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I walked into my living room tonight and stared, dumbstruck, at the television screen. The news was doing a story about the last episode of "Star Trek Voyager" and the "trekkies" that had gathered together for the event. I then fixed my gaze on my father, who, a "trekkie" himself, was watching the television with great enthusiasm. "Golly," I thought, "people are crazy the way they get obsessed with this show. It's not even real!" My mind wandering, I then looked at my father and lamented, "I can't believe they whacked Jackie Jr. on 'The Sopranos.'"

It is absolutely, without a doubt, crazy the way our culture creates phenomena out of television shows. No longer is a show just a show, but it's a common bond that unites the nation. In turn, we have become so engulfed with the characters in certain shows that we have come to think of them as real people with real lives.

I missed the finale of "The Sopranos" the other night (I was out seeing "Moulin Rouge" ... it was so good), and therefore I asked my dad to tape it for me. When I returned home, he gave me a concerned look and said "Jackie Jr.'s dead." I totally flipped out. I started ranting and raving about how Jackie Jr. was so young, and how it was horrible Ralphie's fault that he got involved in the mob in the first place, and how Jackie Jr. was the son of Tony's best friend. You get the general idea.

After going on like that for a few minutes I took a breath, thought for a second, and told my dad that I was talking about these people like they were real, and I must sound nuts – I was going to stop. He just laughed. What is it about certain shows that draws us into their worlds? What makes certain shows "obsess-worthy" and others merely throw-aways? The first good show of this nature that comes to mind for my generation is "Friends."

"Friends" is no longer just a TV show. When I watch that show I feel as though I am hanging out with my good friends, catching up on the latest gossip. I'll often talk to the screen, laughing, "Oh my God, Chandler, you kill me!" My friend and I will often discuss the characters on the show, referring to them as though they are our close, personal friends. If you had heard us the other day, you might have heard us discussing our "friends" in such a manner. For example:

(My friend): "I heard so-and-so and so-and-so broke up...I can't believe so-and-so handled it that way."
(Me): "I know! It's like when Ross and Rachel broke up and Rachel completely freaked out...." You'd think we knew these people.

What about "My So-Called Life"? I know I'm not the only one who knows the names and life histories of every character on that show. When Jordan finally holds Angela's hand in public my heart nearly bursts, I am so happy. When Jordan is being his usual "you-know-what" self I patiently talk to the screen, telling Angela that she doesn't need him, that she'll find someone better.

When I mention this show to other people, even people I don't know, we'll usually end up in some long-winded conversation in which we discuss every cause leading up to every event in that series, not forgetting to express our personal feelings about the personalities of every character on the show. As crazy as this may sound when I put it down on paper, it never seems weird when I'm dishing about it with some other obsessive fan.

Why do we do this? We have plenty of drama in our own lives. We (hopefully) have plenty of our own friends. Why do we feel the need to fully engage ourselves in the lives of make-believe people? What makes them so real to us? I don't know about Star Trek, but most of the shows that draw such nationwide attention have a quality in them that is missing from our own lives. They have a quality that we wish existed in our lives. They are often exaggerated versions of our everyday experiences. They are perfected images of what we would like our lives to be like.

"Friends" is full of people who we wish were our own friends. They are caricatures of people we know. They are likable, more likable then most of the people we know in our real lives. Their jokes are always right on; no one ever falters for words, no one ever gets bored. They never seem to have any work to do either, which bugs the heck out of me!

The characters on these shows seem to be the ultimate in cool. Even if they aren't cool, they are perfectly offbeat, or nerdy or whatever the case may be. They are the kind of people we would like to be, they say the things that we would like to say – if only we had an opportunity to script out everything we said before we actually said it. They seem real because we wish that they were.

"The Sopranos" adds an element of excitement to our lives. The lives of the characters on that show are dangerous, mysterious and erotic. They allow us to live out our secret fantasies, the ones we daydream about but would never want to have to deal with on an everyday basis. The storylines are intricate, and seem realistic, and therefore it is very easy to get drawn into that world.

It's kind of like the whole soap opera mystery. Why do people get obsessed with these shows? It all comes back to the characters. No matter how silly the plot and dialogue, we get wrapped up in the lives of these people who seem so much more interesting than the people we know in real life.

To be honest, I see nothing wrong with it all. Sure, television is a waste of time, yada, yada, but what would you get excited about during a Thursday lecture if you didn't have the new episode of "Friends" to look forward to? What would we talk to our parents about if we didn't have that family tie known as "The Sopranos"?

Popular culture unites our nation, a nation full of many different types of people, living very different lives. It serves as an escape from our stressful lives, if only for a half hour. It gives people something to talk about around the water cooler. And it's fun – plain and simple, it's just fun.

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