I’m not one of those Luddite purists that screams that Television is Evil and rots your brain. When it’s good, it can be very good, indeed. (The West Wing, anyone?) And even half-way decent television can be entertaining, with a good story, and be a fun distraction for an hour. Since this is Summer, though (according to the television schedule, at least), most of the programming right now is either repeats–if you’re lucky–of shows you like, or a lot of dreck which I wouldn’t willingly give an hour of my valuable time. So, lately, we’ve been watching a lot of DVDs.
One thing that I’ve just realized, though, is how similar some of my very favorite shows are. They have an earnest, smart, good-hearted hero who devotes his time to helping people in need, usually with some, extra, supersensory gift. Sound familiar?
The shows I’m talking about?
- Quantum Leap–a brilliant scientist attempts time travel and ends up being leaped into lives in crisis, and doesn’t leave until he’s changed them for the better.
- Early Edition–A nice, average joe of a man starts getting tomorrow’s newspaper today, and runs around Chicago trying to forestall catastrophes, and knows he’s managed when the bad headline is replaced by something innocuous about town meetings or sporting events. (I loved the scene where he tried to call a Russian nuclear plant to warn them of an imminent meltdown without being able to speak anything but English.)
- Chuck–My current favorite show, with a smart, underachieving geek who gets a computer full of government secrets uploaded into his brain and now must help the government keep the country safe while also trying to protect his family and friends and live as normal a life as possible.
- Eli Stone–One of those “gone too soon” shows, this starred a San Francisco lawyer who develops a brain aneurism and starts seeing visions which may or may not make him a prophet–but when he follows the clues in the visions and takes the right cases, helps out people in need.
- Lois and Clark–Yes, I know, it’s not as trendy as Smallville was a couple years ago, but I loved this 1990s version of Superman which, again, had a well-meaning hero with special gifts that he used to help people out.
- Beauty and the Beast–Going back even further, to the Ron Perlman/Linda Hamilton show with, again, a hero with special gifts (and a knack for riding on the top of subway trains) who helps out his own personal damsel in distress.
- Due South–True, Benton Fraser didn’t have any special abilities beyond his keen observations and pure heart, but he was as earnest and well-meaning a hero as a girl could want.
And those are just the tv shows I have on DVD. (Yes, I do own copies of all of them, and yes, some of them are better than others.) That’s not even counting other shows I’ve watched over the years. A lot of those heroes have similar traits, too. Jarod from The Pretender, for example. How about Max Evans, the gifted (and earnest and good-hearted) alien from Roswell? Anyone remember Benu from the really old, short-lived series The Phoenix? Patrick Jane of the Mentalist fits this mold, too. For that matter, so does Buffy Summers (except for the fact that she’s obviously not a man.)
Obviously, I’ve got some kind of archetype of HERO in my head that calls very strongly to me–especially when sitting down for some entertainment in front of the television. Or with a good book, for that matter, because I can think of any number of heros in my library who would fit right in with this group of men on my television screen.
What is it that makes this template of a hero call to me so strongly?
The fact that these characters are so determined to help and not be corrupted by the gifts they have (even if occasionally tempted)? They’re all handsome, and that doesn’t hurt. There’s something very appealing to me in the fact that they (mostly) all have special gifts–I like the extra touch of magic/certainty that their special abilities give them. It takes away so much pesky questioning–”Is this really a person I should help?” King Arthur and Benton Fraser would get along just fine. Luke Skywalker and Chuck Bartowski could certainly get together over a drink and commiserate (though maybe not about their father-issues).
The word “hero” brings different pictures into different minds, of course, and there are always varying definitions of heroism. Certainly there are a wide variety of heros I admire and appreciate in my reading and viewing pleasure. But obviously the earnest, well-meaning, smart, and gifted hero touches a special kind of chord.
What kind of heros do you find yourself drawn to? And does it affect the way you write them? Affect the types of books, shows, and movies you enjoy?