Alan Sepinwall takes on a little-discussed kind of token casting: putting random, poorly-developed teenaged characters in shows in the hopes they’ll lure teenagers into watching:
Shawn Ryan was going on a Twitter run about all the ways “Smash” had gone awry, and suggested that at least some of the problems had to be coming from network notes. I asked whether we could blame networks for all the obnoxious teenage characters — not just Leo, but Tyler on “V,” Jack Linden on “The Killing” and Josh from “Terra Nova,” to name three recent examples — and he said yes, then tweeted, “Think a lot of writers/networks mistakingly think the mere presence of a teenager is show (however annoying) will lure teens into watching.”
And that’s not a new phenomenon, nor one that’s confined to adult programs. I remember when I was a kid, a lot of the cartoons I watched had kid characters — often, in the case of something like “Superfriends,” adding them to pre-existing source material where they didn’t exist — who were elevated to a position of prominence that never made sense to me at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, I have to agree with Shawn’s theory, and say they were there because an executive or producer assumed kids wouldn’t want to watch a bunch of grown-ups have adventures unless there was someone close to their own age to relate to. And it always seemed like a fundamental misunderstanding of the audience. Though some of the kids were non-terrible, I was tuning in to watch Superman or Batman or the guys from M.A.S.K. do something cool, not Wendy and Marvin, the Wonder Twins or Scott Trakker and his pet robot T-Bob. Or, to use a live-action example from when I was slightly older, think of Wesley Crusher, who was there as young audience bait, and yet is someone whom Wil Wheaton is still apologizing for 25 years later.
It’s particularly weird that television would continue to treat teenage characters as a way to pander, because not as if it’s impossible to tell specific stories about what it’s like to be a teenager, or to find quality metaphors for the pain of adolescence, be they Spider-Man‘s web-slinging, the revelation of wizarding abilities in the Harry Potter franchise, or The Hunger Games‘ vicious battles in the arena. And there seems to be ample proof that grown-ups will watch or read intelligent fiction about teenagers that comes with a larger message. Just saying.