By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 21, 2023 |
By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 21, 2023 |
The popular wisdom in television writing since March 1987 — when David (Bruce Willis) and Maddie (Cybil Shepard) got together on Moonlighting — is that as soon as the will-they-won’t-they couple get together, the show is apparently doomed. The episode in which David and Maddie got together on Moonlighting was the highest-rated of its run. Over 60 million viewers tuned in. Two seasons later, the series was canceled.
Television writers have been taking the wrong lessons from Moonlighting in the 35 years since, terrified that their shows are running on the fuel of sexual tension and that, without it, the engine will crap out. It’s why Ross and Rachel were so frustratingly off and on over ten seasons of Friends. Jess and Nick, likewise, went back and forth on New Girl so often that viewers lost interest in their relationship. How I Met Your Mother made the worst mistake of all: They paired their end-goal couple, Robin and Ted, with other partners that were better for them than they were together, resulting in disappointment when the two finally ended up together.
It doesn’t have to be that way, and one would think that writers would have learned by now that it’s no longer necessary to break up one of the (or the) show’s central couples. Look no further than The Office, where the writers unnecessarily and moronically introduced friction (and another guy) into the otherwise perfect-until-the-final-season Jim and Pam relationship. The two were an ideal couple. The audience loved seeing them together. There was no need to introduce contrived obstacles to introduce dramatic tension. It just pissed the audience off.
Did Jason Sudeikis not watch The Office? Because there was absolutely no reason to break up Roy and Keeley in-between seasons of Ted Lasso. Sudeikis — who basically took over as sole showrunner in the third season, while Bill Lawrence stepped away to run Shrinking and his forthcoming Bad Monkey — didn’t even concoct a good reason for the breakup. There’s nothing organic about it. They are so clearly meant to be together that it not only makes no sense to break them up but it deprives the audience of an entire season — possibly the final season — in which we could see the couple together.
Mike Schur illustrated exactly what to do with these couples in Parks and Recreation, first with April and Andy, and later with Leslie and Ben Wyatt. It’s OK to keep them apart for a while — a few seasons, maybe — but once you put them together, you keep them together. It’s not as easy because there are not as many narrative shortcuts, but instead of keeping them apart for the sake of keeping them apart, it’s much better to find and continue to highlight the romance between the couples. An episode like “Smallest Park” in Parks and Recreation is so much more rewarding than the episode where they break up and the 7-10 episodes after where they moon over one another from afar while getting jealous of each other’s new partners. Dan Goor and Mike Schur repeated this in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Jake and Amy were a good TV couple not because they were on-again-off-again but because they were interesting together, as a couple. Likewise, so are Shawn and Juliet in Psych. They’re incredibly fun to watch as a couple.
You do the David and Maddie thing for a couple of seasons, but once they are together, you switch approaches: You do the Coach and Mrs. Taylor thing. Show the audience what a good, solid relationship looks like. It’s more difficult, but it’s also much more satisfying to watch two people grow and evolve together over the course of several seasons. How much better would season three of Ted Lasso be if we could see Roy and Keeley work together to solve Keeley’s problems with Shandy or Roy’s efforts to make Jamie a better player? Keeley might have had a lot of insight into Jamie given their history. Likewise, with Roy’s support, Keeley could have managed her situation at work with more confidence. Instead, Keeley has essentially been siloed, while a wounded Roy has to watch Keeley from afar.
Will their inevitable reunion be sweet? I’m sure it will be! Will our hearts melt? Almost certainly! But we are also robbed of 10 more episodes like the back half of season two where Roy and Keeley communicated, worked together, and modeled what a good relationship should look like. I’m not going to try and read too much into the personal lives of the creators, but maybe Jason Sudeikis — who has been going through a messy and public split with his longtime partner — could have used more of the influence of Bill Lawrence, who has a happy 24-year marriage to Christa Miller from which to pull. It might be why Christa Miller’s Liz and Ted McGinley’s Derek on Shrinking are one of my favorite couples on TV right now. Now Roy and Keeley are just another Ross and Rachel instead of something better and more rare: An April and Andy.