How Sitcom Relationships Impact Narrative Choices

Last night’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine saw Jake and Amy finally reuniting after six months without contact, and it was… a little awkward. Fortunately, it was also hilarious (Amy punched Jake in the the throat, Jake told Amy he kissed Holt right before kissing her) and short-lived; by the end of the episode, the two were back in sync, or in Jake’s case, as in-sync as you could be with someone who just shot you. If it was any other sitcom, the strain of being away from each other for half a year would be too much, and the characters would probably break up, only to have a big adorable reunion by the end of the season. But Brooklyn Nine-Nine has never written Jake and Amy that way, and don’t typically use their relationship for dramatic purposes like, for example, The Office might. Which is interesting to me, because if you look at all the 2000s/early 2010s sitcoms you’ll find that their relationships impact the plot in very different ways, whether it’s a deliberate writing choice or audience perception.

Focus On the Ensemble

Since getting together at the end of season two, Jake and Amy have been a low-key piece of the larger ensemble puzzle. Brooklyn Nine-Nine gets away with this, since it’s a higher concept show- they’re NYPD officers, not “friends hanging out”- but it wouldn’t work on every show. Admittedly, they’re sometimes a little forgotten, which is bound to happen when there are cases to solve, jokes to tell and five additional main characters to flesh out in just twenty minutes. But Brooklyn Nine-Nine is not a particularly dramatic show, with the exceptions of season finales and recent three-parters, so there’s not a necessary weight that needs to sit on Jake and Amy’s shoulders. They’re fun together and they’re fun apart, and when we get an episode that expands on their relationship it’s usually a good one. Otherwise, I think we’re all content to just hear Gina and Holt spilling the hot goss.

It’s A Wonderful Life… Until It’s Not

Is there a more perfect sitcom couple than The Office’s Jim and Pam? Excuse me, seasons four through seven of The Office’s Jim and Pam? PB + J was the relationship goal for young me. I recognized that they were real enough to be, well, real, yet I didn’t have the world knowledge to realize that in real life things couldn’t always be so perfect. Jim and Pam were made for each other, but the kind of couple that was still not completely happy with their lives. The Office took that to the next level, leading to some relationship drama that hurt to watch, but was almost needed in a show that was no longer featuring its lead actor and heading towards a decade of air time. Early on, The Office was about the workplace, but was really driven by the question of whether or not Jim and Pam would end up together. Once that question was answered, it was nice for a bit, but Andy chasing after Erin didn’t pack the same punch. Maybe Jim and Pam’s relationship suffered a little bit in the middle, but in the end they remained a couple you might actually know in real life.

Bring Out the Worst in One of Them

The Mindy Project
came back to Hulu yesterday. I’m hesitant to start, and it’s because of Danny Castellano. Danny was never perfect, though from the first episode you knew he and Mindy were destined to be together. “You look nice,” “Go to Hell,” is a perfect little moment between them that sets up what will come. Mindy and Danny are both kind of terrible people, in a way that makes you love them. They say ridiculously dumb things for two accomplished doctors and often treat each other badly, and then are really sweet and make you root for their relationship. But after getting together they became an entirely new monster. Mindy is Mindy; she has the entitlement of a white man with a bad bitch attitude. She’s our protagonist, and she’s not going to change for any man. But Danny can and did change. He became kind of awful. He had always been super conservative and cartoon Italian, but after they had baby Leo he was even worse. His flaws were used to help cement Mindy’s decisions. Maybe it was just because Chris Messina had to go and shoot Live By Night, but his character became almost nonexistent, and now he’s engaged. Mindy Lahiri’s story isn’t about the men itself, and is about her journey surrounded by men, but still. This one hurts.

Bring Out the Worst in Both of Them

I’m still rooting for New Girl’s Nick and Jess. Their slow build and first kiss were the reason I proclaimed this show to be one of the best. But after they got together the show was very different, and mostly the reason I stopped watching. They just didn’t work out. Where Mindy reacted off the obvious differences between her and Danny, Nick and Jess just flopped like two fish who were out of water but afraid to tell the other one they were dying. I guess that happens in friendships turned relationships, but it would have been nice to have them act like normal human beings. Let’s not forget that Jess is a Vice Principal and Nick was in law school, okay? Jake Johnson once made a very good point about their relationship failing on a story basis because it forced Nick into all the A stories, which doesn’t work on an ensemble show. I still have faith that the show has grown enough to bring us a Nick/Jess relationship that makes sense for the characters. And I’m not giving it up for a Jess/Robby romance.

