So She’s Not a Phantom...
It’s time to continue this conversation about my thoughts on Danny Phantom as a show, and I’m excited to the shows second most important character Sam Manson. A lot of this excitement comes from the fact that I actually want to talk about problems I had with the show since praising strengths rarely leads to any sort of growth or understanding about how we can create better media, and Danny himself just didn’t need that much improvement as a standalone character. Sam isn’t much better in this regard because she’s also fairly wonderful with one or two exceptions, but she is the last of the shows glittering splendor before we get to me ripping on Tucker and everything else in this infernally enjoyable show that missed its mark.
Lets start with what worked on Sam. First off a thousand years of praise to the brilliance of her actress Grey DeLisle who always brings something unmistakably iconic to every role she inhabits (most notable roles being Mandy of the Grim Adventures, Azula, and Frankie Foster). DeLise accomplishes a lot of the same sincerity, precision timing, and consistency in character that I praised Kaufman for in the last one of these, but lets talk about her as a an actual character instead of a performance.
Sam is the smart, counter cultural, well defined bedrock that Danny builds his life upon. Nearly everything else in Dannys life is either a fleeting untrustable moment of temporary happiness or specifically designed to kick him in the genitals until he cries. Sam isn’t that. She sees the value in Danny that we as the audience can see, and she provides him constant valuable insight on reaching his goals. Sam is also in a lot of ways a full realization of a happy Danny. She isn’t dependent on others for her happiness, so she isn’t constantly hurt by her classmates being the worst the way Danny is. She’s never at odds with her identity and seems to have a complete idea of who she is, which Danny never gets down. She’s open about her identity with her parents despite their disapproval unlike Danny. Sam is a really cool realization of what Danny wants to be, even if the show never acknowledges her as that. She is the confidence and completeness of the cool kids in a counter culture package that quietly shows the potential for Danny to find happiness within himself. This is probably the best thing Sam brings to the show, since without her the tone surrounding Danny would just be hopeless oppression like we get with the X Men. Sam is the promise that Danny can be OK.
So I love Sam and the show could never have worked without her and she’s an amazing role model for female viewers and easily one of the best characters Nickelodeon has produced but she’s not perfect. For starters, I wish she had other friends. I wish she had female friends. So much of Sams world is built around Danny and it would have been nice letting her have a life outside him. I know she and Tucker both have reasons to be closed off to other friends and the show does play with those a bit, but Sam is so much stronger a character and a person than Tucker or Danny ever get to be that I wish we got to see her build more to her life than just being Danny’s backup.
The biggest issue I have though is one I feel I’m alone on. I hate Danny and Sam becoming romantic. I remember being a kid and watching the pair platonicly bond as they showed me two characters of opposite genders didn’t have to fall in love. These characters taught me that you could just be friends and I value that lesson. I don’t feel their romance is a big accomplishment for either in terms of character arch. Danny was always about finding a comfortable identity for himself and getting the world to see him as someone of value. Sam never really got an arch at all other than winning her man which seems shallow for how enjoyable a character she was. I’ve never liked the smooch of victory trope and while i don’t feel this reduces Sams quality as a character I do think it highlights how little she was given since this romance was 100% of what we were building to for her.
Imagine an episode were Danny questions if he has feelings for Sam and like many young people in his situation mistakes his feelings of respect and friendship as romantic love. Imagine him making an advance on Sam that to her seems out of nowhere and the episode has them talk about this and deal with the first major hurtle to their friendship as Sam has to question if Danny’s friendship with her was ever more than a desire to hook up, or when it became that, causing her go become super uncomfortable, and Danny has to deal with the fact that he might have ruined the most important friendship he has and then how that will change things with Tucker and could cost him that friendship too. You could have them actually talk about this and whether Sam would even want a relationship with anyone, much less someone as all over the place as Danny, or even telling Danny he doesn’t need a relationship to be happy, or even going so far as to say he might be unhappy because he’s trying to force a romance that doesn’t exist everywhere around him. It could be a really smart and sincere moment that in the end shows how strong their friendship is because they can get past it, rather than the idea that their friendship was strong so it became romance. I feel like that’s so much more interesting. I feel like an interaction like that would have turned this show into something that would be talked about forever in the world of children’s television rather than just a sorta-cool-thing-that-happened in the mid 2000′s. Also have Skulker or someone making problems during the whole episode or something.
Sam is a wonderful character who is tragically limited to the role of Danny’s support and romance despite her power to have been so much more compelling and unique. The problems with her character are by no means the worst in the show (I’m coming for you next Tucker) and they don’t take away too much from what makes her work so well, but lord knows I wish I got to see a character this well done aspire to more than a cookie cutter friend turned romance plot line.