This one comes by special request from my wife, who spent the better part of the day being frustrated by the actions of a fictional character. Why should we care about what happens to those folks on TV? What have they done for us?
Given us vicarious lives to live through, for one. We enjoy watching other people experience the highs and lows that we might not ever know. True, sometimes we can identify mightily with a particular character, but more often than not we can sit placidly in front of the tube while someone else's life sails from triumph to disappointment and back again. When it comes to situation comedies, I have often reveled in the Wile E. Coyote nature of the people who live their lives filmed before a live audience. Sam Malone might seek happiness with Diane Chambers for twenty-one minutes, but that happiness will be squeezed before the credits roll. The Fonz might lose his cool for an episode - or even a "very special" two-parter - but he'll be back to his finger-snapping, "Aaay" ways by the last commercial break. Wile E. Coyote will keep chasing the roadrunner, even though he knows that he would be better off going vegan.
The last character I openly identified with on television was Doctor Mark Green (played by Anthony Edwards) on "E.R." Balding with glasses, this put-upon soul encountered his share of grief during his stint in Chicago's busiest emergency room. I watched him cope with the loss of both of his parents, the dissolution of his marriage, a brutal assault that left him scarred both inside and out, and the slow and painful distancing of his relationship with his daughter. Then he fell in love again, had a new baby girl, reconciled with his teenage daughter and died of a brain tumor. That's when I stopped watching "E.R." They had, in effect, killed me off with Dr. Green. I wasn't ready to make any more lasting commitments to someone on a one hour a week basis.
Today my wife was disappointed in Carrie when she left Aidan for Big. I listened patiently as she told me how frustrated she was with her decision. I thought about telling her that it was all just make believe, and she could make it all go away with the on/off button on the TV. Still, I know better. Happily for her, she can watch another show tonight in reruns - she won't have to wait a week, or even worse, for a new season to start. Maybe she can find some solace in tonight's episode. Tomorrow, as Scarlett O'Hara said, is another day.