Sometimes a character is so nice you use them twice. Or three times even. Sure, they might have a different name and be in a different story, but you still recognize them. They have the same sense of humor, the same signature swagger, or maybe even the same role in the plot. This is character recreation, and it’s what we’re talking about this week. Join us as we explore characters who have been reused time and again, with outcomes both good and bad. Plus, a special look at why duct tape is so important.
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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.
Generously transcribed by Raillery. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle. [opening song]
Chris: Welcome to the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Chris and with me is…
Chris: …And special returning guest…
Chris: Now, today, I know we’re saying Chris and Oren and Kristin, but the truth is we’re actually a new set of people. We’ve just been fashioned to resemble the original hosts.
Oren: Oh, wow. That’s pretty convincing.
Chris: I know! It’s because we knew that the original hosts were well-loved. Well, hopefully well-loved by our listeners. So to replicate that popularity, we have recreated ourselves. We all got hit by buses since last time and so we had to remake ourselves.
Oren: It’s probably fine. No one will notice. It’s audio and you can do whatever you want.
Chris: So we’re talking about something that I call Character Recreations because I make up words a lot in the course of doing this kind of stuff.
Kristin: You’re a modern day Shakespeare.
Chris: And this is basically what I am calling when a storyteller makes a new character that is supposed to have important characteristics of a previous character that was popular in the hopes of replicating that character’s success.
Naturally, I’m making some big guesses about what the storyteller intent is. It can be hard to tell for sure what storytellers are really intending and it will often surprise you. But most of the time I see this, it’s really obvious and it’s happening within the same franchise. That makes it very likely that they were, especially in big franchises that do have to change their characters across from show to show or something like that. That’s when I see it most often, and it’s obvious enough that it seems unlikely that it’s completely unintentional, even if it’s just the actor playing that role was inspired by that previous character.
I’ve been really, really fascinated by character recreations just because sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail miserably. And watching where they succeed and where they fail just it makes them really, really fascinating.
Oren: Yeah. One of my weird ones that I’ve seen is a show that will occasionally try to replace a character that left with the same character, but different.
MI-5 five is probably the best example I can think of this, and by best I mean worst. MI-5 starts off with a cast of characters- and it’s a pretty long running show by British TV standards- and over the seasons they start losing characters. I don’t know if that was planned or because they lost the actors or what, but characters start leaving. Usually they die, sometimes they retire, and they are always replaced by a character who is essentially them, but played by a different actor and is technically a different person.
The generic handsome white dude lead is replaced by another generic handsome white dude lead. The older, more experienced spy woman who knows the ropes and has secrets is replaced by another older experienced spy woman who knows the ropes and has secrets.
Most awkwardly the show had one prominent person of color, this black dude. And then I could just tell, ‘Oh no, the one black character is going to leave’ and the way I knew that was they introduced a new character and he was Indian and he made a big deal about it. He shows up and it’s like ‘Hey dude, how’re you doing?’ And he’s like ‘Ah, you know, the usual: not sure if I’m pretty sure if I’m British or Indian, Indian or British.’ Yeah. Okay. I get it. He’s Indian. He replaces the black dude because the black dude dies in that episode and I could see it coming. I was like, ‘Oh God, no, why are you doing this? Oh, no, someone please put the brakes on.’ Nobody did.
Chris: This is just not even like ‘Do they succeed or fail?’ This is just bad intent. This is a bad idea.
Oren: It just makes me think that they must have lost the actor and just not been willing to put that character aside. They were like ‘No, we still have plans for that character. So we’re just going to replace them with a slightly less interesting version of themselves that you haven’t met and we’ll just call it a day. That’s what we’re doing.’
Oren: It was very strange.
Kristin: I know that they did that in Riverdale. In the first season they have Reggie Mantle played by one actor and then in season two he’s played by a different actor. And they’ve done that with other shows and they just don’t acknowledge it. He’s played by an Asian actor in season one and an Asian actor in season two and they just don’t even acknowledge the fact that there has been a change. And not to say that they need to, because they’re basing it on the comic and Reggie Mantle is a character from the comic. But it’s one of the ones that I’ve seen most recently that I actually have watched. And there’s other ones I don’t watch. I hate to say it, but I do not watch Game of Thrones.
Chris: Hey, there are lots of people who are boycotting Game of Thrones these days. It’s dark, it’s not for everyone.
