Friday, September 21, 2007

I Don't Have To Like You

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes a character whose morals lean obviously more on the ambigious side likeable or if not likeable at least fascinating to follow. And since I spend a much more embarrassing amount of time watching television than I do reading, of course I'm going to use TV as an example. There are two shows in particular that caught my attention with their previews: Damages on FX and Saving Grace on Lifetime. Both feature strong female characters as their leads and both characters are certainly not heroines in the typical sense that we think of them. They're not even nice half of the time.

On Damages, we have Glenn Close who plays a hardnosed lawyer who seldom ever loses a case and will go to just about any lengths to see this doesn't happen. And I'm not talking about your everyday underhanded tactics either. In the very first episode, she has someone's pet killed to manipulate a witness into testifying for her. I was horrified. And yet I couldn't stop watching. Yes, she had this ugly, heartless side to her. And then cut scene to her at home with her family and you find she's just as single-minded and forceful there too. But, there is a glimmer of warmth that shines through this hard exterior hinting at something deeper underneath. The interactions she has with her son especially drew me in because it's so easy to feel her frustration in dealing with an obviously troubled child compounded by the fact that she can't steamroll over him like she does everyone else in her professional life. She's not likeable in the normal sense but I love watching to see what she'll do next.

And then we have Saving Grace. Okay, this is not going to be as thoughtful because quite frankly it was all I could do to get through the first episode. Grace is guilty of all your normal sins i.e. smoking, drinking, sex, running stop signs, ripping the tags off mattresses, double-dipping the guacamole at parties, etc. I didn't like her from the second she came on screen and she's not even the worst of the two. She was being bad just because she could. Okay, maybe that's not fair. She does have some deep dark pain about a sister who had passed way, but by the time they got to this part (which I honestly can't recall the details of) I just didn't care what made her act the way she did. It's a highly rated show from what I could tell so yet again maybe this is just another purely subjective thing.

In the case of Damages, Glenn Close isn't really the heroine or the villian of the story. Somehow she manages to be a mixture of both (I'd give you a fractional amount here but math makes my head hurt). I think that's why her character is so fascinating. She's not really likeable but she's compelling and that's what matters the most. And yes, this is television we're talking about and a lot of credit naturally belongs to Ms. Close for bringing this character to life. But what are books but mini movies in our heads (oh dear, God, I hope it's not just me). I touched on this topic in a previous post about having a heroine who's not all that likeable. I guess I don't really have anything to add except the live technicolor example I listed above about what makes this work and what doesn't. Did I just say technicolor? I think maybe I need to get out of the house more.