Sticking up for the unpopular kids in geek TV’s playground
From Lori Grimes to Wesley Crusher, Den Of Geek's writers defend some of TV fandoms’ least-loved fictional characters…
Warning: contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season three, Breaking Bad season five, and Battlestar Galactica.
The force of geek love is strong. So strong, in fact, it’s basically a Newton’s Third Law of Motion kind of deal. Each instance of geek love leads to the simultaneous, opposite force of geek hatred. Wherever a TV character is adored, another will be despised. For every fan of Angel, there’s a critic of Riley Finn. For every Rick and Shane fan, there’s someone shouting “boo” at Lori Grimes. For every Captain Picard nut, there’s a person scribbling devil horns and moustaches on pictures of Wesley Crusher. Geeks love and geeks hate. It is known.
As a great mind once said though, “hate leads to suffering”. That’s why we’re defending some of TV fandom’s most common punching bags. These characters may be popular in the world of the show, but in the real world, they’re at the bottom of the pile, the unpopular kids in geek TV’s playground, and they need our support...
Lori Grimes – The Walking Dead
Poor Lori Grimes. As if the seemingly abundant vitriol thrown at her by viewers wasn’t enough, she then suffered what was quite possibly the most shocking, traumatic and brutal TV death I can recall. I can’t imagine that any of her naysayers would have been able to elicit joy from the moment her character bled out during an impromptu C-section, only to then be shot through the head by her own son.
I never really understood the pounding that Lori took over the course of three seasons, especially via the ever present internet meme. Sure she made a few decisions she reneged on, but everyone living in the world of The Walking Dead is flawed and faced with impossible choices. Certainly her most contentious moment came when she couldn’t quite decide how to deal with the Rick/Shane triangle and ended up inadvertently leading one of her men to kill the other.
Now, I loved Shane as a character, but regardless of his motivations it was acting like a jealous psychotic that got him killed. Sure he talked a lot of sense, but becoming unhinged, belligerent and distant really didn’t help his cause and at the end of the day it comes down to one sure thing – don’t fuck with Rick Grimes.
Thankfully whatever fans made of Lori, there was always the fine performance of Sarah Wayne Callies, without which her character might not have made any impact at all and the power with which she ended her time on the show really did make one hell of an impact. Thankfully for those of us who miss her on screen as a concerned mother, beset by trauma, she’ll be on the big screen next year as exactly that in horror film The Other Side Of The Door.
Rest in peace Lori Grimes, some of us loved you.
By Duncan Bowles
Wesley Crusher – Star Trek: The Next Generation
It’s not hard to see why many people don’t like Wesley. The USS Enterprise NCC1701-D is supposed be Starfleet’s flagship – so why is an unqualified child sitting at the helm? In a series of awful jumpers followed by a strange grey catsuit-thing? Why do the crew defer to him and how come he can solve apparently unsolvable technical problems? And why oh why is he so irritatingly chirpy all the time?
But to give The Next Generation its due, there are answers to many of these questions. Wesley has a privileged position on the ship partly because the Captain has the hots for his mother, but mainly because he is, according to the mysterious Traveller, the space theory equivalent of Mozart and his genius must be nurtured, not to mention used when necessary to save everyone’s lives. These may not be good answers, but answers they are. And despite his occasionally irritating demeanour, Wesley proves in episodes like When The Bough Breaks that he has both guts and leadership skills.
More importantly, though, Wesley as a character does exactly the job he is supposed to do – he appeals to children in the audience. Not all children – we expect a barrage of comments from viewers who hated him from birth as we write this – but certainly some. I can tell you from personal experience that I really liked him when aged around 8-10. (Me too, I'll confess to having had a Year Six Crusher crush. It was the jumpers - Ed.)
Plus he’s played by Wil Wheaton, and come on, who hates Wil Wheaton?
By Juliette Harrisson
Riley Finn – Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Poor old Riley Finn. He's a good egg, for the most part. Smart, brave, loyal, reliable … he's the kind of guy who'd return your wallet with every single cent in it if you dropped it on the street. But for many Buffy fans, Riley's something of a damp squib. The main reason seems to be that he simply can't match up to the awesomeness of Angel, and to be fair, he is a little bit bland (I used to refer to him as 'Harvey', given his staggering similarity to the generic all-American love interest in Sabrina The Teenage Witch). And, with said all-American looks, courage and super-soldier status, he's clearly a homage to Captain America (as Xander jokes in one episode).
