bardicvoice (bardicvoice) wrote,

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TV Psychology: Why Do You Watch What You Watch?

This isn't really part of Supernatural University, but it is a psychology blog.

In comparing notes with a friend, I got to thinking about why I watch and enjoy the shows that I do, while other very popular shows often do nothing for me. I’ll explain where I’m coming from, and then I’m curious to hear what lies behind your viewing decisions, which will probably be very different from mine. For the purpose of this discussion, I’m looking only at entertainment shows, not non-fiction news or documentary programs.

I learned long ago that I’m not a “typical” entertainment TV viewer. My passions tend to the cult rather than the mainstream. With the singular exception of M*A*S*H, I’ve never been attracted to comedy. Sitcoms simply don’t make me laugh and I don’t find them funny, even though I laugh a lot in real life, so they aren’t my choice for entertainment and escapism. (Something about actors constantly delivering lines set up for the sole purpose and with the clear expectation that viewers will laugh at them just gets in the way of me actually finding the lines or situations funny. In my experience, the best humor usually comes from the unexpected and accidental or coincidental, not from the planned, and it often comes interspersed with the serious, which is precisely why funny lines in dramas will make me laugh.) So-called “reality” programming leaves me absolutely cold and searching for the remote; give me scripted stories instead. My forte is drama, particularly when there’s some action or mystery thrown in, and I crave science fiction and fantasy particularly for their added fillip of both escaping ordinary life and making me look at our society from a different viewpoint. But with that said, there are a lot of dramas, scifi, and fantasy that do nothing for me, even though many other people enjoy them.

My Three Keys

Three things seem to be keys for me. First and foremost is character. If I believe in and care about the characters in a show, I will forgive many other flaws in my pursuit of learning what happens to those characters. If the characters aren’t real to me – which seems to be a common problem in a lot of comedy, where many characters are drawn broadly as caricatures and have little depth or detail – I have no reason to care about them. Even if the central characters feel real, if they strike me as being mostly unpleasant – irritating, foolish, whiny, self-centered, arrogant, abrasive – I’m not going to want to spend time with them, if only because I have to deal with many such people in real life and find them too fatiguing for words. On the other hand, if characters are believably flawed, mixing an essence I can care about even with other things that grate on me, they can land a spot in my heart and arouse passion, particularly if they interact with others to create a caring and effective team or family. Writing and performance both play vital roles in whether characters work for me or not, and where gifted actors combine with witty, dimensional writing, I’m captured.

My second key, I think, is consequence or mission. I tend to invest in shows where the characters I care about are involved in things bigger than themselves that often matter on a broader scale:  they’re saving lives, they’re solving mysteries (whether of crime or science or human/alien nature), they’re helping people – they’re doing something beyond themselves and their own personal interest. If the show and its characters focus mostly on their immediate self-interest, I’m less involved. If the mission is everything and the characters don’t grow and deepen over time and with events, I’ll get bored and walk away. Shows with mission-focused characters that develop internally while working externally, however, rivet me to the screen. I suspect this may be in part a wish-fulfillment of my own desire to be doing something or be part of something that matters, rather than seeing my life as merely a succession of office-bound days delimited by carpool rides.

My third key involves plausibility and internal consistency. This one will really take some explaining, given my taste for science fiction and the fantastic. I obviously practice the willing suspension of disbelief in order to let myself accept fictional characters as real in such patently unreal situations as engaging in future-technology space travel, time travel, hunting urban legends, and using magic. If a show doesn’t take its own premise seriously, I won’t either, and suddenly I have no need to watch it. Shows in which seminal events have no continuing consequences on the series or its characters will also lose me. I generally loathe shows that hit the “reset” button in order to play with concepts without making them have lasting effects. If the characters believe convincingly in and are affected by their world’s reality, however, I’m willing to follow them there. The unworkable exception for me is where a show that pretends to be set somewhere in our normal reality stretches that willing suspension of disbelief to the point where it conflicts too blatantly with what my mind will accept as possible within the confines of the show’s world logic. Coincidence piled on improbable coincidence, overly convoluted conspiracy theories, and just plain “sorry-that’s-ridiculously-not-possible” can drop me out of a show as abruptly as if I’d hit a wall.

Down To Brass Tacks

So, with all this on the table and in the open, what do I love, what do I watch, and what leaves me cold? My passion is Supernatural, which despite its fantasy/horror premise has, for my money, the two most compelling, real, true-to-life, enjoyable, and three-dimensional brothers on television in Dean and Sam Winchester (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki).

The other things I watch and particularly enjoy, in no particular order, include Friday Night Lights, Numbers, Jericho, The 4400, and Kyle XY. Those are the things I always seek not to miss in my limited TV time for the week. I have a definite thing for families, both those made by blood and those made by circumstances and choice, and the characters in these shows, the relationships between them, and the situations they confront call out to me.

Pleasurable and sometimes thought-provoking current diversions when I have time include Stargate: Atlantis, The Dead Zone, CSI (but only the original), Eureka, Bones, Battlestar Galactica, and Heroes. If I miss an episode, I’m not terribly bothered, but I usually enjoy them when I do see them, and I will often try to see them.

Past passions and favorite diversions have included everything by Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly), Farscape, Stargate: SG-1, Roswell, Dark Angel, The X-Files, Hill Street Blues, Max Headroom, Early Edition, Quantum Leap, Simon & Simon, Starsky & Hutch, Picket Fences, Reasonable Doubts, and the first three Star Trek series (original, TNG, DS9), among many others.

Current things that I tried but that left me cold for a variety of reasons include Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, The Unit, Prison Break, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, House, Boston Legal, Criminal Minds, Saving Grace, Blood Ties, Flash Gordon, Doctor Who, and Ghost Whisperer. Current things that attracted me once but lost me somewhere along the way include 24, ER, Smallville, and Without A Trace. Things that never managed to catch my eye at all include everything flavored Law & Order, Shark, Las Vegas, Brothers & Sisters, Desperate Housewives, Men in Trees, The Shield, Rescue Me, and every comedy and reality series on the tube.

What do I have hopes for in the new crop of broadcast network shows this season? Pushing Daisies tops the list, and I’ll at least sample Journeyman, Bionic Woman, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Cane, K-Ville, Life, Chuck, and Moonlight. Things I won’t go near include Gossip Girl, Private Practice, Dirty Sexy Money, and the new reality shows – they’re just not my cup of tea. And I pretty much figure that I’ll continue to get my dose of comedy mostly from real life, rather than from the tube – real life makes me laugh a lot harder and a lot more.

So – now that you know more than you ever wanted to know about my tastes, tell me: why do you like what you like, and what do you watch as a consequence?

I’ll be happy to read your comments while I wait for my season two Supernatural DVDs to arrive …


Tags: meta, psychology, supernatural, supernatural university

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