Last night’s premier of Bionic Woman had a neat, though quite a bit heavy-handed, girl power moment in it. In a typical fantasy movie trope, a little girl spies the Bionic Woman running at super speed. She tries to tell her mom, who gives the pat “of course, dear” line. The little girl then proudly says something like, “it’s just cool that a girl can do that.” It’s total girl power, there to show that, yes, girls can idolize super heroes, too, but it throws into contrast the lack of admirable protagonists on TV these days.
Heroes like Superman don their bright tights to inspire people. The recent Green Lantern relaunch specifically shows the chest insignia leaping off their bodies as a badge, so that people can see the Green Lantern coming and know that help is on the way. TV heroes don’t act like this. Characters like Jack Bauer are designed to be always in the shadows. Badass though he is, no one should think of Jack Bauer cutting off criminals’ heads with a hacksaw as an American hero to be idolized. Heroes is cast specifically with the idea that its characters will wear plainclothes and never try to be heroic, though they may end up that way by accident or fate. Hiro, the only one on the show who actually wants to do good, is usually played for laughs as he aspires to actually be great.
Not that I want every good guy on TV to be a boring boy scout, but give me someone who puts away his troubles when he puts on his cape. Smallville is trying to show us how Clark’s eventually going to get to this point. It’s not enough to put on Plato’s Ring of Gyges and be a hero in secret, people need to see him doing good to know that the world’s not as bad as it could be.
There’s more to superheroics than just saving lives. Superman and Captain America have been built up over the years to not just be the ones who save the world every month, but also to be icons for people to believe in, to inspire people. JLA: The Nail is set in a world where Superman never became a hero, and the entire world is a gray place because of it. I’m the first to admit that the flawed and brooding atmosphere of Battlestar Galactica is what makes it great, and I don’t actually expect that Jaime on Bionic Woman will become this sort of icon–it’ll be a fine show without that–but it’d be nice somewhere on TV, for once, to see a hero people can look up to.