Friday, May 13, 2011

TV and Relationships

I had a rather productive shopping excursion this morning. Places like Ross are hit-and-miss, but they had a pizza peel for getting a pizza onto a baking stone, and for much less than any other place I'd looked online (with the benefit that the store was in my area and didn't require a long drive), plus I found a pair of comfortable casual black shoes. And I should have scored a few line karma points, as when the woman behind me and I were talking about how they needed to open a second register and she mentioned that she was on her lunch hour and needed to get back to work, I let her go ahead of me because I wasn't on a schedule.

Meanwhile, I'm afraid I've finally become a 'shipper for a TV series. Normally, I'm pretty violently opposed to most television romantic pairings. It's not that I'm opposed to romance. I just don't like it that much on TV, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it's so ubiquitous and inevitable. If a man and woman on a TV show are friends and work together, it's a safe bet that by the end of the series, they'll be developing a romance. Even if they don't actually get together, the show will start to focus on the sexual tension parts of the story. I find this irritating because it tends to devalue friendship, as though friendship is somehow less than romance instead of an entirely different kind of relationship. A romance can have a foundation of friendship, but that doesn't mean the friendship without the romance part is less valuable. I've worked with a lot of men without becoming romantically involved with them, and I've got a lot of platonic male friendships that are incredibly valuable to me. And yet it seems that whenever a relationship like that is shown on TV, it's forced to turn romantic eventually. I'm still seething over what happened on The X-Files. During the first couple of seasons, Chris Carter was constantly saying in interviews that Mulder and Scully would never be romantically involved, that they were co-workers and that they might be friends, but they would never kiss. He was always talking about how some fan had said that if they ever kissed, he'd throw his TV out the window, and Carter considered it his job to save that man's TV. Ha! One of the things I really hate about the changes they made to NCIS: Los Angeles this season (and a big reason why I quit watching) was that they had to insert the obligatory "ship." One of the things I liked about the first season was that there were no obvious romantic pairings. The characters seemed to have relationships outside the office that they mentioned but that weren't part of the plot. None of them seemed to be hot for each other. But then they had to add a romantic interest and create a will they/won't they pairing. There's so much talk about diversity and which groups are represented fairly on television. I feel like my group of people who are capable of being friends without ending up in bed isn't represented well at all.

Then there's the fact that TV does a lousy job of portraying relationships. It is difficult in an ongoing series to deal with romantic developments. You don't want to string it out too long, but you don't want to jump prematurely and take all the zing out of the characters or the story. The problem is that they handle it badly to start with. They seem to think that "chemistry" or attraction involves total opposites who have nothing in common and who hate each other and don't get along at all but who are hot for each other. So there's lots and lots of bickering, sniping and even backstabbing, with the occasional moment when their eyes meet or when they touch and things sizzle. But then if they do ever actually get together, either it looks like a dysfunctional to the point of abusive relationship or the characters and their relationship change to the point that they lose whatever spark was there. Or else the writers rely on the will they/won't they trope, where the characters will almost get together, but then there's a misunderstanding or a fight, or just when one is ready to take the leap, the other will get involved with someone else. You know that other relationship is doomed, so it's hard to care all that much. After seeing this kind of thing play out too many times, I've started to think it would be a good idea if TV avoided all romance entirely.

But Parks and Recreation got me, and I'm not even talking about what happened last night (no spoilers). They sucked me into not only caring about whether Leslie and Ben got together, but actively wanting to see something happen. I think it's because they avoided the usual traps. Really, when you think about it, their relationship is like something in a 1980s Silhouette Romance, only funny and with characters far dorkier than in any romance novel. We've got the small-town girl who's an ambitious idealist. She works in the parks department of her hometown because she truly, deeply believes that it's important for the community and a stepping stone for achieving her goal of being president of the United States. But then the city has budget problems, and in comes a state auditor, who wants to cut her programming as non-essential. He seems like a humorless bean counter, but then we learn his history. He was elected mayor of his hometown when he was eighteen, and then he bankrupted the town building an elaborate winter recreation center and was impeached. He became a state auditor to atone for his past and to help other cities avoid the mistakes he made. They clash at first, with her idealism at odds with his ruthless practicality, but then he starts to see things through her eyes. He sees how passionate she is about her job and how good she is at getting things done, and he then becomes her biggest cheerleader and even falls in love and decides to take a job to stay in town. So we have enough difference to have some conflict, but that conflict comes more from having different perceptions than from being opposites or disliking each other. He's thawed a bit, and we've seen behind his facade, as we see he's as big a dork as she is, but them getting together doesn't require them to change drastically. We can see that they really do belong together, and I guess that's why I find myself cheering them on and eagerly looking for the next development.

All those cops on TV can stay out of each other's beds, though.

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