Monday, December 20, 2021

Do you need to like a character?

Do you need to like a character in order to enjoy them?

It's a question that has occurred to me many times over the years, most recently in a conversation I had this morning with bestselling author and friend Denzil Meyrick.

He's a huge fan of The Sopranos and if there's something to know about that series he doesn't know then, frankly, it's not worth knowing. I had tried to watch the show when it first aired here in the UK but didn't get into it. I can't explain why it didn't resonate with me at that time. Anyway, Denzil urged me to give it a second try so I bought the DVD box set (yes, I am very retro) and began to watch. Soon I was hooked.

He is also a big fan of 'Succession'. That's one I have tried to watch, mainly because Brian Cox is in it, but it didn't gel with me.

How can I enjoy one series about people who are not very nice, doing some not very nice things in a not very nice way but not another?

Well, I'll tell you. I don't know.

Let's make something quite clear here - just because I favour one over the other does not mean that it is better. It does not mean that any part of the production - whether writing, performance, direction, scoring, set design, catering or best boying - is superior or inferior. It just means I prefer it. Simple as.

Both deal with power and the toxic effect thereof. But one is about criminals wishing to make more money and the other is about rich people wanting to make more money and I do tend to lean towards crime fiction. (Yeah, I know - shocker).

But here's the thing. With The Sopranos, however, there is a duality that I didn't pick up from Succession (although admittedly I only saw part of the first season). It may be there, it just didn't ping on my radar (hence the reason I only saw part of the first season).

Yes, many of the characters are unlikeable but in Tony Soprano there is often a little bit of humanity, of regret. It often doesn't last long. That he does monstrous things is an inescapable fact but there is a depth of character there, whether in the writing or James Gandolfini's performance, that suggests a lot more.

I told Denzil that I felt the character wanted out of the life but he put it better - he said Tony Soprano regretted ever being in it but is realistic enough to know that the die is cast.

The other characters are equally as complex, though some are outright monsters. They all have that little spark of humanity - whether love for a child, a parent, even Tony's early affection for the ducks in his pool and Christopher's yen to break into movies - that lift them from the run-of-the-mill.

Then they do something like shooting someone in the head.

Their morality is different from yours and mine, something they share I believe with the characters in Succession.

Character, whether in long form TV, movies or books, is everything. And as the success of both series shows, no, we don't need to like a character to be interested in them.

But if I am to stay with that character then I do have to have some interest in what happens to them, whether it is their ultimate redemption or punishment. 

If a character doesn't come of the page or step from the screen and take root in my head then I am not committed to the piece. They don't need to be likeable but I do have to care and I think that is why I have stuck with the boys and girls in New Jersey and not the rich kids of a media mogul. 

But perhaps I should give Succession another go.

Maybe my head was in the same space as it was when I first tried to watch The Sopranos.

And, as I said, Brian Cox is in it.

It's Christmas this weekend (how did that happen?) and I'm not due back until we have stared 2022 in the face and asked it what it's intentions are even though there's no way we can prevent it from crossing the threshold. So let me take this opportunity to wish you all a merry Christmas and that the new year fulfils any promises it makes on that doorstep.

Here's a wee card for you all.


Sybil Johnson said...

I read a lot of cozy mysteries. For those, I absolutely have to like and respect the character. They can have flaws, fine, but if I don't like them I won't read another book in the series.

For other kinds of mysteries or fiction, I don't have to like the character, but I do have to find them interesting.

Anna said...

I don't like my bad guy, but I understand the early traumas that formed him, and that makes him interesting to write. Will he undergo the beginnings of a redemption? That's still to be determined (too much of an easy out, probably).

Donis Casey said...

I don't think I have to particularly like a character to keep reading about or watching him, but I do have to find her interesting. p.s. merry Christmas to you, too, Douglas!