I’m not talking about the Brady kids, or the Drummonds, or Punky Brewster and her friends, or even Cousin Oliver. I don’t mind the children on their sitcoms where they’re meant to be. I’m talking about the kids that show up on my grown-up shows only to irritate the hell out of me because their spoiled antics and precocious nature are played for laughs or worse, for them to learn a life lesson that I’d rather not witness.
Now, I don’t hate all children that end up on my shows because not all of them are written to irritate me (and I don’t hate any of the actors whether they’re portraying a kid I like or not; I shouldn’t have to say that, but I am). Some of them I do quite like. Tran Quoc Jones in the Magnum PI Season 5 episode “Tran Quoc Jones” is a great example of a kid I like. He doesn’t dominate the screen time, he’s street savvy without being obnoxious, he’s sweet without it being saccharine or fake, and his story has an emotional depth that Roland Harrah III plays well.
Butch Patrick as Melvin in The Monkees Season 2 episode “The Christmas Show” is another example. The whole point of the show is to teach Melvin the meaning of Christmas and Melvin is basically an uptight forty-five year old executive in a 12 year old’s body. Melvin is dismissive, but does nothing to actively sabotage the guys working their Christmas magic. They’re just thwarted at every turn, which is why the humor works so well. And the pay off is a very sweet ending.
However, not all child characters are written with such care.
My least favorite child to show up on my grown-up shows are the spoiled, entitled children. Yes, they’re usually played for laughs because what’s not hilarious about watching our favorites attempt to placate such children except everything. Bonus points if the child is manipulative on top of it.
My best example of this is the Season 4 episode of Stargate: Atlantis, “Harmony”. John and Rodney are tasked with escorting a young princess (Jodelle Ferland, who is excellent in the role) to perform some sacred ritual that will make her queen. In addition to the princess being demanding and spoiled, as princesses tend to be written, she’s also awful towards Rodney, and then uses his rightful anger to play up to John. Yes, it makes for a funny punchline at the end, but the getting there is tiresome. We’re supposed to be amused by Rodney’s torment, but I spend the episode wanting something terrible to happen to a child.
My second least favorite child is a teenager. Perhaps that’s because it seems that all teenagers that pop up on my big people shows are written with their lack of fully formed brain in mind. They end up being rebellious, angsty, defiant, as well as spoiled, entitled, and all around unpleasant. Are teenagers this way in real life? Sure. But there are at least four who are not and they deserve representation.
Usually, these teenagers are there to learn a hard lesson. That’s why they’re so defiant and rebellious. Because they’re heading down the wrong path and it’s our favorites’ job to save them. Most of the time I don’t want them to be saved. I want life to chew them up and spit them out. You get what you pay for, junior.
Let’s go back to Magnum PI for this example. In the Season 6 episode “Summer School”, Robin Masters’s bratty nephew RJ (Tate Donovan, who plays it well) is sent to Robin’s Nest so Higgins can instill some discipline in the lad. After all, he keeps getting kicked out of school and getting into trouble. RJ is a prat from the word go and ends up impersonating Magnum on a case, creating all sorts of problems. And the best/worst part? He doesn’t learn shit from anything. He puts everyone in jeopardy and his parting shot is stealing one of Robin’s cars. Ha ha! What a scamp!
I’m not one to advocate violence against children, but that fictional boy could have ate shit and I would have been fine with it.
I admit that the writing of children and teenagers has gotten better in recent years. Writers have finally started to realize that the young people are actually nuanced little individuals with depths of personalities and emotions and experiences. However, I’ve still managed to run into a few lingering stereotypes.
Despite the improvements, though, I think my first reaction to seeing a child or a teenager in the guest credits is always going to be me wanting them to get off my TV lawn.