Whoosh! Issue 26 - November 1998

WHY JOXER IS SEEN AS A THREAT AND OTHER PROBLEMS
IAXS project #562
By Jennifer Waldeau
Copyright © 1998 held by author
3966 words



Editor's Note: The introduction of the future recurring character Joxer in the episode CALLISTO (22/122) affected the fans of Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) as no other addition to the cast has before or since then. The producers of XWP are adamant that Joxer is an integral part of the story they are telling, while many fans wonder out loud why the character is necessary. Joxer is one of the most divisive aspects of XWP fandom, second only to perhaps the subtext issues [Author's interjection: I would say it is tied, not second. Anti-Joxerites are as vocal and upset as any anti-subtextees were.] The extremes are those who absolutely hate or love the character, while most tend to like him in some episodes but not so much in others, taking a more moderate approach.

Ms. Waldeau has thought upon why so many fans are having problems enjoying the character. In this study, she has analyzed some compelling reasons why the Joxer character is so strongly reviled by many fans. Her findings go beyond the surface argument that because Joxer is a male, then he is hated, because many of the fans who do not enjoy the Joxer character, apparently, do not have a problem with Autolycus, Salmoneus, or Ares, the three other recurring male characters in XWP. Ms. Waldeau takes these interesting psycho-sociological events and attempts to make sense of them, and also offers some possible solutions to making the Joxer character more palatable to the greater audiences.




Introduction (01-03)
Ted Raimi vs. Wallace Shawn (04-12)
Joxer's Stupidity (13-14)
Joxer as Relationship Threat (15-20)
Possible Solutions (21-38)
Biography



Why Joxer Is Seen As A Threat And Other Problems



If you think THIS is small, I got somethin' even smaller!


Joxer's 'shortcomings' are first revealed in CALLISTO.



Introduction

[1] There is a large portion of fans in the Xenaverse who have an almost violent dislike of the Joxer character. I will admit that I have wondered why he was introduced into the show. The series had been working really well, had been building an audience, and was putting the emphasis on the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. Why throw a recurring supporting character into a formula that was clicking so beautifully with so many viewers? Generally, that sort of thing is done when a show is losing viewers and needs to add something to the mix to spice it up. But XWP was firing on all cylinders and fast becoming a major hit. What purpose did the addition of Joxer serve?

[2] The answer that is heard the most often from Xenastaff is twofold: (1) Joxer represents the 'everyman', and (2) He is there for comic relief. Yet, for so many viewers, instead of achieving these goals, the character has caused blood pressures to rise, viewers to protest, and a schism between anti- and pro-Joxer fans of Xena: Warrior Princess.

[3] What went wrong?


Ted Raimi vs. Wallace Shawn

Ironically, Ted Raimi will look like this in another 10 years!


Wallace Shawn is an accomplished playwright as well as an actor.


[4] After careful thought, I have developed the opinion that one error was in the casting. Before I go on, please understand that this is not intended as an article against Ted Raimi. I am not really referring to the actor himself when I postulate about the casting, but rather, I refer to his 'type'. Raimi himself is a performer who many find likable and talented. While he would be most successful in other roles, I feel that he, or anyone like him, would be miscast in the role of Joxer.

[5] Why do I feel the casting of Ted Raimi has given us a character who is intrusive, unlike Salmoneus who never seems to be a third wheel? Why is it that many fans do not mind Autolycus showing up, yet Joxer sets off alarms in such a disproportionate number of viewers?

[6] In The Official Guide To The XenaVerse (New York: Doubleday, 1998), Robert Weisbrot discusses the origin of the Joxer character. He tells us that the part was originally written for Wallace Shawn. For those of you unfamiliar with this actor, he was in My Dinner With Andre (Louis Malle, 1981), The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987), Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995), and many other films and TV shows. He is a short, somewhat roly-poly guy with a slight speech impediment. A wonderful actor, he can play both comedy and drama, and brings a very special, likable presence to his roles.

[7] If you are not a fan of Ted Raimi's Joxer, imagine Wallace Shawn in the role. Ask yourself if he would bother you. My guess is that he would not. Why? Why would it be okay with someone like Wallace Shawn, but is so grating to some fans with a guy like Ted Raimi? (remember, I am speaking about 'type' as opposed to the actors themselves, in both cases.)

[8] Shawn is much closer to a Robert Trebor type than the Raimi mold, for starters. This means he is unthreatening. This is really the crux of the entire problem.

[9] Shawn is an older man, not physically handsome in any traditional sense, and often plays small, somewhat ineffectual characters. The character of Joxer is a warrior wannabe -- a guy who is convinced he is a hero when he is not. With Shawn playing the role, we would have had a very different portrayal. Watching this sweet, older guy on screen so convinced that he is a great warrior would have been both poignant and funny. Anyone looking at him would have known instantly that he was not a threat and would never be a great warrior. Everyone, that is, except him. That is where the humor and the pathos would come in, and, thus, the affection that an audience can build for a character would follow.

