Friday, June 12, 2009

That Big Lovable Lug Groosalugg

What never ceases to amaze me about the Angel series is how the creators continuously blessed their audience with great supporting actors. Mark Lutz as the Groosalugg was one of the best.

We first ran into Groo on the planet Pylea, where he was described as a hideous warrior/monster who was ordained by the prophecies to com-shuk with Cordelia. The obvious joke was, although he was considered hideous by Pylean standards, he was in fact an ultra-handsome, Fabio-like, muscular, male-model chunk of beefcake.

The Groosalugg, who was arguably a truer champion than even Angel, was ostensibly written and played as a one-dimensional character. In Mark Lutz' own words, Groo was "brave and noble on one hand, and so naive and brainwashed on the other". The writers must have had a marvelous time writing his scenes, using that faux archaic style of speaking that shows up in a lot of adventure films set in the Days of Yore. Think of a mixture of King David, Beowulf and Conan the Barbarian. "When the Covenant summoned me I was vanquishing the Mogfan beast that bedevils the scum pits of Ur" is a pretty typical piece of dialogue for him.

The role of the Groosalugg would have been disastrous for many actors, but Mark Lutz handled the assignment with a great deal of style and wit. Although Groo had quite a limited upbringing, to say the least, he more than made up for it with his natural intelligence, and, even more impressively, his sensitivity, particularly with Cordelia. He could easily come across as being simple-minded, but he was a lot sharper than some people gave him credit for. One of my favorite "Groo" scenes occurred in late Season 3's "Benediction", when he tricked Lorne into commenting on his (Groo's) fast-deteriorating relationship with Cordelia.

Mark Lutz seemed to bring out the best in actors David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter. Although Cordy's chronic ditziness around Groo could have been a major turn-off, Carpenter's wonderful acting as the love-sick newly elevated Princess made her character that much more appealing. I've written many times that I thought some of Boreanaz' finest comic acting performances centered around Angel trying to deal with his jealousy of Groo.

Groo could have been accused of being insensitive to Angel's plight, but really, Groo was always acting out of good-hearted innocence. In the early days of Groo's and Cordy's relationship, the two showed all of the characteristics of acting out of Pure True Love. There was no way anyone could get in their way without looking like a complete jerk. And, give Groo credit, when he realized that Angel was, in fact, Number 1 in Cordy's affections, he gave her up gracefully enough, while still working through his own considerable grief.

When Groo rejoined with Cordy at the end of "Waiting in the Wings", and become somewhat of a member of Angel Investigations, he ran the risk of making an already rather crowded team of regular ensemble actors even more crowded. In fact, he seemed to fit in seamlessly, since his superior fighting skills were always welcome. I'm always fascinated with how writers are able to juggle the demands of having to create dialogue for so many talented actors in one 30-minute or hour-long show. For a while at least, they were able to pull it off with the addition of Mark Lutz' Groo. Actors don't need equal face time. As the scenes with Lilah prove, they only need a few spiffy lines of sharp dialogue once in a while to make their presence known.

Unfortunately, the creators seemed to run out of ideas for the character of Groo, as you can see from this Buffyverse page which chronicles his gradual disappearance from the show. That really was too bad, since Groo was one of the best things about the entire Angel series. His character deserved a much better way to end his run of appearances than to spend several of his last episodes lurking in the wings waiting for Cordelia to show up. When his character left the show, I not only felt as though Groo had been cast off, but that the audience had been cast off as well.

Finally, I thought it was a mistake for the creators to have Cordy cut Groo's hair and make him dress like Angel. I understand the "Cordy secretly loves Angel, but she doesn't realize it yet" implications behind her actions. However, I thought Groo's character became less appealing at that point. Although he came to Los Angeles looking like a long-haired barbarian, I thought he fit in because a lot of people in Los Angeles look and act differently. Groo's barbarian look could have just been interpreted as being his own personal eccentric style.

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