For many moons since the dawn of time, true love and television audiences have forced the most unlikely and unwieldy couples together for the sake of the narrative feel goods. “They have to be together!” We cry, as the Rosses and Rachels of our favorite television sitcoms flip and flop in their on-again/off-again relationships. “But they have to be together!” We beg, as these shows demonstrate that the JDs and Elliots do not work as couples– even going so far as dedicating entire scenes of episodes to the two characters discussing the problems with their pairing, then realizing that they no longer possess any romantic feelings for each other they continue life as platonic companions. “BUT THEY HAVE TO BE TOGETHER!!!” We demand, as the writers, directors, and actors work tirelessly to create interesting stories driven by creative passion, not the whims of those who have no involvement in the creation of the shows over which they wield their demands (is couch-seat driver a term?), but ultimately cave to the audience demand and force the incompatible couple together for an ending that is only satisfying if you do not consider the reemergence of the personal traits and flaws that kept the couple apart in the first place.
Happy Russel Hallmark Friedman Day
The Day of Valentines, along with the candy, card, and jewelry sales, has passed, and we now wait in eager anticipation for the next holiday co-opted by the mercenary marketing practices of greedy corporations. However, before we bid farewell to the month-of-love, and all its short glory, lets talk about television, popular culture, and our obsession in seeing two people, who looked at each other once, unite in love, passion, and forced romance. Our discussion will center around two television comedies that, through the years, have shaped my understanding and love of comedy. The shows under examination: Friends and Scrubs. (Seinfeld and How I Met Your Mother play no part in this examination because I have not seen them.)
Now, before the naysayers declare me a jaded sourpuss, bitter over my failed love-life, I submit that I am a happily married gentleman and my love for my wonderful wife grows exponentially with the passing of each day. I take no issue with love, itself, nor its companion, romance. Yet, I grow ever weary of the over-romanticized fantasy, our culture has created, that I am given to understand is a reasonable and even expected facsimile of the connection that develops between two people in love. Friends and Scrubs, two shows bearing unassuming titles, are shows that despite their great jokes (current relevance notwithstanding) and wonderful characters (JD and Ross notwithstanding) contain and, to a degree, center around the relationships of people who share little compatibility.
The Meet-Train Wreck
Ross and Rachel, now ubiquitous as the prime example of the on/off relationship, have no common ground. The show proves this time and again, as they get together and split apart. Ross’s intellectual pursuits clash with Rachel’s career ambitions, as they argue over Jurassic Parka and the logistics of a break, while connecting through nothing more than a tangentially shared history. Rachel’s childhood friendship and Ross’s familial connection with Monica is the only thread tying these supposedly destined lovers together. Such a flimsy tether would suffice if the show were to build upon their history (Ross had a crush on his sister’s friend, Rachel, who had zero interest in him) with an interesting relationship, but all their conversations, a triumph at the Laundorama, and a ill advised marriage in Vegas still leave the two Friends with little to talk about and less in common, apart from a “shared interest in each other’s tonsils.” The conclusion of the series in which they finally decide to give their relationship another shot, rings hollow as Ross makes a final “we were on a break” joke, a clear indication that neither of them have grown in the slightest since those few episodes from season three which stand as the worst in the series, and the Friends concludes with everyone but Joey partnered off.
The central on/off relationship of Scrubs follows John Dorian (JD) and Elliot Reid, who have even less reason to be the fated “have to be together couple” than their Friends counter-parts. They hold no shared history, contrived or otherwise, and their romantic meet-cute consists of Elliot walking into frame and mentioning a fondness for Pac-Man. JD’s response to Elliot’s appearance is not love-at-first-sight as much as physical attraction. He sees her and thinks she is hot. Truly a love for the ages. Their relationship builds into a friendship, then a romance, which awkwardly returns to friendship status once the romantic relationship explodes. Their incompatibility is felt almost instantly as the episode which splits them apart, featuring a pizza who’s slices disappear to indicate the passage of time and the dwindling substance of their relationship, reveals their distaste for each other’s habits up close. The episode concludes with their separation and they try to move on. The forced connection keeping these two destined lovers from getting past each other is one of proximity. They work in the same hospital, in the same department. Despite their break from one another, they are forced to see each other every day, which in turn forces their relationship through cycles of romance, antagonism, and friendship. The problem is obvious, JD and Elliot do not work as a romantic couple, because they do not function together. They are unlinking puzzle pieces that fit in the same puzzle but not attached to each other. The wonderfully constructed series conclusion, hinging on the idea that the two have grown (which the show does a good job of demonstrating), shows JD imagining their life together as he leaves the hospital on his last day of employment there. There is hope for the couple but the specter of their incompatibility overcasts the proceedings.
The Sole Reason
Despite these shows’ efforts to make their central relationships work, “but they have to” seems to be the only reason for their ultimate pairing. In fact Bill Lawrence, the creator of Scrubs, declares, in an episode commentary, his disinterest in keeping JD and Elliot together, but he ultimately caved to fan pressure and tried to make them work.
Love is a fantastic experience that blesses those who share it, but, when we over romanticize it, we create unrealistic expectations that become ingrained in our culture and our relationships suffer as a result. Bare in mind, grand gestures and declarations of love are great when feasible, but should neither be mandatory or expected expressions. On my most recent anniversary with my wife we both caught a cold, as such we spent our wedding anniversary huddled under a blanket, eating soup, and watching movies on Netflix. If that is not love, then tell me what is.