As I said yesterday, there were very few good roles for actresses this year, but even more annoyingly, there were plenty of bad ones. It’s the usual thing; most shows need a shrewish nagging wife to make things hard for the male lead, or some sexy bikini-clad hottie to titillate (poor Grace Park in Hawaii Five-O, spending even more time in her smalls than Daniel Dae Kim), or they have little to do and are only there as a signifier of gender issues — e.g. Boardwalk Empire‘s Margaret Shroeder wasn’t terribly written, but she did seem to ping-pong between two differing emotional states, all the while standing in for oppressed women everywhere. As the year wore on this list looked like it was going to be all women; that really scared me. I’m not a misogynist!
Thankfully a lot of the shows I watched in the last couple of months provided some truly terrible male characters, but nevertheless, it’s troubling that this was the case. A momentary blip? Or a consequence of Jeff Robinov’s infamous statement that Warner Bros. wasn’t going to make movies with female leads any more? Probably not the latter, but I like to bring that up as often as possible, that a moneyman in charge of a studio thinks there’s no audience for movies with a female lead. It’s not the quality of the movies; come on, it’s gotta be the broads putting people off, man. SMFH.
So yeah, here’s some more hate. Apologies for complaining about the number one choice here again, but honestly, that character is one of the worst errors of judgement ever made in TV drama. That it happened on Jane Espenson’s watch seriously depresses me. I don’t blame her for any of it; partisan of me, yes, but I just cannot believe she wasn’t overruled a lot on that misbegotten project.
10. John Pope – Falling Skies
There’s a case to be made that Pope is actually the best character on Falling Skies. He’s certainly the only character played with any sense of fun; kudos to Colin Cunningham for avoiding the mogadon gas that seems to have been pumped into the set. Nevertheless, he’s just there to fill the gruff badass slot that shows seem to have these days; the same as Gawain in Camelot and Kyle Hobbes in V. It’s a thankless role, because no matter how long his hair, how broad his performance, how “dangerous” he might seem at first, you know the cowardly alien invasion show will do all it can to soften the character for primetime viewing. And so, after just a single episode, the vicious bastard who killed one of the 2nd Massachusetts’ numerous African-American redshirts (seriously, the black actors on this show needn’t bother clocking in at the start of the day; they’re little more than cannon fodder), and who led a band of bastards so bastardly it’s made pretty clear they repeatedly raped the only woman in their ranks, is quickly given the task of being camp cook. He’s not so bad after all, you see, because he knows about herbs and stuff. Not long after that he’s bonding with Noah Wyle’s youngest kid. Falling Skies‘ central, enormous disconnect is most transparent here; the idea of the show is meant to be bleak, and its treatment uncompromising, but instead what we get is a sanitised slice of cowardice that satisfies no one. Pope could have been a modern day Ham Tyler. Instead he’s a declawed Wolverine. I dread the inevitable crying fits he will have in season two.
9. Lumen Pierce – Dexter
SoC wants to be very clear here; any dislikings here are not aimed at Julia Stiles, who does superb work as the vengeful rape victim who teams up with Dexter to hunt down and kill a group of extremely nasty scumbags. Her work elevates the show in much the same way as John Lithgow did as season four’s Trinity Killer, with the bonus that her naturalistic take on the character provides an interesting contrast to the cartoonish performances around her. It’s Lumen herself who is the problem. For all of the interesting character moments throughout the season — her initial disastrous impulsiveness, the conflict between her urge for revenge and her fear of it — she still ends up leaving in the finale as much for franchise-supporting convenience as anything else, which once more shows up the programme’s mechanical nature. Once the season is done, the guest star leaves. Knowing this is how the show operates, much of the season feels like a waste of time; she won’t be around soon, so why invest in her? She’s just yet another character drafted in to give Dexter something to bounce off, one more twisted mirror to reflect an aspect of Dexter’s “complex” persona which amounts to nothing in the way of change or growth. Add to that her damsel-in-distress function for hero Dexter, and you have the most frustratingly almost-awesome character of the year.
