The debate about Iron Fist was charged up again when the final Defenders trailer premiered. io9 criticizing Danny Rand led to a litany of “You guys just hate him for being white!” Since I once did a helpful episode by episode review of Iron Fist where I liked the show, but not the character, I pointed out that no, most people hate him for being annoying and stupid, not for being white.
Which is when many replied, “But he’s supposed to be annoying and stupid.”
Sigh. I thought this would be self-evident, but I guess it’s not: it’s okay to have a character who is annoying and/or stupid. There is no question about that, especially since some characters are designed to be annoying and/or stupid, especially antagonistic characters or characters in comedies. Unfortunately, Danny Rand is neither.
So here are the general rules for annoying and/or stupid characters:
The main character of a comedy can be stupid, annoying, or both. In fact, there are plenty of comedies where the main characters are stupid and/or annoying (see: Dumb and Dumber, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, Anchorman, Zoolander, etc).
Of course, there’s a fine line that these films walk — the characters can be annoying, but not too annoying, to the point where even the audience is turned off. This is why Dumb and Dumber and Zoolander worked, while Dumb and Dumber Too and Zoolander 2 didn’t — they tried to replicate the formula for the first film, but pushed it over the limit and instead the audience found the movies obnoxious and unfunny.
Of course, Iron Fist isn’t a comedy. It’s a supernatural drama. But hey, you can have stupid and/or annoying characters in those, too.
This is Welsey Wyndam-Pryce, a character that first appeared in the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When he appeared, he was supremely annoying and often took an antagonistic role in Buffy’s life. However, this works because 1) he’s not a main character, but a tertiary character and 2) he’s mainly an antagonistic character.
Later on, in the first season of Angel, Wesley reappears and becomes a member of Angel Investigations and a main character on the show. And while he’s still a bit buffoonish and annoying in the first season, the writers take quite a bit of time to smooth off a lot of his annoying characteristics and give him a lot of character development so that by the end of the first season, he is not annoying or stupid at all. In fact, the writers got so good at providing Wesley with character development, they continued to heap piles of it onto him until the end of the show, so that if you compared Buffy Season 3 Wesley to Angel Season 5 Welsey, they would appear to be two entirely different characters.
And that’s good, because that Wesley was a main character.
Side characters in movies and shows are often annoying, serving as a bouncing off point for the main character. Think about another Wesley: Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He, too, was a smug know-it-all, but when he was allowed to be a side character, it worked. We got Picard yelling at him to shut up! But as soon as you make him the main character of an episode (“The Game” ugh), you get one of the worst episodes of all time.
Now imagine if Wesley Crusher was the main character of TNG and all the other characters merely revolved around him and his stories. Sure, Wesley Crusher is supposed to be annoying...but that doesn’t stop the audience from disliking him. Knowing a character is supposed to be something doesn’t mean you automatically ignore that factor. Knowing a character is supposed to be annoying and stupid won’t stop people from hating that character because he is annoying and stupid.
Which brings us back to Danny Rand. In the first season of Iron Fist, some moments of his naivety worked, but overall, it didn’t. It just made him unlikable. He acted like a petulant child — which, sure, he was supposed to be — but we don’t want the main character of our show to be a petulant child. We want to follow a character we enjoy watching and watching a man-child try to explain how totally in control he is isn’t really enjoyable.
Thankfully, The Defenders looks like it smooths a lot of those qualities down by allowing him to bounce off of other characters. In The Defenders, Danny isn’t THE main character, but rather one of the main characters. And acting opposite a snark machine like Jessica Jones or a stoic badass like Luke Cage could help Danny immensely.