More Thoughts About "That Guy"!

In response to my latest post, Eugene posted some thoughts about "that guy":
John Polkinghorne, a renowned professor of mathematics and theoretical physics at the University of Cambridge, resigned to become an Anglican priest . . . he knew he couldn't be THAT GUY again--the brilliant scientist--and didn't want to stay beyond his "sell-by" date. Polkinghorne did return to Cambridge and became president of Queen's College, but after pursuing a completely different occupation in the real world. The feudal inclination to perpetual self-entitlement reveals itself most powerfully in politics and academia and must be disciplined.
This issue of obtaining maturity through self-discipline and honest self-appraisal crops up in television shows all the time but is rarely dealt with intelligently. One of the (many) smart things about the end of Numb3rs is the treatment of Larry. In Season 3, Larry finally achieves his goal of going into space. He comes back to earth (literally), but his academic options now seem kind of flat, and he realizes that his current academic explorations are going nowhere. Instead of the writers having Larry "buck up" and realize what a fantastic scientist he really is, they have him leave academics, wander off into the world. During his wanderings, he experiences an epiphany regarding his new scientific focus. He then returns to CalSci, prepared to concentrate on this new focus.

I love this. On the one hand, he does stick to what he knows (science); on the other, he has to go through a period of outside experiences before he can refocus. And last but not least, he makes a definite decision. His life finally gains focus. (I was afraid Larry would be left as wandering-hermit-guy.)


I think this type of reassessment happens all the time in real life, but on television, it takes a smart/brave writer to let a character stray that far afield. The Buffy writers couldn’t quite bring themselves to do it; the resolution to every Buffy problem was "buck up." After Season 3, Buffy's version of "growing up" became "telling Giles to back off." Ho hum.

In comparison, on Stargate SG-1, when Daniel's continual search for his wife got old, the Stargate writers changed his purpose for staying with the program (twice!). Specifically, they have him get over his grief.

Remarkable. But true to life. As we mature, we get over things. On the mundane level, some things matter less; other things matter more. We might not all leave our posts to wander the world, but we often refocus our goals/reorder our priorities/change our minds/look at things differently. Even if we decide (like Daniel), "This is where I’m suppose to be," we do it because something about where we are matters, whether that something is money, principles, long-range goals, or short-range needs. And what matters when we were twenty or thirty or forty, while it might not change completely, morphs somewhat because we morph somewhat.

We don’t just keep "bucking up" as if where we are is simply a matter of self-esteem. (Oh, yes, I should be here because I believe in myself! Again!!) Only people (real and fake) on television do that.

I often think the Numb3rs and Stargate writers are the most mature people in Hollywood.

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