2002/09/28
 
06:22

Must-Think TV?

I have to say, I'm intrigued and even somewhat impressed by the new TV show "John Doe". It reminds me a bit of "Quantum Leap", with a touch of "The X-Files". (I have love-hate feelings for both shows.) It does seem that the developers have a story arc worked out in advance, and that is sure to generate viewer loyalty. It certainly drops nice little hints for us. (Watch the hot-dog guy...)

I think "John Doe" might turn out to be an excellent series. I am a little bit pained by the way the police detective (and others) are oblivious to the miracle taking place under their very noses. (The police guy reminds me bit of a clueless sideick in one of Stephen Leacock's stories – I think he was named "Poor Nut".)

What I find most amazing, though, is that the star is given a special power that makes him ultra-intelligent. It used to be that, in general, characters in TV shows were supposed to have an IQ of 120 or lower, unless they were there for comic relief (a la Professor Frink in The Simpsons). Oh, stars could have a specific, focused ability (e.g. Columbo), and there were some occasional refreshing exceptions (such as Dana Scully in "The X-Files") but for the most part they weren't supposed to be all-round smart.

Now we have shows like "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" in which most of the main characters are scientists, and the lead character is some kind of moody genius with an amazing breadth of knowledge. Despite this, CSI is popular enough that it has generated a spin-off (CSI: Miami).

Brainy people as role models? Who'd'a thunk it? Where did this new trend start? As odd as it may sound, I'm thinking that the show "Frasier" opened the door. I personally find the plots insipid; Mad Magazine once compared the show's story-lines to those of "Three's Company" and I concurred. Nonetheless, the main character is portrayed as highly intelligent and sophisticated.

Tracing back the genesis of Frasier, we see that the eminent psychiatrist made his debut on the show "Cheers", which also had an intelligent person (Diane Chambers) presented as an object of derision and even pity. The hero was the ignorant pretty-boy Sam. I expect that Frasier was also supposed to be a silly smart person, but apparently he was popular with the audience (due in no small part to the acting skills of Kelsey Grammer).

So the powers that be risked spinning off a show about him. In a bold move, they hired an equally skilled actor (Davide Hyde-Pierce) to play an equally intelligent sibling. They could have gone for making him Frasier's buffoon brother whose kind heart and basic goodness always wins the day, but they didn't.

When I was a kid watching Gilligan's Island, I always wanted the Professor to be the main character. That could hardly happen. In the original version of the famous title song, he was ungraciously dispensed with in the penultimate line "... and the rest". In addition, I always rooted for Wile E. Coyote ("occupation: genius"). So you can imagine how pleased I am to see television shows promoting the idea that having intellectual gifts is a good thing.

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