Monday, January 10, 2005

Marcia Cross vs. Geoff Johns

Last night's "Desperate Housewives" illustrated for me one of the tenets of soap opera -- namely, that it's investment in the characters, and not the plot, which sustains interest. A good character can carry a lousy plot, but not vice versa. With that in mind, let's examine last night's subplots individually.

1. Gabrielle has to use her modeling skills on the cheap, hawking Buicks at the mall, and when she sees Lynette tries to hide her shame. I can understand how this would be humiliating, but a) Lynette -- who also had to give up her high-paying job -- should understand Gabrielle's situation and be supportive; and b) if Lynette and Tom are the only people at the mall from whom Gabrielle wants to hide, how humiliating is it really? It only provides an opportunity for Gabrielle to act spoiled and entitled, which is arguably at odds with her previous "I pulled myself up from nothing" statements of empowerment. Bah.

2. Susan tries a truce with her cruel, doltish ex-husband Karl. I liked this one, especially since it connected Karl and Edie -- the Luthor and Brainiac, if you will, of Susan's life. I really enjoyed the karaoke scene for turning what could have been yet another public humiliation into a public triumph. Of course, Susan's happiness will be mitigated somewhat by the frame-job Paul is trying to lay on Mike, but still. Good for you, Susan!

3. Lynette learns that Tom accidentally saw the nanny naked, and ends up firing the nanny for it. While I understand the mechanics of this plot, and they make sense, it still seemed forced. Technically, Tom only saw the nanny covering her boobies, which is about a Janet-Jackson-level exposure (specifically, this one). Granted, perhaps he should have told Lynette immediately what had happened, and explained then that Lynette was his lobster, and who cares about the nanny since she's just a guest-star, but I thought Lynette was a little rough on him. What do I know? I am but an ignorant, good-intentioned male. Anyway, I like Felicity Huffman a lot (r.i.p. "Sports Night"), but Lynette still needs to lighten up and get that homely nanny in place, or her character will get even more frustrating to watch.

4. Finally, Bree decides to have her own affair, with George the pharmacist. This subplot was played so well by Marcia Cross, Steven Culp, their son Andrew, and George, that I can't do it justice with a one-sentence summary. Marcia Cross completely rocks this show and consistently turns in fantastic performances -- all the more amazing considering how ripe the character is for one-dimensionality and broad parody. Cross/Bree is the Spock of "Desperate Housewives," getting the most out of a person who adheres strictly to particular codes of ethics and conduct. She is the best reason to watch, and some weeks the only reason to watch.

To me, a kind of alchemy happens with a new show -- it becomes less about situations and more about character. A viewer has to be entertained by the show's characters, because after a while the situations will start repeating themselves. Just as there are only so many times James T. Kirk can talk down an omnipotent entity, there are only so many pratfalls Susan can take.

Apparently the same principle governs my comics reading. I've been frustrated with Geoff Johns on The Flash for a while, but I'm not considering dropping the title as much as I am his Teen Titans and JSA. I have been a Wally West fan since his New Teen Titans days, and there is too much emotional investment in the character for me to drop the book entirely. Johns also writes a passable Wally and manages to keep the rest of the book from being unreadable, so my frustration comes from Johns' overall tone and the direction of the larger plot. The art is a redeeming factor too, so it's not like I don't get anything out of the book.

If the Waid/Wieringo Fantastic Four or the Morrison JLA is the Marcia Cross of recent comics, Flash is now the Felicity Huffman. Basically I keep getting Flash because I would miss not getting it, and I haven't become frustrated enough with it that I wouldn't miss it. Maybe not the best comics-buying strategy, but at least I recognize the problem.

6 comments:

Matthew_Rossi said...

I kind of like Johns on Teen Titans almost against my will.

Tom Bondurant said...

Yeah, Teen Titans has been better than JSA. The Beast Boy plot seemed surprisingly accessible. However, something about "Titans Tomorrow" rubbed me the wrong way. It started out promising, but then turned into a reset-button ending. Another blogger (David Welsh?) said he thought it was over too soon, and I tend to agree with him.

Matthew_Rossi said...

Hm. I didn't get the sense that it was over, I guess: seemed very prologue to me.

Tom Bondurant said...

Maybe "unfinished" would be a better description?

Matthew_Rossi said...

Well, all that set-up about 'the Crisis' that's coming seemed to be Johns trying to get his Crisis 2 or whatever some buzz, so I suspect we'll see more of it.

B2 said...

You're so right -- a good character ovecomes anything you can throw at him (think about how much bad Batman we've seen over the years, or that horrible Superman movie with Richard Pryor, or the old live-action Spiderman TV series, or Ang Lee's Hulk movie... ).