Friday, October 7, 2011

Typecast in Stone?

My favorite television shows are ensemble dramas, and, if one appeals to me, I'll spend hours with its cast of characters over multiple seasons. Over time, I'll figure out what makes the characters tick and learn their strengths and weaknesses. In short, I bond.

The downside of bonding becomes clear when one of my must-see show ends and familiar actors turn up in different shows with different personas. Confusing! Disorienting! Yes, I know there's a difference between reality and play-acting, but surely I'm not alone in blurring the line.

If you watched The Wire, an HBO series now immortalized on DVD, you spent hours with the ensemble cast and thought you knew them. Actor Idris Elba will always be bad guy Stringer Bell to me, and I marvel at the mother-of-all-redemptions that brought him back as a police detective in Luther, a British series on BBC America.

Jimmy McNulty, the disheveled, blue-collar cop at the core of The Wire now plays a suave, 1950's-era newscaster in the British series The Hour, also on BBC America. Actor Dominic West made Jimmy McNulty suave? Is that a Hamsterdam-fueled hallucination? Detective Bunk Moreland, aka actor Wendell Pierce, left Baltimore for New Orleans and now plays a trombonist in Treme. Huh? I didn't know Bunk played an instrument. Detective Lester Freamon, played by actor Clarke Peters, also turned up in Treme playing bass and serving as Big Chief of a tribe of Mardi Gras Indians. Remember Detective Kima Greggs? Sonja Sohn is still detecting but does it without the Ballmer edge in Body of Proof.

Dillon, Texas is the fictional setting for gone-but-not-forgotten Friday Night Lights, and I like to think the Panthers and Lions are still playing football there. Imagine my surprise to learn Tami Taylor has up and left Coach Eric to appear in a new show, American Horror Story. I wish actress Connie Britton well, but horror? Glazed eyes, pierced hearts, can't win. In a recent interview, Britton said the new show attracted her because it's about relationships and making a marriage work. If that doesn't sound like Tami, I don't know what does.

In a redemption almost as startling as Stringer Bell's, The Wire's Wallace, a young drug dealer who made sure the kids he watched over had food and went to school, was killed and reappeared in Dillon as quarterback Vince Howard. Fans of both shows got to see the young-man-formerly-known-as-Wallace mature and reach for his potential on Friday Night Lights. Actor Michael B. Jordan made both Wallace and Vince tough, vulnerable, and unforgettable.

In FNL, actor Scott Porter played football hero-turned-paraplegic Jason Street. Later, when he turned up as a creepy investigator on The Good Wife, his ability to walk restored, I knew he'd made a deal with the devil. Matt Lauria, who played quarterback Luke Cafferty, didn't join the Army as FNL would have had us believe. No, he left Dillon to be a homicide cop in Chicago Code. The list goes on. The other night I spotted the Billy Riggins character from FNL in a cameo role elsewhere. Clearly, he'd gotten his act together, and I caught myself giving credit to Mindy, Tim, and the twins for Billy's transformation.


Writers who create believable characters and the actors who inhabit those characters deserve viewers who can imagine themselves in a Baltimore or Dillon--for the length of an episode, anyway.

Some of us stay longer.

What television-show locale is real to you? When an actor you thought you knew turns up in a different role, how do you react?


Sheila Seabrook said...

For the most part, it doesn't bother me when an actor plays a variety of roles. But sometimes, an actor has a narrow acting range and it seems like they get typecast into a certain role. Then when they try to play a different part, it just doesn't work and I can't get into their character.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I hear you on actors with narrow ranges, Sheila. The casts of The Wire and FNL were so convincing, though, I typecast them. Acting's a tough gig for the good actors as well as the bad.

Lark Howard said...

I don't have TV so I don't watch series on a regular basis. That said I do watch full seasons on DVD--Dexter is Dexter and his sister Deb is Deb. TV Gods, don't even consider sticking them in other roles. Ever.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

The TV Gods are crazy, Lark, and you riled them by admitting you don't have a TV.

Debra Kristi said...

I have been known to follow an actor from one show to another but rarely has it stuck. Maybe it's the actor, maybe it's the show. But I tend to think it was the character I connected with more than the actor and when I didn't see that character in the new show, well, I wasn't happy.

Yes, there are clearly some actors that have no range and can only play themselves over and over. Those are the ones I have trouble watching in anything. I didn't tune in to watch the actor as themself most of the time. It's unfortunate.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Debra,
I, too, connect with the characters actors play--and when shows go off the air, I miss my characters. They live on in memory, though, just like characters in books.

Thanks for stopping by.