A few weeks ago, I was watching an episode of New Girl, and my dog left the room. He got up from his comfy spot by my feet where he had been snoozing for almost an hour, and agonizingly plodded into the next room, casting a resentful glance over his shoulder as he left.
Wiley hates loud, angry sounds.
Much of the dialogue on many sitcoms— not just New Girl, but especially that one—takes place at a register usually reserved for lambasting unhelpful tech support representatives. Characters yell at each other as much as they talk. They storm out of the room constantly. They throw things at least every other episode. When was the last time you threw something across a room…in front of people?
I threw something once. I smashed it on the ground. I took a clay pot and I smashed it on the ground at our office. The word “smithereens” pretty much covers the aftermath. My office mate instantly dropped to the floor and began cleaning it. Other work mates stopped by to make sure we were okay, and I gave some paltry evasive explanation, while pleading with my co-worker to stop cleaning. The smashing did not have the desired effect, unless mild shame and general irritation was the desired effect, which it wasn’t.
A lifetime of cinemaphilia has given me unrealistic expectation in every realm. I expect my abs to be flat with no more exercise than hearty laughter and Sorkin-esque pedeconferencing. I expect tragedy to strike at any moment. I expect sex to be a soft lens montage of smooth thighs and candlelit backs, or else to be somehow weightlessly suspended against a wall without anything jamming into my back.
I expect my friends to be supporting characters.
Onscreen people are allowed to have very public meltdowns that increase our sympathy for them. They blow up at friends/family/strangers, and the explosion is somehow justified. Having hurt feelings imparts impunity. And no matter how long they retreat into their den of self-pity, they are guaranteed to waltz back into the sunlight and no one says, “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do.” (If only Ricky Ricardo could meet the trainwreck cast of New Girl.)
Onscreen friends are always ready to accept the self-analysis of the person who, not 24 hours earlier, was shouting at people in grocery store and throwing things.
Ultimately, the reason they don’t have to explain their epiphanies to their longsuffering friends, is because it would be redundant. The audience already watched the realization unfold on screen in the form of an angsty ballad or a comedic mishap, or some long walk through empty streets in the rain. Why would we want to be bored by a prosaic retelling of what was so obvious with the Weepies playing in the background.
If onscreen friends do hash it out, they do so in clever, logical one-liners. And there’s usually a winner. Someone ultimately concedes the point.
That’s not my life.
I live in a world where public meltdowns, water-throwing, pottery smashing, hyperbolic ranting (however witty), and self-imposed exile are met with pity and exasperation.
Off-screen friends say terribly inconvenient things like, “Do you understand that what you are saying is hurtful?” or, “I’ve thought about what you said, and I think you might be jumping to conclusions.” They are not witty, infuriating, or apologetic. But they are often correct. Cinema moment killed.
[Or they realize that you are CRAZY and carefully disappear. Or they get angry and hurt and the whole thing become far messier than anything that could ever be summed up in 22 minutes.]
The main difference is that off-screen friends are not the supporting cast in a show about me. They don’t conveniently go flat when I need to be dynamic and complicated. They are starring in their own sitcoms, and in that episode, my meltdown just ruined their day.
Here’s the catch though, onscreen friends don’t get protagonists through the drama, the director does. Off-screen where the repartee is nothing like Gilmore Girls, The West Wing or Sex and the City, I’ll keep my off-screen friends, because there are no empty streets, no rain on the horizon, and Leonard Cohen doesn’t pipe through the atmosphere like I wish he would. So the likelihood of me having an epiphany by myself is slim. As much as I thought I wanted onscreen friends who would give me carte blanche to behave as badly as I needed to, I need them more to keep me from devolving into someone who sends dogs fleeing from the room.