Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ronnie has three sidekicks.

You know what was a good show? Veronica Mars. This story, of a disgraced ex-rich girl who used her razor-sharp mind to solve crimes and mysteries, charging a tidy fee to her former friends and working pro-bono for the downtrodden, frequently approached perfection. Oh sure, the third season sucked, Veronica never had a compatible love interest, and the writers seemed to have little to no idea of how the legal system worked, but when it was working, which was more often than not, there was real clever writing, creative mysteries, and dynamite characterization. Ah, the characters. Keith Mars is one of my favorite supporting characters on TV ever, and Logan Echolls is a surprisingly in-depth examination of the “angry jerk” cliché. As for our hero, Veronica is a fiercely independent woman who don’t need no one’s help! I’m just kidding, actually, she’s almost constantly asking for “favors” to help her in her crime solving. But three in particular seem to have made it to actual sidekick status. Let’s take a look.


Wallace is a transfer student in the first season, and thus, the only person that doesn’t know Veronica is a social outcast. Veronica having no social status to worry about, she doesn’t think twice about standing up for him when he’s being bullied. It’s only logical that they become the best of friends. Wallace uses his position as an office assistant to help Veronica get various student records, and generally serves as her extra man whenever needed to check out a lead, provide a distraction, or drive the getaway car. He’s dedicated, smart, and funny. He’s also kind of a dork, with a fondness for remote-control airplanes and comic books, yet he‘s not a stereotyped TV dork. That’s why when one episode required him to be on the school basketball team, it didn’t seem like a stretch. Then an episode required him to be the best basketball player in school. Okay, fine. Sadly, I think the basketball thing was symptomatic of his general character decay. He lost his glasses, his nerdiness, and his personality, and become an intensely generic character. By the end of season 2, his sidekick role had been displaced by other characters, and in season 3, he was mostly wedged into annoying subplots involving his annoying roommate Piz and the increasingly less-likable Logan. And to compensate for the loss of any sort of personality, the writers inflated his basketball skills to insane proportions, to the point where he was being recruited by a pseudo Skull-and-Bones society in his first semester as a college freshman. Final proof that the writers really didn’t give a care about him: The episode where at the end he randomly goes to join the Peace Corps. Never hinted at before, never mentioned again.

I should also add that the premise of the series is that Veronica, who was once a spoiled, shallow rich girl, has fallen from grace and learned what really matters in life. So who are her romantic interests? A string of pretty rich cool white guys with whom she had absolutely zero chemistry. You know who she had good chemistry with? The handsome poor dorky black guy. Sadly, the Mars love life ran completely counter to the rest of the show. Her dad did date Wallace’s mom for a time, and they also had great chemistry. I can’t even remember why they broke up, but it was a crappy reason.


Weevil was introduced in the first episode as the leader of a gang of Hoodlums, the PCH Biker Gang. While they were indeed Hoodlums and petty thieves, they never seemed to aspire to much more than general jerkiness, and Weevil was known to come down hard on anyone in his gang who went too far with their criminal activities. This ended badly for him when the gang realized they could make a lot more money as drug dealers and mob lackeys, and demonstrated this notion by beating Weevil unmerciful. Weevil considers the formerly privileged Veronica to not be a real outsider like him, but he still grows to consider her a true friend, particularly when she clears his name of identity theft changes, and exchanges evidence incriminating his gang with a video humiliating the local law enforcement. His sidekick function mostly comes up when Veronica needs someone on the iffy side of the law to obtain information or evidence. He also got a vastly decreased role in season 3, but since the actor was in a nasty car crash that fucked him all up, that’s excusable.

Oh, and he and Veronica also have great chemistry, but not the dating kind, no matter what people on Internet say. Also, he was accused of three major crimes over the course of the show. One was accessory to murder, which he actually was guilty of, even if the guy he helped kill was a horrible murderer himself. But the other two were identity theft and document forgery. I’d be flattered if I were a motorcycle punk who had never aspired higher than convenience store robbery and folks were accusing me of such classy crimes.


