This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore watching television for KCRW, and relating to TV. That's our key word: relatability. 'Cause with television, nothing is more important for the viewer than being able to relate. If you can't relate, you turn away. And then the show goes way.
Example: Arrested Development, one of the funniest series ever. But even as a fan myself, I wasn't a bit surprised that it failed to win an audience. The quirkiness of the Bluth family kept its characters hilarious, but also at arm's-length, not easy to relate to. No matter how much they could make a viewer laugh, most viewers just didn't choose to be in their company.
That's my theory, anyway, and I could be wrong. But the general rule of relatability is, well, rock-solid.
Just pick a character on a series you like. I betcha, you want to be that character. Or be with that character. Or you want to not be that character, while you watch faithfully to figure out why he or she intrigues you so. Even if the character is flawed, you identify with them as they wrestle with their demons, while YOU get to feel satisfaction that you aren't as bad off.
Consider Dr. Gregory House: You admire him for his consummate skill as a physician, and for his sarcastic way of blowing off everyone around him. You feel bad for his physical infirmity and his stigma as a loner. But you might also be impressed that, despite his misanthropic style, still women love him. He's quite a character! No wonder viewers connect with him by the millions and have made the series House a big hit.
So why do I bring all this up? Because a new book speaks to how we relate to the characters we watch on TV... to how traits of theirs arguably are embedded within us... and how they are our shadow alter egos.
At least, that's according to the book, titled, Who's Your TV Alter Ego?: The Ultimate Television Character Personality Test. It compiles 50 classic and contemporary TV shows -- from Battlestar Galactica to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!; from Lost to Charlie's Angels -- and for each, concocts a list of multiple-choice questions to probe your inner being, then match you with one of its characters and uncover the traits you both share.
I started with The Sopranos and quickly answered its questions, along the lines of: If you were a Bruce Springsteen song, you'd be ... (I chose "Badlands"); If you were a brand of beer, you'd be ... (I picked Amstel Light, the best of the slim pickings). I entered these responses on my answer grid and tallied my scores.
Then the truth revealed itself:
"You're a good worker," the book concluded, "despite the fact that, at least in your own mind, you don't get a lot of credit for it. In general, you just like to run off at the mouth.
"You're a .... Christopher!"
What?! Maybe I somehow identify with Christopher, but that whiny little thug can't be my alter ego!
So I answered the questions for Seinfeld. And I was ... Elaine.
I tried the sitcom Friends. My alter ego: Dimwitted wannabe actor Joey!
And then, worst of all, for Ugly Betty I was the ruthless fashionista Wilhemina.
That was the last straw! I stashed Who's Your TV Alter Ego? up on my bookshelf beside Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. I had learned I don't need any book to help me relate to television.
I'm just gonna go back to embracing my kindred spirits straight from the shows that invoke them.
Watching television for KCRW, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore. And don't call me Wilhemina!