Recently, when I gushed about Castle (which I’m still loving – I haven’t been this obsessed with a show in a long while), I noted that while I prefer strong protagonists in books, I love ensemble casts in TV shows. Ever since then, I’ve been wondering why – and eventually I came up with two reasons.
One has to do with the nature of both media. Books, by definition, are a solitary experience. I know books grew out of a long tradition of oral history (and I grew up listening to my parents read aloud), but when I read now, I’m usually curled up on the couch or standing on the T, or I’ve retreated to a cafe or a park bench, seeking a little solitude in the midst of the madding crowd. My favorite protagonists’ voices (I prefer first person or third-person limited) pull you into their heads, their hearts, their worlds. I like to feel like it’s just me and them.
But TV shows – especially my favorite ones – are meant to be watched together. Television is a communal medium for a communal world – we’re all about connecting, or at least we claim we are, and we do love to huddle around the TV set and laugh or cry or gasp in amazement together. When I watch TV it’s nearly always with someone else – usually my husband – and the company enhances the experience. And lines from my favorite shows become part of my vernacular with my friends who love them too. (We have a growing list of favorite Castle lines at our house, and it’s actually embarrassing how often my husband and I quote Friends.)
The second reason is this: I sort of envision my life as a TV show with an ensemble cast – with co-stars, sitcom moments and even a soundtrack. (Please tell me you do this too. I can’t be the only geek here.) As much as I love the solitary, immersive experiences of my favorite books, my life doesn’t always look like that. I am the leading lady in my own story, of course, but I share the stage with an ensemble cast: my husband, my dear friends, my co-workers, my family – and a whole lot of extras.
In some ways, ironically, my Boston life can feel more solitary than communal: our friends here are scattered across the city, and our other dear ones live much farther away. My social circles are much smaller, and I no longer have an equivalent of Monica and Rachel’s apartment (which I had in college at a place we called House 9), or Monica and Chandler’s place (which I had in my post-college Abilene life, at Nate and Abi’s house). But my life still has an ensemble cast – and since moving cross-country, I cherish my “co-stars” more than ever.
Do you prefer strong protagonists or ensemble casts – in TV, books or other media? And the kicker: why?