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.
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.