Forcing the Romance

by wjw on September 5, 2014

In answers to my recent query about TV I should be watching, friend of the blog Foxessa mentioned the perils that might come with giving the fans what they want.  Because what fanatical viewers want may not be the best thing for the series, and I thought I’d rant about that for a while.

Usually what the super fans want is some kind of ill-advised romance.  If there are two major characters in a show, fandoms can and will develop around the romantic possibilities involving those two characters.  Mulder/Scully, Frodo/Sam, Kirk/Spock, Spock/Chapel, Kirk/Green Alien Bikini Babe, Kirk/Anybody, Starsky/Hutch, Galadriel/Eowyn oh jeez it just goes on and on.

I’ve been watching The Mentalist, not because I found the show particularly believable, but because I used to do stage magic and I enjoy watching the actual mentalist trickery used in the show.  The hero Patrick was paired with a team of detectives headed by Teresa, but one of the things I liked about the show was that I there wasn’t much in the way of sexual tension between the leads, and what existed was tentative and pretty much dropped as a non-starter— for one thing, in his quest to bring down a serial killer, Patrick lied to and manipulated Teresa much more than anyone else, even the bad guys.  Any relationship would have been based on mendacity and deceit.

But now that Red John’s been caught, the series has been revamped, and apparently Patrick and Teresa now feel free to declare their love for one another.  It’s not plausible, there was never any real degree of sexual tension there in the first place, and the switch involves Teresa being in love with someone who has never trusted her and who has psychologically abused her.  Which may be realistic in its way, but it’s not something I particularly want to watch.

Desperate writers, out of ideas, caving in to the fans who wanted to see Teresa and Patrick in each other’s arms.  Let’s hope that they don’t take the same course as Castle.

Castle is a series that was pretty much built on the sexual tension between its co-stars, bestselling writer Castle and Detective/First Beckett.  (I never believed that Castle was a writer, because he never cared about any of the stuff that writers care about; but that was okay, because I  likewise never believed that Beckett was a police officer— and I never believed that either of them were New Yorkers.  Though it was a romantic comedy and none of that mattered so much.  But I digress.)

Eventually the writers ran out of reasons to keep them apart, and then the Season of Dreadful Cute began.   Castle and Beckett comically trying to hide their relationship from the others in the cast.  Castle and Beckett dancing around the issue of marriage.  Castle and Beckett planning their wedding— for what seemed like years!  (“Elope!” I kept screaming.  “Elope!  Spare us the wedding plans!”  But no, they did not listen, and we were not spared.)

(And the series ended its season on a horrible note of false tension, with the wedding day finally arrived and Castle supposedly killed in a fiery crash.  Now watchers knew the show had been renewed for another season, and there’s been nothing in the papers about the name of the series being changed to Beckett, so we knew that Castle would turn up having been kidnaped or something, and that he’d eventually be rescued and then we’d have another season of cute wedding plan moments!  Because for some reason we cannot be spared all these details.)

And let us now have a moment of sadness for all the series that can’t figure out anything to do with their female characters but get them pregnant.  Because women are for sex and babies and . . . is there another thing?  And babies are complications to the plot, which is supposedly good though nobody actually wants to see the characters in, say. an action series, actually raising an infant, juggling feeding schedules around the car chases and the shootouts with the bad guys.

Plus there are the Romances that Make You Go Squick.  Like that of Dexter Morgan and his sister.  Which was probably an attempt to capitalize on the two actors being married in real life, but OH MY GOD WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

Less squicky but equally troublesome is the relationship developing between Sheriff Longmire and Deputy Victoria Moretti.  Two seasons in which their relationship was professional, and both demonstrated their competence, and then Moretti showed up in Season Three with her uniform blouse unbuttoned and I knew the series was going to swerve in an undesired direction.  (Because women are for sexing and babies?  I’m afraid we may find out.)