[10] Oblivious to reality, this ineffectual little man would be positive that he is built in the heroic mold. No matter who pointed out the truth of things, he would not pay attention, because he would believe in himself. Given this kind of conviction, it would be difficult not to admire his spirit. We would almost hope that he never discovers the truth, because it would be so sad for him to know he was not a hero.

[11] Instead of putting him down at every turn, Xena and Gabrielle could be tolerantly amused, helping him out when he needed it. Those times when he rushed in to save the day and actually did do good, we would cheer. When he was in trouble, we would worry. We would care. The 'everyman' reaching beyond what life gave him is the stuff of poignant drama and clever comedy.

[12] But by casting Ted Raimi, who is young, tall and handsome, it limits the potential for this kind of interesting characterization. Raimi actually fits the warrior type we have seen so many times on the show. Because of this, the poignancy is lost, as is the comedy. Now, instead of being a sympathetic dreamer, he appears to be a loser. No longer a guy with visions of grandeur and a blindness to the reality of his own physicality and age, Raimi gives the appearance of a man who actually should be able to do some of the things he claims, but in failing, he looks somewhat pathetic.


Joxer's Stupidity

Even this method of travel is less harrowing than a New York cab!


Joxer swings through the trees with the greatest of ease in FINS, FEMMES, AND GEMS.


[13] Because they no longer had the advantage of Raimi's physicality being against warrior type, the powers that be had to come up with another reason for Joxer's failure. Their solution? Joxer is not very bright. It is extremely difficult to make stupidity seem funny in a non-putdown, clever way. Resorting to 'dummy jokes' and slapstick is easier, but can also alienate a portion of your audience. It is a very fine line to tread. 'Stupid' is all there really is for Raimi's Joxer when it comes to comedy, and stupid is not funny for long. Isn't comedy one of the two primary reasons for the character's existence, according to the powers that be?

[14] Another thing the Xenastaff did to make Raimi's Joxer less warrior-esque, and, therefore, closer to the original concept of the character, was to use a quirky costume. They made his armor give him the appearance of a warrior wannabe. They do not paint his skin bronze, like all the other actors. They play down any natural musculature and have him move awkwardly in an effort to give him the appearance of someone ineffectual. Again, none of these make up for the fact that the actor is tall, lean, handsome, and young, i.e. not any different from all the other actors they hire to play warriors each week. No longer are we watching a character who believes in himself despite his shortcomings. Instead, we are watching a man who, despite his gifts, still cannot make anything of himself. A very significant distinction. The former compels us to root for him, the latter is someone for whom we can feel contempt.


Joxer as Relationship Threat

[15] Another problem with the Joxer character is his intrusion on the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. Whether you believe in subtext or not, everyone agrees that one of the primary draws of this series is the incredible friendship/love between these two strong women. We adore watching two people who feel so intensely for each other that they are willing to do anything -- fight, even die -- for one another. It is a basic human need to have companionship and love in our lives, and it is thrilling to watch it depicted on screen with such wonderful characters.

[16] Many feel that Joxer is a threat to this relationship -- an intrusion. Yet rarely does one hear people complain about an appearance of Salmoneus. Why is that he never seems to come between them while Joxer does? Because friendly, likable Sal is unthreatening -- as would Wallace Shawn's Joxer have been. No one would believe that either Xena or Gabrielle would fall for Shawn. If he was tagging along, it would be like having that sweet, clueless uncle along for the ride. But Raimi is far from this. His Joxer is not different enough from the men both women have fallen for in the past.

[17] Add to this Joxer's unrequited love for Gabrielle, and the problems increase tenfold. If Shawn were playing the role, it would be like the old, toothless pirate in LOST MARINER (45/221) who had a crush on the bard. No one complained about that subplot. Why didn't everyone get up in arms and scream in voluminous posts, "I can't believe they had yet another guy falling for Gabrielle -- and he was always around, getting between Xena and Gabrielle. It ruined the whole episode!" Well, let's face it: Gabrielle would not go for that old man in a billion years. There was not a single threat in his crush. In fact, it was rather cute. Both Xena and Gabrielle just dismissed it, as did the audience, and that was that. Non-threatening.

[18] The same thing happened with Hower in A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215). Hower had a huge crush on Xena. She tried to talk him out of it, and even sensitive chatmistress Gabrielle tried, but nothing worked. Yet this is one of the most beloved and highly touted episodes of the series. Why was Hower embraced by the fans despite his crush on Xena? Again, he was non-threatening.

