Caricature of Breaking Bad’s Walter White by Blumpi.
There is a new TV archetype, which isn’t the family, work or even friendship. It seems to be apprenticeship, or mentorship, something based on skill. From CSI to House to Breaking Bad, there’s a new setup which consists of a older man passing on skills, grumpily, to a younger apprentice or apprenti.
CSI is the classic, which also changed TV in general. I’m generalizing, but popular TV before CSI was often about families or pseudo-families in a workplace, but rarely about work. None of the characters in Friends have especially demanding jobs, they’re just occasional punchlines. In CSI, by contrast, the ‘science’ and work of crime scene investigation is a central part of the show, as is the grumpy old boss.
This respectable old man has become an archetype, first in the CSI spin-offs and then in the copycats, like White Collar or Dangerous Minds. In the past an old man would have been shown as the head of a household (Archie Bunker, Ray Romano) or part of an ensemble cast (ER) but now they are central, and so is their work.
Sitcom leads like Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano have no discernable skill besides cracking wise. Even is quasi-dramas like Quantum Leap or Knightrider (sorry, going by what I know), the leads don’t have significant skills besides survival. Yes, I couldn’t build a time machine, but that Quantum Leap character only builds it once and can’t get out, his day to day chores are mainly survival. I could imagine myself (with great stretching) in those roles, but not in the role of a CSI or crystal meth cook a la Breaking Bad.
These are men of skill and their superpower, if you will, is knowledge. Hence, despite being old, un-humorous and conventionally unattractive, these are the new archetypical leads.