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Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Sam Waterston (and this is the first time I've begun an entry with the name of that revered actor, or any other actor, no matter how revered or reviled he might be)- uh, sorry. Let me start again. Sam Waterston said on the Emmy broadcast Sunday night that his show, Law and Order, is plot-driven, not character-driven. I suppose that must be a virtue in some people's eyes. After all, it was nominated for outstanding drama series.

Having never really considered it in terms of my own viewing preferences, it wasn't until he said it that I realized that was the reason I don't watch Law and Order. I've seen it, but the characters don't engage my imagination or my emotions the way, say, all those doctors and nurses on ER do, or the staffers on The West Wing. The few times I've watched CSI I've liked it, but it's about evidence even more than it's about the people who collect it (or the people who leave it).

That's probably why I like reality series, but only certain kinds. I like the shows where you get to know people so well you can predict what they're going to do. It happens on Survivor, and Big Brother, and The Amazing Race. By the middle of each season of those shows, I've become attached to whoever's left in the contest.

By the end of the season, I've adopted the remaining contestants. Drop me into the Big Brother house right now, and I could talk with Lisa and Danielle. They might even think I've been there all along. Well, in a way I have.

It's also why I like baseball more than basketball and football. Basketball players move way too fast, and you can't even see the faces of football players behind those masks. Baseball moves at the right pace, and the season is long enough that little dramas and great story arcs become part of the context of each game.

My preference for character over plot (although character without plot is just Life, so a little balance probably helps) explains why I loved Kissing Jessica Stein and hated 40 Days and 40 Nights. In the former, interesting and complex characters go through changes and make choices and end up doing what you hoped they would do, once you got to know them. In the latter, a shallow character and a cheap gimmick are pretty much all you have (unless there was something better in the two-thirds of the movie I fast-forwarded through).

Soap operas are often more character than plot. I think the writers sometimes have so many characters they don't know what to do with them all, so they just let us listen in to bits and pieces of their lives, regardless of any need to drive the plot in any particular direction. Regular viewers won't let their favorites disappear for more than a day or two, whether they have anything to do or not.

Most of the books I read are driven by character. At least, most of the ones I finish are. Every so often I'll get ambitious and try to read something scientific or topical, but if it's a dry treatise it won't hold my attention long. I'll promise myself I'll come back to it, just as soon as I've read something by Anne Tyler or Clyde Edgerton. I need to get inside someone's head and look around, see what I recognize.

A lot of my fondness for character probably comes from the fact that I spend so much time alone. I'm here because I'm looking for a connection, and I choose my books, movies and TV shows based on how close I feel to the people I read about or see on the screen.


Lizard on the back porch.

Even in music, I prefer the contemplative singer-songwriter, like James Taylor and Iris DeMent, to arena rock and techno. I'm not a strict ideologue, though. How else could I explain how much I liked The Fast and the Furious? And what's with all the Pearl Jam, Green Day and Aerosmith CDs in my collection? I'm a teeming sea of contradictions.

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Latest recommendation:

James Lileks, The Daily Bleat, entry for September 24

Recent recommendations can always be found on the links page.

One year ago: Accountable
"It's like swatting flies with a balloon. A war against an idea is different from a war with clear objectives."

Two years ago: Battle Stations
"When I stop seeing them for real, I'll stop seeing them in my imagination, and out of the corner of my eye."

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