[19] But Xena and Gabrielle do not dismiss Joxer. In fact, the show plays up his love for Gabrielle as real and poignant, while making Gabrielle oblivious and seemingly heartless. Did she look cruel when she rejected the old man on the ship? Of course not. He was not a possible mate. Xena told Hower that he had "a snowball's chance in Tartarus" with her. Were the fans worried that Xena had reverted to her warlord persona? No. Hower was not a possible mate. Joxer is. Again, physically, he is too close to the type of man that Gabrielle or Xena might go for (if, indeed, either of them is into that kinda thing)!

[20] This is why the problem with Joxer was in the casting. Had they gone with their original idea -- a Wallace Shawn type -- we might have had an interesting character who bothered no one, and was welcomed in a few episodes per season. But because they went with Ted Raimi, an entirely different dynamic was established and the problems many fans have with the character have ensued.


Possible Solutions

Just be glad I'm not twisting more vital body parts!


Joxer and Gabrielle's relationship vascillates between Joxer's deep, unrequited affection and the antics of two elementary school children.


[21] So what, if anything, is the solution to these problems? Ted Raimi has the part, there is no changing that. The character of Joxer has been established, so that cannot be radically altered either. What will make Joxer more palatable to the viewers who are so dead set against him?

[22] If it were up to me I would immediately eliminate the 'crush' on Gabrielle. It emphasizes the very basic problem of Joxer as a threat. That should be downplayed, not highlighted.

[23] I have heard the argument from TPTB, that because Gabrielle would never go for a guy like Joxer, this should not be a problem. But telling us it is not a problem does not acknowledge the fact that so many fans see it as one. So why not make these fans feel better about the character by having him let go of this unrequited love and set his sights elsewhere. An excellent character for this is already in place: Meg.

[24] In WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), Joxer had the beginnings of a crush on Xena. This was laughable -- much more so than his love for Gabrielle. We know Xena would stop that nonsense instantly. But when Joxer went after Meg, it made sense. Here was someone who looked like Xena, the object of his crush, but who was attracted to him. The two characters, both comedic, got along very well, and their association could be applauded. Joxer is a nice guy, so he would be good for Meg. And, Meg would believe in Joxer -- something he needs. Obviously, we cannot have Meg showing up in every episode (the cost of filming doubles, and the toll it takes on the cast and crew is prohibitive) but she could be referred to in passing and we would know that Joxer had someone to go home to. This would keep the Xena/Gabrielle focus intact, and give Joxer someone to fight for.

[25] If having him fall for Meg was too difficult logistically, then why not have him be somewhat of a ladies' man? He appeared quite popular with the prostitutes in WARRIOR...PRIESTESS...TRAMP (55/309), so perhaps the lad is a somewhat accomplished lover. He could have a different girl every time we see him and this could lead to some interesting storylines as well.

[26] By having Joxer be in love with Gabrielle, he simply perpetuates his role as loser and Xena-wannabe. Right now he wants Xena's life: her abilities as a warrior and her partner. That makes him the enemy as opposed to sympathetic. No matter how often we are told he is a 'good guy', his very core existence is unpalatable to those who want Xena and Gabrielle to stay as a team (whether one believes in subtext or not) and for Xena always to be the greatest warrior. Regardless of the fact that he has no shot at either, many find it unnerving to watch him try to unseat Xena.

[27] What else can be done to make the character more enjoyable? I would acknowledge that the person playing the role is who he is, instead of who he was 'supposed' to be. Why pretend that Ted Raimi is Wallace Shawn? There is nothing wrong with him being an ineffectual warrior -- no matter what you look like, nothing guarantees talents. But I would find something else that Joxer does well -- something that could endear him to the viewers and take away the feeling some fans have that 'he's a loser'. Watching a loser can be very uncomfortable, and as he is supposed to be 'everyman', it is rather insulting. To me, 'everyman' is moderately successful in some things, will never aspire to greatness but does not really need to because he finds his niche where he can. He is the ordinary guy who does his best. Yeah, he fails sometimes and other times, he pulls through. Joxer, however, is portrayed as a dim-witted failure. He needs something we can root for to bring him up to the standards of the everyman.

[28] It would be interesting to see him have a skill or talent that could be acknowledged and maybe even admired by Xena and Gabrielle. That would give them a genuine reason to continue to let him hang around. Right now, an often heard viewer complaint is that there is no reason why Xena and Gabrielle tolerate his presence, and he generally appears in an episode without purpose -- tacked on because they needed someone to beat up, or fall into a hole, or whatever is that week's macguffin to forward the plot. Most Joxer appearances could have been any other character, or even a number of them, and it would have made no difference to the storyline. You cannot say that about Autolycus, Salmoneus, Ares, Cupid, Aphrodite, Caesar, or Callisto. When they are in a script, they have to be there. It would help a great deal if something could be established that made Joxer an asset rather than a liability. That made him singular and needed in the storylines that include him.

