3 min

More butts please

TV's clone factory makes 'em uniformly handsome

For weeks he taunted me. The courtship was intense, his basket immense.

So, of course, I eventually gave in and watched a show I’d never normally watch. Provided you accept the outlandish premise, Roswell (Mondays at 8pm on CTV) isn’t exactly trash TV. The saga of teens who aren’t just alienated – they’re full-fledged aliens – it’s a pleasantly earnest adventure/romance.

But the real draw is Jason Behr. As the sauvest of a mod squad of teen aliens stranded in a New Mexico town, he was front and centre in all the advance publicity. Or should I say, his basket was front and centre – denim-clad and bulging with as much intensity as his big brown eyes. Behr has that slow smouldering look that, depending on the quality of your fantasy life, says either, “I’m really into you” or “I’m really, really stupid.”

Either way, it works. But I doubt I’ll be back for more. Like a buff trick with a flat life, Behr isn’t a big enough draw. Cute yes, but not cute enough to make him “appointment TV.”

Which makes you wonder why TV producers insist on populating their shows with uniformly pretty people. Sure sex sells. But it’s stories that hold an audience. It’s not Noah Wylie’s pretty little yap that keeps audiences coming back to ER week after week.

Yet mainstream TV is a virtual gallery of almost identical chiselled male faces. Exceptions like Dennis Franz’s grumpy cop character on NYPD Blue only prove a rule that reached its hilarious apotheosis a few years back on Brooklyn South, a supposedly realistic cop show where the hard-bitten beat cops all looked like darkly handsome male models.

TV seldom exploits full or even partial male nudity. About the only place you’ll find butt is on British shows like This Life, Touching Evil or anything starring British heartthrob, Robson Green. (For more detailed information, check out John Doyle’s column in the Saturday Broadcast Week, distributed in The Globe And Mail. Thanks to pressure from female viewers, Doyle regularly reports on special guest appearances by Green’s butt.)

But TV does ring endless variations on a single handsome type, sometimes even within a single show. On Party Of Five, for instance, you have your choice of classic macho (Matthew Fox’s Charlie) or sensitive boytoy (Scott Wolf’s Bailey).

There are differences in national taste. The Brits tend to favour a jokey, lads-about-the-pub style; Canadians prefer a more sensitive persona, best exemplified by Ian Tracey of Da Vinci’s Inquest or Colin Ferguson of the short-lived spy saga, Cover Me. I couldn’t watch more than a couple of hours of the six-hour Cover Me, but I did enjoy Ferguson’s light-voiced deference, especially when he stepped out of the shower.

Still, the sameness of it all begins to wear after a while. Whether it’s Billy Campbell on Once And Again, Mark Harmon on Chicago Hope or Eric Close on the new sci-fi thriller, Now And Again, these guys all look the same: straight nose, long face, strong chin, full head of hair.

Like the kings and queens in ancient myths, cute people are merely stand-ins for our more perfect selves and we find it easy to identify with them. So it only makes sense to stock a show with human window dressing. If nothing else, it’s good insurance. Give ’em a cutie and if all else fails – the story sucks, the plot falters – they’ll at least have something to gawk at.

But a uniform standard of beauty also excites the envy and discontent upon which our dreary shopping culture is founded. Just as all those monstrous apartments inhabited by Friends, etc, leave you gasping with greed, all the pretty faces leave you wanting one of your own. And TV, that great shopping mall of the airwaves, is always ready to slack your thirst, with another face just the same as the last.

VCR alert: Acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns (The Civil War) profiles Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony, two 19th century feminists who led the fight for US women’s right to vote.

Historian Lillian Faderman says the US suffragette movement was led largely by dykes and she reconstructs the relationship of Anthony, who never married, with fellow suffragette Emily Gross. No word on whether Burns gets into that kind of juicy detail. But with five hours to fill, you’d think he’d give it a shot.