Saturday, April 11, 2009
It occurred to me the other day that many of the most popular male characters on television today are so relentlessly unlikeable, they never would have had a chance in a prime time show 20 or 30 years ago. They are bad to the bone, and yet we love them; just look at all the Emmy awards, critical acclaim and sky high ratings these guys deliver.
In fact, our love affair with the bad guys is so prevalent on TV today, it's difficult to find a central character in a series who isn't terrible, or at the very least hopelessly flawed and unforgiven.
Ground zero for popular evil-doers is Tony Soprano, loving mafia patriarch and homicidal maniac. Poor Tony is now floating around a diner in New Jersey forever, but we have many naughty spawns to keep us entertained. The Nose bloggers have made no secret of their love for Showtime's Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a serial killer who carves up his victims with no more thought than what you would give to buttering a slice of toast for breakfast. Then we have AMC's Walter White (Bryan Cranston) on Breaking Bad. Every one's favorite high school chemistry teacher is secretly cooking crank in a Winnebago, and urging one of his former students to murder the drug thugs who get in his way.
Less murderous, but just as mean in his own anhedonic way is Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) on Fox. This pill popping Vicodin addict never met a patient or co-worker that he liked, but we tolerate his inhumane behavior because of his brilliant diagnostic talents. He has the bedside manner of Godzilla. I just hate him. I'd rather see Dr. Mengele if I woke up in the emergency room, but I'll never miss an episode.
Now we also have the very troubled Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) on fX, returning for a fifth season of Rescue Me. He's usually drunk or high, he cheats on wives and girl friends and he hates his dead father with a passion. He is the embodiment of anger (I think that's why we love him, everybody is so angry these days) and when he isn't boiling over with existential rage, he's jumping into flaming buildings to save complete strangers.
Is there any main male character out there who isn't bad? Don Draper on Mad Men (adulterer), Homer Simpson (donut glutton and screw-up), Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock (selfish TV Titan without a soul).
I remember hearing once that the original pilot for All in the Family had one of the lowest research testing scores in the history of television. People just couldn't believe that Archie Bunker could say such awful things. But good old Archie was really a marshmallow, underneath his bigoted barbs. Today's bad boys would eat him alive!