Thursday, February 08, 2007

In Praise of the Villains

In an introduction to the first book of the hardcover graphic novel "Justice," writer Jim Krueger gives a perfect summation of how the best villains are done.

In their minds, they are the heroes.

I had this in mind because right now, we've got a great group of villains on TV.

That was re-iterated last night with the return of "Lost," in which we see that the series' villains, The Others, think of themselves as the good guys using Machiavellan means to achieve goals that will ultimately benefit mankind. (Last night, they did so with a bus in one of the best visuals of the TV season. I have to say, I didn't see that coming - neither, apparently, did Ed.)

Tonight, one of my favorite TV villains is on, and it's the guy who inspired Krueger to write the introduction and the book itself: Lex Luthor.

In six years of "Smallville," (CW, 8 p.m.), Lex, as portrayed by Michael Rosenbaum, has always been the best-written character of the series, because he honestly believes he is the hero of the piece. Yes, he does bad things to people and is something of a megalomaniac, but it's really only because of the way he was reared and because he honestly believes only he can handle the power and the wealth in his possession.

In the comics, Lex has evolved from a one-dimensional evil scientist to a guy who believes he has genuine reason to fear Superman and his ilk, that they will render mankind obselete. In "Justice," Lex even goes so far as to band the world's villains together and solve problems like famine and disease, then accuses Superman and the other heroes of being the real villains since they do nothing with their powers to solve the day-to-day problems facing mankind.

It's a fascinating take on decades-old characters, and it's an idea that "Smallville's" producers have tapped into. They aren't the only ones, though.

In addition to the Others, we have the Cylons on "Battlestar Galactica," who believe they are doing God's work; we have Sylar on "Heroes," who believes himself to be chosen to a higher calling; and so forth.

Perhaps that's why I've grown tired of "Prison Break" and "24," shows which use more two-dimensional villains who do evil things apparently in evil's name. There's no gray area, no sympathy for them. When Graeme Bauer was being tortured by his brother Monday night, he told Jack he did everything because he "loved America" but we never see how that was the case or how his actions benefitted this country at all.

So, who are some of your favorite TV villains and why?

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: "Survivor" (CBS, 8 p.m.) kicks off a new season tonight in Fiji, but I'm paralyzed by blinding indifference, which is why I won't be tuning into William L. Petersen's return to "CSI" at 9 p.m. either. I will, however, catch "Shark" at 10 p.m.

I will, however, check out my buddy Lex Luthor in tonight's "Smallville," followed by a new installment of "Supernatural" (CW, 9 p.m.)

Speaking of great villains, I've been loving Wilhelmina on "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 8 p.m.) all season long, and the addition of Alexis Mead (Rebecca Romijn) has only added to the mix. It's followed by what is being described as a big event on "Grey's Anatomy" with a big ferry fire that will encompass several episodes.

NBC gives us another full night of comedy, highlighted by Phyllis' wedding on "The Office" (NBC, 9 p.m.) and a new episode of "ER" at 10 p.m.


Zodin2008 said...

Boy, you never get tired of finding new ways to bash "24"?

And you have an amazingly short memory to boot. Gregory Itzin's portrayel last season (season 5) of Machiavellian & duplicitous President Charles Logan was easily one of the best TV villains I have ever seen. He was easily right up there with the terrific Michael Emerson (as Ben/Henry) on "Lost".

Second, "Prison Break" may have become a somewhat flimsy show in its second (and hopefully final) year, but the one thing that's kept my interest in the show is the ultra fascinating bad guys like Brad Bellick or Paul Adelstein's creepy good performance as the untrustworthy Paul Kellerman. Not to mention the Emmy calibre work being turned in by your friend from Austin and my favorite castmember of last year's brilliant-but-cancelled "Invasion", William Fichtner as Alexander Mahone.

Though the Fox Monday duo has some deficiencies, each shopw has done a bang up job with villains. If you think futher back from "24" seasons, Penny Johnson-Gerald gave several Emmy worthy performances as Sherry Palmer, or Sarah Clarke's twisted performance as Nina Myers.

You just continue to reach for your random potshots and make wild claims about shows & characters that are easy to prove how wrong you are.

Now that I have said my piece, I agree about the stunning performance by Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor. He's terrific and long overdue for an Emmy nod. "Battlestar" is blessed with a brilliant plethora of gray characters including Grace Park, intense and sexy as Sharon 'Boomer' Valerii (and other copies), Tricia Helfer proving to be way more then a pretty face as she's fantastic as Six, the great Dean Stockwell as a twisted Cylon leader and most importantly, the best acting performance on Television anywhere in any show, period, James Callis as the always tortured and self preserving, Gaius Baltar.

The only reason I wouldn't have handed Callis my personal Supporting Drama Emmy in the 2005-06 season was because of Forest Whitaker's own stunning performance as the terrifying IA investigator John Kavanaugh on the very underrated, "The Shield". But Callis' acting is right there on a par with even a Whitaker, who's simply one of the best actors alive.

Zodin2008 said...

And to show you how insultingly stupid most Emmy nominations are (particularly egregious is the Drama nods save for "24", Kiefer Sutherland and Denis Leary for "Rescue Me" and a few other notables), neither the brilliant Whitaker nor Callis were nominated.

In fact, the Oscars are making the Emmys looking even dumber and duller then they possibly could be by nominating Whitaker for his performance as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scottland" and yet the frakking Emmy's, couldn't recognize this man for his breathtaking work on "The Shield". It's insult to our intelligence.

And by the way, that reminds me, Forest Whitaker is an answer (or his character John Kavanaugh) to your question about best 'TV Villains' because he is also a 'good guy' but he's also a villain and you are torn about rooting for him or for Michael Chiklis' dirty cop, Vic Mackey.

It was a tour de force season 5 in general for the underrated "The Shield", a show on its worst day is a 100X better then any of the dull, procedural garbage that gets insta ratings on CBS.

Phillip Ramati said...

I'll grant you Penny Johnson Jerald on "24" of being a villain of that caliber. That being said, "24" has yet to come up with a villain to equal her. Itzin was good in his performance, but the character was badly written.

Bellick and Kellerman (not to mention the whole conspiracy) are all self-serving characters and don't have that gray area, which is precisely why I didn't include them in this.

As for your other note, "The Shield" gets it better than most in this respect, since you can argue that Vic is both the hero and the villain of the show, as is Kavanaugh.

Hotspur said...

My favorite bad guy - Michael Chicklis in the shield

Hollywood said...


You're an idiot. Itzin was lights-out.

Phillip Ramati said...

First of all, "Hollywood," that's Mr. Ramati. :-)

Second of all, if you actually read the post, I didn't criticize Itzin, I praised his performance. It was the writers I criticized for their preposterous plotting.