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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why We Love The Underdog

Over the years, I have found an insane coincidence with a lot of shows I enjoy- most of them feature an underdog.  What is an underdog you ask?  It's a person who has a history of screwing up- but there's always the hope that they will rise from the ashes like a phoenix and finally do something right.  Sometimes an underdog's shortcomings are self-induced- like Hank Moody from Californication.  I've always been a huge fan of David Duchovny and he is the epitome of the underdog in this series.  He loves his wife/mother of his daughter but he's far from happy being domesticated- and just can't get his act together professionally, socially or romantically.  Sexually, he has no problem- those of you have seen the show know that meeting other women has never been an issue for him. Somehow, despite whatever he does, you can't help but feel sorry for him... he loves his family so much but just can't seem to make that transition from single guy on the prowl to happy husband and dad.  Add booze and drugs to the mix and it always leads to his downfall.

We find such characters relatable and even root for them- it always seems they are just about to finally get their act together- then they do something ridiculous at the last minute to completely screw up all the groundwork they have made.  Hmmm, I think I may be a bit guilty of this myself- scary.  And yet we still throw hope onto the underdog show after show- we see in them the struggle inside ourselves, and the struggle for meaning in a life that isn't always fair or easy.  Why do you think LOST was such a huge success?  Yes, it was the first time such a show was introduced to mainstream TV- a show that actually made viewers think (gasp!)- but in reality, who were the characters?  They were all dysfunctional and had screwed up in some major way- and had a chance to start again on the island and leave their past behind.  Or so they thought.  As I already mentioned, the underdog always tries to change for the better- but it seems bad choices & fate make it impossible- it's part of who they are. 

Another one of my faves is the TV show "Breaking Bad".  Bryan Cranston plays Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with advanced lung cancer at the beginning of the series.  With a special needs son and a new baby on the way, he knows he has to make a lot of money FAST- so that his family can support themselves after his demise.  Here's a guy who knows he is dying and he only thinks of the family he will leave behind- which endeared him to us in the very first season.  He turns to a life of crime, producing and selling methamphetamines with a former student of his Jesse Pinkman and as the series progresses and he actually beats the cancer, he finds the easy money too hard to walk away from.  It's a perfect example of someone who does the wrong thing for all the right reasons.  But in the end, his actions have consequences and of course, hurt those close to him.  He has finally discovered something that he excels at & makes amazing money- but at what cost? 

Another show I am obsessed with is Dexter.  Dexter Morgan was orphaned at the age of three after the violent, suspicious murder of his mother and is then adopted by Miami police officer Harry Morgan and his wife.  After discovering that young Dexter has been killing neighborhood pets for several years, Harry tells Dexter that he believes the need to kill "got into" him at too early an age, and that he believes Dexter's need will only grow stronger as he gets older.  To prevent Dexter from killing innocent people, Harry begins teaching Dexter "The Code".   In this code, Dexter's victims must be killers themselves who have killed someone, escaped the justice system by some fluke and will likely do so again if not stopped.  Dexter must also always be sure that his target is guilty, and thus, frequently goes to extreme lengths to get undeniable proof of his victim's guilt.  Most important, Dexter must never get caught.  Like Walter White, Dexter does the wrong thing for the right reasons- trying to save those others that would have been killed had he not intervened. 

The moral of this blog is that we like to watch shows in which we can sympathize with the characters and their screwups.... and know that we are not alone in this crazy world where anything and everything is possible.  I would bet that the writers are Sagittarians, it would certainly explain a lot.   : ]

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