My husband and I recently spent several evenings watching the new Netflix original “The Umbrella Academy”. It has many of the kinds of things that would seem to make it the perfect sort of show for me. It’s based on a comic book, deals with the difficulties of growing up, has weird steampunk aesthetics for no discernable reason, and uses music perfectly. But for some reason he couldn’t get enough of it, and I found myself unable to be drawn in. Maybe you’ve experienced something similar. You want to enjoy that piece of fiction, and even though it hits all your normal interests, you just don’t.
I kept watching it with him because I’m a great spouse. And because “The Umbrella Academy” was pleasantly watchable and the soundtrack could at least keep me entertained. However towards the end of the series the only character I truly enjoy appeared to get killed. I found myself saying “I think I might be done with this show.”
And that was truly the crux of the issue. It didn’t matter that the music was great, the look was cool, and the premise was intriguing. If I can’t find someone I want to cheer for, I get bored. It’s why I’ve never finished Lost, Mad Men, or have never even attempted to watch Breaking Bad. It’s not that I can’t cheer for flawed characters or even “bad guys”. It’s that they have to be likable enough for me to root for them. To want them to win. If I want to see someone be unable to deal with their childhood trauma or descend into unhealth I can just look around at life. To quote Bonnie Tyler: “I need a hero.”
I want fiction to give me someone or something to cheer for, and if I can cheer for you, I’m willing to let the process be a little tough. I realize this sounds naive or shallow. I’m openly admitting to have no desire to watch a show universally considered great, and I’m being a general downer on the anti hero concept. The character known as Number 5 says in The Umbrella Academy “There’s not such thing as good guys or bad guys. Just people going about their lives.” Maybe that’s a little true, but what’s also true is that our choices drift us towards good or bad even if they don’t feel so in the moment. The kind of characters I find easier to cheer for are the ones who care about where they are drifting. Who at least try to catch themselves in the moment. Just going through life is easy. Wanting more than that, well, that’s worth my attention.
Strange Perspective is a weekly look at all things pop culture by Progress columnist Rachel Strange