If you can’t judge a book by its cover, you certainly shouldn’t judge a TV show by its stars. Yet with the fall season upon us, I find myself guiltier than ever of this crime.
The worst part is that I was utterly oblivious to my transgressions until this past weekend. I was doing some important work — catching up on my Entertainment Weekly — when I learned that Nestor Carbonell, who played the enigmatic and ageless Richard Alpert on “Lost,” would be acting opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) on The CW’s “Ringer.”
My previous interest in “Ringer”: zero. But with the promise of looking into Richard’s naturally lined eyes and shadowed face on a weekly basis again, I was suddenly planning my Tuesday night around “Ringer.” Never mind that Gellar herself is the show’s main draw because of her established TV career.
It’s not the first time this season that the key attraction of a show is the star. I know I’m hardly alone in planning to watch “Person of Interest” just because of Michael Emerson (“Lost”) or check out “Hawaii Five-0”” last season because of Daniel Dae Kim (also “Lost”). Hell, I just decided to start watching that show now because I saw pictures of Terry O’Quinn (“Lost” — will I ever stop missing it?) and Masi Oka (“Heroes”) on set. And would “Up All Night” seem remotely promising without Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”) or Maya Rudolph (“Saturday Night Live”)?
Suffice it to say this could become a very dangerous habit. In the movie world, banking on star power alone can lead to outright heartbreak. (I do apologize if you, like me, spent money on not one but two painful Ryan Reynolds movies, “Green Lantern” and “The Change-Up,” this summer. We have no one to blame but ourselves.) In recent years, TV shows like “Glee”and “Community” that star ensembles of relative unknowns have gained everything from phenomenal success to cult and critical adoration. TV success has made some actors the draw they are today — see “Parks & Recreation” ’s Aziz Ansari in “30 Minutes or Less.”
So why will I insist on watching “Ringer?” Why is it so hard to care about “Revenge” (other than the fact that it looks dumb)? For the same reason you’d rather hang out with your friends than with a bunch of strangers who just happen to be around. With the media, as with real life, there is undeniable comfort in the sight of a familiar face.
But, as with real life, we also have to step out of our comfort zones now and again. So I’ll continue watching crappy Alex Pettyfer movies, but I’ll also watch “Pan Am” on ABC. Good friends like Tina Fey will introduce me to new ones like Jack McBrayer. And as presumptuous as it is, I will probably keep checking out shows and films because of the names carrying them, so long as I promise to occasionally venture into unknown territory. Besides, all friends start out as strangers.