Monday, July 23, 2007

Lessons Learned

In a recent interview with Michael Ausiello concerning the third season of "Supernatural", Eric Kripke once again proves he's of that rare breed of TV writer that learns from past mistakes:

"I know people weren't thrilled about Jo last season, but we feel we've learned from that mistake. I love the actress [Alona Tal], but the problem was, we conceived the character wrong. She was the girl next door, she was the little sister, and her attitude was, 'How can I help you?' And, [exec producer] Bob Singer and I always said to ourselves in Season 2, if we were to bring girls into the show, the way to bring them in is to make trouble for the guys, not to be helpful. To introduce them as their own fleshed-out characters in their own right, who are raging pains in the ass, and trouble, and dangerous, and then sort of see what happens."

He's named that tune in one, really, and he goes on to report that Bela and Ruby, the incoming new characters, were not pre-conceived as love interests for the Winchester brothers. That's another mistake they made with Jo, in terms of being blindingly obvious that she was being set up with Dean. The whole thing was handled so clumsily that Kripke had to shut it down before she became the Second Coming of Poochie.

So far, so good... now if he could just promise us a wee bit less Angst this season, I'm thinking it could be the show's best year.





I've been thinking about the purpose of supporting characters in fiction quite a lot lately. I've mentioned to you before that one of my biggest complaints about modern superhero comics is the decline of the supporting cast -- although this is likely yet another side effect of the serial: with a series like, say, Spider-Man, the characters have been around for so very long that they've been twisted into every possible arrangement that the premise (or the company that owns them) will reasonably allow.

Mary Jane supports Peter. Mary Jane does not support Peter. Mary Jane is a successful actress and can finance Peter's superhero dilettantism. Mary Jane is a failure as an actress and now Peter must struggle with financial difficulties. Mary Jane is dating Peter. Mary Jane is dating Harry. Mary Jane is married to Peter. Mary Jane is defined by her relation to Peter, doomed to a flighty inconsistency -- not because she is a woman, but because she is not the protagonist.

And thus desperate and foolish writers must bring their wards to the altar and make dark, obscene sacrifices to originality, turning their faces away from logic and plausibility. Soon, supporting characters start putting on costumes or going into comas or fighting their evil identical twins or having sex with Norman Osborn or dying, that dearest of dramatic devices. Mary Jane and Aunt May have both already died -- but the curse of the soap opera means that they'll always have one foot in the grave and one hand in the refrigerator, and nothing is so implausible that it can't happen twice.

Because this time our hero is REALLY mad. And he's ON THE EDGE and he might CROSS THE LINE. And NOTHING will EVER be the same AGAIN.

I are serious superhero. This is serious storyline.

Now, I know you're not wild about Harry Potter -- but that's okay, because I don't watch Supernatural.

Consider Hermione. Hermione tends to serve as an instrument of exposition: she is the nerd who always happens to have just the right bit of trivia help Harry find his way to the next plot point. At the other end, we have Ginny Weasley, who -- spoilers! -- doesn't actually do anything interesting in the last book except kiss Harry and encourage him to not die.

Hermione only exists to service the plot; Ginny only exists. Both are pale shadows: when the narrative is pinned to the wall and its wings are examined with the lepidopterist's brutal care, it becomes clear that neither character has ever been truly alive; they are not truer than life, as the saying goes, like the early J. Jonah Jameson, or Abby Arcane in the care of Mr. Moore, or even (forgive me) fat old John Falstaff.

It's no surprise, really. Falstaffs and Fonzies and Wolverines are dangerous. They steal the show and then cheerfully ignore the stage directions. They burn so brightly that they threaten to burn the theatre down: Spike escapes his single episode to go from little bad to Big Bad to neutered pet to friendly nemesis to sex toy to full Scooby and not even cancellation can stop him -- even when he seems to have finally burnt himself out, he rises with phoenician persistence and does it all over again. The immensely compelling Hannibal Lecter escapes his cell and the heat of his gaze and his intellect is so intense that the next book must bear his name, and the last will abandon even the pretense of abhorring him; Hannibal is not rising, he has already risen, and his tale suffers accordingly.

Jo sounds dull. "How can I help you?" does not make for an interesting character. But the new breed, with their "I am a raging pain in the ass" rhetoric, are not necessarily any better, despite that initial, delightful promise of Conflict: Faith is interesting; Dawn is not. Mary Jane has embraced both positions at one point or another, but neither has necessarily redeemed her character or made me pull Spider-Man off the rack.

Here's hoping Bela and Ruby have that sacred spark. If they do, let me know. If they're interesting enough, I might even try watching the show.