[29] What could this be? Well, there are many possibilities. I will use one as an example. Joxer has mentioned that he is a good cook. Why not build on that? Make him a good cook. Yet because he is a bumbler, perhaps he gets fired constantly from inns and restaurants. Xena and Gabrielle could run into him several times, always at a new place, always with a story about what went wrong at the last place. They could find him at exotic markets, looking for the perfect spices, or in the field, cooking for an army. He could be working for a king one week, a warlord the next and on and on. This gives us a lot of possibilities for intrigue or storylines, because he would be on the inside. Not only would the limits of the character be lifted, it could also provide him with a focus.

[30] And that is an important point: Joxer needs a focus, an interest outside of Xena and Gabrielle. Harkening back to Salmoneus again, one always has the impression that this guy has a very full life. It makes him interesting in and of himself. He has a purpose and a drive that is not tied to Hercules and Iolaus. He does not want to be what they are because he is too busy being himself. Joxer, on the other hand, has the sole purpose of wanting to be Xena.

[31] When Gabrielle was introduced, she appeared to want to be Xena [SINS OF THE PAST (01/101) and DREAMWORKER (03/103)]. Yet very quickly, she established her goal of wanting to be a bard. Gabrielle wants to be herself first, and to simply aid Xena, not become her. What makes Gabrielle an interesting character (remember: initially, many viewers found her annoying and wondered why Xena let her hang around, too) is that she has her own talents, philosophies, and world view. Gabrielle adds these to those of the Warrior Princess, making the two of them more than the sum of their parts as a team.

[32] Joxer does not add anything because he has yet to display any interest in being who he is. I would like to see him begin to discover himself, find that unique talent, get a life outside of Xena and Gabrielle, and bring something to the mix, as opposed to always being a pale shadow, ineffectual and repetitive. The successful supporting players -- Salmoneus, Autolycus, Ares, Callisto -- all have their own agendas. They all bring their unique perspectives to the episodes they appear in. It is always more interesting to see an original than a copy. In XWP, we have the best original possible in Xena. We do not need another character trying to imitate her, failing, and never attempting to discover his true talents.

[33] Finally, I would limit Joxer's appearances on the series. The formula of Xena and Gabrielle as a team, as a partnership, is so incredible to watch, that any supporting player is intrusive if seen too often. Joxer should appear in just a few episodes per season. If Callisto had appeared in half the episodes, I daresay the audience would have gotten tired of her rather quickly, too, and she was one of the most popular characters on the series. Remember the 'crushes' I mentioned earlier? They were both resolved in a single episode. If the old man or Hower had followed Xena and Gabrielle around for the next 11 to 22 episodes, I would be willing to bet there would be a large and voluminous public outcry about them, as well.

[34] Why? Because the show is about Xena and Gabrielle and how they, as a team, overcome adversity. It is about the relationship between them, and how it is growing and changing. Putting a third person into the mix, no matter how interesting that character is, throws this relationship off balance. He quickly becomes intrusive. This is how resentment against a possibly popular character can build into active dislike.

[35] That said, the viewers must remember that XWP is a business. To have an actor at their beck and call, the producers need to make it worth his while. Signing Ted Raimi up for three episodes a year might not be enough to keep him from pursuing other opportunities. It is obvious that the Xenastaff wants to keep both the character and the actor a part of the series. So what is the solution?

[36] Assuming that an 11 episode contract would be enough to ensure his participation, why not use him in both XWP and HTLJ? In his new occupation of gourmet cook (or whatever Xenastaff might decide to give him as a focus), Hercules and Iolaus would be just as likely to run into him as Xena and Gabrielle. He could become a part of their adventures as well as Xena's. If the character of Joxer tested poorly on Hercules in the past, then it would be a new game now, as he would have a focus and a talent and not just be in the way, as he has been on past crossovers.

[37] I do not think there is a fan out there who wants to hate Joxer. Why would they? Even if he were only in one episode per year, it would be far more comfortable and enjoyable to like the character. Start multiplying those appearances and it fast becomes an imperative. It would be fantastic for the 'anti-Joxer' crowd to find a reason to tolerate or even like him, because then the negative feelings he engenders with each appearance would disappear.

[38] My hope is that instead of telling the viewers that Joxer is here to stay, like it or leave, TPTB work toward making the character one whose appearances everyone can enjoy. I think it can be done and with a minimum of fuss, in a few easy steps: (1) eliminate the unrequited love for Gabrielle, (2) give Joxer a talent and a focus, and (3) reduce the number of appearances per season.



Biography

Jennifer Waldeau Jennifer Waldeau
A woman of mystery.

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