It’s All About the Chase

I love How I Met Your Mother. But I do not love Robin and Ted. Or let me rephrase- I love them to an extent. I loved them way back in season two when they were symbolized by the blue French Horn, and everyone thought their relationship would grow to be a great friendship. But in season nine, when telling he story of his deceased wife makes Ted realizes he’s still in love with his best friend’s ex wife, I did not love them. The Ted/Robin back-and-forth was fodder for most of the drama throughout HIMYM’s run, and almost every time it was brought up I rolled my eyes. This was a great show, with the best continuity and in-jokes I’ve ever seen, that just kept going back to a relationship that could never be. Robin wasn’t the mother! Every step of their relationship felt like a waste, because it wasn’t end game. Until it was. The finale was met with pretty widespread disappointment, myself included, because it was just not what we expected. Maybe if we all focused more on Marshall and Lilly, we wouldn’t still be upset about this.

Rely On Everyone Else For Drama

Parks and Recreation - Season 6

The Parks and Recreation lineup has a lot of couples that would make a top ten list, but Ben and Leslie take the cake. Remember how nervous Leslie was to go on a date with Officer Dave because of her history of terrible first dates? Remember what a jerk Ben was when he first came to Pawnee, because his job was shutting down jobs? Remember how Leslie Knope is the future President of the United States, and Ben gave up his dreams for her? Yeah. They’re the best. Parks and Rec is a show that’s not too in your face about its idealism, but its there. It’s a show I used to describe as “The Office, except everyone likes each other and they’re all your favorite character.” It’s not going to send us through the ringer just to have Leslie and Ben be completely fine by the end. So it relies on the external relationships for drama. Ann moves away, leaving best friend Leslie behind. Leslie and Ron are totally at odds in the future. Ben and Leslie want the same job. The drama is all there, but it doesn’t interfere with them as a couple. It’s so nice to watch, it almost makes you forget you’re watching a TV couple fall in love by yourself.

Get Canceled, So Who Knows

05-happy-endings-w1200-h630This is genuinely the worst tactic. We’ll never know what happened to Happy Endings‘ Penny and Dave! Did they fall in love? Or was there a dramatic love triangle? I have nothing to say here, except that I’m still really sad this show was canceled.



I Can’t Stop Thinking About the HIMYM Finale

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that How I Met Your Mother ended this week. And you probably also know that while some hardcore Ted/Robin fans really enjoyed it, most people felt entirely unfulfilled after watching it. I’m one of the latter. I started watching How I Met Your Mother in 2010 because nobody would stop talking about it. I knew half of the recurring jokes before I even started watching, and yet they were still funny to me. HIMYM was a good show I often praised for its excellent continuity and perfect blend of touching and humorous moments.

My one major complaint throughout its nine-season run? Why do they keep making Ted go back to Robin?

To me, the Ted/Robin romance was a complete waste of time. We’ve known since the very first episode that Robin was not the mother. We’d spent the final two seasons building up to a Barney/Robin wedding. The writers were conditioning me to hate the relationship, because it seemed so obvious that Ted would never end up with Robin, no matter what, and the story was getting so played out and repetitive. It was starting to become so boringly redundant, because the show was How I Met Your Mother, not How I Kept Obsessing Over Your Aunt Robin Even Though She Rejected Me Like Five Times.

Regardless of the countless times I rolled my eyes about Ted falling back to Robin, everyone grew up since we’d first seen them in 2005. Marshall and Lily showed us marriage doesn’t get any easier, but its worth it when its with someone you love. Robin was still committed to her career, but was letting someone care about her. Barney was finally acting like an adult. The Barney/Robin relationship was proving that these two could make it together, and could put their selfish pasts behind them and start working towards a real, adult love. We were finally going to meet The Mother, the one this whole story had been leading up to, the true owner of the yellow umbrella and Ted’s soul mate. All of Ted’s efforts were finally going to be worth it, and he was going to get the two kids he wanted and finally spend time with someone who cared about him and who fit in with the gang. The point of the show was always, to me, about how Ted finally did meet the mother and all the roadblocks that every twenty- and thirty-something encounters. And we were finally going to see that.

Enter the finale. All of that development and growth that we’d seen over nine seasons disappeared in an instant. Barney and Robin get divorced. Robin completely stops hanging out with the gang. Barney, after begging his friends “can I please be me?,” has a child with a woman who’s name we never even learn. Marshall and Lily… what do we even get for Marshall and Lily? No mention of Italy, Marshall depressed at his new job, mentions of their third kid and a briefly celebrated moment where Marshall finally gets to become a Judge. The writers may have been shooting for “real life,” which I respect. Lily’s promise that “We’ll always be there for the big moments” felt genuine and you can’t expect or want the group to spend the rest of their lives sitting in MacLarens Pub. But, it felt out of character; I started to really hate Robin throughout the course of the episode, and after the Barney/Robin divorce, an entire season focused around their wedding day felt like an enormous waste. The only saving grace was Ted’s moments with The Mother. She fit in perfectly with the gang, even dropping in on Robots vs. Wrestlers (a nice touch), and being the absolute perfect match to all of Ted’s quirks. I was unhappy with the way every other character was being treated (even Ted- there’s no way he would skip out on a huge, creative proposal and wedding), but The Mother and Ted were perfect for each other. This was the ending I wanted.

