Thursday, January 01, 2009

On The Sixth Day Of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love (Television) gave to me – six male characters I enjoy.

I did this last year and it seemed to work out pretty well. In fact I think it worked out better than I expected it would considering that it was a last minute addition to the list. What I'm talking about is characters rather than actors. True, there are cases where it is the actor who really makes the character, where no one could ever imagine someone other than who was chosen playing the role. Then there are characters who may not be "actor-proof" but into whom an actor grows. After a while you may come to think that no one else could do the role but that's because you identify the character with the actor and vice-versa. Think of this sort of role as being an off the rack suit rather than one that is made to measure. And so with that as a preface here's my list:

  • Charlie Crews (Life): One of the holdovers from last year and for good reason – I want people to watch this show! The reason I want people to watch this show is the performance of the two leads, Damien Lewis and Sarah Shahi, who is going to be on the list of female characters in a couple of days. Crews is a perfect example of an "off the rack" role. While I won't say that any actor could play the part, it's also not a part that could only be filled by Damien Lewis. In fact because Lewis is British, it's probably a role that he is less suited for than many actors. And yet Damien Lewis has made Crews his own. While Charlie's quirks and what might be called "personality tics" are largely the product of the writers, it is Lewis who takes those qualities and with his mode of speaking and his body language turns them into a believable character.
  • Jack Donaghy (30 Rock): I can't remember the last time I actually watched an episode of 30 Rock (the first time I saw it I was very turned off by the character of Tracy Morgan) but I know and appreciate just how good this show is. A large part of it is due to the ensemble cast but the standouts are Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. I don't know that Donaghy is the role that Baldwin was born to play but I do think that there is no one else who could play Donaghy.
  • Patrick Jane (The Mentalist): I've recently been somewhat dismissive of The Mentalist because the series seems to be a "safe" approach for CBS. Still Simon Baker invests Patrick Jane with a number of qualities that make him stand out. I recently read an interview in which Baker stated that in his interpretation Jane is "full of self-loathing and incredibly self-deprecating." In his view, the death of Jane's wife and daughter shaped the character by taking away just about everything in his life. It's shown in his clothes which are worn and his shoes which are worn out. It indicates that since the death of his wife and daughter, "he gave up on his physical appearance." As Baker puts it, "Jane really has nothing left to live for, except for a form of revenge and justice, and his own take on what justice is." While The Mentalist may be a safe show for CBS, following a format that is episodic and therefore eminently repeatable, the way that his personality is presented makes Patrick Jane one of the more complicated characters around.
  • Walter Bishop (Fringe): Walter Bishop stands out in a different way from Patrick Jane. While the fact that Jane has largely given up on living except for his determination to avenge his family, Walter Bishop is a mass to personality quirks that are blatantly obvious to the viewer. It's largely due to his insanity of course; Walter is quite literally a mad scientist. Although the role of Walter Bishop is one that abounds with opportunities to chew the scenery, John Noble invests him with a considerable amount of humanity. In a very real way Walter is almost a child, alternately naive and knowing, callous and caring. A very enjoyable portrayal.
  • Dave Williams (Desperate Housewives): Villains are often the juiciest roles for an actor and in Dave Williams, Neal McDonough has found good one. On the surface Dave seems like a personable fellow out to make friends and help people. It's all part of a massive plot of course. While retaining his "nice guy" exterior, Dave has run Mrs. McCluskey out of her home, killed his former psychiatrist, started a fire in a night club to cover the murder that killed six or seven people, and framed Porter Scavo for the murder. The reasons for his actions have slowly been revealed. Initially it came out that he was seeking revenge against one of the husbands of Wisteria Lane. Narrowing it down slightly it was mentioned that the person he was after had killed someone in prison. Most recently it was revealed that – like Patrick Jane – Dave is seeking to avenge the death of his wife and daughter. In this case the vengeance will not simply be the death of the person (and I'm not going to mention who if only to avoid the wrath of the spoiler haters) he holds responsible for the death of his family but rather to inflict suffering on this man of the likes that he himself suffered.
  • Gil Grissom (CSI): I've always liked William Petersen's performance as Grissom but with the announcement that Petersen would be leaving the series in the middle of this season, the producers seem to have made a very deliberate effort to focus storylines on Grissom. He's been made to appear increasingly melancholy and the producers have delved into his relationships with both the people he works with and people outside of his life who are important to him like Sara and Lady Heather. There's a telling moment at the beginning of the season when Grissom asks the psychologist played by Alex Kingston whether dogs can adopt the emotions of their owners that really lets us know that for whatever reason – most likely that Sara has left – Grissom is increasingly dissatisfied by where he is. It is perhaps fitting that it is his closest confidant, Catherine Willows, with whom he first confides his intention to leave. It is also fitting that she knows him so well that she can say that she knew he was going even before he did. In spite of the fact that they have never been physically intimate their connection is on a very intimate level. The past half season or so of the series has provided viewers with some of the most revealing glimpses of Grissom ever in the show.

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