As Dexter and Breaking Bad recently came to a close, I found myself sorrowful to see them end, wishing it wasn’t the case. That’s how attached I can become to some TV series and their characters as well as the actors who play them.
In this case, also attached to and liking characters who engage in reprehensible acts. Some eschew and condemn these shows for exactly that fact. I won’t say it’s the reason I like them, but, yes, it is a factor. But one in a complex equation.
I suppose there is some sort of perversity in rooting for bad guys. And yes, as a once young rebel still bristling with some of that spirit, I like antiheroes. I also strive to be as moral and ethical as I can in my dealings with others (do unto others ... sums it up). But serial murdering and cooking meth go beyond simply anti. The heroes of those two shows have been referred to as psychopaths more than once.
So missing Dexter Morgan and Walter White? An extra layer (or two) of irony comes when I note that obviously these people and shows are fiction. But much of their appeal must be credited to the actors who play these parts so well.
Sometimes the actors return in other quality TV series, and I feel like an old friend is back. I was happy to see Michael C. Hall, who played the quite likable if fussy gay brother in the Fisher family of Six Feet Under came back as the even more likable if murderous Dexter. Now he’s gone again.
On Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul is meth cooker Jesse Pinkman. I last saw him in a smaller recurring role on Big Love.
On The Wire, Michael K. Williams was Omar Little, a sawed-off-shotgun toting stick-up man who robbed drug dealers, and a charming rogue. Now on Boardwalk Empire he is bootlegger, gangster and speakeasy proprietor Chalkie White, an altogether different criminal. But also charming as a character, plus it’s great to see Williams nail another role.
Then there’s characters I dearly miss from one series and then they return in another, but not enough, like Dominic Chianese, whose portrayal of Uncle Junior on The Sopranos was a throughly believable, compelling and bravura embodiment of a pungent character. His occasional scenes on Boardwalk Empire as an gangster from an older era are too brief and infrequent for him to show his stuff, which piques a longing at least a bit for more.
And recently The Wire tempted me again in the same way. Domenick Lombardozzi, who played policeman Thomas “Herc” Hauk on The Wire, has also popped up on Boardwalk Empire as Ralph Capone, brother of notorious mobster Al Capone. Just brief tastes of him in the role make me want to see him get further screen time.
And on Boardwalk Empire, star Steve Buscemi is Atlantic City kingpin and bootlegger Nucky Thompson. He is also a Sopranos veteran who portrayed Tony Soprano’s ex-con cousin Tony Blundetto.
One reason why these actors return is that many of them are part of the New York City acting community that a number of the quality cable channel and network shows draw from. Hence J.K. Simmons and Christopher Meloni from Oz both also have major roles in the Law & Order franchise.
And of course there’s the obvious factor that these thespians all have notable talent, and that’s what keeps them working. They become familiar, like acquaintances you are happy to see again. That’s part of the appeal that keeps a viewer like me hooked into their characters and the shows. And of course how they are able to make the roles they play full, rich and likable, even when those characters do despicable and horrid acts.
So when I mourn for the loss of Dexter Morgan or Walter White as their shows end, it’s also about missing the actors that play them. And all part of the equation the keeps me watching the best of contemporary television.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2013
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