Mac was introduced as the favor-of-the-week guest of a first season episode that required Veronica to know someone with computer skills. She was pretty awesome, though, and they brought her back a few times, and gave her a major recurring role in the 2nd season. In season 3, she was promoted to full-time cast member… Which is weird, since she was only in 10 episodes at all, the same number she was in in season 2. Well, whatever. She basically took over Wallace’s role as Veronica’s best friend, as computer skills are generally more useful than basketball skills. She did better than most in season 3, episode count notwithstanding. Her character wasn’t insanely derailed, and while her two relationship stories were stupid, they weren’t offensive, bang-your-face-into-the-wall stupid. What was offensive, bang-your-face-into-the-wall stupid was the second episode she appeared in, where it’s revealed that she was switched at birth, and she’s shown to have a lot more in common with her birth parents then the people who raised her from infancy, and the same goes for the person she was switched with. According to the writers of Veronica Mars, things like hobbies, interests, and fashion sense are genetically determined.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Deux root beers, sil vous plait."

THE KICKER - Marcie Howe (last name unconfirmed, based on an implication that her uncle is WHA all-star Gordie Howe,), an oddly profound and profoundly odd grade schooler from Charles Schulz’s immortal Peanuts. First appearing under the name of Clara during a summer camp storyline, Marcie’s character traits were quickly established. She was weird, unathletic, and called her female assistant counselor ‘sir‘. When reintroduced to the strip years later, she had aged up a bit and become named Marcie, but retained her personality and fondness for military precision, still calling her ex-counselor, now her classmate and friend, ‘sir’. With her distinct personality, an entertaining blend of book smart and street clueless, she quickly supplanted the generic character Roy as said friend’s sidekick. Independent of said friend, she plays a weirdly romantic role as a French peasant girl in Snoopy’s WWI fantasies. Sometimes it’s not really sure if she’s playing along with him, or if he’s imagining her. Either way, it suits her character, as she would be the only character weird enough to engage in WWI reenactments with a friend’s pet dog.

WHO THEY’RE KICKING - Patricia “Peppermint Patty” Reichardt. A brash and seemingly confident tomboy who lived on the other side of town from Charlie Brown. She was introduced as a friend of the aggressively bland Roy, who was basically a character to give the others someone to talk to when they want to camp. Roy brought Patty over to help Charlie Brown’s team, and Schultz quickly realized he had found a far more interesting character, what with her fondness for nicknames, forward attitude, and inability to tell that Snoopy was a dog. She has a close relationship with her single father, who calls her a ‘rare gem’. She does terrible in school, a fact exacerbated by her insomnia. (She’s too insecure to fall asleep before her late working father gets home.)

WHAT THEY BRING - Well, as you may note, the two are extremely different people. Marcie does great in school and is insightful, Patty does poorly and is confused. Patty is outgoing and athletic, Marcie is introverted and indoorsy. Patty calls Charlie Brown “Chuck”, Marcie calls him “Charles”. Marcie is certainly the more well-adjusted of the two. She is incredibly comfortable with herself and who she is, and is able to see though a lot of Patty’s insecurity because of it. This is very clear in their respective crushes on Charlie Brown. Marcie knows she likes Charlie Brown, knows he’s not interested, and accepts that. Patty also has a crush on Charlie Brown, but has no idea. She knows she wants his approval and reassurance, but doesn’t know why, and Chuck is oblivious, but doesn’t like upsetting her. It’s actually a very well-written examination of the kind of pre-pubescent crushes kids develop at that age. Anyway, Marcie, strange though she may be, is Patty’s grounding force. The anchor that holds her somewhat distracted friend in the moment.

WHERE’S THE RESPECT? - Hey! You know what I’ve managed to go all this time without mentioning? Peppermint Patty and Marcie are gay! DURRR HURR HURRRRR. Seriously, when was the last time these two were brought up without that being mentioned? It’s actually kind of pathetic that even in today’s society, people still look at a tomboy with a close female friend and think “Well, she must be gay.” Sure, the ‘sir’ thing is a little weird, and Patty’s favorite athlete is Billie Jean King. But the ‘sir’ thing was SUPPOSED to be weird, a sign of Marcie’s social oddness. And BJK was a symbol for equality between the sexes, and someone who showed the girls could excel in sports and should not be looked down on for it. The fact that she’s gay is incidental. The other major character from Patty’s side of town, Franklin, is also subject to this. If you ask a Peanuts fan, Franklin is a serious-minded boy whose father is in the army, stationed overseas. (Initially in Vietnam, but it changed with time, of course.) He is philosophical and prone to quotations, like Linus, but is much more sensible. He is the only character who seems to notice that all of the other characters are slightly off their rockers. If you ask a non-Peanuts fan about Franklin, they’ll say TOKEN BLACK GUY DURR HURR HURRRR. Never mind how ballsy it was for Schulz to show black and white kids playing together in 1968 in the first place.