But we should all be nicer to Riley. Sure, his character does go off at the deep end later on, with the whole vamp-hookers incident, but he's still a good guy. I mean, this is the man who cuts himself open to remove the behaviour-modification chip from his own body in season four's finale. And this is the man who punches Parker in his smug face after he makes unsavoury comments about the Buffster. And he even manages to juggle being a soldier with grading papers as Maggie Walsh's assistant.
Finally, if it wasn't for him, Buffy might not even have found beating the Gentlemen so easy.
So, let's all be a little bit nicer about Riley. He's on the front lines fighting the good fight. He goes through a lot in his time on the show, and his dedication doesn't get the appreciation it deserves.
By Kyle McManus
Skyler White – Breaking Bad
It's curious that in a show full of truly despicable figures, the character who comes in for the most vitriol is Walter White's long-suffering wife. There's an overwhelming amount of Skyler-hatred out there, when she's by far the most defensible character of the lot, with the obvious exception of breakfast-loving Walt Jr. She gets involved on the periphery of Heisenberg's criminal empire but at least has the decency to be appalled when things get really bad.
Amidst all that's brilliant about the climactic episode Ozymandias, the scene in which Walt absolves Skyler to the eavesdropping police, with what some fans misread as a validation of their borderline misogynistic loathing of the character, shows the way in which Vince Gilligan and co rose above the fanboy chunder. Skyler may not be a saint, but she's no Lady Macbeth either. You can read actress Anna Gunn's own terrific riposte to the hate here.
By Mark Harrison
Adric – Doctor Who
It is often said of the Cybermen that they’re terrifying because they’re us. They’re a cold, bleak alternative to humanity. Adric, similarly, is one of the most unpopular Doctor Who companions of all time. Why? Simple. He’s us.
Conceived (not physically) by John Nathan-Turner to chime with younger viewers, Adric did so, and was as such uncomfortable to watch. The pudding bowl haircut, rubbish pyjamas, aspirational toughness, the unrepetent nerdiness, the misplaced self-confidence: it was all there. Doctor Who fans may remember parties where they got asked to dance, and instead retreated into their comfort zone of geekery and cake.
The important lesson here is: people can be very embarrassed by who they were as a teenager. Don’t, therefore, put every awkward moment of your childhood writ large into one character. Adric never stood a chance.
By Andrew Blair
Megan Draper – Mad Men
Type the words “I hate Megan” into Google’s search bar and the first auto-fill suggestion (just above “Fox”), is “Draper”. Fan criticism of Don Draper’s French-Canadian second wife abounded in Mad Men’s fifth and sixth seasons. To her critics, Megan was a boring, manipulative, gold-digging hussy and most importantly, all wrong for Don. To certain members of Mad Men's audience, the Manson Family can’t pay Megan a visit soon enough.
Putting to one side the Skyler White effect at work here, Megan’s unpopularity also ignores what her character brings to the show. As an outsider to Sterling Cooper in season five, it was only through Megan’s optimistic eyes that the firm’s sordid cynicism was really made clear (a job performed by season one Peggy before she went native, and most recently by Dawn). When an exasperated Megan asked “What is wrong with you people?”, the question reverberated throughout season five. What's wrong with them? Blimey, where do you want to start?
Culturally too, Megan’s character is the window into late-sixties bohemia that many predicted Sally Draper would go on to provide. Happenings, weed, sexual liberation, sixties psychedelia and fashions… Season six and seven Megan brings these fringe elements of Mad Men front and centre, her hip young thing acting as a foil to Don and his Fedora-wearing friends.
Finally, we’ve met her parents, and any character who can survive that upbringing frankly deserves our respect.
By Louisa Mellor
Pierce Hawthorne - Community
While he’s undoubtedly not the best thing about Community, Pierce Hawthorne isn’t the worst either. Since his introduction as a frosty old git in Dan Harmon’s 2009 Pilot, he has had a solid share of the comedy moments.
Pierce stands out as the only character going who will utter ridiculous words of wisdom like “I'll show you the tool that's most important to our survival... but fair warning, it's my penis.” He truly brings some darker laughs to the show that none of the other characters could pull off.
