it again, all thanks to Connor.
And it isn’t the actors fault, either.
Vincent Kartheiser (who wins the award for best Bond villain name ever) is actually a good actor and when Connor appears again in a couple of episodes of season 5 as a normal teenager (it’s a rewriting of reality thing, you wouldn’t understand), I actually enjoy the episodes he’s in and don’t want to strangle the life out of my TV in screaming agony. Connor was just written badly.
Actually, that’s being far too lenient.
Connor wasn’t written badly, Gunn was written badly (I’m a black guy who protects his ‘hood and his peeps from monsters and who don’t give a crap about nobody but his homies. He couldn’t have been an accountant who lived in a penthouse and fought monsters on the side as part of his exercise regime, instead of playing squash? Or a computer programmer who discovered vampires on his hard drive? No? No, he had to live on the streets and be the head of a gang. Awesome.), Connor was written bloody atrociously (‘Hey everyone, I’m teenager with daddy issues, watch me pout!!’).
Well, look at the time. Must dash. Things to do, people to pound into the ground in an effective yet entirely unethical manner.
Next week will be a little different. You’ll see why. Not appallingly different, just a change to your regularly scheduled TV complaints.
Mat’s Thought for the Week:
If Invalid means not Valid and Inadequate means not Adequate, why does Inflammable mean Flammable?