Kristin: The character called The Mountain had three actors in the first three seasons that played him, each season it was a different guy. So I definitely know that they do that. And I know that it’s usually based on actor or actress availability, but it’s also really weird when it happens. You’re like ‘Who is that?’ And you’re watching this episode going ‘Who is this person?’
Chris: I think sometimes, especially if the show has just started, deciding to switch out the actor but actually keeping the character, maybe is making the best out of a worse situation. I will say that I do think it was a particularly bad look if the character is a person of color.
Kristin: Ah, yes, yes, yes.
Chris: Because it seems to make some sort of weird suggestion that people of color are interchangeable, even if that’s not the intent. I don’t know, that’s a hard situation to be in. Anyway, let’s talk about some kinds of recreation where we have what are clearly different characters, but they are made to resemble another character.
I’ll start with Avatar: The Last Airbender, or the Avatar cartoon franchise, which had a really popular group of core characters in the original, Last Airbender cartoon. It was not exactly as they intended because Aang was the main character and they were intending the show to be for boys. But then it turned out that there were a lot of women who liked the show and got attached to Katara and really liked Zuko as characters, and wanted them to have Zutara and that didn’t happen. So it seemed like when they did Korra, it feels like it was definitely designed to appeal to Zutara fans because the main character was a woman waterbender. But she’s not Katara at all; her personality is totally different. So I don’t think they were really trying to replicate Katara there, but now she has an angsty firebender love interest that I think was supposed to be a Zuko recreation.
Chris: But Mako was just kind of a failure as a character because Zuko was an antagonist at the start. Even though he was an asshole he had reasons for being angsty, like he had some general stuff and then he resolved it during the course of the show.
Mako was just an asshole for no reason. He doesn’t really have any more reason to angst than his brother does, his really easy-going brother. He doesn’t really have, as far as I can tell, issues that have to be resolved. He’s just an ass.
Kristin: So, personality choice? Okay.
Chris: This is the case where I think that they took the superficial parts of Zuko’s character: that he was an angsty firebending guy; and tried to map that onto a new character, but lost. Zuko was a really great character, but he was also a pretty complex character that required quite a bit of context to work. And so I think that recreations of Zuko are just hard to do.
Oren: Mako was just kind of bland. Generically rude is kind of how he came off. He didn’t feel like he had much else going on. Whereas with Zuko there were lots of layers to him, which is what made him interesting.
Oren: That was what made so many people ship Zuko and Katara is because they were the most emotionally complex characters.
Kristin: Yeah. I have to say I’ve only seen the first season of Korra, but Mako was a very forgettable character. It’s one of those things where I think I was talking to both of you, Oren and Chris, and you mentioned that he and Korra were dating and it was like, ‘Who is that?’ I didn’t even remember who the character was. I thought at first it was probably a newly introduced character for the second season or something.
Oren: Hilariously in season two, they have an episode where Korra forgets who Mako is.
Oren: …Which was a bad choice all around because season two was already super overcrowded. In the middle of season two, we had an episode where Korra has amnesia and we have to basically make no forward progress on the plot because Korra’s trying to relearn everything. It’s a very strange episode.
Chris: To be fair, Korra actually forgets that they broke up. They break up in season two and she actually comes back and approaches them thinking they’re still together and it’s super hard.
Oren: Oh, right. She didn’t just forget who he was. My bad.
Chris: She forgot that they broke up.
Kristin: So awkward all around? Okay.
Chris: Awkward all around. Traveling forward to The Dragon Prince, which is by two of the same creators as the original Avatar: The Last Airbender, but is not technically part of the same franchise.
The funny thing is that another character that came from The Last Airbender is the character of Sokka, who was this character who was the only non-magic user in the group. And he was a comic relief character who made a lot of jokes that were just kind of funny and socially awkward and at his own expense. He was a pretty sympathetic character, but he did a lot of the logistics for the group because he didn’t have a lot of power. And in Korra, he was basically not there. I don’t know if this has to do with the creators that happened to be working on these various projects, but he was a popular character.
And then we get to The Dragon Prince and it’s really weird because everyone is Sokka. Everywhere, there is Sokka. Oren, do you want to describe it?
Oren: I guess, yeah. So in The Dragon Prince, every main character acts like Sokka. They all have the same sense of humor, which is that sort of self-deprecating I’m-going-to-say-something-ridiculous-and-then-be-shown-how-silly-that-is kind of humor. All of them do that and it’s really weird. The two main characters, the older boy whose name I’ve forgotten and Reyla, are both Sokka, and then you have Ezran, who was the younger boy, and he’s not Sokka but that’s because he’s basically an animal companion.
