Saturday, September 10, 2011

I'll Be There for You

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I have wasted a colossal amount of time this week watching Friends reruns on Nick at Nite. The marathon reminded me of my favorite TV couple ever: Chandler and Monica. Affectionately deemed “Mondler” by fans, Monica and Chandler demonstrate a rare example of the stable relationship on television. They are the opposite of Ross and Rachel: As those two flitted between on-again and off-again every season, Mondler progressed beautifully from platonic friendship à flirtation à dating à engagement à marriage à kids. Their natural evolution from friends to lovers is the template for most successful relationships in real life, a concept most TV writers tend to forget when attempting to maintain “sexual tension” between couples.

Writers who toy with romantic relationships demonstrate a fundamental lack of faith in their audience. They automatically assume that viewers will lose interest in a happy couple, so they devise endless contrivances to keep characters apart. For the first season or two, this strategy can work well; the initial meet-and-banter always makes for good television. But in order to build long-term satisfaction, characters must continue to grow in the forward direction. Once-promising couples who kept making the same mistakes can become incredibly irritating for faithful viewers – think of Booth and Brennan on Bones, or Will and Emma on Glee, or Ryan and Marissa on The O.C., or any two characters on Grey’s Anatomy. At a certain point, these dysfunctional couples shifted from romantic to tedious.

It’s refreshing, then, to see Friends writers build a steady 10-year progress between Chandler and Monica. Somehow, their relationship just clicked. They never broke up, yet they maintained the “spark” that brings viewers back week after week. Their relationship was sweet, but never overpowering. Most importantly, both were hilarious, well-rounded characters more than capable of carrying storylines with or without the other.

Other successful TV couples, like Jim and Pam on The Office and Chuck and Sarah on Chuck, follow a similar structure. Like Mondler, these relationships appear honest and real – both people just do their best to make it work. The trust between them is implicit, based on genuine friendship. There’s no doubt: When the going gets rough and the rain starts to pour, they'll be there.

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