Ugly Americans Biggest Fault: The Creators Were Afraid of Mark Lily
I have two theories about Mark Lily’s characterization. It’s not necessarily intentional on the writer’s part, but this is what I have come to after seeing most of the episodes from seasons one and two:
1) Mark Lily does not fit within the “ bland everyman” stereotype no matter how bad the writers want him to.
2) Mark’s character works better if Randall was his love interest, not Callie.
Mark Lily is the protagonist of a two season animated series that ran on Comedy Central. It follows his day to day life as a “normal” person surrounded by an alternate universe New York City where humans, demons, and creatures of varying sentience exist. He runs a class in the Department of Integration helping citizens cope with city life.
It was pretty good show. It definitely filled me with nostalgia when I found it on Amazon, so I took a few hours to run through a couple of episodes. After being reacquainted with some episodes, I’m sad to know that it didn’t run for longer, because if it had some leg room for development, it could’ve been a true keeper on Comedy Central. Still, I can understand why it never really took off. There was something very much missing in the grand scheme of the show. And I think that the problem lies in it’s main characters:
Mark Lily a Dynamic Character
This is Mark Lily. Mark Lily, no matter what the writers try to do, is not bland. There is something so out of sync with his characterization and his life that I can’t really put my finger on it. It might have to do with his disturbing obsession with eggs.
Mark Lily’s Hidden Darkness
Here is a picture of Mark forcing his ex girlfriend to eat eggs a few years prior to the beginning of the show. She’s allergic to eggs. By the way, he knew she was allergic but emotionally manipulated her into eating them by saying that their future life together depended on it. And he dumped her after she went to the hospital. Mark is shown to have an unhealthy fixation on the food, to the point where he reads magazines about it. It gets dark really freaking fast.
I wanted to bring this up because usually, shows with a protagonist who is seemingly normal like Mark are written to be the “straight man,” or the one that the audience relates with and gives down to Earth advice to other more zany characters. They are written as totally boring to contrast them with the world they live in. But Mark’s deeper character hints that he’s not that kind of a protagonist.
Unlike Fry from Futurama who blends into his new life in the future, Mark is constantly trying to prove that he is competent and responsible in a world where hedonism and obsession is commonplace. His ex girlfriend becomes obsessed with him after he dumps her, he becomes the object of obsession for a TV show host, and is almost murdered by a tenant who was enamored with his roommate, Randall. Mark’s clone is much more aggressive, threatening and even commits murder.
The writers were very clever bringing in these points, and their brought up from time to time, but at times they make his character seem very bland to contrast the rest of the city that I think they ultimately put him in a box. At their worst, they didn’t know what to do with him. And at their best, they had a very emotionally complex, controlling egomaniac with an obsession with self preservation (and eggs).
Other than Mark, Randall his roommate is another interesting character. He’s easily one of the most compelling characters in the show. And from a narrative standpoint, everything about Randall seems to be pointing to him being Mark’s love interest, not Callie.
Callie’s Lack of Characterization
Even when the show takes great pains to show that Callie, the daughter of Satan, is in a relationship with Mark, they barely interact with one another outside of work and the bedroom. At least, they don’t interact meangfully. If it’s not some sort of exposition about her life as a demon, then it’s just them having sex.
While there are plenty of episodes that shed a light on Callie’s backstory, they don’t actually give any information on her personality. She’s sexy, demonic, with a type A personality and likes BDSM. But the show only goes that far. It seems to be more concentrated on what she is rather than who she is. Her entire character from even her walking animation shows her as a sexual object. There a moments of vulnerability, but they are immediately swept under the rug or not delved into very deeply.
The lengths Mark goes to to help her could more or less just be his personality. He cares about Callie as a person, and their relationship is more her taking and him giving. But how is that any different than his other relationships? Especially with Randall. In fact, the dynamic is almost identical, except without the sexual aspect (on Mark’s part. Randall is shown to be
attracted to Mark).
Mark and Randall’s Romantic Relationship
We’ve all seen this before. When a show is “confident” that it’s main couple is strictly heterosexual, they play off the main character’s relationship with his guy friend as almost romantic. They argue, have not so subtle moments of homo eroticism, and have thinly veiled arguments that make them seem like a couple.
But the fact is that this show is not confident in Callie and Mark’s status as the official couple. Callie is emotionally distant and constantly requires sex at the expense of their interacting like a couple. To fill in these missing gaps, they give most of this emotional development to Randall and Mark. There are more episodes dedicated to Randall and Mark getting to know each other, spending more time together, and discussing their living arrangements like they are a couple co-habitating together. It seems like hes in a sexual relationship with Callie, but an emotional relationship with with Randall.
They have a backstory of how they met and how their dynamic has changed and progressed over the course of the series. Mark is sometimes disappointed by how deep Randall has fallen into his hedonism but he greatly admires him and his loyalty. Randall pays attention to Mark’s likes and dislikes, values their relationship, and is shown to really enjoy his company. You could even say their more down to earth moments are more emotionally romantic than anything between Callie and Mark. At the end of the episode “Mummy Dearest,” Mark takes time out of work to spend more time with Randall.
Their characters mesh really well together both romantically and platonically. While they don’t necessarily bring out the best in each other they make great foils. Mark with his sense of responsibility and untapped dark side, and Randall’s hedonism and spontaneous neediness. When they work off each others personalities, they have great scenes that are downright hilarious.
It’s not something that the writers want though.
They were very adamant about keeping Mark “normal” when everything about him pointed to something much darker.
They wanted him to be straight when he had more chemistry with his roommate than his girlfriend.
The thought of making him bisexual, pansexual, or gay was not what they intended, but the expansion of his character outside of the “everyman” (i.e straight, stagnant in characterization) archtype was showing through. I wonder what would have progressed for this character if he was allowed to develop more organically as a character instead of placed in a box.