Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Torchwood USA? Is America ready for a bi-sexual superhero?
News broke today that Fox is planning to remake BBC's hit show "Torchwood" for American audiences. A spin-off of "Dr. Who", "Torchwood" follows a team of alien fighting Brit's led by the immortal and indestructible Capt. Jack Harkness. The show has enjoyed 2 well rated seasons and a mini-series follow-up "Children of Earth" that broke ratings records for the BBC.
We here at Geek World love "Torchwood" (and "Doctor Who") and with "Torchwood's" success it seems like a no-brainer to remake it in America (though British-to-USA adaptations aren't always successful, see "Life on Mars"), but we can't help wondering if the controvercial traits that make certain characters unique will be lost in translation?
First off, the good news is that show creator Russell T. Davies will be writing the script for the new pilot, and members of the original BBC production are also involved. That, along with the possibility that Capt. Jack Harkness himself John Barrowman might return as the lead, means all seems well and good in Geekland. Even so, I'm a little worried.
If you've ever seen "Torchwood" (or read the headline) you probably know what I'm getting at. One of the great things that separates "Torchwood" from the rest of the sci-fi action pack is that the tough alpha male, Capt. Jack, is in today's terms bi-sexual. When I say in today's terms, note that Capt. Jack's from the 25th century, where having sex with a variety of alien species is the norm, making homosexuality or bi-sexuality irrelevant, something not even worth defining. This is something that always impressed me as an American, in fact I've said more than once while watching "Torchwood", "They'd never get away with that in America", and I don't say that as a compliment.
We at Geek World love the sci-fi coming out of the UK (Dr. Who, Torchwood, Being Human) not only because they don't waste time stretching out tired plots, like American shows trying to make it too 5 seasons so they can sell the show into syndication (I'm looking at you "Lost" and "Heroes"), but also because they're very progressive compared to the shows in th US. Don't get me wrong I'm not moving across the pond, and I definitely watch mostly American TV, but I can't help feeling more impressed by these UK shows, and one of the major things that impresses me has always been Capt. Jack Harkness.
Take one part Indiana Jones, one part Fox Mulder, and take those cowboys from Brokeback then remove all that mid-west 1960's homosexual shame and you've got Capt. Jack, a guy who will rush into danger, blow up, come back together like One-Piece, and go home with the girl, or the guy, or both if he's lucky. Jack's sort of an equal opportunity lover, kinda like David Bowie in the 70's, except he fights aliens (wait wasn't Bowie an alien? Didn't he fall to Earth...man?). I don't love Capt. Jack because he's bi-sexual, I love him because he's 100% the mold of the traditional action hero, He's tall, dark, and invincible, he has a mysterious past (he was both a timecop and a con man, with Spike the vampire!) and he's basically a cop on the edge who makes heroic and un-heroic decisions. He's in England but sounds American (Barrowman was born in the UK but grew up in America) and he's basically the archetype action hero, who happens to be bi.
The point of Capt. Jack is that people are people, separate from their sexuality. We're mired with homesexual men in American tv and movies either as the effeminate "girrrlllfriend!" gay man (look at the guys on Will and Grace, BTW John Barrowman auditioned for the part of Will back when and was turned down because he was deemed too "straight-acting") or we have the closeted prone to violence gay man (Buffalo Bill, Zed from "Pulp Fiction", Mr. Garrison, the dudes in "Rope"). And that's how America likes their gay men, that's what's comfortable, they're either the wimpy gay guy that gets thrown in the dumpster like Kurt in "Glee", or a psychopath that needs to be stopped before they rape and kill all of the straight football watching beer guzzling warm blooded American men.
So all this soap boxing aside, the question is, can Capt. Jack Harkness, as he is, Leader, Badass, Action Hero, Bi-Sexual, can he exist on American television? Futhermore can he exist on Fox, whose own "news" channel "Fox News" is a hotbed of homophobia and hate speech? Are we ready to believe someone can have sex with men and women, and still be tough? Still save the day? Can the average American male respect an action hero who goes both ways, without laughing and calling their friends "Homo!" while bending their wrists, making sure everyone there is very clear they themselves couldn't possibly be gay? How would we react if in the middle of "24" after Kiefer tortured a terrorist and saved the day he turned to another male good-guy in the room and planted a big kiss on him? Would he no longer be worthy of saving America every single day?
I'd like to believe we're ready to change all the black and white perspectives we have, then again a very good friend of mine once told me, "There is black and white, your the one making it grey!". I'd like to believe that America's "Torchwood" could continue in the mold of the UK's version, bravely being one of the best sci-fi shows on, with it's hero saving the day and having sex with anyone he chooses. Maybe it will help American audiences cope with something many of them don't want to believe, something they can't handle, that heroes aren't gay or straight, or even bi...they're just heroes.