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.


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