Friday, 14 September 2007

Standing in the Shadows (No. 1): Robert Sean Leonard

Continuing the theme of saying the odd nice thing about pop culture instead of just repeatedly saying, "that David Thewlis sure do talk funny, an' he ain't a pretty one neither," it occurs to me that certain secondary characters on TV are often overshadowed by the leads. In an attempt to rectify this unfairness, and to offer a counterpoint to the Gupta post, consider this the first in an occasional series. This week, Standing in the Shadows presents Dr. James Evan Wilson from Fox's House M.D.

Once upon a time, before Canyon and I met, we both disliked Robert Sean Leonard with much enthusiasm. Though I'm sure if I applied some effort to it I could remember my reasons, I think mostly it was just because he was wet. Critics seemed to respond to him, however, and a lot of the ladies I knew in college went on and on and on about how he was just duh-reeeeemy and it made me want to gag. Why do the critics and the ladies like the wet man, I thought? Am I missing something? I thought I had learned some things about the world, but this fixation upon his pallid boy face contradicted so much. Around that time he appeared as the doomed Neil Perry in Peter Weir's Dead Poet's Society. I do remember seeing that.

At the end I cried so hard I had to be led out of the cinema with a coat over my head so people didn't stop and gawk at me. God knows how I would have reacted if Neil Perry had been played by an actor whose appeal I actually understood.

Not long after that he appeared as Claudio in Kenny Branagh's William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing Featuring Neo With His Shirt Off, and he barely registered. Add to this the fact that his Hero was played by Kate Beckinsale, another actor who makes me energetically apathetic, if such a mental state is possible. Thankfully the presence of the eternally magnificent Emma Thompson made up for the suck generated by those two. Well, that and the casting of Denzel and Brian Blessed and the fact that MAAN is one of my favourite plays by the Bard. Towards the end RSL and Richard Briers, of all people, treat Hero with immense disrespect, pulling her hair and knocking her to the ground. To my immense exasperation, his behaviour did not in any way dent the admiration of said college ladies, most probably because of the whole, "Unlike you, they understand he's acting, you weird deluded idiot," thing. [Note from Canyon: Unlike the ladies AdmiralNeck was unfortunately acquainted with, this movie was where my hatred for RSL began. His acting is so indescribably inept and his puppy-dog faces so pathetic that even though I love him now, it still makes me angry that he was remunerated for pooping all over what was otherwise a really good movie. A friend and I did spend a great half-hour in college rewinding his worst scene over and over -- a "D'oh!" face so hammy and ineptly-acted that he made Keanu look like William H. Macy. KEANU.] After that, the buzz around him subsided, and I forgot all about him, moving my indignation to things that actually mattered, like the terrible consequences of greed, and the threat of plagues jumping species as a result of massive deforestation, and George Lucas making Greedo shoot first in the remixed Star Wars films (GAH!).

So, Canyon and I gritted our teeth when we started watching House, knowing he would piss us off. Of course, this was not to be. As the show's comforting one-plot-fits-all structure settled in, it became apparent that Chase, Foreman and Cameron existed solely to be humiliated in numerous vastly amusing ways by our anti-hero House. As for Cuddy, she merely jumped into action at the end of the second act, saying weekly variations on, "I won't let you remove that woman's heart and replace it with a candle in a tin box! It's too dangerous!" While that played out in ever more ridiculous ways, a miracle happened. Wilson went from hospital furniture to occasional font of humour to gloriously put-upon foil and conscience to the ever-more-obnoxious lead, not to mention philanderer who sleeps with his patients while his ex-wives hassle him.

Though our affection for him was grudging at first, the tipping point came in the first season episode "Kids", where House is forced to try out replacements for Cameron, who has left his posse because he doesn't wuv her enuff. Poor Camewon! After a series of feeble applicants wilt under House's barrage of pissy (and entertaining) insults, he meets his match in Dr. Petra Gilmar, played by O.C. vet Erin Foster, batting his nonsense back at him, much to the delight of Wilson. As she leaves the interview, he spins around and yells, "That's our Hitler!" As we'd just the week before seen The Producers at the Theatre Royal, we were delighted. With that, we fell for Wilson.

Though we love House too, without his companion, the show just does not work. At its best, it tantalised us with the promise of incompatible roommate shenanigans, as Wilson was forced to move in with House, but it was only for a couple of episodes. I can see why; with them living together, the focus of the show would have changed too much. Instead of a show about a loner genius, it would have become The Odd Couple with weekly agonising lumbar puncture footage. It was heartbreaking, though, as the comic possibilities were barely explored.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the mid-season-three mini-arc with David Morse as the obnoxious gum-chewing cop asshole Tritter set House and Wilson against each other, and the show became mortifyingly dull. Their relationship was so broken that the writers had no choice but to resolve the Tritter problem with a deus ex machina in a low-cut dress (Cuddy), and then act as if House hadn't nearly ruined Wilson's career as a thank you to him for saving his ass. Though I was glad they reconciled, it didn't for a second ring true. Thank god for the restoration of the funny, though. The show sorely needed it. As much as House needed his best friend Wilson! Long may that friendship thrive.

1 comment:

Jaredan said...

It is odd how he is so watchable in House and yet so utterly damp in anything else I've seen him in.
I think that is mainly attributable to the balance between Wilson and House's characters and the contrast between the respective actors' performances.