Does ‘bad acting’ matter?
I love Farscape. It’s a relatively well made Sci-fi show (you can only do so much with a shoestring) with memorable characters whose greed/fears drive an epic narrative. The characters are memorable and diverse in their motivations, appearances and quirks. All that being said, apart from maybe Ben Browder (John Crichton) all the actors are bad. The guest actors are frequently really bad. Again there are exceptions like Wayne Pygram (Scorpius), but for the most part the acting in this beloved cult show is either stale or comically over the top.
Yet the show is still very enthralling and held in high esteem. (I’d recommend the AV Club‘s reviews for an incisive look at the show.) Farscape is not the only much loved/critically esteemed show with terrible acting. The most classic of Sci-Fi shows is Star Trek, wherein the best actor is Leonard Nimoy and Spock doesn’t exactly require a great range of emotions.
Weekly soap operas all contain horrendous acting that the medium actually lends itself to as well as embracing. Admittedly East Enders is not a critical darling, but it is popular all the same and not due to irony. I am talking here about properties that are compelling in spite of bad acting, not because of it. Hilariously bad acting is obviously wonderful, but in a very different way… This phenomena is not limited to a few TV shows. Many great film classics have some/lots of terrible acting; Star Wars, The Matrix, Rocky, Lord of the Rings and so on. Now arguably many of these films are good because of other stronger aspects; the epic journey and battles in Star Wars, the philosophies and kung-fu of The Matrix, the underdog appeal of Rocky and pretty much all the world building detail about Lord of the Rings.
However I’d argue that these films all have memorable characters, and not because they’re awful. Who hasn’t heard of Luke Skywalker? Only slightly fewer people will have heard of Neo and Trinity. Rocky and Adrian’s struggles are also world renowned. Again the same is true of Frodo and Sam.
The fact is when you break it down these characters are memorable for more than just the quality of the film as a whole. All their enduring popularity is in spite of acting inability. So does ‘bad acting’ matter? No! But also yes…but basically just sometimes. You couldn’t really have a slow moving, subtle and restrained character drama with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the helm. Nuance and grace and the detailed but varied ugliness of human beings is often a requirement in TV and cinema, but it is not the most important thing to a space opera.
To those who really don’t agree with me even at this point ask yourself a few questions; have you ever enjoyed a horror film? Were you scared for the characters? Was the acting any good? Admittedly this test isn’t gonna be great for hardcore horror fans who don’t experience fear, they don’t watch the films to be scared anyway and they’ll already be on board with my larger point.
And my larger point is that strong and definable characteristics are the most important thing for your leads, not acting skill, because great acting will be less than likely to endure the ravages of time.* This all brings me back to Farscape and the character of Rygel. He is selfish, egotistical, manipulative, brave when angry but usually a cowardly thief and occasional murderer. He’s also a cheap puppet with terrible lip syncing. Yet again, in spite of all of this you believe in him and even fear for him when he is attacked, even if it is obvious it is a man in dodgy alien make up swinging a immobile rubber stunt puppet into a wall.
*Side Note: What is considered ‘good’ and ‘bad’ acting tends to be fluid and changes every decade as well as with every different culture. So eventually all actors are gonna suck.