It’s a little but funny, but then again, no.
How we attach ourselves to characters in a television show.
I don’t have much to say, but if I did
I’d write a blog about it, where it would live.
One thing that I love is getting wrapped up in a story. Getting wrapped up in the lives of characters who have lives outside of the story taking place. Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Doctor Who. It’s not just enough to have motivations of people inside a story but to know that these people have personalities, aspirations, or a psyche outside of what’s going on in the day-to-day moments of whatever medium the story is taking place. And some mediums have characters who persist for years, while other formats have characters who only show up for an hour-long episode before they go away. In spite of this, it’s sometimes easier to develop an attachment towards the hour-long character than the decade long one. But that’s counter-intuitive, don’t you think? If you’ve spent a decade following a character around, you’d expect there to be more of an attachment to these characters because you’d (hopefully) know their motivations to a better degree than someone who you’ve only known for an hour, where of that hour was also focusing on some event occurring around them so you can’t solely focus on this one-episode character the entire time.
CSI: Las Vegas (CSI) has always been my go-to for this example because some shit goes down every week with some murder or robbery wrapped up with “science”-based evidence. But with a show lasting over a decade (debuted in 2000) with a consistent cast, minus a few people bowing out around season 10, there should have been plenty of material covering each of the investigators which sheds light on their psyche, their background and their personalities. And there’s almost always something happening at the end of the season that causes some despair among the team, being buried alive, shot and on the brink of death, hostage situation. Something goes on that is supposed to be “gripping” television. While I’ll admit that there’s some suspense and tension that builds when a main character gets put in danger, there’s usually not a lot of emotional payoff aside from the suspense of “How is this going to end?” The lack of emotional payoff comes from a lack of connection with the characters in the show because the show develops very little insight into many of the characters, only giving us a glimpse into each character’s personalities in small doses and keeping the show focused on the “murder of the week”. This format makes sense since it makes it a lot easier for a casual viewer to drop in and understand what’s going on without being lost from the character development from the past weeks episodes, but it hurts the show on the episodes that rely on the viewer to have some attachment to the characters. The viewer’s memory is only short-term strong, so if you build a relationship with a character seasons prior and don’t reinforce it before a very character-centric crisis occurs, it makes it hard to feel a strong attachment to that character. (SPOILERS) This was extremely apparent when characters like Warrick Brown get thrown into a life-or-death situation in one episode, dies the next episode, and the viewer is supposed to be emotional about the whole situation? We see the characters of the show become emotional over the situation. We have a small scene that reminds us “oh ya, he had a kid. How tragic,” but it’s hard to feel emotional about much of what goes on in these episodes because our relationship with the character was not re-cultivated before his death. Very little emotional payoff, bud.
The “murder of the week”-style shows don’t create a good basis for building an emotional attachment towards the characters. They are very plot-driven/plot-centric shows, focused on analytics, focused on getting the story out there and builds very little on the audience-character relationship on its weekly basis. It also doesn’t help that a show like CSI has 8-13 characters that they would need to write character development pieces for which is slightly ridiculous on a weekly basis to cover all of the characters on top of the “murder of the week.” This is why when episodes like the “day in the life” episodes emerge, they tend to be my favorite because they are always character-centric and character-driven, giving us insight into many of the characters of the show. When you take away the dialogue necessary to solve the crime, what do they talk about that’s important? Well, what’s important to the viewers is that they talk about are themselves, their background, their childhood, why they’re hardasses or people-pleasers.
This is also why I bring up Doctor Who (DW) when talking about character-driven/character-centric shows because no matter the season there’s always one or two episodes that will have me in tears, and almost never focused on a seasonal main character, but only the short-lived hour-long character. The format of DW is also a “mystery of the week” format (with allusions to some season-long mystery), but it relies less on getting the story out into the viewer’s-conscious and relies more on getting its characters out into the viewer’s-conscious. For most episodes, the plot-points and resolution can be explained and shown in a matter of 15-20 minutes, so to fill up the hour-long episode the characters need have some personality about them. The main characters, the Doctor and his companions, fill some of the plot with character development and season-wide plot development, but the short-lived characters involved don’t just stand about diddling themselves but give as much personality as possible to the audience before the next terrible thing happens. Because the show focuses on the characters so much more, there is a stronger attachment to the characters in the show, either long-lived or short-lived. This is a tremendous benefit to the show because when the show commands an emotional response from the audience, we’re willing to give it. The show and its characters cultivated an attachment between the viewers and characters so there’s some emotional payoff when something happens to these characters. Having a deeper, consistent understanding on the personality and psyche of the characters, long-term or short-term makes us feel like we’re a part of their lives, so when something happens to them, it affects us and our lives. Like losing a friend that we’ve known for years after experiencing each tragedy with them, we can empathize when something happens. We become too attached.
DW has always cultivated more of an emotional response from its viewers because it is more character-centric than other shows. It has a better sentimental-voice about it, able to develop relationships and personalities of characters in a short amount of time. Well, it can be said that the more recent episodes of DW has shifted towards a plot-driven series compared to the past losing its character-driven aspects while still being character-centric, but that’s an analysis for another time.