So where’s the respect? Depends on if you read the comics, I guess. She didn’t make it into “Snoopy!!! The Musical”, but that’s probably for the best. “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”, aka the good Peanuts musical, was written before she came to the strip. Schulz certainly wasn’t going to let anyone else continue his work, and more TV specials seem unlikely, so there’s not going to be much Marcie in other adaptations for me to critique. So just remember that Charles Schulz created a surprisingly in-depth world for his creations, and no hacky comedian’s going to change that.

As Chuck to the Red-Haired girl, so Patty to Chuck. Also Lucy to Schroeder, Linus to Miss Othmar, Sally to Linus... Man, Sculz had issues.

He's in the hospital. They're not just staring at his house.



You getting all this? There's going to be a test.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Very good, Sir."


THE KICKER: Reginald Jeeves, seemingly omniscient valet. It is important to note the Jeeves is a valet and NOT, as many believe, a butler. He refers to himself as a “gentleman’s personal gentleman” or manservant, i.e., he serves only one person. This is what makes him a sidekick. A butler, on the other hand, serves a house. Wodehouse did write about one butler, a man called Beach. Beach was high-strung and emotional and was nobody’s sidekick except possibly Blandings Castle. Jeeves, on the other hand, is always calm and cool-headed, and is the sidekick of…

WHO THEY’RE KICKING: Bertie Wooster, the archetypical member of that most pointless of social classes, the idle rich. Picture Bruce Wayne if he was actually the way he pretends to be in public. It would be nice if he did have some crime fighting or something to occupy his time, since instead he winds up doing a great many favors for various friends and relations. Everyone comes to Bertie to help with their troubles, and due to being naturally helpful, not too bright, and sort of a doormat, he always accepts. Granted, his original ideas aren’t great - he once advised three people with separate problems to act like they weren’t hungry at dinner, and the only result was that the chef quit - he’s got a terrifically brainy fellow on staff to offer suggestions.

WHAT THEY BRING : Well, the interesting thing about what Jeeves brings is that unlike many sidekicks who assist the hero in his normal activities, Jeeves is completely essential to his kickee’s life, to the point where Bertie basically can’t function without him, not that Bertie will ever admit that. But the poor sod can't even boil water for tea, let alone fix any of his own problems. I have just finished reading “Carry on Jeeves”, a collection of short stories, and noticed that pretty much every story in the book has the same plot, which is as follows.

1 - One of Bertie’s friends, a man with a feminine name (Gussie, Biffy, Tuppy, etc), is in trouble, usually involving a woman. He comes to Bertie for help.

2 - Bertie tries to assist, and the situation gets worse.

3 - Jeeves concocts a plan, which is implemented with great success for all parties involved.

4 - The End.

What stops this admittedly formulaic plot from becoming tedious is due to two things. First is the quality of writing. Wodehouse could probably write the exact same plot twenty or thirty times and fill it with new jokes, so similar plots pose no problem. The second reason is the character of Jeeves himself. His sheer range of expertise is baffling, yet never comes across as unrealistic. And seeing as his solutions range from blackmailing a lingerie salesman to authoring a book on ornithology, that's saying a lot. He often turns events in a way that benefit himself, but he never seems manipulative or harms Bertie. And while he remains calm and unflappable at all times, which can be boring in a character, he still has a clearly defined personality. (He is afraid of dogs, for instance, and once calmly and unflappably climbed on top of a wardrobe when trapped in a room with one.)

WHERE’S THE RESPECT? : All over the dang place. While Bertie is always the main character and Jeeves hasn’t totally taken over, Wodehouse himself realized he was the main draw, and the large majority of Jeeves stories, as well as all of the story collections, have his name in the title. The FREAKING FANTASTIC early ‘90s TV series Jeeves and Wooster gave the two equal billing, and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is titled “By Jeeves”. Also it’s Webber’s only flop. Apparently he felt so bad about cutting anything of the original Wodehouse, the original production was about four hours long. But regardless, what’s important is that whether in stage shows or radio plays, in crappy musicals or FREAKING FANTASTIC TV shows, Jeeves is rightly remembered as an essential and equal part of the story’s success. His respect levels in-story are considerable, too. At least one of Bertie's relatives has given up on the pretense of asking Bertie to solve her problems and now just asks him to make Jeeves do it. On the employment side, Bertie never mistreats him and knows exactly how important he is, and were it not for their mutual respect for the class system, they'd call each other friend.