Kristin, Chris: *laughter*
Oren: He has almost no personality. Those are your three main characters. Then you have the two villain lieutenants who were chasing them. One of them is Sokka, the guy. The woman, Claudia, is actually not Sokka and she’s probably the most distinct of the kid characters, but it just keeps going.
At one point they meet a wise elf super mage, who is Sokka and has Sokka’s sense of humor even though she’s supposed to be like a super-wise mentor character. I get that you don’t want every mentor character to be the same and old and wise or whatever, but would it kill you to have her take her job a little seriously? Just a little?
Kristin, Chris: *laughter*
Oren: And they just keep doing this. I swear every character we meet has a Sokka sense of humor, especially all of the main ones. The villain doesn’t really have a Sokka sense of humor, but his castle is full of Sokkas. Every time he talks to a random NPC, he’s talking to Sokka. it’s like ‘Okay guys, calm down. I like Sokka too, but this is ridiculous.’
Kristin: So basically he’s just wandering around and every conversation he gets into is with someone who is self-deprecating?
Chris: Yeah, and acting goofy.
Oren: …In a way that is clearly designed to be funny at their expense.
Kristin: Yeah. They’re making fun of themselves.
Chris: So a really good moment in the first episode where it just drove me up the wall about this was Reyla. She’s an assassin character. She supposedly has trained all of her life to be this badass assassin and we see her with her assassin group in the first episode. One of them is sharpening their blade on a whetstone and she, for some reason, doesn’t have a whetstone to sharpen her blade, which is already weird because she’s a professional assassin. She hasn’t killed anybody yet, but still she’s a professional assassin. Then she asks her fellow assassin, ‘Can I borrow your sharpen-blady thingy?’ which was exactly what Sokka would do. And then the assassin just looks at her and is like ‘You mean my whetstone?’ And she’s like “Yeah, can I borrow your whetstone thingy?’ How does she not know what a whetstone is? Having goofy humor in some instances is okay, but this really doesn’t feel like it fits at all.
Oren: You know how it’s also nonsense that she’s managed to get on the elite assassin team without ever killing anyone? My head canon for this is that the only reason she’s on the team is because she’s part of some elite elven family and she’s literally always had someone to sharpen her blades before.
Oren: That doesn’t actually work for a bunch of reasons, but that’s what I was wondering if they were going to do when we saw that first sequence where she didn’t know what a whetstone was.
Kristin: Maybe they changed the idea. Maybe they went in a different path after filming that.
Oren: Maybe. One example of a character recreation that started off really bad, but actually ended up working pretty well was on M*A*S*H. I don’t know if either of you have watched M*A*S*H, but at some point there’s the character of Frank Burns who was just kind of a dick.
Kristin: He’s the butt of everyone’s joke, especially Hawkeye.
Oren: Yeah, Hawkeye and his friend. They also replace Hawkeye’s friend with a different Hawkeye’s friend, but Hawkeye’s original friend was kind of uninteresting so his new one is fine. But Hawkeye and his friend constantly make fun of Burns, but we don’t ever feel bad for Burns because Burns is the worst. He’s an elitist, rude, racist white dude, so it’s fine. And he’s also super incompetent.
Kristin: Very true.
Oren: At some point they replaced him with a guy named Winchester, who at first seems like he’s just Burns some more with a different actor. He was kind of uninteresting, but after he’s around for a little bit he actually changes and he and Hawkeye are still very antagonistic, but he’s less cartoonish than Burns was. And he’s actually a really good surgeon.
Kristin: And he’s an actual human cause they develop his personality in terms of likes and dislikes.
Oren: That was an interesting situation where they took a character who was just so ridiculous, like the Snidely Whiplash villain, and replaced him with someone who looked like he was just going to be the same . Then they were like ‘No, we’ll actually change this character and we’ll develop them a little bit.’ I enjoyed that. I thought that worked pretty well.
Kristin: I would agree on that.
Chris: Another instance of character recreation that I find very entertaining is just looking at the show Dark Matter, which is just obviously copying other shows for their characters, mainly Firefly. Of course, Firefly had a fantastic cast of characters. It’s reasonable that Dark Matter wanted to copy them. The problem is that the writers of Dark Matter are just not as witty and the characters in their show just don’t have the same level of endearing foibles of Firefly characters that made those Firefly characters work. But they have various degrees of success. So first, from Firefly, they combine the characters River and Kaylee into a character called Five. So Five is a young woman like River and…I’m trying to think if she has River-like powers.
Oren: They imply that she does at the beginning, but it turns out she doesn’t.
Chris: Does she have weird dreams?
Oren: Yeah. It seems like she has weird psychic powers, but then the reveal is that she actually just had some extra memories that the rest of them didn’t. So once they sort of figure out who they are that all goes away.
Chris: But she has sort of the innocent cheeriness of Kaylee and she’s the heart of the crew. I think she does a pretty good job of being a mix of those two characters, but in the end she doesn’t really have the novelty of either.
Oren: Especially once you find out that she doesn’t actually have any special power. Because at that point it starts to become increasingly hard to answer ‘Why is she on this ship?’ The other characters are all super-elite badasses. They try to make her the engineer, but that doesn’t work because the android is around and is a way better engineer. So it’s like ‘Five is here, she’s around.’
Chris: ‘She’s a kid who we probably shouldn’t be putting into danger but who really wants to hang out with us. So, sure.’
Oren: ‘I mean, she’s got a contract so she’s gonna stick around.’
Chris: I think the issue is without the wit, without really getting those foibles right, and mixing two characters together, she just doesn’t have…
But a great example of just completely removing the important character foils is their recreation of Jayne. In their recreation of Jayne, his character is Number Three. That’s his name.
Oren: They all have numbers because they all wake up with amnesia.
Chris: They give themselves numbers and they just keep the numbers because they’re not really the same person as they were before amnesia, which I liked a lot. I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be a Jayne recreation, but Jayne has two sides to him. He has the asshole dangerous side and then he has the dorky side. And the dorky side makes it so that he can both be a comic relief character and also sometimes be threatening, which makes Jayne an incredibly useful character to have on a show like this, on the cast of a ship, because he could provide the mood that the episode happens to need.
But Number Three is just an asshole. He just doesn’t have a dorky side. He’s just a dangerous guy who’s just not a likable character. But then this is the funniest part: for one single episode, instead of being Jayne, he was suddenly Malcolm, the captain of Firefly.
Oren: Yeah. He was suddenly, not necessarily wise, but experienced and I’ve-seen-some-stuff.
Chris: Malcolm was kind of a fatherly figure to his crew.
Kristin: Yeah, totally.
Chris: Suddenly he had the seasoned fatherliness of Malcolm. It was so obvious and, one episode to the next, suddenly he really reminds us very strongly of Malcolm. It actually worked much better; he was actually way more likable, he fit in with the other characters way better. But I guess they didn’t like it because in the next episode, he’s Jayne again.
Oren: I really was confused by that. I thought maybe a guest writer had been brought in. But no. As far as I could tell, this was just an experiment they tried and decided they didn’t like it.
Chris: I don’t know why. Maybe they thought the change was too noticeable.
Oren: I’m not sure. I don’t know.
Kristin: He didn’t have a statue built for him, so he couldn’t have been that noticeable.
Chris, Oren: *laughter*
Chris: Their biggest success actually was their android character, who is by far the most likable and endearing character in the show, who was clearly a copy of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Chris: She has the same emotionless exterior, the selflessness that Data has, an innocence. She does go on a journey to have more human characteristics. She’s adorable. The actress playing her is fantastic and does the adorableness really well. She was a really good recreation.
Oren: So many recreations on Dark Matter.
Shall we talk about the ultimate character recreation experiment? It’s like a double-blind of character recreations. It’s fantastic. I am, of course, referring to three characters, one of whom was the original and then two are recreations. Originally, there is Dr. McCoy from the original series. Dr. McCoy has been recreated twice now on Star Trek. First, in the character of Dr. Pulaski in season two of The Next Generation, and now much more recently in the character of Reno, who is technically not a doctor, but is also a doctor.
Kristin: I take it Reno is from Discovery. Is that correct?
Kristin: Okay. I know I recognize that name.
Oren: If you want to get the essential characteristics of McCoy: he’s like a doctor, he heals people, he’s really gruff and sarcastic, and he loves to be cantankerous.
Kristin: Sounds about right.
Oren: That’s his thing. He’s not attractive. They do have a McCoy romance episode here and there, but he’s not supposed to be handsome the way Kirk is. So they try to recreate that first with Pulaski and it absolutely fails. It crashes and burns so badly that they almost retire Pulaski before her one season is over.
