Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Series Relationships

I had a fairly eventful evening. First, there was the homeowners association meeting, which reminded me that I'm not so much allergic to meetings as I am allergic to stupid people. There always has to be someone who didn't go to any of the previous meetings, has no information and doesn't bother to listen to the information being presented before asking stupid questions or making stupid and irrelevant arguments. This person also usually seems to think that there's some kind of conspiracy against them and that the people in charge have no idea what they're talking about. I'm sure my blood pressure was going through the roof, but since it is the season of ubiquitous commercialized representation of love, I didn't kill anyone. I didn't even say anything other than under my breath (though I did cackle loudly and go into a giggle fit when someone made a hilariously snarky response to one of those people). And then about fifteen minutes after I got home, a big storm hit and the tornado sirens went off. I'm not sure why the sirens went off, since I was watching the radar at the time, and there wasn't anything that close to us. The bad part of the storm didn't really hit us, and it was over in about fifteen minutes. There are a lot of convenient landmarks near me, so I can generally spot almost exactly where my house is on the TV radar map, and I could tell exactly what was hitting me.

Following up on my post from yesterday, I've realized just how difficult it is to make a relationship work in a series, whether book or television. I can only think of a few relationships that I've enjoyed and found satisfying. On TV, the big winner for me is Farscape. That show beat the odds by getting better when the main couple got together. I think that one worked because they allowed the relationship to grow organically and took their time without resorting to tired will they/won't they, break up/make up plots to stretch it out. Far too often, they go from 0 to 150 in 4.3 seconds, with the couple going straight from seeming to hate each other and bickering constantly to realizing they're in love and then going straight into a full-on sexual relationship and then fizzling because they don't know what to do next. That's where you get Dave and Maddie on Moonlighting or Joel and Maggie on Northern Exposure going straight from years of bickering, having little in common and not seeing eye-to-eye on much of anything to rolling around on the floor with each other. It seems to me that if you've thought you've disliked someone for quite some time, even if some of that dislike was denial or mislabeling of attraction, then it would take some time to get your head around the idea of actually loving that person. I think that's what worked on Farscape. They acknowledged that John and Aeryn falling in love was a huge step for both of them, and that they were both having to overcome their individual histories, as well as having to learn an entirely new way of looking at the universe. It really mattered that they were from two different worlds (literally) and that being together would mean one of them having to sacrifice and leave everything familiar behind forever -- and they didn't take that lightly. They were both cautious about progressing into a relationship with that kind of end point. Do you even want to get involved if you know that either you'll have to leave everything familiar behind and be in a strange place surrounded by strangers, or he will? And so, there was a long time between them acknowledging to themselves and to each other that they did have feelings and them moving the relationship to the next level. During that time, there was a lot of emotional intimacy and there was affection, caring and concern while they negotiated all the landmines of a potential relationship, so that by the time they did get together it seemed genuine.

Otherwise, I do like what they're doing with Jim and Pam on The Office, but I feel like I'm in the minority with that. I'm okay that they've mostly moved beyond the drama of the will they/won't they angst and are now dealing with life as a couple in a way that seems pretty realistic to me (though it seems like a lot of viewers and critics think this is boring). It helps that they're just one part of an ensemble and that the documentary format of the series means we seldom see them away from work, so we only get glimpses of the relationship in the way it pertains to life in the office.

I just spent a few minutes staring at my bookshelf, looking for book series with long-term relationships that work for me, and I mostly came up blank. I like the way the relationships were handled in the Vorkosigan series, but most of those relationships were dealt with in a single book within the series rather than spanning books. I really like the relationship between Carrot and Angua in the Discworld books, but that's a sub-sub-sub plot amid a lot of other stuff going on. I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me about this, but perhaps my favorite series-long relationship development in books is Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter books. It rang very true to me in the way that they struggled with friendship vs. crush as they got older and became more aware of each other, the way that their feelings made them especially vulnerable to each other so they were able to hurt each other, and the way they were so afraid and so sensitive about each other that they almost imploded. Then I really loved the payoff because it was something specific that had been built up over all the books (and I don't know how they'll be able to do that in the movie because the movies have dropped the subplot that whole scene was built around). True, their behavior to each other was often awful and I would have hated that relationship in adults, but they were kids, and that was very much the way I acted at that age and was treated at that age by the boys who were my friends who I thought maybe might have been something more but who didn't do anything about it other than confuse and frustrate me. I suppose it was literary validation to have a fictional version of that finally get his act together.

In general, it does seem to help if the relationship takes place in the context of an ensemble cast, so there's a lot of other stuff going on. If you've got essentially a two-character series, then more hinges on the relationship between the characters, and if the relationship doesn't work well, then the series tanks. Having an ensemble also means that there are other things and people to provide conflict once a relationship comes together and then takes a backseat to other story elements.

I'd love to write a truly long-term, slow-build series relationship, but in order to do that, I'd have to have a guarantee that I'd get to finish the series. I kind of felt like I got Owen and Katie together sooner than I'd have liked, but when I wrote the second book there was a chance that would be the last book, and I felt like I needed to give at least a hint of closure, just in case. So maybe some day when I'm a big bestseller and they're guaranteed to publish my grocery list, so I know I'll get to write exactly the length of series I want, I can try my hand at this.

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