I always have one problem when watching The Inbetweeners. That problem is that under no circumstances would I ever tolerate Jay. When I was growing up – when I was indeed an Inbetweener – I had mates like that. I’m still friends with one of them (he knows well who he is and he’s fine with it) but looking back now there were so many opportunities when I would have been completely justified in telling him to sling his hook.
Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t and don’t regret that I didn’t. That’s not what this piece is about. What it’s about is that I would never have put up with Jay, and I proved with said friend I have a lot of patience! But in fiction it can be a dangerous area. We need these types of characters for various reasons, as foils to the lead, comic relief and more, but writers have that curious affliction where it can be possible to write them too well. Jay aside, the character that influenced this notion most prominently for me is Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory.
Maybe it’s a little left field when there are characters of a similar nature to be found in Shakespeare, Joyce and hard hitting drama like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, Dr. Cooper is the ultimate example of what I am about to talk about. TBBT started off as a fresh entry to the sitcom world, still the same old stuff to look at and following a lot of tropes but with a new spin to the dialogue and subject matter that seemed surprising coming from an embedded veteran like Chuck Lorre. But from the off, one thing has always stuck out at me – why would anyone put up with Sheldon? Yes, it’s half of the point that he be so God damn irritating, but now in the show’s 8th season, he just isn’t to be tolerated. Yes, the whole point of the character is that he is completely lacking in any form of conventional social skills, but usually these types of people in fiction will be given redeeming moments that remind us, if only briefly, that they are in fact nice after all. Joey in F.R.I.E.N.D.S could have been a despicable human being had he not had those redeeming moments. With Sheldon, Lorre and Co. seem content to just year on year see what further annoying traits and incidents they can attribute him.
I’m not saying this is “bad” writing or anything of the sort, in fact it is quite the opposite. Falling into a rhythm of making him sympathetic all of a sudden would indeed be cliche and belittle all of the work done to this point. But when believability is becoming an issue in a sitcom you know you’re in trouble. There’s just nobody on this earth would tolerate him as long as the gang have, particularly with some of the severely harsh things he has said and done, albeit inadvertently. Take the aforementioned Breaking Bad as an example. Skylar White is one of the most well written annoying characters around. But come the final season of the show she had been redeemed to a certain degree. Nobody was running the “We Love Skylar” fan club by the finale but the writing crew had efficiently conveyed reasons for sympathy with regard to her without falling into cliche and laziness. Now, the day will come soon enough where I manage to post on this blog without referencing Breaking Bad and I know many will argue that it is unfair to compare any other TV show to it. But take Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother or Lester Nygaard in this year’s Fargo. Redeem these characters or give them their comeuppance.
Better yet, evolve them. Two episodes into the new season and The Walking Dead has a new MVP badass in the shape of Carol. Go on, watch the first two seasons again. God lord what a needy and irritating character she was. Evolved now from a beaten and abused housewife who spent a good half of season 2 crying, she finds herself now the strongest member of the entire group. And better yet, it is entirely believable. Kudos to any writer who creates these characters and manages to have them push the viewer’s buttons time after time. But no character suffers more from being written into a corner than the ones we love to hate. A steady evolution and end game of sorts always has to make itself known, without it you have been doing nothing but using a character or actor for some soapboxing of all your own personal gripes and rants…
…which as we all know is exactly what blogs are for.
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