Do People Change? Not on TV, They Don't

Do People Change? Not on TV, They Don't

Recently on The Mentalist, a murder case brought Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) and Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) to a high school reunion. Patrick, ever the agitator, speculated about his partner as a teen, guessing she was "driven to succeed to the point of developing an ulcer." Teresa's face tightened; then he described a young Teresa Lisbon not so different from the grown-up one. "You had no tolerance for superiors less sharp than yourself," he went on. "Shutting out girls that wanted to hang out with you. Blowing off boys who wanted to get too close."  Irritated by his accuracy, Teresa insisted that people can change, and the debate lasted throughout the episode.

So, can people change? That one question has popped up in a number of unrelated TV series lately -- and the answer, usually, is no. A week after The Mentalist's reunion escapade, Christine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) of The New Adventures of Old Christine, also found herself at a high school reunion. Christine described herself as a girl who wore short skirts and slept with all the football players; by episode's end, adult Christine had made a misguided attempt to spend the night with her ex, Mr. Harris (Blair Underwood), despite her new relationship with Max (Eric McCormack). The joke? Some people never learn.

When plastic surgeon Mark Sloan (Eric Dane) crossed over from Grey's Anatomy to Private Practice recently, he, too, proved allergic to change, despite big plans to alter his life's course. Setting aside his commitment-phobic history, he resolved to settle down with his ex, Addison (Kate Walsh), so they could both help to raise his grandchild. It was an enterprising plan, but his old friend Sam (Taye Diggs) pointed out its basic flaw to Addison: People, like dogs, are born with a disposition that doesn't change. "You have Golden Retrievers, they're people dogs," Sam said. "They're all about pleasing you, making you happy... But Mark is a Dachshund... Dachshunds are more concerned with their own needs than they are with making you happy." By episode's end, Mark did, indeed, change his mind -- he just wasn't the "settling down" type. Once a Dachshund, always a Dachshund.

The Closer echoed the theme when Brenda Leigh's (Kyra Sedgwick) ornery dad, Clay (Barry Corbin), arrived to retrieve her niece, Charlie (Sosie Bacon). "What is it about L.A.?" he growled, early in the episode. "When somebody comes here, they have to be a different person." Desperate to stay, Charlie insisted she'd changed, and Brenda Leigh commiserated, but nonetheless sent her on her way. "Who you are is something you take with you wherever you go," she said. In other words: Nice try, honey, but people don't change.

And the recent Modern Family episode "Fifteen Percent" is based on this notion. "Can people change?" asked Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). "People are who they are, give or take 15%. That's how much people can change if they really want to." He was referring to his dad (Ed O'Neill), whose attitude toward his son's homosexuality had evolved from complete dismissal to a tacit, reluctant acceptance. "Whether it's for themselves or the people they love, it's 15%," Mitchell said. "But sometimes, that's just enough." It was a conclusion tinged with melancholy. But it was a sunnier outlook than that of most other TV characters who wrestle with the issue these days!

Do you think people ever change? Chime in below!

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