Monday, August 3, 2015

A Many Splendored Thing: Love & TV (Part 4)

Love comes in many forms. Whether you’re an ogre or a human —

Oh, shoot, I’m so sorry — this is the beginning of my Shrek fanfiction — but I guess it’s a good beginning to this as well, wouldn’t you say? Love comes in many forms, and I am so obviously a fan of all of them. I love characters interacting and developing with other characters; it’s like a puzzle falling into place and when done correctly, feels very satisfying. And I love rain scenes and anguished declarations of love and pining and the first kiss and the "will they" and the "won’t they" and the don’t they and the pretending to be a couple and every trope under the sun, because it makes me happy. Romance makes me happy.

But love comes in many, many forms, and it is a disservice to discuss all of love’s splendors without mentioning the joy of friendship. In this post I will be talking about male and female friendships on television, which are so rare but so pleasant and refreshing to experience. The reason I don’t mention female-female friendships or male-male friendships is that the temptation to make a male and a female hook up on TV is so irresistible that it is a unicorn of an occurrence. I should also point out that in ensemble comedies there are a ton of examples of male-female friendships, as in Robin/Marshall from HIMYM or Elliot/Turk from Scrubs. That’s because the show is already sating its need for romance with other pairings. I am not talking about these!

Typically includes: What I am talking about here is when the primary relationship in the show (or at least top 3, I guess) is between a male and a female who never hook up during the course of the show. It is often hinted at, as in “why did we never?”, but never actively or realistically pursued.

When this works: Two characters better each other, and don’t need romance to do it. I’ve said it before that romance is a crowd-pleaser — why else would I watch crappy romantic comedies if a part of me didn’t always get sucked into the spectacle regardless? So when a male-female friendship is the focus, instead of a romance, it is immediately obvious that this is a relationship about characters, not about checking off every tried and true romantic trope.

When this doesn’t work: The opposite of what works is when two characters who should be friends engage in a relationship that is devoid of chemistry, just because the Powers that Be dictate that this is the right way to go. This happens when characters on TV shows feel the need to switch partners every half season (just so that the romance wheel can keep on turning), but again, that’s more ensemble. And obviously, when either of these two happen, they no longer qualify as “male-female friendship,” so I guess there’s no such thing as a “bad male-female friendship” so much as there is just bad friendships (where gender doesn’t affect their friendship or make it especially bad). If you can think of an example, please let me know, but I cannot!

Great examples of male-female friendships: In the interest of making this post a little wacky, rather than picking a least favorite and a favorite, I’ll bring up the male-female friendships I love and briefly explain why. I’m sure a pattern will establish itself in why I like these, and it may become redundant, but why not do a celebration of these rare relationships?

Jack and Liz, 30 Rock
Why I love them: 30 Rock was never a show that relied on romance, and if Liz and Jack had gotten together, it would completely counter the strange out-of-this-world feel that this show always had. Liz’s eventual romance with Criss Chros and adoption was so sweet and well-earned. Jack, on the other hand, ends up alone, but not unhappy about it. Kind of like Sam on Cheers, Jack found renewed purpose in his profession, his one true love (a see-through dishwasher!). Both characters found the endings best for them. Those distinct endings make it obvious that Jack and Liz could have never ended up together, but the strong bond between them is still the most important part of the show. As Jack and Liz navigate life in their own unique ways, they need the other to support them, mentor them/be their mentee, and to keep them grounded.

Jess and Schmidt, New Girl
Why I love them: To be honest, I don’t love Jess and Nick together — I mean, she hooks up with Dermot Mulroney, David Walton, and Julian Morris, all of who are awesome — but what I do love is that their relationship fell together by the writers as a result of the chemistry they felt the two characters shared. In the same way, Jess and Schmidt’s friendship fell together based on the unique chemistry they shared. By following what the show revealed, rather than trying to plan it all out in advance, New Girl realistically portrays both the central romance and one of the central friendships.


Mindy and Peter, The Mindy Project
Why I love them: It would have been easy for Mindy and Peter to hook up in The Mindy Project, but it was essential that they did not. Mindy and Peter had a courtship in the most platonic sense during the second season; they butted heads at first but eventually found in the other a kinship and a person to confide in. If Mindy and Peter had been anything else, it would have inserted contrived, tiresome drama into Mindy and Danny’s relationship. Because they weren’t, the integrity of both relationships was maintained.

Leslie and Ron, Parks and Rec
Why I love them: Watch “Leslie and Ron” and you will know why I love them. That level of history, respect, and fondness made their time-jumped season 7 fight emotional and their reconciliation even more so. In a lot of ways, they mirror Jack and Liz, but it’s this flowing sentimentality that gives their relationship a fuzzier feel.

Peggy and Don, Mad Men
Why I love them: I know, a drama! Wild! But what I love about Peggy and Don is that Don, despite being the main character, is kind of Peggy’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl. He’s a symbol that means so much to her, teaches her so much about herself, and then, when he leaves, she moves on, thankful of their time together but not dependent on his influence. Then again, to boil it down to just that would be disrespectful to the Mesozoic Era-number of layers these two have, together and apart. After all, it’s Peggy who Don calls in the final episode, Peggy who he confides everything to before saying goodbye, Peggy who indicates concern to the rest of the office… and Peggy who must let him go after their final phone call.

Elizabeth Moss, who plays Peggy, describes it best: “For me, Peggy and Don will always be my favorite relationship on the show. I used to hear for so long, 'Are they going to get together romantically or is it a father–daughter thing? Is it mentor–protégée? Are they enemies? Are they friends?' It’s all of those things."


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