Oren: Yeah. Spock and McCoy would have like a back-and -forth right where they would argue with each other and give each other crap. In retrospect, there are definitely some things about that that were not great. What McCoy says to Spock definitely feels like it amounts to a racial slur. He calls him a green-blooded hobgoblin. But at least in that context, we have no indication that Vulcans are an oppressed minority in the Federation, so you can view it as like a Swede and a German giving each other crap.
Chris: It’s still in bad taste, but it doesn’t hit quite so hard. It doesn’t quite feel like this gut punch that it could be because there isn’t the context of Spock being oppressed.
Oren: Right. Then you fast forward to Pulaski, who is basically saying that Data’s not a person.
Chris: And I just want to say, I do think that Data is a Spock recreation at some level because Spock had no emotion and Data has no emotion. Their idea was to have Spock-and-McCoy dynamics, so now we’ll have a Data-and-Pulaski dynamic.
Oren: But Pulaski is telling Data he’s not a person and McCoy never said anything that bad to Spock. To make it worse, Data is absolutely a marginalized minority. He’s nearly taken apart and killed because they question whether or not he’s a person. So that’s bad. Also, Data doesn’t fight back.
Spock would retaliate or sometimes Spock would even start the thing with McCoy and get all logically sarcastic on him and deliver sweet logic burns, so there was back and forth. Whereas Data doesn’t do that. Data is just like‘Okay,’ and just accepts it. And it’s like ‘I made a character and my character trait is that I kick puppies,’ is what’s going on here.
Kristin: And in this instance, Data is the puppy.
Chris: Yeah, Data is like a puppy. I will say that.
Oren: Pulaski really goes hard on that for a few episodes and they must have realized it was a bad idea, especially because Data’s an established character and Pulaski isn’t, and a fan favorite on top of that, so they stopped and then they just didn’t know what to do with Palasky after that. She’s just around, and it’s not really a surprise to me that she left. Gates McFadden came back because the person who had been harassing her was gone, but even if she hadn’t, I would have been very surprised if Pulaski had stayed on for another season because they just had no idea what to do with her.
Kristin: They boxed her into a corner.
Oren: So that is Reno. Chris, you want to talk about Reno?
Chris: Yeah. Reno was unfortunately not on the A-cast, she’s on the B-cast of Discovery, so she hasn’t been in every episode. She’s introduced in season two, but for the episode she’s in, she’s been fantastic. I noticed looking at McCoy and Pulaski and Reno that the signature look of this McCoy recreation seems to be having short hair and a really expressive face because they all have really expressive faces. And Reno is incredibly refreshing because she’s clearly not meant to look attractive in a way that you almost never see for any female character on any TV show. Even characters like Tilly on Discovery, who is not supposed to be super sexy, is still quite pretty, she’s still quite good-looking, especially if you were to take her and put her on the street with normal people. But Reno really just is not designed to be attractive, just not. So that’s super refreshing to see, but she still has a super expressive face so she can definitely hold your attention. She comes on and she does a bunch of banter and every line of hers is just like super witty banter-land.
In one episode, they set her up to banter specifically with the character of Stamets. Stamets is their bioengineer. They have like a biological propulsion system that’s state of the art and Stamets is the scientist creating that. Reno, instead of being a doctor- although when we meet her she’s a mechanic- is using mechanics to keep a bunch of people alive in really weird ways. So we just see her acting like a doctor. She comes in, they have an argument, but instead of criticizing Stamets for, for instance, being gay, they have a professional disagreement where she is offended by the fact that he’s using this biological systems to do propulsion because she’s a mechanic who likes to work on metal stuff. And so she compares his propulsion system to mushrooms and how those that are best on a pizza. They have a banter back and forth and it works really well. Nobody is actually attacking each other personally, it’s purely a professional banter discussion.
Oren: Also she uses a lot of duct tape, both in her repair jobs and in her banter, which just makes everyone love her more. Fricking Reno, man. I think one of the reasons Reno works so well is that the actress playing Reno is a standup comedian.
Chris: Oh really? Oh my gosh, that makes sense.
Oren: That also might explain why she’s not main-cast. She should be. I don’t care what you have to offer her, CBS, make her main-cast.
With that, I think we are definitely out of time for this episode. We’ve just had way too many cool character recreations we could talk about. Thank you for joining us again, Kristin.
Kristin: Alright. Thank you so much for having me
Oren: Before we go, I just want to thank two of our patrons. First, Kathy Ferguson, who teaches Political Theory in Star Trek. And second, Ayman Jaber. He’s an urban fantasy writer and a connoisseur of Marvel. Otherwise, we will talk to you next week.[closing theme]
P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?