Characters Who Say What The Audience Is Thinking

Illustration for article titled Characters Who Say What The Audience Is Thinking

There's nothing better than a character who can take a step back from the wreckage of a convoluted plot and say what we, the viewers, are already thinking. Here's why we love characters who come out and admit the truth.


We've all been there. Watching our favorite show when we realize that the situation we find our main characters in is completely and utterly ridiculous. The characters are stepping into plot holes so deep, you can't help commenting on it from the sofa. It's actually a relief when someone on screen points out the absurdity of what everyone else is struggling to take seriously. So it's a good thing modern science fiction has a particular talent for giving the audience a surrogate in the storylines.

Joss Whedon, in particular, has a great talent for lacing his shows and movies with smart-aleck rebels who provide a running commentary. His characters are often hyper-aware of the weird, outlandish situations they find themselves in. Take this scene from the pasted together Firefly pilot, "The Train Job." The great "villain doesn't care about money" cliche is turned on its head at the hands of the great Mal Reynolds:

The Whedonverse's most emo couple, Buffy and Angel, come in for their share of mockery as well. Most famously, there's the great scene involving Spike providing his own voice-over for Angel's superhero run. But there's also this barely remembered Cordy/Wes gem instead. The point is, it could just as easily be Topher, Spike, Wash or even Boyd on a good day making the observations that we seem to yell at our tv screens.

And then there's Heroes, which gave us Hiro Nakamura serving as the next best thing to an audience surrogate, the fan who becomes part of the action, for most of season one. He goes out of his way to break down the comic book rules of the Heroes world and even sneaks in a few Star Trek references along the way. But perhaps the most self-aware character on Heroes is Sylar, who manages to keep a sense of irony about his own actions long into the show's decline. One of the few pleasures of the past two years has been those moments when Sylar practically smirks at the camera.

But even a deadly serious show like Battlestar Galactica serves up a voice of audience mockery in the form of Gaius Baltar, who regularly comments on how goofy everything is. The Baltar syndrome can enable the audience to swallow a lot of bizarre and nonsensical plot twists, because at least Gaius is admitting it's all a bit silly.

Then there's the character who's both the ascended fan (like Hiro) and the audience surrogate. A perfect example of this dynamic combo is Venture Brothers' Henchman 21:

He is us, and unlike Hiro, he didn't have any awesome superpowers to distinguish himself from any other random dude who wears tights and butterfly wings. His jokes don't come from a generic fan P.O.V. (which is what Hiro's jokes devolved into) but came from someone who truly knew nerd culture.

Futurama's Fry has a similar position. He's unapologetically below average in every way, and his voice represents the audiences' most basic observations about the "future." What really makes that show shine, however, is the reversal of the surrogate's role with the main cast. Fry's seemingly logical observations are ridiculed and laughed off as a caveman's ramblings. And then, the caveman is told that he's the most important person in the universe. I don't know about you guys, but it's definitely this fangirl's dream to be told that she's destined to defeat a race of glowly brains for fun, glory and profit.

Illustration for article titled Characters Who Say What The Audience Is Thinking

1999's Galaxy Quest was a whole movie built around the premise of teasing the Star Trek and Star Wars cultures. What made that film great wasn't merely the laughs (or Rainn Wilson's role) — it was the fact that it could make fun of itself while respecting the genre fans who would inevitably go and see it. It wasn't a "look how stupid geeks are" representation (like, say, Big Bang Theory), but had a message more akin to "geeks are pretty weird, but they've got a heart of gold."

Lost also takes a stab at the ascended fanboy with Hurley. He plays the part of the not-insanely-good-looking castaway that seems the most like the guy that works at your local video store. And whenever there's a bizarre time-travel plot or mysterious hatch, Hurley is the guy who asks the questions you wish you could ask the writers:

It's not easy for genre shows to have a surrogate who accurately represents the main audience, but when it's done right, they're most often our favorite characters. I know Ryan Reynolds has a lot on his plate right now, but he should seriously take this all into consideration before the Deadpool film comes out.




The term you were shooting for in this article was "Lampshade Hanging." You draw attention to the absurdity of something to get the audience to swallow it. It's a comon trope and you can read more about it here: