I’ve decided that the most difficult line for a television show to walk is that of allowing characters to grow and change without losing touch with the reason we wanted to watch the character to begin with.
Take, as an example, How I Met Your Mother. I’ve been watching this show for years, and will continue to watch as it completes its run this year. But I have to say that it’s been at least a couple of seasons since it’s really been good. And I think the reason for that is a fundamental change in the characters. Barney and Robin have fallen in love and gotten engaged; Marshall and Lilly have become parents. Those are perfectly normal developments for real people, and they should be perfectly normal for television characters, too. Because as much as we don’t want our characters to change too much, we also don’t want them to be so static that they become practical caricatures of themselves (which, incidentally, is just about what’s happened to the final HIMYM character, Ted). But the HIMYM gang hasn’t succeeded in pulling off these changes, at least not consistently. Oh, there have been moments of their former glory, but they’re no longer the carefree late twenty-somethings we first met. I don’t know; maybe real adulthood just isn’t as funny as that carefree lifestyle, but I think the real problem is that the gang just isn’t really the full adults we expected them to become.
It’s a similar complaint that some have about the progression of The Big Bang Theory, with the argument being that since most of the geeky guys now have girlfriends (something many seem to think would be impossible in the real world), they are no longer the people we’ve come to know and love. But I disagree. I think that while the circumstances may have changed dramatically for our favorite science nerds—even including marriage for Howard—they are still fundamentally who they have always been. They’ve grown into the people I think they reasonably would be, given where they began.
Castle, too, seems to be doing okay with that. They may be the exception to the rule that says you can’t let your main characters actually hook up and still keep the show lively and interesting. Not that I haven’t been worried a time or two, as the show seems to try too hard sometimes to prove they are that exception, but when they settle themselves down and just do what they’ve always done, they usually seem to get it right.
Really, I think what it probably boils down to is that we turn to our favorite television programs for some sort of escape from our own own reality, wanting a simple visit with old friends. And when those friends are no longer the people we first befriended, it’s a little bit jarring, and suddenly we want everyone to go back to the way they used to be. I’m sure there’s some sort of pop psychology reason lurking there somewhere, something about the real world containing more uncertainty and instability than we can easily absorb, so we want our fictional worlds to always remain the same, or something, but it could be even simpler than that: good television is built upon good characters, and good characters have to be real, not just puppets for writers to make dance on a whim. Like I said, it’s a hard line to walk, and I appreciate the shows that manage to make it work.