Saturday, September 24, 2011

Let me introduce myself


Scott D. Parker

Introducing new characters into established universes is always tricky. Three television shows I watch performed this trick this week, mostly with good results.


My favorite show on TV (supplanting CSI: Miami, a close second) had two issues to tackle: the injury of a major character and the introduction of a new one. In the closing moments of last season, Detective Kate Beckett was shot by a sniper. This was a day or so after her commanding officer, Captain Roy Montgomery, sacrificed his life to save hers and the conspiracy of which he was a part. Beckett lived, of course, and, by the time she returned to the squad room, Montgomery’s replacement was in place. Montgomery’s chair is now occupied by Victoria Gates, AKA “Iron Gates,” formerly of Internal Affairs.

In a show like Castle, there is the comfort of conformity. It’s, frankly, one of the more appealing things about the show. You pretty much know what you’re going to get each week: twisty mystery, fun banter between Castle and Beckett, a cast that is greater than the sum of its parts, and generally a good time. Real world aficionados point out that Castle would have been kicked out of the station as soon as his ride along time was done, no matter that he knows the mayor. You could make an argument that the show got just a little too comfortable.

Enter Victoria Gates, AKA “Iron Gates,” late of Internal Affairs, played by Penny Johnson Jerald. If I learned one thing from her stint as Sherry Palmer on “24,” it’s that she can play the hard-ass with the best of’em. Man, she was good in that show. Like any good villain, you loved to hate her. As soon as the writers bumped off Captain Montgomery, you knew that they next captain was going to be different and, likely, more of a stickler. It’s what writers do: create conflict. Now, the entire squad room has some conflict. Some fans don’t like it because it moves them out of their comfort zone. I think she’ll be a good addition to an already stellar show.


I gave up on CSI last year. As a devoted fan of CSI: Miami, the original naturally lost much of what made it special when William Peterson left. Lawrence Fishburne was a good replacement, but his character’s backstory—while interesting—started to darken an already dark show. CSI: Miami knows where it’s bread-and-butter is: scantily clad pretty people and lots of them. CSI owes its popularity to gruesomeness. As the years piled on, the gore piled on also. The storylines last year just got too dark and, with other options on Thursdays, I stopped watching.

Enter D.B. Russell played by Ted Danson. Yes, Sam is now a cop. Where I greeted Penny Jerald’s casting in Castle with a knowing nod, Danson’s casting was one of curiosity and not a little skepticism. How in the world would he fit into this show that, last I saw it, was pretty darn bleak. Answer: he brings a certain amount of light to the show.

Russell is a family man, constantly on the phone with his wife in the season premiere. He has a funny quirkiness about him, asking about farmer’s markets and things decidedly non-police like. TV cops can sometimes not have much of a personal life. Russell apparently does. But character traits are one thing. What would it be like to have Danson occupying the character himself? All skepticism vanished when CBS released a short promo video ahead of Wednesday’s premiere. It was Danson’s Russell trying to get a kid to open up about a shooting/murder he, the boy, witnessed. Like David Caruso in his first time as Horatio Caine back in 2002 in a similar situation, Danson’s chemistry instantly grabbed me. What was curiosity was now necessary. I was going to watch CSI again. And Russell has already shaken up that lab room, too, but in a much more nuanced way.

Harry’s Law

First things first: I was a huge fan of Boston Legal. I loved the over-the-topness of William Shatner, the passion of James Spader, and the quirkiness of the rest of David Kelly’s cast (Really, does he know any different?). So, when Harry’s Law bowed last spring, it was a lock for me to try it out. Kathy Bates was there to utter Kelly’s brilliant prose, and the supporting cast—including Nate Corddry (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Christopher McDonald as Denny Crane Tommy Jefferson, and Paul McCrane as the DA—was fantastic.

Enter…a bunch of people. Harry’s law firm went from two lawyers, a secretary, and a law student (season 1) to, well, “Boston Legal.” Now, Harry has moved into a huge loft with lots of open space, her adversary/friend, Jefferson, is there, as is a new lady lawyer and Mark Valley playing Brad Chase Oliver Richard. I’m used to the way Kelly writes and his directors direct and his camera folk do their thing. And I never tire of seeing good actors speak Kelly’s lines. But I kinda liked the smaller version from Season 1. In this case, Kelly’s partially done with Harry’s Law the thing that dooms some movie sequels: just take what was good and double it. I’ll still watch, but some of the charm is gone with all these new characters.

Are there shows y’all watch that have introduced characters in a good or bad way? Do the new conflicts make you like the show more or turn you away?

Song of the Week: Gavin DeGraw’s “Not Over You” – Boy, this song just struck me immediately. Melodic (a sometime rare thing nowadays) and catchy.

Tweet of the Week: The paradox of modern superhero comics: Stories created for children now aimed at cynical adults. Any wonder there's an identity crisis?

--- A. Lee Martinez (SF author)

As much as I’m enjoying DC Comics New 52 titles—this week’s favorites so far as Batman and Birds of Prey—there’s some stuff I don’t like. This is a topic for another post, but Mr. Martinez writes some good posts on this topic. This was merely one of many.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I am curious to see how Spader will play out on THE OFFICE. It needs a kick it the butt to get it going. I like Spader but last night he seemed like a retreat of Will Farrell's character last year.

Jay Stringer said...

I have a couple concerns with the Martinez quote.

Firstly, anytime anyone says "written for children" i get concerned, because thats an idea that can mean a umber of things. It comes up with shows like Doctor Who, too. Do they mean dumbing down? Do they mean leaving things out? Or do they mean fun and engaging? Stories of all ages need to be engaging. If the charge is that comics are not engaging, that's one thing, if it's about writing down in some way, then that's a worry.

The other is that it's a sweeping comment. If we put aside for a moment the thorny issue of what writing for children means, we then deal with the idea that somehow super hero comics are not adult material, and that also implies a value judgement.

Should all super hero comics be "written for children"? I'm not sure that's ever been the case. I go back and read the very first Batman story, and it's a crime tale involving murder and conspiracy. I read it as a child, and was very engaged by it, just as I was by WATCHMEN.

It's an argument that's as old as the medium. Just as every generation recycles the "is tv/film/horror film/videogames/rock music/rap music dangerous to kids.

In the 50's the argument took hold so strongly that censorship was brought in. the comics code authority mandated several things that ruined comic book's for close to two decades. After that, superhero comics were certainly "written for children" because of the amount of stuff that was cut out. But if the code was brought in, then that means comics had been decidedly adult of nature before that point.

The comics code stated that criminals could never be shown to proffit from crime (which is pretty much the reason criminals commit crime) and that the methods of that crime couldnt be shown. The result was wacky adventures with giant ray guns and villains who never did anyone any real harm.

John W. Mefford said...

Hard to say if Iron Gates will last. I think she could get "promoted" or caught selling secrets to the mafia and then Beckett will get the promotion and become the top dog..just as she and Castle are ready to dive into their romance. What do you think?

Best writing on TV, and Nathan Fillion is funny as hell. Great on Twitter.