Let’s give some thought to the shows that do this right.  Battlestar Galactica, oddly enough.  Starbuck and Apollo were obviously intended for some kind of relationship, but while the actors had plenty of chemistry, they had no chemistry with each other, and the writers seemed to notice this and steered the characters elsewhere.  (At least as far as I got in the series, because I stopped watching after the Inevitable Stupid Finale started looming closer and closer.)

And Bones did quite a number of things right.  Again, the two principals were clearly intended for a romance, but it was very quickly obvious that the two had no chemistry, and the writers noticed and kept any romance out of the plot.  Except that as the series progressed and the characters developed, they did develop some chemistry with each other, and the romance evolved naturally.

Once the romance actually happened, the writers spared us all that Castle is determined not to spare us!  End of one season, Booth and Brennan get together.   Beginning of the next, they’re living together and Brennan is seven months pregnant.  No cutesy byplay.  No endless wedding plans.  No scenes where Parents are Informed or Exes are Jealous or Co-Workers Make Rude Jokes.  No competent woman wondering why she’s missed her period.  Oh my God, what a relief!

There is a kind of decline that can happen in a series, whether literary or on TV, when the creators no longer have the juice to keep the story in its path.  They start using bad ideas because they’ve used up all the good ones.  And fans, dedicated and loyal though they are, can have some of the worst ideas in the world, many of which seem to involve Rule 34.

And series needs to have more going for it than sexual tension, because once the tension is released, you need a reason to keep watching.

Now I’m all in favor of romance.  But romance isn’t all I watch for, and when I see a romance I don’t want to roll my eyes or get creeped out or think “Is this really the best you can do?”

Because you really can do better than that.

Michael Grosberg September 5, 2014 at 7:01 am

So I was going to sa y I hope Longmire doesn’t go that road, but googling the show’s name I just found out they’ve been cancelled, so the good news is we’ll be spare that particular plot complication (I’m still a coupl of episodes from the season ender so maybe it happened already? hope not!), but on the other side, no more Longmire, alas. And just as it was becoming one of my favorite shows.

TRX September 5, 2014 at 10:02 am

> there’s been nothing in the papers about the name of the series being changed to Beckett,

Did I mention my wife is really into police procedurals?

She watched all 27 seasons (!) of a Scottish police show called “Taggart.” The actor playing Detective Chief Inspector Taggart died in season 11, so they just promoted his Detective Constable into his slot and kept on going… by the time the show ended, four or five actors and their characters had occupied the starring role, but the series still kept its original name.

Back to the original subject, I first read EE Smith’s “The Skylark of Space” as a preteen, and was annoyed by the “romance” bits. I figured I’d get clued in after puberty… well, it has been quite some time since that, and I think I’d still drop Ditzy Dottie, Maggie, and their spawn out the airlock… actually, I mostly rooted for Marc C. DuQuesne, who managed to get along without romantic entanglements. “Skylark” was written in [clickety] 1915! I’ll definitely have to read it again next year…

TRX September 5, 2014 at 10:05 am

edit: “written between 1915 and 1921 … serialized in 1928 … book form in 1946” That’s what I get for skimming the text instead of reading it properly.

mearsk September 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Castle is going to get saved by Beckett two episodes in to the new season. However, I doubt they’ll start the wedding plan thing over again. They might introduce a new big-bad though, with the demise of the senator.

Kristin September 5, 2014 at 6:25 pm

And what you just described is why I don’t like American TV – Comedy, Police Procedural, Thriller, whatever. There is always some kind of romantic tension between two characters or the desperate wedding/baby mix. Not. Interested.

Tho I’m starting to make an exception for Elementary because they *are* keeping the romance out of it.

Much prefer to watch BBC comedies, Sherlock, Inspector Lewis, the like (thank heavens for Netflix!) Just good shows.

wjw September 5, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Longmire was A&E’s highest-rated show, but they canceled it anyway. My best guess is that everyone’s three-year contracts were run out and they all wanted a big raise, and A&E didn’t want to pay.