BY THE WAY: Seriously do watch that TV series. There's very little in this world as funny as watching local politician Roderick Spode rant in perfect Hitler style and tone about piddling topics like vegetable regulation and railway expansion.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Him find out what Kemosabe mean." or "What you mean 'we,' paleface?"

THE KICKER - Tonto, the Faithful Indian Companion of… you know what? It can be really hard to write about the sidekick before the boss, especially in the 1940s, when the description is pretty much just “Faithful [Ethnicity] Companion.” Anyway, it’s the 40s, so you know that Indian means Native American, because the other kind didn’t exist then. You also know pretty much his entire personality, because in those days, Indians didn’t have anything better to do than follow white people around and do tracking and healing while fawning over the white guys in broken English, talking about bear spirits and shit. By the way, “Tonto” is Spanish for “idiot” and not any Native American language for anything. He is said to be a prince of the Powotomi tribe, but since they live in the Northeast, it’s anyone’s guess why he was wandering around Texas. So who’s the lucky whitey?

WHO THEY’RE KICKING - John Reid, a.k.a. The Lone Ranger. John was part of a gang of Texas Rangers, including his father and brother, who were attacked by bandits and left for dead. But the bullet that was meant for John’s heart was stopped by his badge (I think this was a late entry to the legend, but I like it, so I'm sayin' it.). Tonto just happens to be passing by, and helps John give the others a proper burial. They decide to become roving do-gooders, with a home base in a silver mine, from which John mines silver not only to fund their exploits, but also to make silver bullets to leave as calling cards. Also his horse was named Silver. Guy’s got a theme. I don’t know the name of Tonto’s horse, and if you want to know the name of John’s nephew’s horse, you’d have to ask Darren McGavin. The Wikipedia entry states, and I quote: “Together, they seem to be capable of righting almost any wrong within the half-hour time frame.”

(No, I have no idea. I think it was an attempt at a TV series on The WB, but I'm really not sure.)

WHAT THEY BRING - Healing and tracking" Frankly, Tonto gets shafted pretty hard. The Lone Ranger wears a mask and gets a code name, but Tonto just has to be Tonto, hanging around in the back moping. He doesn’t even get a gun in the earlier versions. His major role seems to be to give the Ranger someone to talk to, since a radio show of a guy riding a horse around saying “Hmmm,” probably wouldn’t move a lot of Ovaltine.

WHERE’S THE RESPECT? - Like Kato after him, Tonto was a brave and intelligent minority hero who had the misfortune of being written in the 1930s. There’s not much good in being a positive role model if the theme song calls you an “Injun”. Subsequent versions enhanced his role in the story. While the pidgin English remained, the 1938 serial made Tonto the one who saved Reid from the ambush, rather than just some passerby. The TV series codified the origins given above, which had been somewhat ambiguous on the radio show, frequently going to a “White guy saves minority’s life, minority follows him slavishly” trope used in such varied media as Star Wars, Star Wars Episode 1, and probably some other stuff. The horrible 1981 movie “Legend of the Lone Ranger” made Tonto the guy that trained the rookie Reid in shooting and such. (By the way, I MEAN horrible. The lead actor, Klinton Spilsbury, never did another movie again. And with a matinee idol name like that, how could you go wrong?) This all lead up to the current comic book series, where Tonto saved Reid’s life, and is shown to be his equal or superior in nearly every field. Reid is just a bit better at analysis, and is the one who actually wants to help people. Tonto portrayed as close to an equal partner, joining Reid out of an almost grudging respect for his passion for justice. They also played with his look, making him muscular and about a foot taller than the Ranger. The series gives an explanation for his name (“It‘s what they used to call me,”), his dubious ethnicity (He’s an outcast from his tribe, which he refuses to identify,), and a love interest (The widow of the Ranger’s brother.). Yup, everything’s coming up Tonto.

Of course, Disney’s developing a new Lone Ranger movie, and has Johnny Depp playing Tonto. On the one hand, Depp is one quarter Cherokee at best, thus making him actually more racially inappropriate for the character than past actors, which is rare in cases like this. On the other hand, they cast Tonto before the Ranger, and got the A-listiest of A-listers to play him, so there’s some respect there. And that’s nice.