Unlikable /= CompellingComplications Ensue
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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

DMc thinks that I don't like unlikable characters. Or rather, that I don't like series about them.

That's not really true. I can watch a series about a guy I don't like. I didn't like Tony Soprano and I watched the first six seasons of the show, before it descended into utter nihilism. And I'm watching Mad Men, and Dan Draper is a true heel.

But there's a mystery about him, and I want to open the box.

My problem with David Duchovny's character in CALIFORNICATION isn't that I don't like him. My problem is that I don't have a reason to care about him. He's a whiny writer who, in a fantasy not uncommon to writers, gets laid by women all over the place because he's a whiny writer.

I don't feel there's a mystery to him. I just want to slap him upside the head.

It's true that I have quite low tolerance for whiners as main characters. (Sidekicks, fine.) I have an extremely low tolerance for characters I suspect of being a stand-in for the screenwriter. Especially when they have none of the drive or social graces that the screenwriter probably actually has, or he wouldn't have got his movie made. (I'm thinking of the irony of Richard Linklater making a movie about SLACKERS, the irony being how much hustle he had to put into it.)

If the first episode of CALIFORNICATION had implied that Duchovny's character had a dark destiny, and was going to get involved in something much bigger than schtupping hot 16-year-olds, I'd have stuck with it. If he had a dark past that was going to return to bite him in the butt, I'm there. But bitch bitch bitch whine whine whine and that's all there is to it? It's not pulling me in.

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Take it from a woman, Alex. The whiny writer isn't getting laid because he's a winy writer. He's getting laid because he looks like David Duchovney.

By Blogger the third coast, at 1:45 PM  

oops, I mean "Duchovny"

By Blogger the third coast, at 1:46 PM  

If the first episode of CALIFORNICATION had implied that Duchovny's character had a dark destiny, and was going to get involved in something much bigger than schtupping hot 16-year-olds, I'd have stuck with it.

He is involved in something much greater - he's going to try and win his life (and ex-wife) back.

The journey is going to be how this massively neurotic guy gets it together enough to be a good husband and father...and yes, this character is his own worst enemy, so the journey is going to be two steps forward, one step back...

So I think the show has less to do with sex (screwing) and more to do with being screwed up in a town where image is everything. Thus the title: Californication.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 2:25 PM  

For my money, the best unlikeable character ever is Basil Fawlty. A thoroughly rude, incompetent, chronically depressed a@@ of a man. And yet, you're with him all the way. You want his hare-brained schemes and pathetic social climbing to work out because there's a kind of desperate pathos to him. He's the kind of character whom, if you met him in real life -- at Fawlty Towers, for example -- you would likely detest him, but such is the power of pathos and point-of-view (and the clarity of conception and painstaking execution John Cleese and Connie Booth brought to the series) that he is the ultimate in unlikeable heroes.

By Blogger Michael, at 8:26 PM  

Actually, I'll buy that he's getting laid not for being a whiny writer, but because he's the smartest asshole in the room. I'm smart, and an asshole, and I know women are attracted to it(granted not like this guy).

And he's not whiny to the women he bags, they find him charming. It's the women he cares about(and us, the poor audience by extension) who know about his inner neurosis.

But when it comes down to it, there's no story to this guys story. He didn't do anything. Stuff happened, he dealt with it. I'll allow that in the pilot, it's hard to write a pilot. But if this guy doesn't start forcing his life for better or for ill I'm out.

And while being a smart asshole may make you compelling(for better or for ill) in person, through the TV screen it comes through a muddled shmarmy.

By Blogger Whaledawg, at 8:30 PM  

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