I Don’t Think Even Their Hairdresser Knows For Sure
When was the last time you were watching a show and realized that you really cared about the characters? When was the last time you found yourself wondering what they were doing when the camera wasn’t on?
Yes, lots of fans are like that about Chuck and Sarah (and about Casey and Morgan and Ellie and Anna and…). We’ll call that a tribute to the cast, writers and crew. We want to see them succeed, especially in their relationship with each other, as if we were in their positions, or as if they were our friends or ever our children.
The Chuck and Sarah characters are so well done that sometimes fans just ache for them to be together. But anyone who’s seen more than a smidgen of TV over the past 30 years knows that this has been a tricky proposition. Kate Aurthur at Slate wrote in April 2006 that the track record is spotty, at best, when a show’s leads “get together”.
Today, as slow-motion courtships proliferate onscreen—see the Kate-Jack-Sawyer triangle on Lost, Jim and Pam on The Office, Grissom and Sara on CSI—it’s important to remember that we’re living in the Moonlighting era. Almost 20 years after the Bruce Willis-Cybill Shepherd detective series ended, it is Moonlighting‘s post-coital flameout that keeps the Joshes and Donnas of the world fully clothed. The show had been on for less than two years when US Magazine—not a weekly yet, if you can remember such a world—screamed “Do It, Already!” in a February 1987 cover story. A month later, David and Maddie obliged, before an astonishingly large audience of 60 million viewers. (The Friends series finale drew 52.5 million.) From there, Moonlighting seemed almost cursed. Shepherd’s pregnancy absented Maddie from the story for months the following season, and then a 1988 writers’ strike caused all television production to shut down. When Moonlighting came back after a nine-month absence, it had a terrible 13-episode fifth season, crawled into the forest, and died.
Scary words for Chuck fans (and my emphasis, btw).
Kate Aurthur is saying that it’s been a mistake, one promulgated by the networks in fact, to keep separate characters created to be together. She’s saying it doesn’t have to be that way, and the example of Moonlighting is a bad one because the show died for completely different reasons.
So what is the problem?
The problem seems to be that writers and actors are unable to reliably generate and sustain palpable sexual buzz between two characters who are actually having sex—which may be a depressing comment about life in general. After all, what do you replace that fun flirtatious energy with? Discussions about what to order from Fresh Direct?
I see her point. The sexual tension generated by two attractive lead characters is spellbinding for viewers when done right. But does it have to disappear completely if/when characters get together/have sex/get married?
I’m not so sure it has to, but I can’t recall a show in the past, oh, 25 years or so where getting leads together really has worked in the long term. Honestly, I also can’t think of many shows where it’s been tried, other than in Moonlighting and possibly Remmington Steele.
So should it be tried with Chuck? Could it be tried? Could the show exist and be just as entertaining if Chuck and Sarah got together? Would it last more than one season on network television if they did? Would the show get too frustrating or stale if they didn’t?
The odds are against it, historically speaking. Writing sexual tension is easy, apparently. Writing love is harder. It seems to me that if any one show could pull it off, this is the show that could do it. I have enough faith in the writer’s creativity to believe they could make it work, gloriously.
But I also believe that there’s only one way the story should be told, and that way is most definitely not mine. It’s theirs. The story tellers should always be allowed to tell the story their way and at their pace.
Update: Wouldn’t you know it? No sooner do I write “I can’t recall any…” above, when this article appears, listing 22 (count ‘ em’ 22) shows that were “improved” when the lead characters got together. I have to admit that I hadn’t seen some of these shows (most notably, The Office, which I know is popular), and in fact, there were some I hadn’t even heard of!
Can’t help but note, though, that Moonlighting is listed, which is odd, since that show is almost always counted as the prototype of shows that failed after the leads got intimate. Also, The Wonder Years? Great show – one of my favorites. But it ended moments after Kevin and Winney “got together” (or not) in the barn. How can you say it was improved? And That ’70s Show? In most senses of the word, Eric and Donna were together from the beginning.
I might have considered putting Babylon 5 on the list. It was improved when Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Delenn (Mira Furlan) made whoopie, or at least, not diminished. I was rooting for Susan Ivanova and Marcus Cole to get together at the time, though. They didn’t – he died.
All in all, I can think of plenty of ways to discount that list.