But there’s talk of another network picking up the show, because why wouldn’t they? So let’s hope that happens, and that they have a stern conversation with the creators about the Longmire/Moretti thing.

Foxessa September 5, 2014 at 10:39 pm

I’ve blogged about this bs that writers just can’t stay away from when it comes to female characters quite a bit. And what they began doing with Vic in season 2, and continued doing. So I’m not sorry Longmire’s cancelled — this is a huge reason the show went off the rails. I really liked it first season.

BS-G went off the rails with 1) diverting the original plan of the female pilots to rescue their female team member by having a big strong MALE pilot just walk in and take it over and leaving the female pilots behind; 2) and then all the rape-rape-rape that follows. They never got back on track again, and I quite watching sometime into the next season.

There is truly a failure of writers’ imagination as to what a strong, competent and interesting female character is. She’s either got to be mostly naked and superpowered badassed — i.e. a male with tits — or a sexually kinky supervillain. But mostly she’s the reward and / or damsel in distress.

Partly that’s male audience screaming how boring it is when women are taking up scenes in series like Boardwalk Empire, with their own historical concerns in everything from celebrity women pilots crossing the Atlantic, to campaigning for information to be made available to women about their own bodies, to how do I get out of this and still support my children and me, and etc. NOBODY WANTS TO SEE THESE STUPID BORING WOMEN, the male audience screams — never considering how many members of this same viewing audience are women, and we are very interested in these scenes, and, indeed, these are the scenes that keep us watching while mostly finding something else to do during the scenes with the stupid boring gangsters like Capone and Cannavale that bore us to death with their stupidity.

Love, C.

PrivateIron September 6, 2014 at 4:18 am

Kristin, were you serious when you cited Sherlock as an example of a show that doesn’t artificially add romantic tension between the two leads?

Doug Potter September 6, 2014 at 4:20 am

Longmire and Moretti got it on starting in the second book, as I recall, and it didn’t interfere with their jobs. However, Craig Johnson is a hell of a lot better writer of fiction than the ” Longmire” writers are of tv.

Michael Grosberg September 6, 2014 at 7:48 am

Foxwssa, can you remind me about BSG, what season/episode was it with the female pilots, male pilot and all that? I admit I don’t remember every episode but it really doesn’t ring a bell.

I just remembered another show that played on but later subverted the expectation of romance between its two leads – In Plain Sight.At some pont they started hinting that Marshall had more than friendly feelings for Mary but they ended the show with him deciding they were not right for each other and cementing relations with another character .

Geoff September 6, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Yeah, I’d like to hear more about the BSG issue that Foxessa has, since it doesn’t come immediately to mind.

I was going to post that I thought Starbuck and Apollo did have chemistry, but that the writers were true to the original idea of the character (which was, roughly “write her exactly like a male action hero”), and made her someone who could not even approach a true-love sort of relationship.

Foxessa September 6, 2014 at 8:02 pm

I really apologize for not even being able to say which season it was — 2 or 3 I think. I watched this before I was writing up such stuff more carefully, with titles, episode numbers, dates and so on when it comes to television. I’ve always done this naturally with books, because history and lit are what i do. But television was something to which I came very late in life, like around 2004, when dvds became available for viewing on one’s computer.

I know I write about it on a blog or post in some places after I watched it, but it’s not tagged the way I tag things now. I imagine if I look very hard I could find it, but I’m under the deadline gun for TASC right now, and just can’t take out a day to dig.

I’m really sorry. But — it’s amazing how even that short time ago, people just didn’t notice those sorts of things.

Love, C.

DensityDuck September 9, 2014 at 3:55 pm

One thing to keep in mind is that Ron Moore’s motto is “fuck you, audience”. Starbuck/Apollo not happening is a FYA moment. The fact that the actors didn’t really play a couple believably is not something that would stop a showrunner from putting them together anyway.


I kind of wish that Castle’s next season would be about a completely different detective and partner, with no big This Is What’s Happening explanation, just play it as though the show had been about those two all along. Sort of the Dogget and Reyes season.

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