Posts Tagged ‘new girl’

Will They Or Won’t They?

WARNING: This post contains some minor spoilers about the current season of Fox’s New Girl. If you’re like Frank Costanza (“I like to go in fresh!”), we suggest you tune out from this blog post.

Will they or won’t they?

That’s the question TV viewers have been trained to ask themselves from the moment a they start watching a new show in which there’s a not-so-subtle attraction between two of its main characters.

Spoiler alert: They almost always will.

And so, the better question becomes: When those characters inevitably get together, does that moment then become the driving force behind the show moving forward (making it ever better), or does it signal a peak from which there is no other direction but down? Or, to put it another way, do two main characters getting together ruin your favorite TV show?

I had a chance to debate this point with some co-workers recently regarding Fox’s third-year sitcom New Girl. We all love the show, but I expressed concern over the show’s direction, now that two of the show’s four main characters have become an item. (Incidentally, do people still say “an item”? Nevermind.) My co-workers, on the other hand, thought the new coupledom would have no negative effect on the show’s funniness.

One of them actually informed me that the WTOWT? concept is often referred to in TV criticism circles as “The Moonlighting Effect,” a reference to the 80s sitcom starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. It has been said that once Willis’ and Shepherd’s characters got together romantically, the show suffered a marked decrease in quality—and ultimately, in ratings.

*One of those co-workers later mocked me about how Fox’s Prison Break, a drama about, well, a prison break, should be included here along with the sitcoms in that the prison breakers had an on-again, off-again thing with freedom. Once they finally got together with freedom, the magic began to fade.

What hampered my office debate, thus making it unwinnable, was exactly that distinction: quality versus ratings. For example, I’m personally not a big fan of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory—I can see why people like it but I don’t find it LOL funny*—but it would be easy enough for anyone to “scoreboard” me by pointing to the show’s consistently world-leading Nielsen ratings.

*The median age of BBT’s viewers is 50, according to Nielsen so maybe, at 31, I’m not supposed to like it?

On the flipside, TV nerds (myself included) can easily point out the endless parade of quality programs that barely had a chance due to low ratings early in their runs.* My go-to example is Freaks & Geeks, a gem that barely eked out one season on NBC before cancellation.

*Netflix’s streaming catalog is a veritable graveyard of one- or two-season shows that were taken too soon.

Moonlighting may indeed be the bellwether for the trend of co-stars getting together (and the plummeting ratings that follow), but since I was only seven years old when that show ended, it doesn’t resonate with me. The quintessential couple of my generation (bordering on Generations X and Y) is Ross and Rachel.

The WTOWT? model worked wonderfully on Friends for years because it felt organic*. The show wasn’t just about Ross and Rachel and their relationship; it was about six twenty-something friends living in New York City in the 90s. Two of those friends, with a history going all the way back to high school, seemed to keep missing each other’s windows of being single. In the pilot, Ross was still reeling from the eventual end of his current marriage as Rachel left her fiancé at the altar (the pilot episode’s “grab a spoon” moment sets up and foreshadows their future relationship); Rachel was dating a jerk when Ross was newly divorced; Rachel becomes single again and realizes she’s “under” (i.e. not “over”) Ross, who comes back from a work trip with a girlfriend; finally, Ross finds out how Rachel feels about him, and realizes he feels the same way. In the show’s second season, fourteen episodes in, they got together. (Or as Phoebe puts it, “He’s her lobster.”) From there the on-again, off-again thing begins (“We were on a break!” et cetera) and continues for much of the show’s ten seasons.

*Equally organic–and fascinating–is how the writers decided to get Monica and Chandler together, as described in this great Vulture article

Meanwhile an hour later on NBC in the 90s, Seinfeld flipped the WTOWT? thing on its ear. Where Friends’ strength came in its ability to be a sitcom that was occasionally dramatic, Seinfeld was anything but. The series debuts with Jerry and Elaine as exes, and only really touches on their former relationship in a handful of episodes. Instead, the idea that two exes could remain such good friends* plays as a nine-season running joke.

*I wonder how many grown men dating in the 90’s tried to explain away a too-close relationship with their ex-girlfriend to their current girlfriend by saying, “You have nothing to worry about. We’re like Jerry and Elaine!”

Seinfeld even goes so far as to reference the Jerry-Elaine relationship on the show within a show, “Jerry,” when they’re pitching it to NBC for the second time in the series:

NBC Executive: And Elaine – I wouldn’t mind seeing something happening between you two.
Jerry: Definitely.
George: I tell you, I really don’t think so-called relationship humor is what this show is all about.
NBC Executive: Or we could not do the show altogether, how about that?
George: Or we could get them together. Woo!

I’m not as worried about New Girl as I might otherwise be, considering their brand of weird/random/gross/dumb humor is unlike any comedy I’ve seen on TV in a while. Beyond that, seeing these particular two main characters together is almost better than seeing them apart, because it’s exposed new and funny aspects of their respective personalities when they are part of a couple. I don’t know that I’d want to watch them figure out how to be an item (there it is again!) for six more seasons, but so far in this season, I think it has worked out nicely.

Blogger Tip: If you don’t already watch New Girl but want to check it out, seasons 1 and 2 are available on Netflix, though you’ll have to wait a while to see all the episodes from season 3 (click on this link to find out why).

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