A real challenge for drama producers

Megan Boone stars in Blacklist
Megan Boone stars in Blacklist

By Ralph Mellon

There’s a lot I am watching on television just now – which is not at all unusual.

Most weeks involve avid viewing of a multitude of programmes, including comedies, dramas, factual programmes and news. And it’s even better when the schedules dictate that several of them are crammed into one night.

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of crime dramas – those you’re meant to take seriously and the ones with an element of the supernatural as their premise.

It seems almost all of them have a very strong female lead character – women with authority who are resourceful, if a bit flawed, and very capable at what they do.

And there’s another thing. They are all absolutely beautiful.

I don’t know if it’s coincidental or a deliberate ploy by programme makers, but virtually none of the principal female characters in any entertainment drama these days could be described as plain. They look sensational all the time, even in the deadliest of situations.

Take Megan Boone, for example, who plays FBI agent Liz Keen in ‘The Blacklist’. She’s good at what she does but she has dark issues and an increasingly complex relationship with Reddington (James Spader). And she’s utterly beautiful.

Or Ali Larter, in the recently-finished ‘Legends’, in which her covert FBI operative has an antagonistic relationship with Sean Bean’s character. She’s hard, clinical and quite ruthless – and breathtakingly lovely.

I can’t help getting the feeling it’s less to do with projecting a slice of real life within stories and more with the likes of audience ratings and viewer appeal.

A lot of the more lightweight TV dramas, and some comedies, feature beautiful people in beautiful surroundings, because there seems to be something compelling in watching beautiful people’s lives unravelling and their attempts to control it.

World events in the not-too-distant past and the global threat from terrorist groups have shaped a lot of good-quality drama recently from programme makers on both sides of the Atlantic – but, sadly, it seems even they are falling prey to some notion that the leading characters, particularly the ladies, have to be a delight to look at.

Pausing for a non-American offering, ‘The Fall’ (BBC2) probes dark, unsettling issues with a very well-sketched female lead, played by Gillian Anderson. Erratic, intense, damaged, brilliant. And does she happen to look nice? You bet.

I’ve also been watching ‘Stalker’, ‘Gotham’, and other series with elements of the ridiculous – ‘Forever’, where the lead character is immortal, ‘The Flash’, a family-friendly take on the DC Comics hero, and my current favourite, ‘The Strain’, about a vampire outbreak with a highly bizarre origin. See above for apposite phrases to describe their leading ladies.

Will any programme bosses have the courage to cast people who are, for want of a better phrase, ‘ordinary looking’, for the next big, glossy 22-week drama or thriller series?

In a 21st century with such an obsession over how people look, I fear that may be a forlorn hope.