Enough with the TV Anti-Heroes…

First, sorry once again for the dearth of blog entries.  Vacation was spent far from easy internet access and, thus, there was little time or opportunity to get online.  On the other hand, seeing (and hearing!) glaciers first hand was an incredible, once in a lifetime -unless I were to go back or the glaciers melt away!- experience.  Highly recommended.

Now, onwards…!

The following link is to an article by June Thomas and is posted on Slate magazine.  At its surface it concerns the new Showtime series Ray Donovan but of course addresses something far more populous (perhaps too populous) in today’s TV, the “anti”-hero:


A personal story which I recounted before:  A long, very long time ago, when I was a very young child, for whatever reason I developed a strong sense of what a “good guy” and a “bad guy” were.  To my mind, a “good guy’s” characteristics were not unlike the old-time serial westerns.  You know, white hat, always helpful, never mean, never underhanded, etc. etc.

Boring, I know, but I was maybe six-eight years old and had a mind heavily into comic books and cartoons when I developed that notion.

Along came the TV series The Six-Million Dollar Man and, if you were a young child from that era, you know how popular the series was.  After a trio or so of “pilot” movies, the official series kicked off in January 1974 with the episode “Population Zero“.

I was one of probably millions of viewers that night and absolutely loved the episode…until, that is, the ending.

But let me back up just a moment:  The episode was very much a homage cough:rip-off:cough of Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain, at least in its initial sequences involving a small town where seemingly everyone has suddenly, abruptly, died.  To be fair, after that opening premise, the SMDM episode did go its own way.  The small town, it turned out, wasn’t wiped out after all, but somehow the entire population was simultaneously knocked unconscious by some kind of high tech sonic weapon.  The creator of that weapon, it turned out, was a scientist that held a bitter grudge against the government because funds for his weapon were cut in favor of, you guessed it, the Bionic Man program.

The fact that Steve Austin, the man who benefited from the Bionic Man program -indeed was the Bionic Man program, gets involved in the case turns out to be more of a coincidence than it probably should have been, but our hero investigates the situation and is eventually captured by the bad guys who, because they know about his abilities, also know his weaknesses.  The lead villain orders Austin put into a large meat freezer.  His bionic limbs are vulnerable to extreme cold and, therefore, this would be the way they would get rid of him.

So Steve Austin is locked in the freezer and the villains head off to a mountain range, intent on using their weapon on another town, upset the government hasn’t paid them their ransom demands and intent on pushing the settings of their sonic weapon from “stun unconscious” to “kill”.

Meanwhile, Steve Austin breaks out of the cooler and, in one of the better sequences of the story, stumbles about, unable to fully use his bionic limbs, desperate to get to the villains before they murder an entire town.  As Austin moves in the sun, his bionic parts limber up and he begins his heroic run, eventually reaching a point where he spots the villain’s van parked a short distance away.

Steve Austin also notes a small square fenced off area and runs to it.  He grabs one of the fence posts and pulls it from the ground, complete with cement block, and runs at the van.  The villains spot him, aim their weapon at him, but before they can eliminate the Bionic Man he hurls the fence post javelin-style at them.  The post slams through the van’s outer wall and the van and villains go up in a ball of explosive flame.  (You can see the entire thing I’ve just described here)

The young child I was back then was very disturbed by Steve Austin’s actions.

As I said before, my idea of a “hero” was pretty strict, and one thing a hero never, ever did was kill.  Especially not in a premeditated fashion.  Yet this is exactly what Steve Austin effectively did.  When he was hurrying to the van, he knew very well the villains needed large amounts of electricity from the power lines around them to juice up their machine.  When he pulled out the metal fence post, could he have flung it at the power lines around the vans and simply disabled their weapon rather than gun for them directly.

But even if the power lines were difficult to get to, how was he to know the villains would spot him as he ran toward them?  Granted, they did, but what if he managed to run up to them and simply rip the power cord between van and power line before they spotted him?

The fact is that Steve Austin pulled that metal post out of the ground with one idea and one idea only:  To use it exactly as he did and hurl it at the van, intent on at the very least hurting and at the most killing all the villains he was up against.

A big no-no to my child’s mind back then.

Today, of course, heroes killing hapless/helpless villains is hardly anything new or startling.  And, going back to the article above, the genre of the “anti-hero” has taken off…and off and off to the point where I’m in agreement with the author that this has become a rather boring -dare I say it- cliche.

That’s not to say that some of the “classic” anti-heroes have lost their luster, only that the most recent batches appear to offer us little in the way of something new.

Who knows.  With the way things have gone thus far, perhaps the next big thing will be the hero I imagined in my youth.

Or might that prove to be a bit too boring in this more cynical age?