Friday, June 7, 2013

Characters Who Inexplicably Changed Personas, Part I

Inexplicable: Incapable of being explained or accounted for.

Great characters are what make stories worth telling. Films and TV shows alike are almost entirely dependent on whether or not the characters are compelling. This is why films like "The Fifth Element" are still awesome despite a barely discernible plot and the most obnoxious version of Chris Tucker ever; Bruce Willis is the man, and Milla Jovovich is an alien fighting machine, and together they make the movie worth watching because they're just so cool. In fact, Bruce Willis is in the imaginary hall of fame for making movies worth watching based solely on the fact that he is always a great character (and that character is always John Mcclane).

Think about everything Johnny Depp has ever been in, or all the Will Smith movies from 1995 to 2007,  all made possible by characters we love watching in action. But there's this weird thing that happens sometimes when writers get together and want to take things in a new direction; an entire character's skills, personality, and flaws can be adjusted (or erased) to fit whatever new subplot said writers want to introduce, which is why Letty is operating a tank in the latest "Fast and the Furious" movie. Good writers will actually address these changes and try to form a decent explanation for them (time passed between sequels, amnesia, that sort of thing). Other writers seem like they just go with the flow:

#1. Elizabeth Swann Is A Pampered Governor's Daughter

In "Pirates of the Caribbean", Elizabeth Swann grows up in Port Royal a daughter to a wealthy governor with a ridiculous wig, even by 18th century standards. Her ability to fend for herself is zero. She has maids who dress her and stuff. She has a fascination with pirates because sailing on the open seas and having adventures sounds more exciting than her day-to-day cushy rich-girl life. Jack Sparrow saves her life, then threatens her life like a proper pirate, at which point she forms the type of crush on him that modern-day girls all have on tough country guys (independent, filthy, rotten teeth, improper speech, lives in a cabin, and the inability to treat a lady right, face it: pirates and rednecks are the same thing). Over the course of the movie, she meets undead pirates and freaks out a bunch, and shows flashes of "tough girl", mainly for comedic purposes, as in "I'm such a pampered, helpless girl and yet...I just smashed a skeleton pirate in the face, then made a smart remark about how corsets hurt."

The point of these brief moments is to provide humor, since she's acting out of her "damsel in distress" character. Why then, in the sequels to follow, is she seen leading all the pirates in the big pirate-y battle and wielding two swords simultaneously in epic sea-combat?

Kiera doing her best to out-pretty Orlando Bloom.

Sure, she could have picked up a few things from her blacksmith boyfriend, but as he himself stated in the first movie, he only knows what he's doing with a sword because he practiced fencing for hours every day during several years of his apprenticeship (and even that doesn't explain why he appears formally trained, but it's a Disney movie so whatever).

Apparently, Knightley wanted to carry a sword throughout the entire first movie, and everyone she asked told her "no" because she's seriously just there to get rescued (again, we're talking about a Disney movie here). So in the sequels she finally grunged down her appearance and got to do some fight scenes, most of which were cut in production because they just made no sense. Her entire persona from the original movie switched from "helpless damsel" to "proper pirate lady who has mastered two-handed swordplay on an expert level over the course of two movies", and that's pretending that a proper pirate lady is even a thing.

#2. Shawn Spencer Was Supposed To Be A Rebel

The pilot episode of USA network's "Psych" introduced us to a guy named Shawn Spencer. He was a rebel with a cop dad who trained him to be a perfect detective from an early age, making him hyper observant. He uses his hyper observance to hook up with girls, he rides a motorcycle, has barely any relationship with his dad, and other than his best pal Gus, pretty much gives everyone around him crap. Including the cops. This turns out to be unwise, and he pretends he's a psychic in order to explain his skills and not get arrested, because shut up it's TV. 

The entire first season is pretty funny, and it's somewhat interesting to see how he and Gus work out the crime before having a "psychic episode" towards the end and revealing everything Sherlock Holmes style (though most plots seemed to be ripoffs of old "Remington Steele" episodes). After a season of that, things apparently got boring in the writing room and we're guessing that one writer dared another that he couldn't write an entire episode where every single sentence of dialogue referenced '80s pop culture in some way. This turned out to be a successful episode-writing strategy, and ever since partway through the second season, Shawn and Gus simply riff about the '8os and solve crime in their spare time. Smooth-talking rebel Shawn disappears after about four episodes and is replaced by immature man-child Shawn

**Editor's Note- The author hasn't actually watched "Psych" regularly since season 4, at which point it was still a pretty funny show. James Roday's character underwent extensive personality changes, but still made for enjoyable television.**

#3 and #4. Both Annie Edison And Britta Perry From "Community"

For about the first three episodes, Gillian Jacobs' role on "Community" was intended to be the only character in the show who could see through Joel McHale's cool-guy facade (don't keep reading until you've watched that clip). She was supposed to be the intelligent hot girl of the group, as well as the only one with a more serious and complex backstory, which would obviously be revealed in future seasons. Her character flaws were merely hinted at, and seemed more serious in nature than the rest of the cast. Her character was meant to keep everything else going on with the study group grounded in reality. 

Little did she know she would be dressed up as Michael Jackson like two seasons later.

However, she quickly morphed into more of the college activist stereotype character, and soon after that her character was firmly established as a "buzzkill", which is eventually addressed directly in the show (don't keep reading until you've watched that clip); she is also now on the receiving end of most of the physical comedy in the show, which is pretty hilarious, but still a big departure from who she was originally supposed to be. Pretty much everyone else in the group has stuck closely to who they were in the opening episodes of the first season. Pretty much everyone except Annie Edison.

"Aww look at that face, she's adorable!"--Mind Grenades Caption Department 

Annie is the straight-laced teacher's pet student who was so stressed out by her perfectionist tendencies in high school that she developed a slight addiction to adderall pills, lost her scholarship, and is now at community college to repair the damage. She's the only one in the show who ever actually studies, and she's meant to be the nerdy girl who has a crush on the former high school jock, Troy. Then the "Community" writers noticed something; Annie Edison looks like this:

"                                                                         "--Mind Grenades Caption Department

She isn't a blatant replacement as the new "Hot girl" of the group, it's done more subtly than that. But after Britta devolves into the group's figurative insult punching bag, Annie takes over as the only one in the study group who seems to have Joel McHale figured out, and also tends to care about keeping the group intact despite what everyone else is doing. These transformations of character are admittedly different than Keira Knightley's pirate queen situation, since "Community" is a clever show and the characters all still make sense despite these rapid changes. It's just interesting to watch a season of the show all the way through and notice just how fast Britta and Annie each assume new identities.

This post was originally intended to be about four or five characters longer, but that would make this article too long for the average internet surfer's attention span. Keep an eye out for Part II later this month!


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