Superman, romantic couples, House and more

I'm in the middle of watching the Lois and Clark saga. This is the first time I've seen the whole thing. It's a lot of fun. I still feel pretty much the same way I did when I wrote an earlier post about the show. However, now that Lois and Clark are engaged, some of the grist has gone out of that mill, and I've been wondering why.

I am an incurable romantic. Well, as much an incurable romantic as a reasonable realist can be. Anyway, I like seeing couples in shows get together, and I really, really loathe shows that spend seven seasons keeping the leads apart. And I really, really, really loathe shows that bring them together and then split them up, Buffy and Angel being the notable exception because Whedon did it so darn well.

But, as noted with Lois and Clark, once the leads get together, there's that whole problem of keeping up the tension/interest, and I've decided that it only works if the characters bring the tension/interest with them into the relationship.

What I mean by that is NOT angst caused by external problems. What I mean is foibles. Chandler and Monica worked, in my opinion, because they brought foibles into the relationship. Dharma and Greg worked for the same reason; Dharma and Greg were completely different and imperfect beings before they entered the relationship and one of the intelligent aspects of the show was that marriage didn't change either of them fundamentally (because, news flash, marriage doesn't: this is the reasonable realist part of my personality). They made adjustments, but Greg's uptightness and obsession with details didn't go away. And Dharma's competitiveness and foot-in-mouth tendencies didn't either (one of the smartest aspects of the show was that Dharma was more like Greg's mom than anyone would ever admit). The couple grew without abandoning their individuality--the things that made them sweet or irritating or exasperating. (Time Goes By worked for the same reason.)

For a negative example, although I was a fan of the Buffy-Angel relationship, Angel brought no foibles into the relationship. He had lots of angst, yes, but all his angst was caused by externals. For the purposes of Buffy, Angel had enough angst to keep the relationship tense, but Whedon later gave Angel some foibles ("I'm not cheap, I'm old."). The fact is, no matter how much women say they want it, a guy who spends all his time looking soulful and worrying about the woman is romantic . . . but dull.

On Lois and Clark, Lois (Teri Hatcher) has all kinds of foibles. She is competitive; she is opinionated and outspoken, not always at appropriate moments. She has trust issues. But Superman (Dean Cain) has nothing except angst caused by externals (he is an orphan, he worries about not being able to help people). This makes him a hero, in the traditional sense of the word. But it also makes him a tad uninteresting within the relationship. (Granted Hatcher is a better actor than Cain, but I still think the writing has a lot to do with it.) When he was trying to keep his identity a secret from Lois, that was interesting. When he and Lois were trying to adjust to being engaged despite the whole Superman job-on-the-side thing, that was interesting. But now that they're just in love, it's a tad dull. All the energy has to come from the outside.

It's a pity because, like I said, I prefer the leads to get together. And I hate being manipulated into thinking that it will happen THIS week, no, NEXT week, no, the week AFTER next. Blech. I spit on thee, manipulative shows. But writing that can sustain a romantic couple's togetherness seems to be a tad difficult to come by. Anyway, I do think it comes down to the characters' foibles/imperfections. The tension has to come not just from watching the characters overcome a nefarious plot but from watching HOW they, in their peculiar ways, overcome the nefarious plot.

Having said all this, I still can't think what Superman's foibles would be. And I've gotten the same impression from watching Smallville. Again, the foibles can't just be angst or worry about other people or even weird tics. They have to be fundamental characteristics like Monica's obsessive neatness or Chandler's sarcasm or Lionel's grumpiness or Spike's joie de vivre over potato chips and rock bands. But Clark Kent is noble and kind and generous and patriotic and decent, etc. etc. etc. And he needs to be. If he becomes all angry and dark, he'll turn into Batman, and he can't be Batman because Batman is Batman. For this reason, Batman provides a lot more material than Superman. Which makes Superman actually more of a challenge.

