Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fixing Mr. Ninjahobo!

OK. Just let me say this upfront - this is entirely pointless. I'm being self-indulgent here. There is less than 0 chance that J.J. Abrams will read this and fix his shit. However, a Facebook friend of mine recently ran a longish series of notes about the things he'd fix in Star Wars given the opportunity* and I spent a pleasant 3 hours over Wellington Anniversary Weekend playing Prime Time Adventures, so I'm kind of in a "Let's fix fictional shit for fun!" kind of mood....

So just to recap, the thing I want to fix is Person Of Interest. Specifically I want to turn it into the "Murderous Ninjahobo" show that the first ten minutes of the pilot episode appeared to promise.

The premise of the actual programme is that an eccentric billionaire has built himself a backdoor into the surveillance system that he built for the US government. This backdoor provides him with a list of individuals who will either commit or be the victim of a violent crime some time in the near future (up to a month). He employs a broken-down ex-CIA/Special Forces man to be his agent and track these people down with the intention of stopping whatever crime was going to happen. I see no need to change this basic outline.

First thing to fix is obviously the central character, I think his name is supposed to be "Reese" but I'm going to call him "Mr. Ninjahobo" anyway. The main problem here is aesthetics. It turns out that Jim Caviziel (who plays Mr. Ninjahobo) looks really good with a full beard. It brings out his cheekbones, and gives him an "interestingly starved visionary ascetic" kind of vibe. This is exactly the kind of look we want in a protagonist who is insane enough to take on 10 opponents simultaneously (though more of that anon).

The original programme had him lose the beard within 15 minutes, I say he should keep it - and his hobo clothes as well. Quite aside from the fact that the beard suits him, homeless people are ubiquitous enough in many American cities to provide a pretty good cover - like dressing as a maintenance person or minor menial servant to get into someone's household.

The next problem with Mr. Ninjahobo is one of attitude. Ninjahobo is tormented by the loss of his lover, and it was this that started his drinking and vagrancy. This is an alright motivation, but actually not a very interesting or compelling one. Or rather, for it to be interesting and compelling, we need to care about Ninjahobo and his lover, and we're not really given time to do either - it's just taken for granted. Thing is, Mr. Ninjahobo doesn't actually need an external reason to lose it. He's worked successfully for both the CIA and US Special Forces, which means that he's almost certainly done some gut-wrenchingly terrible shit in the name of his country. That can and does drive people to drink even now. So we scrap the dead love interest, and have him drink simply to forget all he's done.

Which brings us  neatly to our next point - Mr. Ninjahobo's drinking. The initial fight that had me thinking that this show was going to be about a murderous (or at least lethal) ninja-hobo takes place while Mr. Ninjahobo is on a train, and near passing-out drunk. It's mentioned in his later conversation with Fincher (the eccentric genius) that he's been drinking solidly like that for at least a couple of months. That suggests someone who has totally lost control of his habit, and is on a steep downward spiral. However, the programme has him magically clean up as soon as his life has "purpose". Now for one thing, this is not particularly realistic, but I'm actually totally willing to sacrifice realism for an interesting story. Trouble is that the miraculous recovery presented here isn't an interesting story.

If Ninjahobo has to kick the booze (which he might, in order to become the kind of employee that a mad scientist might want) then let's have him take his time over it, and actually sweat it out. This would give him a genuine flaw (as opposed to soft-focus dreams of "happiness" in between planning and action sequences) which might lead to interesting conflict with his employer. It would also inject a much-needed sense of risk into the action scenes: "Precisely how impaired (either by booze or by withdrawals) is Ninjahobo going to be in this particular fight?" If we have him slip up every so often - dumb mistakes that someone of his caliber ought not to make - that'll serve to reinforce the sense that this guy Does Not Have His Shit Together.

The final problem with Ninjahobo is his lethality, or rather the lack thereof. Now, I have it on good authority from my martial-arts-practising-actually-getting-into-fights-occasionally friends that it's not impossible for someone to fight off 10 opponents without seriously injuring or killing any of them**. They also said that you'd need to be willing to get hit a lot to try it. That means that Mr. Ninjahobo, while he doesn't necessarily need to kill people all the time, is the kind of person who's willing to take a beating to prove the point that he's tougher than someone. He's also probably (according to my informants) trained in the sort of martial arts that mainly rely on you being in pretty good shape, rather than on having a hell of a lot of fancy techniques up your sleeve.

When we see Ninjahobo fight, we shouldn't be seeing someone technically and carefully incapacitating people without hurting them. We should be seeing someone who fights to win, and doesn't really care if he gets hit a lot on the way past. Broken noses and arms, maybe ribs, maybe knees - not black eyes. Ninjahobo should also collect a lot of passing hits (especially considering the whole drinking thing) but is probably good enough to mostly avoid anything crippling.

So, instead of a clean-cut suit-wearing military man, I'm thinking Mr. Ninjahobo should be a genuine bum. He should be desperate and (at least at the beginning of the series) hard-drinking, but still lethal as a result of sheer muscle memory and experience.

Right. I feel like this has gone on long enough - so I'll postpone fixing Mr. Finch for next time.

*The list of things I'd fix about Star Wars is too extensive to interest basically anyone, including me.

** Assuming you don't think a broken nose or two count as "serious".

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