And we almost got it. A sweet exchange about how The Mother had Ted’s yellow umbrella, and we even found out her name- Tracy McConnell. And that’s where it should have ended. Call me naive, but after nine years of waiting for Ted to meet this mysterious Mother, I’d be fine with that ending. After all that struggle there was someone out there who cared about Ted and we as viewers could see and respect that.

But no. In a matter of seconds, Ted casually tells of Tracy’s death. No funeral, no tears, just Ted left alone with two kids under the age of nine. With some footage shot back 2005, the kids prepare us for the ending that nobody will forget: “You’re thinking of asking Aunt Robin out.” What? This is neither the story I wanted nor the story I was prepared for. The Mother didn’t get what she deserved, we didn’t get we deserved- Ted certainly didn’t get what he deserved. We see Robin (since when is she settled down in NYC?) coming up in her apartment with her dogs that Ted made her get rid of 25 years earlier. We see Ted, gray hair, two kids sitting at home, outside her window with the classic blue french horn. And as a fan who cried over the line, “I would have stolen you a whole orchestra” after Ted and Robin’s breakup in Season 2, this was just too much. Suddenly, The Mother felt like nothing but a plot device. After all this time, Ted could be with Robin, who he’s been infatuated with since he was 27, AND still have the two kids he always wanted, even though Robin couldn’t have children.

I don’t know what makes anyone think Ted and Robin can make it work this one last time. I don’t know why Marshall and Lily were static throughout the entire episode. I don’t know why Barney and Robin lost any and all development and were reduced to their Season 1 identities. And I don’t know why Ted couldn’t get the one, final happy ending he deserved. It was a great run, HIMYM, but I think I’ll stick with Ted meeting The Mother under their shared umbrella. That’s the ending I wanted.


How I Met Your (Deceased) Mother?

So I’m finally all caught up on HIMYM. And with just three weeks left until its series finale, I think I speak for most fans when I say please just tell us how Ted met The Mother already. That’s not to say that I don’t love this show (I’m still getting over the end of The Office so losing HIMYM this year is going to be rough), but it is to say that I am 100% sick of the Farhampton Inn. The thing about HIMYM is that there was a formula that the audience grew to love; Ted would start out “In the summer/winter/fall of 2005/6/7/etc. and then we’d follow a ridiculous story about the past that was sometimes humorously edited for young ears and sometimes made us question Ted’s relationship with his kids. Regardless, this season took that neat set-up and completely changed it, and though I’m extremely happy Marshall is no longer road-tripping with Sherri Shepherd, I have to be honest that this whole “weekend-in-a-season” concept is getting a little old. Recently, the HIMYM staff has stepped up with clever episodes- as a fan who loved seeing how Ted and The Mother almost met each season I loved the “How Your Mother Met Me” episode. But after this weeks “Vesuvius,” I’m getting skeptical about the cleverness of this show overall.

If you missed it, the episode consisted of Ted telling The Mother a story about Robin & Barney’s wedding, but by the end it was pretty clear that the HIMYM writers were trying to indicate that The Mother was going to die, leaving Ted alone to tell his nine-year tale of exactly how they met. Which is the complete opposite of what HIMYM has been teaching us all along. Ted is a guy who many of us (read: me) can completely relate to. We’ve been following his love life and all the struggles and roadblocks that went along with it for nine seasons. And now, just when we are introduced to the extremely likable Cristin Milioti, and just when Ted is finally getting the happy ending he deserves, it feels like we’re getting the rug pulled out from under us just for the sake of some unneeded drama. If The Mother dies, it doesn’t really add much to the story; we get confirmation on why Ted’s telling the story but other than that we’re not going to see much of Ted’s life as a widower. But just because we as the audience are not going to see it doesn’t diminish the principle of it all. If any twenty or thirty somethings out there watched HIMYM and rooted for Ted in hopes that one day, if they didn’t give up, they’d meet the love of their life too, then this “surprise” ending seems like a dig at them. All we’ve been leading up to is Ted & The Mother and Lily & Marshall on the front porch, and if we end up with Ted next to an empty seat, then HIMYM will have surpassed LOST on my list of most unnecessarily depressing shows. My fingers are crossed that this is just a way to throw the audience off, and I’ll be impatiently waiting until the March 31st finale to find out.