Rusty Beck and Wesley Crusher

"I only have about 50,000 viewers," Rusty argues in a Season 4 episode of Major Crimes, "and for some reason, a lot of them really dislike me."

It sounds like an inside joke. If it is--if Graham Patrick Martin is one of those characters that viewers love to hate (FYI: I like him)--he bears a remarkable similarity to Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher.

In both cases, a teenage boy is adopted into an adult world: a Major Crimes Squad/a starship. In both cases, the boy is older than his years. In Rusty's case, his experience on the streets has given him a belligerent, yet adult (though not mature) comprehension of the world. In Wesley's case, his supposed genius (which gets watered down in later seasons) justifies allowing him on the bridge (since Star Trek: TNG isn't about Wesley, his genius is eventually transformed into him being very, very bright; otherwise, he would be called upon to solve every problem!).

Both teenage boys are boyishly cute. I personally find Graham Patrick Martin more interesting to watch than Wil Wheaton (who grew a burly beard after Star Trek but willingly spoofs his youth on Big Bang Theory). Graham Patrick Martin is also--my apologies to Wil Wheaton--a somewhat better actor. His exchanges with M.A.S.H. graduate, G.W. Bailey (I can't believe how long it took me to figure that connection out!) are downright amusing. Still, Martin is so youthful looking that I assumed for several seasons that he was the same age as his character.

Rusty walking away from his drug-addled mother.
Despite their innate abilities (Wil Wheaton is a decent enough actor in his own right), both young men are used in their respective dramas as troubled youths who bear up to trials with stoicism and slightly hurt expressions--as opposed to rampaging rebellion (although Martin is given more opportunities to yell at people). That is, in both cases, the writing and direction--as much as the acting--provide the audience with reasons to dump scorn on the characters.

To put it another way, audiences have a tough time being asked to sympathize with distressed teens.

Although I was never fond of Wesley Crusher, I
never hated him or confused him with the actor!
I was very happy that Sheldon was made a Wesley
Crusher fan (albeit a disappointed one).
I'm sorry to say that I was one of those who didn't see the point of Wesley Crusher although I can appreciate some of his episodes at this later date. I've never had much trouble with Rusty since his purpose on Major Crimes has always been so clear (The Closer was about marriage and fitting into; Major Crimes is about parenting and making a place for oneself). Also, Rusty is allowed a greater range than Wesley, as in Rusty is allowed to sarcastically provoke people.

So maybe I should amend my statement to "Audiences have a tough time being asked to sympathize with distressed teens, especially teens who are supposed to be geniuses and who fulfill the role of whiner rather than rebel."

In real life, I think most people would prefer to have Wesley as their kid followed by Rusty (despite the whole "street" background). And yet, when it comes to drama, we seem to prefer teens who are sarcastic and rule-breaking (that is, teens who in reality cost their parents a great deal of money and anxiety).

I wonder if adult audiences in American culture feel that they are already being asked to sympathize too much with teens ("teenager" as a stage in life is a relatively new development in human civilization). So much angst in our culture over teen problems and teen crises and teen fears and teen angst!

Provenza (Bailey) and Raydor (McDonnell)
Maybe, too, we remember our own teenage years reluctantly. Who wants to relive them? Perhaps sweet, distressed teens on television provoke an atavistic urge to slap around the teenage mindset. Do the Rustys and the Wesleys become "whipping boys," scapegoats for society's annoyance with teen problems?

Wil Wheaton left Star Trek: TNG at the end of year four. James Duff has kept Rusty on Major Crimes by changing his raison d'etre (this is the best approach--see my notes on Stargate). The focus is no longer on his filial relationship with Sharon Raydor (played by the incredibly talented Mary McDonnell) but on his relationship with Gus. He also isn't expected to carry the show, something Mary McDonnell and G.W. Bailey are well-able to do by themselves.

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