The one thing I did think of was gullibility. Or guilelessness. They've done this with Wilson on House. I've written earlier about how much I've admired their characterization of Chase. I've begun to appreciate their characterization of Wilson. Chase is a pretty boy, but he starts out with strikes against him since he is (at first) a rich pretty boy. But Wilson seems like Mr. Decent right from the get-go. Only this is a guy who has had several affaires (at least two, by my last count) and has, by his own admittance, a difficult time walking away from situations which will lead to affaires. He is TOO nice, for which quality House is always ragging him. This isn't just House being mean; House sees exactly where Wilson is heading when he starts comforting nurses and having late-night conversations with interns. It is Wilson's dishonesty about that path that bugs House. It is very, very smart writing since it makes Wilson incredibly flawed, but you still like him. (I love the line where Foreman gets put in charge and Wilson says, "Oh, I guess I'm his best friend now.") The House writers really do impress me.

Anyway, Superman's gullibility or guilelessness could bring tension into a relationship. But it would still be difficult to write.



Carole said...

My online friend, Shadow, has in her msn tag as we speak. "Superman is the lamest hero EVER." She thinks that because unlike Batman or Spiderman, Superman has no weaknesses and few vulnerbilities. I'm not the world's biggest comin fanatic, so I don't have an opinion, but I do see where she's coming from. She's also pointed out that all Superman has to do is show up and block the bullets or stop the train or put the bad guys away. He's hardly in physical danger or facing moral dilemas, or anything like that. Your point that Superman is more challenging because of it is interesting, though.

I've watched about 12 ep in season 1 of House and a handful of eps from season 2, and I'm not sure I agree with your characterization of Chase. Okay, yeah, he's a suck up, but he comes across as rather innocuous to me. Foreman, on the other hand, I go back and forth on. He seems to ge between trying to act exactly like House and intent on thinking that House is icompentent and immoral (maybe not that strong, but he buts heads with House the most). Both attitudes get annoting. But I agree 100% with you regarding Wilson. He is such a good guy (and you know I love my good guys), but, yeah, he lets himself get into trouble with women. (I haven't seen him do anything yet, but the signs are there and I know he winds up living with House.) So my Wilson love is tempered. Actually, I enjoy all the characters. They all seem to swing from being heoric to really really screwing up. It's a fun watch.

Kate Woodbury said...

My opinion of Chase was formed when he more or less betrayed House to Vogler (the cancer money guy). It took me by surprise since I had assumed that House's interns would hate him and then adore him, when in fact they hate him, respect him, love him and distrust him. (I agree that Foreman is the most like House but doesn't want to be.) I guess I didn't credit the writers with enough depth or saavy (shame on me) to create three completely different and whole personalities (rather than types, as so many shows do: the nerd, the flirt, the nurturer, the analyst and so on and so forth).

Chase looks like a choir boy. He thought about becoming a priest (the scene where he says the prayer over the dead baby is one of my favorites), yet he is very self-protective. During the cases, he rarely, unlike the others, makes moral arguments concerning patient confidentiality, compassion, risk v. results, etc. etc. (I loved the scene last week where House instructs Foreman and Chase to frighten the newspaper guy; Foreman starts out very professional and diplomatic until Chase breaks in and says, "You're gonna die.")

Chase is also not the brightest or the most gifted of the three (bright and gifted is relative, of course. He IS on House's team). And he knows it. He also knows that he is (perceived as) a rich boy who got into med school on his daddy's money. When House is told to fire an intern, Foreman recommends Chase, and House does, albeit reluctantly, name Chase when pushed to the wall. BUT Chase has already gotten to Vogler, behind House's back, making it impossible for House to fire him. I thought it sly and underhanded, and it shocked me since, as stated earlier, I hadn't expected the interns to be that complex.

What made that incident even better was that House didn't get rid of Chase, even after Vogler left. He guessed what Chase had done and gave him grief for it, but he kept him around. Dishonesty doesn't bother House, just dishonesty about dishonesty. (As George Clooney says in Ocean's Eleven, "I only lied about being a thief.") Which is why he gives his ex-girlfriend such a hard time. If she is planning to have an affair with him, he wants her to admit it, not be all Oops, how did that happen?