8. Sophia – The Event
Though the second half of NBC’s Sci-Fi Frustration Engine was tighter than the first, the radical reboot that got us to that point had some negative repercussions as well. The afore-mentioned resemblance to 24 was the most egregious, but worst of all was making Sophia the Wussy Alien into Sophia the Unbelievably Cruel and Evil Alien in the space of an episode. In the first half of the season the “leader” of the aliens was an ineffectual loser whose words carried zero force; the regularity with which her subjects disregarded her orders or basically just fronted on her became a running joke. The showrunners were obviously aware that they had created someone with all of the moral authority of an oven glove and killed off her son in one of the most interesting episodes of the season. This was enough to turn her into a badass hell-bent on killing millions of humans. That’s inconsistent at worst, promising at best, but sadly the showrunners had cast soft-spoken Laura Innes as Sophia. When playing a compassionate alien she was fine. As a potentially genocidal vengeance-crazed villain? Not so much. The disconnect between the initial conception of Sophia and her eventual turn was the killing blow for the show.
7. Ilsa Pucci – Human Target
In the first season of Fox’s generic action series, Chi McBride was cast as Winston, the witheringly sarcastic but level-headed partner of protagonist Christopher Chance, fretting about the legality of their operations but always coming through in the end. By the final episode of that season, their friendship was well-established, and that perpetual panic was rendered obsolete. Come the second season, and for some reason he was still being dismissive of his partner’s abilities, but this time he plays second-fiddle in the chide stakes to new benefactor Ilsa Pucci. While Winston has concerns based on his understanding of what his colleague is involved in, Pucci is an outsider who perpetually stresses out about the legality of their actions, and spends most of the episode being a McKee obstacle; fine if the show didn’t already have someone in that position, but untenable here. Indira Varma is – as ever – utterly charming as the innocent caught up in the shady goings-on, but the character is a terrible drain on the show’s energy. Even more frustrating, a mid-season attempt to deepen her character is squandered almost immediately, before we get into the usual sub-Maddie-and-David romance bollocks in the last few episodes. Of all of the ideas behind the show’s unsuccessful revamp, Pucci’s redundant introduction was the worst.
6. Odin Sinclair – Caprica
Admittedly there’s only a bit of screentime given to lecherous monotheist Odin Sinclair, what with Caprica being ripped from our hearts by Syfy as they attempt to purge their schedule of, you know, sci-fi. Which is fine by me; he represents the only upleasant spot in the final run of this magnificent show. He’s a great representation of Caprica‘s unorthodox characterisation. There’s barely a single character in this show that doesn’t defy categorisation; they all feel like recognisable humans, filled with contradictions and weaknesses and flaws. And so Odin is a slimy little opportunist who uses a Lacy Rand avatar for porn purposes, smokes space weed like an intergalactic beatnik, and then somehow manages to actually seduce the real Lacy Rand as some kind of awful bonus. Horrible that the writers would do that, but I guess his tiny rebellions and doofus-cool are realistic. He’s the show’s bad boy, and at least does better than the similarly-creepy but far-more-dead Philomon from the first half of the show. So if he’s such a cleverly-drawn character what is he doing on this list? Well, I reckon I’m allowed to stick at least one character on here just because I just can’t stand them, even if that character is intentionally awful and given some compelling qualities. Oh Lacy Rand, you can do a lot better than this sleazy little hipster schmuck.
