I watched the first episode of Netflix’s new show ‘Frontier’ the other night. I was disappointed. (Me? Disappointed in a show? PERISH the thought.) I’d like to make the disclaimer that I only watched the first episode – I’ve been informed of Declan’s motivation, of his reasons for being ‘the way he is,’ and I don’t find those motivations enough to excuse his behavior.
The pilot episode gave me a show about characters who are either self-serving, murderous, or otherwise immoral. Declan, while being a gorgeous hunk of a guy, apparently has a reputation for being violent, bloodthirsty, and gruesome. Which, no matter his motivation, poses quite a problem. This is our main character. The guy who I assume we’re eventually supposed to root for. Now I’m not here to talk about Frontier as a show – I only saw one episode – but it got me thinking about so many modern stories, and their love of grey morality.
Now, I LOVE sketchy, questionable, morally grey characters. They’re like a pinch of cayenne pepper in a dish – they add flavor, they add spice, they make the mix more interesting. But when every character is either morally grey or just downright black, it detracts from the quality of the story. If a story doesn’t give me someone to root for, someone who I hope will come out on top, then what’s the point?
Most modern entertainment gives us a morally grey story populated with morally grey characters, and so when we’re done with an episode, or a chapter, we’re simply wondering who’s going to survive next. We aren’t rooting for right versus wrong or good versus evil, we’re just…showing up. And if we aren’t showing up to root for anyone, if we’re just showing up to watch an ambiguous no-holds-barred power struggle between bad and worse, then I ask again, what’s the point?
I’ve often complained about the lack of interesting good guys in fiction, and I hold by that. I think it’s a pitfall into which entertainment often stumbles – the antiheroes or villains are captivating, while the heroes are bland and fail to hold our attention. I understand this, I really do – it’s something I used to struggle with in my own writing. How do you make a straight-up good person interesting? And I think the main issue is the mindset behind that question. When did goodness become boring? When did the desire to do the right thing become dull?
It can be easy to see ‘goodness’ as boring; as predictable, as uninteresting. The ‘good guy’ isn’t usually my favorite, because so often they’re written to pale in comparison to the other characters. I think people struggle with the concept of good being interesting, for whatever reason.
Over the next week, I’ll be breaking down a few of my favorite good-guy heroes, from Michael Scofield to Newt Scamander, and finding out why they manage to keep my attention when others don’t.