Back to Chase: Chase's morality is really quite fascinating. He does have a moral code, but it has to be triggered. When he "kills" the woman with cancer by missing her symptoms, he feels intense guilt. He solves it by lying, placing House, the hospital, not to mention his career in jeopardy. This isn't just an overreaction to a bad situation, this is Chase being self-protective--he won't admit what actually happened (his dad dying)--and Chase willingly sacrificing the careers and reputation of just about everything in his path to effect a possible solution. It is almost as if Chase's morality is an all or nothing proposition.

There you go: more analysis of House than you may have wanted! Unfortunately, once I start teaching in a week, I will miss the middle of the current season YET AGAIN. Yeah, yeah, I know I can watch it on DVD, but the whole watching "live" re-runs is part of my television-House experience.

Carole said...

I just found your reply today, which is fortunate, as I just saw the whole Volger storyline last night. I came back to report: yes, I totally see your point. What a sleeze. I'm still in my anger phase (not really) but I might see him as more than then a complete jerk sometime down the road, but yeah the thing was Volgar surprised me too. I can totally see your point about his self-protextiveness.

Also, did you hate Volgar as much as I did? Man he was the worst. (I will admit that I guess one place where capitalism should be tempered is the medical field. There is omething very chilling about running as a for-profit business; at least the way he approached it.)

Kate Woodbury said...

Warning, Carole: Spoilers!

Vogler is one of my favorite bad guys, which means he does chill me (Warren from Buffy is one of my other favorite bad guys).

The thing I liked so much about Vogler was that he was a plausible enemy for House, being as tough as House, yet more unscrupulous. What I also liked about Vogler was that he wasn't, necessarily, wrong (after all, the devil always tells half-truths). House's department does work at a loss. In practical terms, it would make more sense to spend the money in a more cost-effective manner, meaning more people would be serviced by the hospital rather than less. Cuddy is upset when the hospital loses Vogler's support; she doesn't think it is something to be happy about.

BUT, on the other hand, Vogler isn't willing to just run the hospital as a business. It turns into a power-fight. The most revealing thing about House and about Vogler is that when House backs down enough to suggest a cut in salaries, Vogler refuses. At this point, he doesn't care about efficiency, he wants to run House. And when he starts undermining Cuddy, she rightly foresees that this guy can't be worked with.

Yet, at the same time, Vogler isn't evil. He is a tough businessman who has made his millions the hard way, and you don't get to be a tough businessman without bulldozing some people. He is a man who is used to having his way. So it turns out all that religious stuff is right: pride really is the worst thing that can happen to a person. Which is why Vogler was such a great mirror to House because House also has pride, but House's pride is tempered by his standards. Which, sliding into tangent-ville here, is one reason I think the show works so well. I think people like watching characters, usually detectives, who have some core of integrity that they stick to more or less most of the time. Like Monk, who just can't help but solve the case, even when people don't want him to.

carole said...

The problem with Vogler is it was always about power. He started off insisting the House wear his lab coat. (Such a stupid battle to pick, especially as a new chairman.) I guess the thing that bothered me was he came in acting like he owned the hospital, a very different concept from being a chairman of a board (I think). If it was really about being more efficient, he could've handled it differently and better; talk about how to cut waste without threatening people so much. Flies with honey and all that. Ir's not just that he's a shrewed businessman who butts heads with House. If that was it I think the dynamic could've been very very interesting. Kind of like a business-savvy Cuddy (I love the Cuddy/House dynamic). Nor (thankfully) was he a typical evil, Enron-esque businessman that Hollywood is so fond of portraying. He wasn't underhanded enough to fall into that category. Instead he just came across as a jerk who thought he bought power with money and misused that power. He told House "I need to know that whatever I ask you to do, no matter how distasteful, you'll do it. And just as importantly, you need to know that."

Not a very effective style of management. His employees must secretly plot his death.