How Real Are the Characters We Watch on TV, in the Movies or On the Stage

On Tuesday evening, as usual, I tuned in at 10pm to watch “Rescue Me.” I don’t know why I love this show so much. Is it because it never forgets about September 11th?… Is it Denis Leary, even though his character is a jerk? Do I just love the whole story line and cast ensemble?

The end of the weekly episode was very upsetting to me. They played with my emotions throughout the hour and someone I cared about was killed. This made me think about why I cared and for a while couldn’t get the turn of events out of my head. I kept saying to myself, it’s TV, it’s a story, they aren’t real people, he’s probably got another gig.

I suppose when we watch these characters week after week, they become like real people to us. I’m dating myself but remember this old advertisement on TV, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV?”

What I find interesting is that I don’t watch much reality TV. The Yankees playing baseball or perhaps a cooking show or a nature series, that’s reality TV to me. Not these set up shows that seem real but most definitely have a script.

Thinking about the theater, movies or TV shows I like, I started to see a pattern. Just like I love to read a great novel, I just want someone to tell me a good story. The characters have to make me believe what they’re telling me. Here’s some of my favorite TV shows, some are still on and some not or in syndication now. HBO’s Entourage because of the crazy lifestyle, fast pace and of course the actors. (I don’t know which character I love more, Johnny Drama or King Ari) Then there’s Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, (hilarious) Deadwood (original, gritty and beautifully filmed) The Sopranos (of course), #1 Ladies Detective Agency (great stories and great acting, I truly believed them), and quite a few others.

What’s different about seeing someone in the theatre or in a movie, is you believe them (if they’re good) but once you leave the theatre they’re just the actor again. Unless of course the movie is a series also, like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or The Thin Man… then we associate the movie series with the actors. With a TV series they’re there each week, coming into your livingroom, and depending on how many years you’ve been watching, they become one with that character, at least in our minds.

There are also characters in TV shows or movies who seem real but who turn me off completely, not sure why I can’t watch them, it’s either the story is just plain stupid, or just not believable. A few weeks ago I was watching for the first time, Louie, which comes on after Rescue Me and he made a really bad joke about 9/11. I picked up the remote and shut off the show. Now I’m probably not going to watch him again because that’s just something you cannot make a joke about. Perhaps watching it happen made me sensitive on the subject. Plus, if that’s what he thinks is funny, lord knows what the rest will be about.

So the question remains, why do I want someone to tell me a good story, for me to believe in their character to the point of thinking they’re real, but not interested in any reality TV which is supposed to be real?

Here’s a little clip from years ago of Rescue Me, one that shows the great cast ensemble:

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