Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why They Don't Live Happily Ever After

A friend and I were discussing fictional romantic relationships and why they are so bad on television. Specifically, he was talking about Castle and Beckett, and how the writers seem to have pulled out every contrived romantic plot device from their grandmother’s attic to keep this couple apart.

Why?  Why, on one of the best-written, snappiest, most popular shows on TV, do the writers resort to stuff that would get anyone laughed out of Harelquin’s senior offices in a heartbeat. 

Maybe it’s this:
Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. When you go to see Two Weeks' Notice, you know that as soon as Hugh Grant figures out that he can’t live without Sandra Bullock, then you better be finished with your popcorn because we’re done. Sleepless in Seattle – once they meet on top of the Empire State Building, what else do we need to know? 

Romantic comedies are a short-term commitment. We fall in love with the characters just as they do. We sit through the conflict. We figure it all out for them. Then, when they see it too, it’s over. Our 90 minutes are up, and we go out humming the pop song that ran over the credits. We might even buy the soundtrack. But we don’t care what happens to them next. We were invested; they paid off. And now we’re on our way to Johnny Rockets for a milkshake.

The same is true of books. When we buy a romance novel, we know what we’re getting. They are going to meet. They are going to fall in love. Some plausible conflict is going to keep them apart, but they are going to grow and change and overcome it. Then the book is finished. 

Prince Charming puts the slipper on Cinderella’s foot, AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

The Prince wakes up Sleeping Beauty with a kiss, AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

No one, from Hans Christian Anderson to Nora Roberts, tells us what happens after that. We don’t care. We got our reward and we’re done.

Not so for television. The people who make TV programs don’t want them to end. They want them to go on and on for decades, earning money for the network, the writers, the actors, the sponsors. There is no Happily Ever After in television.

So they can’t put the happy couple together. Because once they do, what’s left?  You wind up having House drive a car through Cuddy’s living room because.....well, what else can they do with him? They certainly can’t have Dr. Gregory House live happily ever after. That’s ridiculous by anyone’s standards. Ask Sherlock Holmes. He’ll tell you.

Dave and Maddie. How many episodes of Moonlighting did you watch after they hooked up?

There wasn’t a single resident of Stars Hollow who didn’t know that Luke and Lorelei belonged together. But the writers knew they couldn’t let it happen, so they went for the oldest trick in the romance writer’s book – the secret baby. And it didn’t work for them. You find me a tried and true Gilmore Girls fan who didn’t stand up and cheer when April Nardini moved to Arizona. Or wherever it was. Who cares? We just wanted her gone because her existence didn’t make sense.

And when did Luke and Lorelei finally get together for good? On the very last episode of the show. Thank you. THAT’S the way to end a show. And they lived happily ever after.

But back to Castle and Beckett. We like the show. We love Castle. He really is ruggedly handsome. We were sorry to see Firefly cancelled, but we’re glad we still get to see Nathan Fillion every week. And as much as we know he needs Beckett and Beckett needs him, I BEG the writers not to let it happen. Don’t jump that shark! 

You can give us sexual tension. We eat that with a spoon. Throw them together and then break them apart. But do it with style. Do it smart. Do it in a way that the characters deserve.

Because that’s what keeps us coming back. 

For really good conflict, resolved in a way that makes sense, click on one of the links over on the right. A LOTUS-COVERED DOOR for a quick read, BLAME IT ON THE GHOST for paranormal intervention, or TOUGHER THAN DIAMONDS for island-hopping, bullet-dodging, diamond-chasing adventure served hot and fresh with your romance. 

No contrived conflict to be found
And they lived happily ever after. 


Mark Wolfgang said...

Thanks for the explanation. Castle should hire you as a consultant And you could give them all a vicious Jethro Gibbs head slap.

Susan said...

Oh, don't get me started on NCIS. Tony and Ziva need to stay Tony and Ziva.

JJ's Blog said...

I don't think Tony and Ziva will turn mushy until it looks like the series is ending. That's not to say they should have an episode or two of angry sex, tho.

Shelley said...

I agree that this is why everyone ( well,the writers) believe that romantic tension should be maintained. However, I also believe that interest would not necessarily be lost if the couple would FINALLY get together. For example, I would never miss a Nick and Nora Charles mystery if they were still being made. Or for a more current example, Michael and Fiona. I think it all depends on the quality of the writing.

Susan Cody said...

But Michael and Fiona
already had a relationship when we met them, and it hasn't been easy sailing as it goes. And weren't Nick and Nora already married in the first Thin Man? I'm listening to a Modern Scholar lecture that you should seek out at your library. It's something like The Detective in Fiction from Victorian Sleuth to Modern Times. Really, really good.