Friday, January 26, 2007

Character Addiction

Most would say that I have an addictive personality. Whether it's because I swim two miles a day, down Trader Joe's almond clusters by the handful, or get cranky and bitter if I have less than two cups of coffee in the morning, my life consists of many addictions. But the latest one, one that I think many people experience, is television. HBO series in particular. Over the years, Sopranos and OZ have been my drugs of choice. I eagerly await by my mailbox for those Blockbuster Online envelopes and get anxious waiting for the next season to be released on DVD.

But why are they so addictive? For me, it's the characters. I watch them grow and change over the seasons and I can't wait to see what's going to happen to them next. I get sucked into this world and it feels more like a never-ending movie rather than a 60-minute television show.

I cannot help but see the link between these shows and series novels. Characters like Jack Reacher or Harry Bosch have become like old friends that live in my bookshelf. And just as I await for the next HBO series to be released on DVD, I await for new novels to appear on bookstore shelves. Just like a television episode, each novel is a piece of the bigger series in the story of these characters. It's no wonder that Dennis Lehane got tons of mail regarding his digression from the Kenzie and Gennaro series, pleading for him to write another book featuring the characters that readers had grown to love. Just imagine the devastation if Lee Child announced that he will no longer write about Jack Reacher...

I can see why series detective novels are so marketable: you build an audience and string them along book after book. Readers get addicted to the characters, the stories, just as much as 24 or The Wire. But just as most shows eventually come to an end, announcing the both devastating and exciting series finale, authors, like Lehane, often get burnt out on writing the same characters over and over. Even Harry Potter is taking his final bow, upsetting millions of loyal fans. But is it like a television series? Is the mourning process brief because there are so many other drugs to get addicted to? With new series, new characters, and new authors coming out each month, is it easy for fans just to move on to the next series?

While I count down the discs of the final Sopranos season, each episode bittersweet as it moves toward the ultimate finish, I'd love to hear your thoughts. For me, personally, although I love series characters I wouldn't stop reading an author just because he or she tried something new. But I know plenty of readers who fall in love with the characters more than the stories and are crushed, heart-broken even, when their favorite P.I. no longer graces the shelves.

1 comment:

Quinn said...

I think pretty much every long-lived series, in any medium, has its characters to thank for its appeal. That's why I miss The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and I'm still pissed off that Douglas Adams died before he could get to work on the next installment and reverse his major downer of an ending. That's why I'm going to miss the Harry Potter series come this July 21.

With television and movies, though, there's another factor to consider - the actors. It can get a little hard to separate them from the characters they play, and figure out which is really the appealing aspect for us. Take the Christopher Guest / Eugene Levy ensemble series: people keep going back to these movies because they've come to know the actors and their dynamic together, even though the characters change. I miss Arrested Development a lot, but I'd be overjoyed if they simply got all those actors together (and maybe the same writers) and had them act out completely new characters in new scenarios, almost as much as if I could see them back in their original characters again. So who am I really connecting with, anyway?