Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Red Vs. Blue

It's kind of amazing how something made for fun, with some dedication, focus, and with the luck of coming out at just the right time can become a major sensation.

Red Vs. Blue by Rooster Teeth Productions, is such a project.  Created through a series of lucky breaks and some twisted senses of humor, the movie series made using the ever-successful Halo games have twelve seasons tucked under their belt, with a thirteenth being promised at some point in the future.

So what works?  What makes it such a cultural phenomenon that it's able to hold its own convention annually, produce multiple productions, and maintain a worldwide fan base?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but I think it's because when I watch the characters of Red vs. Blue, I see myself.  I also see what I want to be.

Which, if you think about it too hard, is kinda scary.

Starring a group of soldiers stationed at opposite ends of a box canyon, Red vs. Blue started out primarily as a means of delivering jokes, only to eventually discover a story, a plot, and an entire universe for them to explore, meet new characters, and regularly get shot at.

Characters have died, new characters have arrived, and characters have grown.  Some have discovered their own capabilities, others have discovered what it means to really be human, others yet have discovered that sometimes you just have to accept that the odds are against you and try anyway.  Yet, for the most part, they win.  Sure, it's often by accident, or through a level of subterfuge most people wouldn't expect from them, or it's because someone becomes willing to sacrifice themselves to save others, or because a plan is so dumb the Idiot Houdini trope needs to work overtime to keep up with it.

So what do I see in me?

There's a line said by one of the characters in season 12.  She describes the main characters as misfits, characters who don't really belong.  I think that most people would connect with that at some point in their life.  In this age where every culture, every fan group, and every interest group gets analyzed carefully both from without and within, it's easy to feel like you don't belong.

And as people know, I've dealt with feelings like that sometimes.  Okay, more than sometimes.  Whether it's sitting with a group of people and feeling like socializing comes a lot easier to them, or that I don't fit in because I'm not as interested in something as they are, or because I'm the only single person or I'm the only one who hasn't really hung out with people outside of work or I'm the only one who hasn't followed a comedy program or I'm the only one who doesn't swear as much or...

Well, there's a lot of things that make me "me" that could also be used to make me feel like I'm not part of "them."

On the other hand, it's those things that make me "me" that keep me from simply being someone boring.  I have differing opinions.  I do have different values.  I do have interests in different things.  My life has gone in a different direction from a lot of other people, and for each excuse for why that means I don't belong, it means I have something to contribute.

That's the Red vs. Blue cast.  They aren't all perfect soldiers.  In fact, they're pretty terrible soldiers.  But as they keep being reminded, there's something about each of them that helps them succeed even when they don't think they can.  Maybe they think they're too lazy.  Maybe they're too big a screw-up and their decisions keep going wrong.  Maybe they're just too dumb.  Maybe they have no confidence around certain types of people.

But there's that potential, in each one of them, to stand back up when they get knocked down and succeed against forces that would otherwise be overwhelming.  Genetically perfect, physically-enhanced super-soldiers might stand between them and their goal, but they will find a way, usually by playing off their strengths.

Granted, this is often a lesson mixed in with a lot of guns being fired at other people firing guns and humor (very little of which should be played with small children in the room), but it's still there, and the makers of Red Vs. Blue manage to find a very well-placed balance of humor, action, and seriousness to let these instances of lesson-giving be taken seriously.

The most recent season (again, 12) focuses primarily on the rise of a character named Tucker.  He's an okay soldier, but he's by no means a great hero.  Most of his time in earlier seasons was spent cracking jokes, being a pervert, and telling everybody how much they sucked (then again, you could say that about most of the characters on the show).

Then again, he's also picked by an alien race to be their champion, find himself leading squads of troops who look up to him, pulling out some fantastic moments of badassery, and finding himself constantly worrying about whether he's making good decisions considering the lives of the people he's in charge of don't seem to be getting any better.

Seriously, when this is the guy you suddenly find yourself relating to, it's a sign of good storytelling.
And yet, I do connect with Tucker.  No, not because I'm a pervert who always has a crude comment to say, but because I do find myself constantly worrying about my choices, wondering if I'm making the right decisions, and wondering if I'm capable to be the person other people claim I am.

I know people who have connected with each of the "misfit" characters on the show, but I don't know many who claim to identify with the "perfect" ones unless it's something distinctive about how messed up they are behind the "perfect soldier" persona.

It's a story about characters that wouldn't belong in any other story, and how the universe constantly underestimates them.  They're not the best and the brightest, but when the chips are down, they're loyal, devoted, (somewhat) clever, and lucky.  They won't give up on their friends and they won't break when the universe tries, yet again, to push them back down.

I think that's something everyone really can connect to.

Man, how did a post about a comedy series that includes regular jokes you'd expect a group of fourteen year old boys to say to each other wind up being something meaningful and insightful?

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