In real life, I'm all about love - but when it comes to TV, the last thing I want is romance.
The reason for the dichotomy? Romantic subplots on television are problematic things in my experience. For a variety of reasons, I've seen them end in disaster more often than not, which has conditioned me to want to avoid the subject altogether. When it comes up for one of my favorite shows, I can't help but cringe.
Before we start this discussion, it's worth noting that there are TV romances that are great. I don't mean to say that they all fail, nor to say that some are right and some are wrong. What I'm talking about is how they work (or don't work) for the shows themselves. Even I get a little sappy sometimes.
Some of my favorites over the years include White Collar's Peter and Elizabeth Burke (Tim DeKay and Tiffani Thiessen) Friday Night Lights' Eric and Tami Taylor (Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton), The X-Files' Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson), and Sports Night's Casey McCall and Dana Whitaker (Peter Krause and Felicity Huffman). Whether an established couple or one that might yet become a couple, these duos avoid all the don'ts on the below list. And there are others. We should recognize the good before we get into the bad.
That said, it's time to break some hearts. Here's why I'm not in love with the idea of TV characters falling in love.
1) I'm just not that into it if the actors don't have chemistry.
The two actors involved have to really click for me to even think about caring about a TV romance. You can tell me that Character A is Character B's true love all you want, but if I don't feel it myself, I'm not going to buy it. Chemistry isn't something that can be created by adding it into the script. Kate Moreau (Alexandra Daddario) may allegedly have been the love of Neal Caffrey's (Matt Bomer) life on White Collar, but most of their interactions left me cold. (Not to mention that we didn't get to really meet her until just before she blew up...which was an entire season before we got to see why they ever got together at all.)
2) I'm just not that into it if we've just met.
If Character A meets Character B - or if the audience meets Character A - and by the end of the episode they're in bed together, I'm not going to get excited about it. It feels like getting into bed with someone on the first date. Again, you can tell me these characters have known each other for the last two decades, but I want to see it myself, not just be told. Hawaii Five-O did this earlier this season when it put Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) in bed with 'old friend' Catherine Rollins (Michelle Borth). And 24 did it when it paired Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and Audrey Raines (Kim Raver). Sorry, Audrey, the show can tell me you and Jack have been in a happy relationship, but I'm not comfortable until I can see that you really do belong with the guy.
3) I'm just not that into it if the writers have dragged it on too long.
Even if a relationship is viable, writers can kill it in a hurry if they drag it out for all it's worth. The "will they or won't they?" question only takes you so far. Some shows string it out too far, all the while introducing other lovers that we all know won't last, that therefore feel like a waste of time (Bones, I'm looking at you). Or they come up with roadblocks that make no sense. As much as I loved Sports Night, Dana's "dating plan" sounded like an incredibly contrived way to keep her and Casey apart...and that's exactly how it felt in execution.
4) I'm just not that into it if it screws up characters or plotlines along the way.
You know the story: your friend gets a new girlfriend or boyfriend, and then starts acting totally different? It happens in TV too, and it shouldn't. Just because characters get together, they shouldn't stop being true to who they are. Dirty Sexy Money saw Nick George (Peter Krause)'s once-loving wife Lisa (Zoe McLellan) turn into a shrew in season two...just so Nick could realize that Karen Darling (Natalie Zea) was his true love all along. The fact that he finally did so during a plane crash seemed oddly appropriate.
5) I'm just not that into it if the show doesn't need it.
There are times when the entire idea of romance is just not a good one. The X-Files stumbled when it felt the need to duplicate the success of the Mulder & Scully relationship by repeating the story with new partners John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish). Human Target is a great action-adventure show, and it was fine in season one with an all-male cast; season two saw the unnecessary addition of Ilsa Pucci (Indira Varma) for Chance to spend the season very obviously falling for. White Collar didn't need to give Neal a new girlfriend, but they brought on Hilarie Burton for just that purpose. Note to writers: let's not think of characters just as "love interests." Let's make them fully fledged people and then we can discuss their romantic prospects.
6) I'm just not that into it if you assume I'm into it.
