The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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The difference between TV and movies: Friends versus buddies

October 22, 2010 |  4:19 pm

Big+bang Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of New York Times columnist David Brooks, who is every liberal's favorite conservative. But his new column, about how TV shows have become friendship machines, feels slightly shopworn, perhaps because Neil Gabler already said pretty much the same thing in the L.A. Times nearly a week ago, noting that the TV family has mutated into a new unit known as "the flock," an extended circle of friends and family.

At least Brooks gives Gabler credit for saying it first, quoting from his piece, which argues that "television has become a kind of friendship machine dispensing groups of people in constant and intimate contact with one another." This is truer than true — practically every network show that has grabbed me as a loyal viewer in recent years has been an example of this flock stuff, whether it was "Seinfeld," "30 Rock" or the always wonderful "The Big Bang Theory."

Which got me thinking: Why is TV all about friendship when our movies are all about conflict and tension and treachery? And why are our most successful films populated with edgy, loner, existential superheroes like "Batman" and "Spider-Man?" Of course, there are flock friendships in tiny indie movies that play a few weeks at the Landmark, but when it comes to mainstream Hollywood, most of the movies where there are actual friendships are buddy comedies, where the friendships are bromances between guys who frequently talk about women but rarely have the nerve to strike up anything resembling a friendship.

I guess TV and movies just have different fantasy fulfillments. As Brooks describes it, TV's flock comedies appeal to people "who want to watch fictional characters enjoying the long, uninterrupted bonding experiences that they no longer have time or energy for." I guess that means, in turn, that Hollywood movies appeal to people who want to watch fictional characters who live out the kind of fabulous, impossibly heroic fantasies that we couldn't possibly hope to achieve in real life. They are both wishes, but they're very different kinds of fulfillment.    

Photo: The cast of "The Big Bang Theory": From left, Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Simon Helberg, Kaley Cuoco and Kunal Nayyar. Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS.