Fox Tuesdays and Will They or Won’t They

18 Apr

Nick and Jess

So I’ve talked about the Brooklyn Nine-Nine section of this recently, but I’d like to talk about three Fox Tuesday comedies (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, New Girl, The Mindy Project) as a group, where they are in the stage of their primary characters’ will-they-won’t-they stories and why, whatever, they’re going to do, they should think about it now a good deal.

The Mindy Project was a will-they-won’t-they mostly from the beginning. Mindy and Danny are set up as opposites, but as a show which is constantly discussed and narrated, right from the pilot, through the lens of rom com tropes, starring out as opposites is exactly how the two people bound to end up together would start off. They bickered and fought while growing closer as friends, before Danny proposed they get together, only to break off the relationship a couple of weeks later, when he decided for whatever reason it was getting too serious.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine did not seem to involve a will-they-won’t-they aspect from the get go, and I was actually looking forward to a potentially rewarding platonic friendship between Jake and Amy. About halfway through the first season, though, the show decided to start moving in that direction, with the immature Jake slowly realizing that he actually has feelings for Amy. Now that Amy has a boyfriend, and Jake’s going undercover, we’ve reached a classic part of will-they-won’t-they delay tactics in TV, where, while they might actually have feelings for each other, one or the other is involved in a relationship. This is what kept Pam and Jim apart for years on The Office.

New Girl decided to bring Nick and Jesse together at the end of the second season. Cece and Schmidt have already been together and apart and together again and apart again. There was even briefly a weird Coach – Cece date. We’re out of iterations. While I wasn’t a huge fan of Nick and Jess dating, their breakup felt extremely forced. There were plenty of good reasons the writers could have come up with why they might have eventually broken up, but instead they just kind of decided they were too different and broke up in a way that didn’t feel true to either character or the situation, especially since we had seen episodes leading up to this with them getting over some of their thornier objections and declaring their love for one another.  Nick and Jess are now learning to be friends again since the writers decided to just hit the off switch on their relationship, and move the show back to the status quo, possibly in an attempt to recapture the magic that made the second season so great in contrast to the up and down third season.

When you’re writing a comedy for a network that has to deliver a whopping 22 episodes a season, and may go for four, five, six, seven seasons, you can’t figure out every bit of where you’re going ahead of time, and thankfully, you don’t have to. Unlike Lost, or any othter big serial, mystery drama, there’s no central questions that need to be answered so there’s a fair deal of leeway in where the plot can go over the years, and especially in a comedy, plots may be determined on the fly that wouldn’t have been planned from the beginning due to the chemistry shown by the actors in early episodes.

But there’s one serious limit on that leeway. Generally, it’s repetition, and specifically, in this context, it’s the overdoing of the will they won’t they. You can only bring your protagonists  together and apart so many times before it becomes tiresome. You only have one first magic moment. The first time they kiss. They first time they fight. You get one go around at that. Never again will it necessarily be as special. Sometimes protagonists who get together, simply stay together, and that’s the most obvious route, but not the one that New Girl (with either of its primary couples) or The Mindy Project has chosen.

The characters can get together again later on, after years of searching around realizing they were right for each other to begin with. Or it can be a one off, and they realize it’s a mistake and never get together again (which I would like because I think it takes more balls in our current cultural environment, but one is not objectively better than the other). But now you’ve checked off a box that you can’t uncheck. This means everything is different for the characters.

But if you have to have them almost get together, but then not, and then almost get together again, and then not, or get together, and then break up, and get together, and then break up again, it’s going to get awfully tedious awful fast.

I don’t know how long New Girl is going to last. A Mindy-Danny pairing in The Mindy Project I’m a bigger fan of than Jess-Nick, if I had to choose, and following the traditional rom com tropes, they should get together briefly, break up, and then come together with a grand romantic gesture, so we’re right on course, except of course for the fact that we’re only in the second season of the show.

The main thing is for all of these shows to be smart. This is the problem with not knowing how long a show is going to be on, and why shows in their later seasons seem to run out of ideas. You don’t want to be cancelled with fantastic ideas left on paper, but if you use them all up, everything else starts to feel inferior or repetitive. Creative writers can come up with new directions and new plots sometimes, but they can’t think of a new way to match up main characters, so please be careful. Make sure sure these main characters dating and breaking up is well thought out because you don’t get to keep doing it over and over again.

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