There seems to be a belief that most TV shows have to have a romantic subplot, particularly to attract women in the coveted younger demographics. As a result, rare is the happily married protagonist, and more and more shows arrive with a love story already written in. I'm not thrilled with the idea of someone assuming what I like and dislike, based on my gender and/or age, mostly because the assumption is wrong. (In some cases, anyway. More on that in a moment.)
7) I'm just not that into it if you're into it too much.
That love of love stories isn't just a belief in the writers' room. It's spread to the networks, and even to the press, which hype the things up just as much as the creative teams do, if not more. For example, the press release discussing the upcoming season three of White Collar described Burton’s initial run on the show as “a sexy arc.” In press leading up to the recent return of Nikita, executive producer Craig Silverstein hyped up the tension between Nikita (Maggie Q) and Michael (Shane West). Promos for this week’s episode included a scene of the two half-naked. A recent TV Guide article mentioned the two “hot” men Nikita is now between, including a quote from Silverstein mentioning a scene in which Nikita, Michael and Owen (Devon Sawa) are in a room “and nobody has any clothes on.” Shows like White Collar and Nikita have so much more to offer, but it seems that everyone wants to focus on sex, romance, and eye candy. I think we're missing the real point.
8) I'm just not that into it if it makes the fans act crazy.
This one is a big one. What really doesn't sit with me is how the emphasis on TV romance has spread to the fans, and how the fans behave because of it. Some of them take it too far. (It's worth noting, if only because it's curious, that they tend to be young women.)
Some fans are themselves guilty of violating item #4 above. There are some who support pairings that are in direct contradiction to the shows themselves, many of them involving homosexual relationships between heterosexual male characters, some even incestuous (such as Supernatural). If you believe one heterosexual female I asked about this, the trend (known as “slash”) has something to do with how “women like cute guys having sex.” (This is another assumption I don’t subscribe to.) No offense is intended to those who like this idea, but I have to stick to item #4 up there.
Then we get into fans' bad behavior. I’ve seen exchanges between fans of opposing pairings get ugly in a hurry, often devolving into personal insults. Some people take real offense when someone doesn’t share their love of a certain relationship, to the point of wishing them real harm in extreme cases. That seems to only happen when relationships are the subject. I’ve never seen anyone get into a Twitter feud because they didn’t like the same plot twist or dialogue as someone else.
Some fans have issues separating what they see on television from real life. While covering Nikita, I stumbled upon a group of fans who not only support the on-screen romance between Nikita and Michael, but believe that it is an indicator of an off-screen affair between actors Maggie Q and Shane West. They take tweets from/between the actors as proof of this relationship, and at one point discussed how the two should have children together. They’re not the first, either; a friend of mine who remains involved in the Battlestar Galactica fandom related her knowledge of a similar situation regarding actors Katee Sackhoff and Jamie Bamber, including fan-written fiction about their affair (never mind that Bamber is and was married). Treating the private lives of real people the same way that you’d treat fictional characters bothers me. It’s one thing to be a fan of an actor or actress, but especially if you’re a fan, it would seem prudent to remember that it’s just a TV show.
In fact, that's a good rule of thumb to remember all the time. It's just a TV show.
I want to make clear that, as with the TV pairings themselves, the above is by no means meant to describe all fans of TV romances. There are plenty who are sweet, civil, and respectful individuals. Chuck fans are heavily invested in the relationship between Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) and Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), and in covering the show, I've found them to be some of the most kind, polite fans I've ever interacted with. What I've described above are the exceptions, and not the norm.
For my part, I'm not entirely against romance on TV. As I've said, there are pairings that do work, and that I have enjoyed. I'll even admit to pulling for a romance that won't and probably shouldn't happen (that's Teresa Colvin and Jarek Wysocki on The Chicago Code) and one that didn't happen (that's the "are they really going to?" moment in last week's season finale of Law & Order: UK). And I'm okay with that. If romance is right, or it makes a show better, I'm all for it.
But for all the reasons I've just described above, I'll always be apprehensive about the subject of TV romance. I don’t want to see them done badly, I don’t want them to overshadow great shows, and I certainly don’t want to see fans fight over them. I'm just not that into it.