honorary Hose Monster:
Anyone who caught last night's episode of Smallville had the privilege of seeing William B. Davis' return to prime television. The same Mr. Davis, who achieved a certain amount of cult fame playing The Cigarette-Smoking/Cancer Man of one of the finest television shows ever, The X-Files. In last night's Smallville, Davis managed a few minutes of screen time playing the corrupt mayor of Smallville.
As I said, it was good to see him on television again. However, I wish I had seen him on some other show. As much as I like Smallville, I think his appearance on the show diminishes the reputation of his outstanding acting.
Shows that air on the WB have a certain appeal to the generation brought up with the Walshes and their friends in Beverly Hills. In my mind, they serve a very important function of television: pure entertainment. However, great character actors do not come up on these shows because they tend to be character-centered and not story-centered.
Other shows like the X-Files give actors not playing the main roles a chance to establish a presence, to prove their ability and the mastery of their craft. Speaking of the X-Files, no greater presence came out of that show than the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Originally he was meant to be a minor character; he spent the better part of entire season appearing in the story but never speaking a line. But the producers of the X-Files realized how he could command a scene and convey an fear to the audience through the simple act of dragging on a cigarette. As the show grew, the CSM had an entire show devoted to him, had season premieres and finales written to make audiences wonder what cliffhangers he might create or resolve. The CSM is one of three character who appeared in the series pilot and the series finale. The other two were obviously Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.
William B. Davis embodied the CSM and turned an extremely minor character into the fulcrum of an entire series. For eight seasons he fascinated me with his ability to make an audience feel his evil as it drips off the screen. This capacity seems even more incredible after encountering the real life Mr. Davis, which I had the pleasure of doing four years ago. He was affable, humorous and jesting at every turn. He smiled intensely the whole time. He was a contrast in every possible way to the character that he turned into something special. He convinced me of the incredible caliber of his acting ability, of his ability to become a character and turn that character from a simple fiction to a presence, something more than just a character confined to a story. He jumped an entity into the collective imagination of those of us who enjoyed a great show for a long time.
Tragically, seeing him in Smallville last night destroyed so much of that feeling of respect I harbored for him. I know that's not fair; as an actor he wants to work, have his work seen and make a buck like anyone else. But it's still really hard for me to realize that he went from a diabolical force to a teen villian.