August 17, 2014

Steve Austin and the grimmest guys on television

It’s been a grim summer. Especially for men, mostly middle-aged white ones.

It’s been a grim summer. Especially for men, mostly middle-aged white ones.

At least, it has been on television, which has experienced a near epidemic of clenched jaws and downturned mouths. Male actors and even the occasional reality star have been putting on an unintentional clinic in how (and sometimes, how not) to look grim.

Jack Bauer in “24: Live Another Day” was disgruntled over an impending rain of death from the skies, and so was Fin Shepard in “Sharknado 2: The Second One.” Frank Winter not only is trying to build an atomic bomb but also has vexing family issues in “Manh(a)ttan.” That Big Jim Rennie’s town is cut off from the world by a clear, impenetrable covering has been the least of his worries in “Under the Dome.” Grim, grim, grim.

The grim on display all over television is a foreboding scowl that says, “The situation is very grave, and I am extremely displeased about it.”

The Top 10 Grim Guys of Summer, in reverse order – that is, least effective at rendering grim to most effective:

CLIFF CURTIS (Javier Acosta in “Gang Related” on Fox): Javier is the head of the Los Angelicos criminal gang, so of course he’s grim because grimness instills fear and respect. Curtis is at the bottom of the Grim Top 10 because he’s too darn good-looking. If you really want to pull off grim, a little homeliness helps.

IAN ZIERING (Fin Shepard in “Sharknado 2,” Syfy): Of course Fin is grim, because last month for a second time – what are the odds? – he found himself in the middle of a sharknado.

ADRIEN BRODY (Harry Houdini in “Houdini,” History): “Fear is how I know I’m alive,” Houdini says in the forthcoming History miniseries as he is plunging off a bridge into icy water while wrapped in seemingly inescapable heavy chains. No wonder he’s grim.

KIEFER SUTHERLAND (Jack Bauer in “24: Live Another Day,” Fox): Jack was back in a new season, and boy was he grim. Sure, Jack was carrying an enormous amount of baggage, and maybe he was irked that he’d been off television for four years, and terrorists had seized control of U.S. drone aircraft, but Sutherland sometimes seemed like a caricature of grim. Next time, pull it back, Jack.

JOHN BENJAMIN HICKEY (Frank Winter in “Manh(a)ttan,” WGN America): The world is counting on him and his team to come up with a bomb that will end World War II but could also destroy life as we know it, and he’s being hassled on the domestic front as well.

KELSEY GRAMMER (Allen Braddock in “Partners,” FX): Allen is the scowly half of a pair of mismatched lawyers forced into business together on this sitcom.

DEAN NORRIS (Big Jim Rennie in “Under the Dome,” CBS): When the dome came down over his town, Big Jim, a bully with a selectman’s title, saw it as an opportunity. In Season 2, he has been finding that power comes with a price.

STEVE AUSTIN (reality series “Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge,” CMT): The stakes may not be very high compared with some of the entries on this list, but the dude sure makes it seem as if they are.

SEAN BEAN (Martin Odum in “Legends,” TNT): Bean, aided (as many of the Top 10 Grim are) by scruffy facial stubble, looks grim even when he’s receiving a lap dance at a strip club.

RICHARD M. NIXON (37th president of the United States): Some fine actors have been doing grim this summer, but none have done it better than Nixon did in real life 40 years ago this month. That was when he resigned from office, an event revisited by several television specials in recent days. The king of grim, then and still.

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