5. Stephanie Powell – No Ordinary Family
Rowan Kaiser of the AV Club wrote a great piece about No Ordinary Family‘s conservatism, a right-wing viewpoint perfectly encapsulated in the character of Stephanie Powell. Her power is superspeed, a gift that Barry Allen and Wally West would use to travel through time or pass through solid matter. Hell, even Heroes‘ Daphne used it to steal things. In No Ordinary Family, for the most part, Stephanie’s superspeed gives her the ability to get all of her chores done quickly. This is a character written to be smarter than almost everyone else in the show, a scientist researching the mysterious plant that gave them all superpowers. And yet this is merely a “Strong Female Character” get-out clause, her intelligence practically added by default as there needed to be a scientist in the main cast and her husband Jim is written to be an emasculated child whose arc from dope to hero is more important than her actualisation. And so, instead, Stephanie just races around, hoovering and making dinner and lunch for her navel-gazing, lazy family of odious self-regarding jerks, just like a good housewifey should. That’s when she’s not a relentless Claire-Dunphy-esque buzzkill, nagging her nigh-invulnerable super-strong husband to stay home so he doesn’t get hurt, because the presence of whiny behaviour from women in bad TV shows supersedes logic. Man, fuck this show.
4. King Arthur – Camelot
Okay look, in the long game for this show I’m sure Arthur was meant to become a kingly king, a man who leads men, the ruler who unites the lands of Albion, searches for the Grail of Christ and fights the forces of the evil Morgana le Fay, and how better to begin this monumental arc than by casting the guy who looked like he was suffering from tuberculosis in Tim Burton’s magical screen version of Sweeney Todd. SoC has nothing against Jamie Campbell Bower; his rendition of Johanna in Todd is quite lovely. Nevertheless, it’s hard going watching this wispy-bearded incarnation of Arthur, who seems completely out of his depth at every step. It’s a version of the myth that sees him improbably capture the hearts of his followers despite looking like he’s going to burst into tears throughout, but no amount of swords pulled from waterfalls are going to convince the audience that he’s worthy. If they really were planning to toughen him up over the course of the show, they would have needed about 20 seasons to realistically get to that point. The show’s insistence on making Merlin the guiding hand means the central character is little more than a puppet. He does have some agency, at least, but unfortunately his act of rebellion against his mother and medieval consigliere is to stalk and pester Guinevere, all the while whining at her about how much he loves her and why don’t you love me back I’m totally the king cuz Mr. Merlin says so waaaaaahhhhh. Basically, he’s me when I was fifteen. No one followed me into battle when I was a teenager, so why the hell should I believe that anyone would pledge allegiance to this fey twerp?
3. Nelson Hidalgo – Treme
Last year SoC gave its prestigious Worst Character of the Year award to Treme‘s Sonny. Who could argue with us that the barely-talented, energy-sucking, self-pitying creep didn’t deserve his place at the top of the list? Well, David Simon for one. Okay, he didn’t respond to us specifically. Such was the furore about Sonny that Simon mentioned it in one of his customary defensive and self-aggrandizing interviews, bitching out fans for not waiting to see what character magic he weaved with Sonny in the future. And, to a certain extent, he was right. Sonny has struggled towards respectability this year. I’m sure that this year’s addition of opportunistic braggart Nelson Hidalgo will yield some interesting narrative further down the line, but as with Sonny, the main problem, above and beyond his obnoxious personality and forced bonhomie, was that he was painted as such a broad villain, an almost comically corrupt individual whose worst crime is almost his patronising cultural tourism, that all the audience can do is stare in disbelief as the air curdles around them. Treme can be very subtle, and it can clang like a struck anvil. This year, the sound of that anvil was a wheedling cry of, “Cuz, cuz, cuz!” Don’t let the rusted storm door hit you on the ass on the way out, Nelson.
