Tired Television Tropes: Will They, Won't They

Category: By Rev/Views

Recently there's been more than a few people out there across the Internet who've been pleased with the direction that The Office has taken with regards to two of their core characters. Specifically Jim and Pam, who had a long run with the dreaded "will they, won't they" trope which was predicted by many to end something like this:

"Pam is very attractive, no question. If I didn't have an award show to host, I could easily see having two or three seasons of will they won't they sexual tension that ultimately goes nowhere." -- Conan O'Brien

Many shows continue to use this trope as a major engine in their plots, and most don't risk resolving the question until near the end of their run. The debate about Pam and Jim was also confounded a little by the precedent set by the UK one (which didn't resolve Dawn and Tim until it's Christmas special and then it was all over) but more importantly by the ridiculous idea which is often known as 'The Moonlighting Curse' (Also known as The Cheers Rule) - which suggests that the moment you resolve a 'will they, won't they' that the series will crash to the ground and stop being interesting. This is a theory which seems to hold in the minds of the TV executives and writers in particular. It's constantly being rehashed and held up like some kind of sacred rule which must not be violated (despite evidence to the contrary).

You know what? A little bit of "will they, won't they" isn't a bad thing, it's like foreplay - it gets you all warmed up for the main event and sometimes it's even an acceptable substitute. Some shows do it very well indeed - The Office is one of those, it danced away for three years before resolving it by getting Jim and Pam together. This moment was incredibly sweet, fun and didn't kill the show, in fact it strengthened it by providing one of the most real and entertaining adult relationships in a sitcom ever.

Other shows which managed it well include Frasier's Niles/Daphene dance - though that one did lose it's luster for a period before getting back on track. The period where Daphene was aware of Nile's feelings but they weren't together was weak.

Spaced is of particular note here with an unusual and subtle take on the whole trope, I'd go as far as to call it one of the best versions of it - putting Tim and Daisy together in a fake relationship and then gradually hinting at an unconscious and unrecognised desire between them worked exceptionally well - it was subtle enough to remain funny. The West Wing is another show which did this well - this time with Josh and Donna (though it does become a tad tiresome once Sorkin stops steering the ship because his subtle touch is gone).

In Buffy the Buffy/Angel tension worked well by resolving it early, putting an interesting spin on it by having Angel turn into the big bad from it created one of the most memorable Buffy villains in Angelus. Seinfeld parodied it quite a few times with Jerry and Elaine - there wasn't really any "will they, won't they" vibe there, but some felt there was and the characters (and plots) often mocked it superbly - all the way to the finale. Arrested Development also deserves mad props for their spin on the whole trope - the George Michael/Maeby tension had a great extra layer with the whole related angle that made for amazing comedy. Futurama's Leela/Fry thing also works well, but they have moved towards some form of resolution with that one and never made it the main focus of the show.

But then we have shows which are just terrible for doing it, Friends milked ten seasons out of Ross and Rachael, pushing it to the point where I was just watching the show for Chandler and Monica - blanking most of the nonsense between the two R's as it had grown tired. (Side note: I own all ten seasons of Friends for one reason, so I'll never watch the show again - owning it means I don't watch it when it's repeated on television and then I just never take the boxed set down from the top shelf). As if that wasn't enough, the spin-off Joey attempted to pull a similar stunt and it's probably one of the reasons why the show collapsed (not the main reason though of course). Speaking of Joey, I adore Andrea Anders - she's now in Better Off Ted - you should watch it.

That 70s Show pulled the stunt multiple times with differing degrees of success - Eric/Donna wasn't bad and resolved well at the end of the show. But Jackie's relationships were a terrible mess, the appropriate tension was with Hyde in the post-Kelso part of the show - and she ended up with Fez? What the heck?

I'm not sure about Scrubs' J.D. and Elliot by the way, they pretty much ran with it the entire time the show was on the air, even when one of the pair was in a relationship it always felt like it was designed to be doomed. They did end up together and had a solid relationship in the eight season, and frankly that was the best season for a long time as a result. It's half and half if it was done well or not, I think it's fair to put that one in the maybe column.

But now we get to my ultimate bug bears - and I know I'm not alone on this one - it's the second appearance for Mr David Boreanaz and this time it's in Bones. Seriously, I'm sick to death with the supposed sexual tension between Booth and Bones. It's gotten out of hand to the point where it's actually making the rest of the show intolerable. Seriously, it needs to be resolved because it's not helping at all. Gah! If I see one more moment where the two of them stand longingly close together only to do nothing because one or the other (or both) is a complete f***-t**d I'm not sure if I'll be able to stand it. I might do something rash like set myself on fire, it's irritating me that much. The same can apply what I've seen of the "The Big Bang Theory" and "Chuck" - I'm still only on the first season with each of these shows but I'm already annoyed with their abuse of the trope. It's a shame because they're both shows I like otherwise.

I've rambled on for a while now without to much of a point, so I guess I'd better get to one. While I have listed shows which have pulled it off to a reasonable degree, most of these didn't drag the entire thing out too long, or span it well enough to make it feel fresh. The thing is, just because some shows have done it well doesn't mean we need more new shows built around the premises. In fact, we don't, we really don't. It's time to put this particular cliched, hackneyed old trope out to pasture for good.

To paraphrase Hyde [I] "can't stand another week of this will-they-or-won’t-they crap.”

(Except when it's used in Community, because I'm nothing if not a hypocrite.)


0 comments so far.

Something to say?