Additionally, in a show where the fractured psyche of its creator is purportedly poured into each of the core characters, the wide-reaching hate for Pierce is arguably a bit harsh – yes, he’s a dick, and the string of failed-redemption plot-points is a bit repetitive, but his contrast to the more likeable characters is a vital part of what made us all fall in love with Community in the first place.
By Rob Leane
Martha Jones - Doctor Who
Of all of the new Who companions, Martha gets the least credit when she probably deserves the most. Her arc in the third series of Doctor Who dissatisfied some, but frankly it sometimes seems like the audience needed the post-Rose rebound more than the Doctor did. She has plenty of aspirations outside of travelling in time and space, but in an era when the series was perhaps less adept at its flirty relationships, fans have tended to view her unrequited attraction to the Doctor as the whole story about her. In reality, she's the most intelligent and resourceful of any of the companions since 2005.
While we're on the subject, we once wrote about how her exit from the TARDIS is stronger than Rose's or Donna's without being quite as emotionally weighty- she's the only one of the Tenth Doctor's companions who leaves on her own terms, with her head held high, and quite right too. In the times we've seen her since, she's been stronger for it (rather than, say, desperately firing herself from a cannon at the walls of the universe.) Even if her suddenly being married off to Mickey Smith during Russell T. Davies' victory lap in The End Of Time Part 2 isn't quite the ending for the character we'd have liked, she's generally alright by us. In continuity, Martha's still in our universe, working for UNIT, so there's absolutely no reason why she shouldn't do a Sarah Jane at some point and come back.
By Mark Harrison
Cally Henderson Tyrol – Battlestar Galactica
It was also going to be tough, when you're up against such strong characters as Starbuck, Athena and Number Six, but Cally deserves more love than she got during her tenure on BSG. In fact, I'd go as far as saying she was probably the most realistic of the characters we came across during the entire run. Did she complain? Yes, but so would you if you were stuck working in space with no end in sight.
But it wasn't all complaining, Cally had her kick-ass moments too. Who could forget when she shot Boomer in revenge for the attack on Adama? Nobody else had the guts to do it and fair or not, she stood her ground and fought for what she believed in throughout the entire run. Whether it be standing up for workers’ rights, running with the underground resistance or her relationship with Tyrol that would prove to be her undoing (maybe her devoted Cylon-hating wasn't so misjudged after all!)
By Carley Tauchert-Hutchins
Carl Grimes – The Walking Dead
Carl Grimes has come a long way from the kid that continually stumbled into danger during The Walking Dead's second season. Say it with me: “Stay in the house, Carl!” Carl, and actor Chandler Riggs, have transformed the character from living MacGuffin for Rick's heroic quest into something close to an equal to his father. Carl is still learning, but his journey from obnoxious kid to steely-eyed killer has been one of the better character arcs on The Walking Dead. He's in dire need of a haircut, and he's not as tough as he thinks he is, but that's what makes him work. Carl is maturing realistically; the apocalypse hasn't disrupted his rebellious streak or turned him into a violent sociopath—he's just a little troubled (like dear old Dad) and occasionally behaves rashly. He's a teenager, and he's still learning the ropes of the zombie wasteland. Let's cut the kid some slack.
By Ron Hogan
Sansa Stark – Game Of Thrones
There are two main reasons Sansa Stark is not the most popular character on Game Of Thrones. One is that she plays a traditional female role, and unlike many of the show’s other female characters, she neither uses sexuality to further her own goals, nor does she reject femininity entirely and take on a masculine role. Sansa’s earnest attempt to survive as a relatively innocent young girl who just wants to get married and have babies is not of interest to everyone. But before we all cry sexism, it’s important to mention the other reason many fans hate her; the first thing she does in the series is betray fan-favourite Arya for the sake of universally loathed monster Joffrey, condemning an innocent boy and her own direwolf to death in the process. So why should we give her the time of day?
Well, she’s learned a lot since then - now she imitates her husband and responds to irritating lordlings with a slap. And Sansa has hidden depths. She may not want to pick up a sword, but the look of murder in her eyes as she contemplates shoving Joffrey off the battlements is a thing to behold. Her rebirth in season four may indicate that she will start to use her sexuality more, but honestly, we rather hope not. A woman’s story is not only of interest if she fights or seduces or has dragons; we’re interested in seeing how Sansa negotiates the dangerous world of Game Of Thrones on her own terms.
By Juliette Harrisson
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