2. Maggie Young – Rubicon
Perhaps it was Rubicon‘s mid-season change in direction that left Maggie the pouting PA so lost and aimless. Certainly the early episodes hinted that Maggie would be interesting even if only as the woman who betrays our hero in a femme fatale style, a possibility hinted at by her vampish demeanour and heavily-stressed sexiness. In that case we can blame the second showrunning team for not finding anything for Maggie to do for the majority of the season. Rubicon‘s biggest novelty — and arguably its greatest weakness — was its insistence on depicting workplace drama at such length. When the usual flirtations and power plays were enacted against the sinister espionage backdrop, the contrast was entertaining. Maggie’s problems – feckless husband, unrequited love, guilt over her early betrayal of Will – were played against nothing compelling, which meant they were just bog-standard plots lifted from other stories. With nothing to do Maggie just hovered in the background, mouth slightly open in a perpetual expression of cluelessness. Was she meant to be the show’s Joan, sultrily swishing through the American Policy Institute corridors like a sexy panther? Or was she just a loose end that no one could tie up? Whatever her initial purpose was, by the fifth episode she was a drag on proceedings, and merely got more useless. Rubicon ground to a halt whenever she appeared; a problem on any show, and deadly on something as slow-paced as this.
1. Oswald Danes – Torchwood: Miracle Day
In this terribly angry post, SoC expressed its opinion about paedophile Oswald Danes at great length, stressing our disbelief that anyone in any writers’ room on the planet would think that adding a convicted child rapist and murderer to your show was a bonus. This wasn’t a Todd Solondz, Happiness moment where that nice Dylan Baker plays a paedophile as a thwarted, lovestruck criminal and plays with your expectations. That was truly provocative storytelling. Adding a child rapist to a dim-witted sci-fi action show can only be worthwhile if something is said, or some idea is explored.
I think the idea here is that humanity will embrace someone awful if they are the beneficiary of a miracle, thus showing how easily gulled we stupid humans are in the face of the impossible, or that the media can manipulate our opinion about absolutely anything becase we’re such sheep, even though the media doesn’t seem to be any better at this than the paedophile himself as the show goes on. Whatever the point meant to be made here, Oswald Danes was meant to die in the first scene, at the very moment the polarity of the… thingy (this is as technical as the explanation in the show) is reversed using Jack’s blood, and he didn’t. So he is the new messiah. But no one thinks this about any one of the hundreds of thousands of other survivors that should have died at that exact moment. Eh?
And so Oswald just hangs around for a few hours, making some speeches and doing this weird leering thing with his distorted face as if someone keeps shoving invisible turds under his nose, getting into fights because he disgusts people, or being treated like a compassionate visionary because he knows how to manipulate people into liking him, depending on whatever garbled point is being put across that week. Of course this means he joins the long line of Torchwood characters with no coherently thought-out personality, who are merely introduced into the story to get the narrative from point A to point X through sheer bloody-mindedness, and not through the traditional storytelling method of depicting recognisable human beings acting with consistency and agency and propelling the plot through actions that reveal something about themselves.
If I were to be generous (which I’m in no mood to be, to be honest; it’s been a crap day thus far), Torchwood exists as a counterweight to Doctor Who‘s relentless positivity about the potential and wonder of humanity. This show is all about making a very strong point about how terrible and venal and mundanely evil we are, though it has yet to even once dramatise this point in a convincing way. And before anyone cites Children of Earth, please don’t. The characters in that series bore so little resemblance to humans that it might have well been set in the Tubbytronic Superdome. Any potential connection between their behaviour and ours was stretched to breaking point by their improbable and hysterical evil.
In that sense Oswald Danes is consistent with previous Torchwood characterisations, but if you take a step back and try to look at him objectively, you see that he was an experiment gone horribly wrong, a story device added without properly considering what he was meant to do. As such, he wastes the viewer’s time. That’s bad enough, but he’s also a paedophile. You put a child rapist in your show, RTD, and he served no purpose. There was no story told here, no allegory or examination of morality or even plot mechanics. His presence in the show is like an enormous stinky shitstain wiped across the franchise. In all the time I’ve been writing about TV, I’ve never seen any decision as wrongheaded and ill-intentioned as this one. It’s an idea whose time will never come.
Okay, one last post. I feel like I’ve given birth to a litter of extremely large and angry babies. This blog should have asked for an epidural.