I got to thinking about the topic of today’s blog post via a rather unusual route. There was some discussion around the joys of listening to a radio series in comparison to those of watching a TV series. Whenever I weigh up the relative pros and cons of the two, I find myself coming back to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Possibly this is because it was one of the biggest influences on my developing tastes as a child. I think I can probably trace a sizeable chunk of my love of SF and comedy back to the HGttG. Even the first few strands of the theme tune is enough to send me back into fits of nostalgic bliss, and whilst I’m fairly certain that I’ve watched and listened to it enough times that it’s ingrained into my brain enough that I shouldn’t really ever need to watch or listen to it again, I still enjoy doing so.
HGttG demonstrates how a series can work brilliantly, although with some fairly noticeable differences, on both TV and radio. Obviously there are some jokes that work better on one than the other, but, on the whole, if the writing and performances are excellent then the show will be great both ways. I think the visual elements of the TV show, particularly the graphics of the guide, were tremendous but in no way did the radio show suffer from not having them.
The one point of difference though that I think did not work as well in the TV show was the portrayal of Trillian. I don’t think Sandra Dickinson’s performance was in any way bad but to me I infinitely prefer that of Susan Sheridan in the radio series. I suppose in a way you could argue that it was kind of a vague attempt at feminism to have an attractive blonde actress with a high-pitched, exceedingly little girly voice play the intelligent astro-physicist, breaking down stereotypes* and all that. However, the Trillian character just didn’t work for me in the TV show. Possibly it’s that as a little girl, you want a female character to look up to and emulate. This led to a vast amount of confusion. I liked the idea of becoming a scientist and running off with Zaphod to explore the galaxy, but I found her a little annoying and by far the least interesting character.
Largely though the main problem with having Trillian as a role model was one of costuming. You see in the radio show I had always imagined her wearing sensible clothes, possibly even a lab-coat at times. I mean the costume wasn’t fully realised in my head, I hadn’t put much thought into it but I just figured that she’d wear something normal and appropriate.
Apparently, the costume department at the BBC had quite different views on the matter. Maybe they just really hated the actress or something because frankly the skimpy, vacuum-sealed tight red outfits Trillian wore resembled a form of torture more than items of clothing. And it makes no story sense whatsoever. Her character isn’t some crazed exhibitionist. Zaphod’s appearance seems positively mundane in comparison to the sartorial nightmares that Trillian wears, and he had two heads! Admittedly, it was the eighties but even so I struggle to imagine that the most demented aerobics instructor would have the nerve to wear those ghastly leotard-like things she did.
No, I suspect the reason was that they wanted to ‘sex’ the show up a bit for the television. Apparently, TV shows need to have one token hot girl wandering around or heterosexual male viewers will become distressed and their mouths will become dangerously dry from going minutes without salivating. It’s a pretty offensive concept really - to men, I mean. The notion that unless it’s a game of sport, you need to have an attractive female show up or the Neanderthal-like male who scarcely possesses enough smarts to master the successful use a remote control will change the channel in search of more stimulating visuals. ‘Why no pretty lady? Me want look pretty lady. Find new show.’
What really bothers me though is the fact that the morons in charge of deciding what women should wear to look sexy seem to think that the most uncomfortable things possible are the way to go. The Trillian outfit for one. I can’t think why anyone would have put her in such a revealing outfit other than to make her appearance gratifyingly attractive to lascivious-eyed viewers, but when I look at those costumes, I just think, ‘ouch, that looks uncomfortable’.
I have the same problem with comic book heroines as well. Not in the actual comics so much. Looking at a drawing of a female character in an implausibly skimpy and impractical superhero outfit doesn’t seem to bother me quite as much, but when they make a live-action movie and put a real live actress in the outfit, I’m overcome with empathetic chafing. At least back on the old TV shows, it was mostly spandex they were wearing. Spandex is stretchy and allows for a good range of movement. But now they all seem to be clad in squeakingly-tight PVC outfits that I suspect even a hardened bondage devotee would blush at wearing.
It’s not just the uncomfortable costumes that bug me either. Sometimes it’s the hair as well. Silk Spectre’s long locks may look very nice in all the slow-motion shots of her walking, but every time she starts fighting, I couldn’t help but want to tell her to pull it back into a ponytail. Get all that hair out of your face so you can see what you’re doing, I thought. You’re fighting bad guys, not making a shampoo commercial.
No, it’s clearly all gone too far. Sexy superheroes need to claw back a bit of comfort and practicality into their attire. Sensible hairdos and durable fabrics that are supportive yet allow for wide range of movement.
After all, if the superheroes aren’t allowed to wear comfortable athletic wear then soon the rest of us will be expected to follow in their five-inch stilettoed footsteps. Frankly, I’m not ready for a world where we’re all expected to don the thigh-high boots and a PVC bustier every time we go to the gym or head out for a run.
* That does not mean that I think anyone should be expected to believe that Denise Richards in hot pants can plausibly be a physicist in a film, not even a James Bond one. Suspension of disbelief is one thing but I mean really. DENISE RICHARDS?! IN HOT PANTS?! AS A PHYSICIST???? THE PHYSICIST IS CALLED ‘CHRISTMAS’???!!!!! ARE YOU COMPLETELY INSANE?!!!!**
** My career as a Hollywood casting director is surely doomed in that I am utterly unable to regard this decision without excessive amounts of flabbergasted punctuation.