We Know Why They Do It But It's So Annoying

One of the most remarked-on features of TV is the separation of the romantic leads. It has been commented on that if and when the writers bring them together, the dramatic tension wanes, and the viewers waft away to other shows that have leads who stay apart.

There is another side to this equation, however; it is the I'm-sick-and-tired-of-watching-nothing-happen-here-especially-when-the-reasons-for-keeping-the-leads-apart-are-so-contrived reaction. I gave up on JAG within two seasons because of this. I don't mind shows like CSI: Vegas where the romantic tension is so understated and unimportant to the weekly mystery, it doesn't figure except to spice things up. But I get tired of shows that keep you hanging on and on and on and on and on by hinting, "We might do something. Oh, wait, no--guess not."

Like soap operas where one conversation takes a full hour and the potential "couple" spends that entire hour exchanging remarks like, "I wish I could tell you, but I can't;" "I have something important to say—wait, someone just interrupted us;" "I rushed over to see you, and now we're going to have an argument about your cousin's twin sister's baby." Kind of like Smallville. Every time I flip through it to get to something else, Clark and some chick are having the same discussion: "I have a deep, dark secret." "Tell me your deep, dark secret, Clark." "I can't tell you my deep, dark secret. I care about you." "If you cared about me, you'd tell me your deep, dark secret, Clark." Ad nauseum.

It was Whedon who discovered, or at least proved, that you could tell the deep, dark secret and voila! add more tension and more plot. It was also Whedon who discovered, or proved, that you could bring the leads together and then separate them using characterization (rather than contrived plot devices), although even with Whedon the "I love you, oops you went evil" thing got a bit old. Still, I promote the episode from Buffy in which Buffy and (evil) Angel re-enact the romance of two ghosts, as one of the best "we're apart, but we still love each other" episodes of all time.

This brings us to the nearly impossible, which is a show that brings the leads together, but still keeps them interesting. Monica and Chandler from Friends passed the test. Luke and Lorelai from Gilmore Girls might. If one gives Spike the role of true romantic lead (rather than Angel; don't shoot me Buffy fans!), one can argue that he kind of ended up with the girl. Sort of. Well, no, I guess not. Even the reality romance shows can't come up to scratch (too much reality, although the proliferation of such shows reveals a romantic streak in American pop culture). Paris & B'Elanna from Star Trek: Voyager is one of my absolute favorite relationships of all Trekdom (but wasn't Chakotay and 7 of 9 a huge mistake? and that's a whole other post). On the other hand, Riker & Troi fell a bit flat at the end (even if you count the films).

If you have any "I wished they'd stayed together," "I wished they'd get together," "They got together and it worked" or "They got together and they flopped," I'd like to hear!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke and Grace—they got together and it worked! But you knew that one. :) There’s a whole slew of us that are hoping against hope that they stay together for the duration of the show…

Luke and Lorelei (Different Luke…Different show): The jury is still out on this one. I was always perfectly content when they were friends. I think that’s because sure, the possibility was always there, but I never felt like they did the “I like you but you’re with someone else, oh, and now you’re free but I’m in a relationship” thing even though they dated other people. Luke and Lorelei’s relationship, pre-dating, was realistically portrayed as a long time friendship in which they were clearly comfortable with each other. The thing is, they still have a friendship vibe more than a couple vibe. Don’t get me wrong—I love getting friendship vibes from couples (Chandler and Monica kept that vibe even when they were together), but I don’t know if I’m completely sold on the fact that Luke and Lorelei have romantic feelings for each other. It makes me sad because, despite my contentment when they were just friends, I want to root for them as a couple.

Slightly off topic, but still related—I’ve determined that what does and doesn’t make a TV relationship work for me is whether or not I feel like the relationship is about anything other than BEING IN LOVE. I’ll refrain from giving specifics, but it seems like a lot of A couples on shows fall into this trap. The writers can’t seem to do anything more than have scenes where the couple is either blissfully in love and romantic or in agony because they want to be together but can’t. Most of the couples I enjoy are B couples, which seem to get less airtime, but surprisingly more to work with. These couples also fight and look all doey-eyed at each other, but they also have an underlying… something that convinces me that they are together for some other reason than they are MEANT TO BE. With the couples I like, I’d like to think I can give clear arguments about WHY they’re a good couple, other that “They’re soul mates,” or “They’re so in love.” Tell me WHY they are soul mates.

I wish they’d stay together: Oz and Willow

I wish they’d gotten together: Angel and Cordy (they kind of did, but not enough).

They got together and it flopped: Ross and Rachel – this is a whole other post, which you know.

Ps. I hope my comments are in keeping with the goal of your blog and aren’t getting to fansite-ish… let me know.


2:28 PM  
Blogger Kate Woodbury said...

Hey, Carole:

I agree that the relationships that work best are the ones that are NOT "they MUST get together--they're the leads" (which results in "they must date other people before they date each other--they're the leads." The Ross & Rachel problem: the pity there is that Ross started out okay, but the writers began to use him as the MESSED UP GUY ON THE SHOW and then he just got whiny). I think you're right that when the writing is focused on the soulfulness of the couple--look, aren't they in love! oh dear, aren't they upset!--the romantic connection comes off as superficial. This kind of ties in with my science guy post: the couples that seem to work are those where the obsessiveness of the characters is focused elsewhere, like Monica's perfectionism or Luke's science or Paris' 50s fetish. In the teenage romances I'm reading (a whole other post this) what amuses me is that in between all the "kissing scenes" (as the grandson says in Princess Bride), there's a plot. Good grief, says I, look at that: it's got a plot. The hero and heroine are driving cattle and saving castles and undercovering conspiracies. How . . . how refreshing!

Your comments are much appreciated! My aim is the exploration of Popular Culture with intelligent and entertained anticipation (rather than disgruntled ideologies). Actually, I'm not really sure what my aim is. Which reminds me, I need to finish my intro . . .

2:46 PM  

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