The Hearts and Souls of 'Community' and 'Supernatural' (and 'Hawaii Five-0'?)
'Tis the season for Top 10 lists, but we here at Hot Cuppa TV (which consists of me and my trusty companion, the battery-operated hamster Badger, who, frankly, is not much of a typist but is extremely good at getting stuck under the couch) are not really that organized. We're all about the comfy chair and the soothing cuppa, not getting all archival on you.
(Yes, Badger is an "Ice Road Truckers" fan. And he'd better stay that way, unless he wants to get stuck under the couch permanently.)
So, instead, I'm just going to muse about a concept that keeps bubbling up in my mind -- that moment it becomes apparent just which character a show is really about. Sometimes that's not obvious until the end, but other times it's evident right from the beginning -- and I suspect that, more than once, if the producers are seeing what I'm seeing, that it's come as a surprise to them.
And honestly, often it's a very personal thing, which means your results may vary.
For me, it's a question of which character takes the longest personal journey, feels the events of the show most deeply (in that way, they often reflect the feelings of the folks at home), or represents that unpredictable synergy of character and actor that makes for unforgettable TV moments.
Going back in TV history, I think "Hill Street Blues" was about Belker; "Homicide: Life on the Street" was about Tim Bayliss; "The X-Files" was about Scully; "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was about Willow; "Lost" was about Hurley; "The Shield" was about the police-detective partnership of Dutch Wagenbach and Claudette Wyms; and, on the unscripted side, "Ice Road Truckers" was about Lisa Kelly, and "Deadliest Catch" was about the late Capt. Phil Harris (which makes the upcoming season without him a big challenge).
I'm a regular watcher of both NBC's Thursday comedy "Community" and The CW's Friday fantasy-drama "Supernatural," and when I think about this phenomenon, they're the current shows that leap to mind.
(BTW, if you haven't watched either show, click on the links and read up. I'm not going to give a ton of backstory to catch up non-viewers.)
For "Community," it's Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi, at right), the pop-culture-obsessed Muslim community-college film student. It's an ensemble show, and episodes that focus on other characters are fine, but "Community" has become -- at least for me -- about Abed's emotional journey. He's quickly evolved into the show's Greek chorus and conscience, as well as the source of most of its numerous pop-culture meta references.
Now, this is not to take away anything from the rest of the cast or characters -- and an abrupt shift in storytelling could change this completely -- but there's just something about the combination of the Abed character, the writing, and Pudi's performance that's so compelling that Abed has become the show's gravitational center.
This was never more evident than in the most recent episode, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," in which Abed's search for meaning resulted in stop-motion-animation (and a Christmas pterodactyl).
"Supernatural' is set up as a show about two demon-hunting brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester, but I've concluded that, in essence, it's the story of Dean.
He's the show's emotional anchor, the good son and loyal brother who's followed in his father's footsteps all his life and protected his brother, even when it broke his heart or sent him to Hell.
Now, all the Sam fans may scream and yell, but again, this takes nothing away from Padalecki's performance, which has been especially impressive this season, in the episodes where Sam was without a soul.
But I'm consistently drawn to Ackles, who plays Dean simultaneously with insouciance and wounded dignity, which is a hard mix to pull off.
He's like the ragged but cocky dog you know will pee on the carpet and eat your shoes, but which you also know will guard you with his life, so you give him a bone and let him sleep near the fire anyway.
While we're at it, Castiel the Angel on "Supernatural" has earned special mention as a character who has an entire life that we never see on the show, which is at least as interesting, if not more so, than the one we do see. He pops in and out to help the Winchester boys out of a fix, then returns to his day job -- fighting a war in Heaven.
Yeah, I'd like to see that spin-off.
Also kudos to the actor who plays Castiel, Misha Collins (right), who has worn the same rumpled suit and "Columbo" raincoat during his whole run on the show and has never been anything less than fascinating to watch.
Among the fall's new shows, I find the dynamic on CBS' Monday hit "Hawaii Five-0" intriguing. Obviously, as Steve McGarrett and Danny "Danno" Williams, respectively, Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan are the stars of the show, and doing a bang-up job of it.
But I'm starting to think, just starting to feel in my gut, that the show may wind up being about Chin Ho Kelly, played by former "Lost" star Daniel Dae Kim (left).
A disgraced Honolulu cop with a troubled past, Kelly always draws my eye, most recently in the Christmas episode "Hana 'a'a Makehewa," in which evildoers put a motion-sensitive explosive collar around his neck.
Even though he was forced to stay in a kneeling position for most of the hour, Kim managed to convey all of Kelly's fear and courage.
The first actor cast for the show, Kim has great subtlety and emotional depth, and I'm always rooting for him. We'll see what happens.