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18 April 2010 @ 11:20 am
Superhero TV  
I heard on Escape Pod that the Union Dues series may be coming to television. The prospective producer, Doug Nabors, posed the following question about superhero television series, to help him pitch this one properly:

Historically, costumed hero shows have failed, or have been perceived as juvenile camp. Why have they failed? What content/story/angle can Union Dues provide that other live action super hero shows have not been able to? Although "Heroes" has been a commercial success, it has failed critically. We are pitching this series as the antithesis of this type of glossy, bubblegum hero fiction.

I think this is a fascinating question.

I have only heard one podcast of UD, and so I can't answer the second half of the question with precision, but I do have some ideas about why superhero shows fail, why they are dismissed, and what might be done differently. I'll get the ball rolling, and then let y'all have at it.

The premise of a superhero story is that the protagonist is Fundamentally Different from other people, in a way that allows him/her to do what most cannot. The secondary premise, almost always, is that those Differences are used in the Service Of Good (i.e., They fight crime!). These two factors make it difficult to connect with the protagonist in a human way, because the protag is both in a situation and has a set of commitments that most people do not.

The Marvel comics of the 1970s and 80s tackled this by giving their heroes a lot of angst. If you couldn't get into Spiderman's obsession with responsibility, maybe you could sympathize with Peter Parker's pathetic love life. If Captain America's over-the-top patriotism left you cold, maybe his sense of being left behind by life and history got you. And so forth.

If one looks at contemporary crime dramas on television, they are made more interesting by virtue of either mundane character conflicts among the regulars or deep personal flaws in the same.   Some television series, such as Monk, take the superpower = superweakness paradigm and run with it; they just don't bother with the spandex costumes.

From what I've seen of Union Dues, it has the advantage of irony. Because the characters are themselves actors in a Reality TV series, they have a healthy dose of cynicism about their situation, their costumes, the feats they perform. Some of them are also unhappy with their situations. The key, I think, is to take the human consequences of this sort of "power" seriously and run with them. Being a true telepath sucks, some of the time. Having electrical charge build up in your hands when you get upset is a bummer.

Clark Kent is a more interesting character than Superman.
 
 
Current Location: Awash in tea
Current Mood: curiouscurious
Current Music: Daikaiju Die
 
 
 
madderbradmadderbrad on April 21st, 2010 10:25 am (UTC)
I've never heard of this 'Union Dues'; sounds interesting! I went to your referenced 'Escape Pod' site (by the way, your link doesn't work off the bat), found an article about Union Dues there and clicked on the link to the 'Official Union Dues Web Site', but the site isn't 'live' yet, they're still working on it. Can you refer me to anything more about it? Is it a podcast serial?

Clark Kent is a more interesting character than Superman.

I don't know about that; I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have spent years of my life reading an endless stream of comics about a mild mannered reporter.

It's the 'superhero' aspect of the character which draws us in; I reckon the creators have to seize that with both hands rather than being coy. Maybe I'm the exact opposite of the 'average viewer' you're envisaging in your musing, being a comics fan already, but the more the protagonist is the 'same' as us then the less reason to watch, the less attraction to the show, in my opinion. It's the superhero part of the character - and the complexities in how the superhero integrates into everyday life - which is the draw. The trick will be to make it all seem *real*, I guess; it's hard to do the spandex thing without looking silly in the real world.

Peter Park's 'pathetic love life' - not too interesting IMO. We can watch that sort of stuff anywhere. Steve Rogers' disconnect with contemporary society? That's something much more interesting, being tied into his superhero circumstances and part of the hero's working in with the real world.
Neelixsiblingcreature on May 11th, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
It's interesting to see arguments here for what makes each side of a superhero character interesting, but I suppose what it comes down to is that regardless of which guise they are in at any given moment, they are still the other character at the same time. Its not the fact that they are a superhero that is interesting, nor the vagaries of the life they lead when they are not being a superhero, but rather its how these aspects interact with each other.

That being said my favourite characters were never superheros so I suppose that I'm not the best person to talk about the appeal of such characters. I tend to prefer those who are regular people but still manage to do great things, or those with power or abilities with that have specific limits, or is offset by handicaps in other areas... Monk... MacGyver... Jessica Fletcher... Xander Harris... Chuck Bartowski... Topher Brink... you get the idea. :-)

-SC