Why I Should Stop Saying TV Characters are “So Me”
My television is my favorite friend. It was my first true love. It is always there for me and knows just what to say in any situation. Did I just get dumped? There’s an episode of New Girl for that. Did I finally find a job? We must celebrate with an episode of Will & Grace. Home sick? Man Seeking Woman is obviously the perfect cure. Essentially, there should be a mood ring that tells me what TV show to watch at any given moment. Is that a thing? If not, I’ll make one. No one steal this idea. I’m trusting you guys.
Growing up, the television was my preferred babysitter, but this is not to say that I had absentee parents. In fact, my mother would make me do various household chores for “fishbucks”, a currency that she invented and I quickly discovered was only redeemable inside the walls of our home, after being laughed out of a bookstore for trying to use them in lieu of actual money. (This is my not-so-subtle way of dispelling the notion that TV addicts are inherently stupid. That’s right, I read books! #NotAllTVAddicts)
So I would do dishes, vacuum carpets, and whatever else I could do to earn those elusive strips of decorated construction paper. Any task was worth it for a chance to watch the latest episode of Rocket Power or That’s So Raven. Once, I even made a set of counterfeit fishbucks, so as to not miss the re-airing of an episode of Kim Possible that I had already seen. This attempt was soon deemed futile, as I was given away by my misspelling of “bucks” with a z. But for the last 22 years, my parents have dutifully sat by my side as I shush them for coughing in the middle of an after-school special, before I return to violently screaming at the TV for the episode’s remaining 59 minutes.
In part, my addiction is fueled by my ability to see myself in a character. In elementary school when I didn’t quite fit in with the other girls, my father introduced me to The Addams Family. Wednesday Addams was smart and biting and strange and more like me than any of the girls I knew in real life (sans homicidal tendencies). Her virtual company made me a bit more comfortable in my own skin.
This pattern continued throughout my entire adolescence and into my adult life. I was a hormonal Lizzie McGuire, yelling at her mom about her need for a bra in the middle of a department store. I was Amber from Parenthood, an ambitious millennial with nowhere specific to focus my energy. I was Grace from Will & Grace, an excessively performative and culturally Jewish woman with a tendency to eat her feelings. My reaction to complicated women on TV basically mirrored the reaction of a high schooler shopping for the perfect prom dress. “THAT IS SO ME!”
Eventually, my penchant for relating to every female character fashioned from a 1-to-1 recipe of quirk and angst led others to pick up some of the slack for me. When I introduced my father to Bojack Horseman, the first thing he could bring himself to say between manic bursts of laughter was that I am the living Diane Ngyuen. Other friends have compared me to Lindsay from Freaks and Geeks or Shoshanna from GIRLS. Several people, including a former college professor of mine, have gone as far as to rope my actual best friend into the perpetuation of these generous metaphors by calling us the real-life Abbi & Ilana from Comedy Central’s Broad City (a comparison that we happily accept — although that title is probably best saved for show creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer).
I began studying the actions of my televised counterparts for answers to my problems. In new episodes, I would see these women do something that I couldn’t see myself doing and for a moment, I would feel confused. I thought we were on the same page here?! I was getting uncomfortable again. Now, you will not find this method of conflict resolution written about in self-help books or assigned as homework in therapy, probably because it admittedly does not have a great success rate. Because of course it doesn’t.
I am a human woman, and I can’t be put in a box — none of us can. Some days I want a cheeseburger for dinner and somedays I want breakfast for dinner (coincidentally, also a cheeseburger). Some days I want to listen to a 90’s rap album that my grandmother would disapprove of and some days I want to listen to an emo punk album that my grandmother would equally disapprove of.
Some days I want to go out dancing with my friends, and some days I want to hibernate in my bed and hide my phone under a pillow. Some days I want to fall in love and some days I want to throw up if another person makes eye contact. My interests, my politics, and my feelings are fluid. Admittedly, this makes it difficult for me to align completely with an imagined person living in an invented world, born at a writers’ room conference table.
Wednesday and Lizzie and Amber and Grace and Diane and Lindsay and Shoshanna and Abbi are not the same women. So how can I be all of them? I can’t. In fact, I’m none of these characters. To say that I am would do a disservice to myself, a three-dimensional human being, and to them as well.
We can share traits, sure. I can watch their shows and relate to their struggles and feel my feelings, full force. I still believe television can be a powerful tool for emotional release, empathy, political discourse, and the like. But when it comes down to it, the only character that can be “so me” is me.