Bob Taylor

ALL editor Bob Taylor celebrates his one-hundreth critique of television by continuing his journey.

And this one is all about the journey.

That is, after all, why we sit our behinds down in front of the idiot box, isn’t it? Why we devote 22 or 44 minutes of our week 22 weeks out of the year on an open-ended basis. Going on a journey with characters we love and identify with is why we watch television, and the fact that we grow as human beings along with them is why we continue to watch.

I remember the first show that reached out and touched me. It was “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” and I was with the show since episode one. The reason I fell in love with it was simple: Willow Rosenberg.

Now, I’m not a red-headed lesbian (at least not yet), but that didn’t stop me from identifying with that character (played by the beautiful Alyson Hannigan) like no other. She was a gorgeous geek who didn’t know she was beautiful, and my heart was putty in her hands from her first half smile/half pout.

I learned many a life lesson from Willow as I grew up beside her and watched her (and the show) mature. To this day I refuse to believe the show ended in season seven because Sarah Michelle Gellar’s contract was up, I just know it was done to coincide with my graduation from high school and maturation into adulthood.

Yeah yeah, I know many of you are thinking that it is ludicrous to look for life lessons in a show about a girl staking vampires, but the gift of television is that we can become these characters and live in their worlds for an hour, and then come back the next week and do the very same thing.

Because we are so invested in these characters – these people – we love, we embrace the situations they are in and their surroundings. You become as much of a resident of Sunnydale, or Capeside, or Stars’ Hollow as the characters themselves.

Sometimes you even find yourself searching Expedia.com for reservations at The Dragonfly Inn in Stars’ Hollow. Or maybe that was just me.

But back to the journey.

Movies are over in about two hours. Novels are read in a week or less. But with television, you need to make a point of investing yourself in a show, knowing you will be there with the characters for an unset amount of time.

And, like all important journeys, it’s not the destination that counts, but what happens along the way.

In the final shot of the ninth and final season of “The X-Files,” Mulder holds Scully on a bed in a small run-down motel. He contemplates the cross hanging around her neck and states simply “Maybe there’s hope.”

It’s a beautiful moment and a great capper to the series, but it is meaningless unless you understand what these characters have been through together. These two have been through clones, cancer, alien implants, babies, a Frankenstein monster with a Cher fetish and twin Kathy Griffins. Because we were there with them, taking each footstep with them, we understand just how much that subtle final moment means.

And sometimes, just sometimes, those endings are just about perfect. Sometimes Joey Potter (finally!) makes the right decision about her love life. Sometimes Rory Gilmore gets the celebration she deserves. Sometimes we get everything.

But sometimes we don’t.

Most of the time, actually.

I still wonder if Harrison would have chosen Brooke or Sam, and whether Mary Cherry ever broke out of that adoption home on “Popular.” I still wonder whether Veronica Mars’ dad became sheriff. I still wonder if Steve Urkel and Laura ever got married on “Family Matters.”

And while I would like to know, and it kills me a little that I don’t, I’m still okay with it. Because, again, it’s not the destination, it’s the fact that we’ve taken this ride with these characters, and the fact that these loose ends matter this much shows just how important these characters become to us.

If you think I’m overstating how vital these characters become to us over the years we get to know them, ask yourself how angry you got when Lauren chose Jason over going to Paris. Or when McDreamy’s wife made her first appearance and destroyed the perfect couple. Or when Marissa O.D.’ed in T.J. Like us, these people make mistakes.

While the characters need to be lame-brained to sustain suspense and create conflict in any given show, a beautiful thing grows out of that: The characters become even more human.

And then, if the show is lucky enough to come to a foreseen conclusion, we can rejoice that the cast has exponentially matured, not just as characters and actors, but as people. When they get their happy endings we smile and like to hope that perhaps we might get our own happy house on the beach one day. Or that we can wake up next to Suzanne Pleshette and realize the last six seasons have been nothing more than a dream.

And while we are on the subject of a journey, let’s talk about mine.

If you are curious as to why this column is blathering on about big issues and not focusing on what the deal is with Jason getting back into Lauren’s life on “The Hills” or who got evicted from the Big Brother house like it normally does, the answer is that this is my one hundreth column.

I like to think I’ve grown as a writer since my first “TV Time,” which was about “The Amazing Race” and “The O.C.” I’d like to think my taste in good television has improved, but then I find myself watching marathons of “One Tree Hill” for eight hours straight.

But it’s not really about me, is it? It’s about the shows we watch and those brief but perfect moments where our emotions are perfectly in tune with a show, such as when Buffy sends the Hellmouth into hell, or when Veronica Mars realized who killed her best friend.

Moments that wouldn’t have meant anything without the journey. So don’t stop believing (damn me and my puns) in the characters and the path they are on.

Contact all editor Robert Taylor at [email protected].