Too Many Regulars, Or Too Few

One thing that’s been observed about Human Target, both as a compliment and a criticism, is that it’s a show that returns to what is known as the “babe of the week” format. This is the format familiar from Star Trek (the original), MacGyver or Magnum, or from movie series like the James Bond films, where the largest female role is usually given to a beautiful guest star who may or may not make out with the hero. She may be given a characterization and a genuine problem, but it’s understood that she is primarily there to look good, and to play on the traditional feeling that the stakes are higher when a beautiful woman is in danger. (If the hero is trying to rescue Chi McBride every week, it just wouldn’t have the same punch.) If there’s a regular female role, it will usually be a smallish role for a faithful, helpful woman like Moneypenny, Uhura or Mike Hammer’s secretary Velda. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a man’s world like the world of Human Target, which does not have a permanent female character as yet: it has three regulars, all dudes, though as noted in comments there are hints that Autumn Reeser might be in line for regulardom.

[vodpod id=Video.3374288&w=560&h=340&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

I can see why this is considered a flaw in the show, because it’s a bit… how to put it… Neanderthal. Also, it can be counter-productive for a show in terms of ratings, because there’s no one for women to identify with. (Stephen J. Cannell has said that this was the reason he kept trying to have a female member of the A-Team; as an adventure/comedy skewing heavily toward kids, there needed to be someone for little girls to identify with, not just little boys) Human Target hasn’t been getting the greatest ratings, after all.

On the other hand, there’s really no way to avoid having something resembling a Babe-of-the-Week format when you do a show about a male adventurer who travels to different places all the time. And to my mind, Human Target would be making a mistake if it started bringing in a new regular just for the sake of having a female regular, or dividing the screen time up more among the regulars. That’s not to say it isn’t going to happen; the show’s executive producer has already said that if they get renewed, “we’d love to open the team up a little bit and be able to see a regular female, be able to see more people who recur.”

My feeling is that shows like these need to have as few regulars as they can get away with, for this reason: the format is basically one or two people having adventures and helping people every week. So the writers need to devote story time to the regulars, but they also need to create complete, coherent and involving stories for the guest characters. If they have to service five or six or seven regulars, there’s almost no way they can make us give a damn about the story of the week. Chuck, for example, has a bunch of regulars even though it only really needs three. If they dumped the supporting cast and concentrated on the three people who matter, it might not be a better show, but it at least would have more time to tell the stories. In his interview, Steinberg makes the comparison to The X-Files as a show that combined character mythology with involving weekly stories — and one thing that show had going for it was that it had very few regulars who needed to be worked into the stories; it didn’t have the problem of, say, Castle, where a two-person show is tricked out with a bunch of people who don’t just appear when needed, but every week.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.