Monday, November 3, 2008

ISTV Special Report: Romance No Longer In The Air

Why is TV so against hurried coupling?

“How I Met Your Mother” and “The Office” have both plowed through their Big Relationship stories in record time, and it’s…well, it’s damn weird, and yet totally expected.

“How I Met Your Mother” walks an odd tight-rope balancing the audience’s expectations. There’s a frame of mind that thinks once lead character Ted meets the titular woman in question, the show’s over. That the series should end with the line, “…And that’s how I met your mother.”

Another line of thought is that the audience should actually get to know the mother, which would mean she could be introduced well before the show is over.

(This is the line of thought that, despite the best efforts of the creators to dissuade it, leads some conspiracy theorists – like, say, me – to conclude the mother is Wendy the Waitress, who’s been around since the start of the series.)

Still, the dismissal of Sarah Chalke’s character after a hurried wedding attempt felt like the writers realized they’d written themselves into a corner, and their breakup (by bringing in old flame Jason Jones) felt arbitrary and rushed. Ideally the breakup is a gateway to a larger story, just as Ted and Robin’s breakup at the end of season 2 informed Ted’s behavior during the strike-abbreviated season 3.

But the difference between the Robin break-up and this one is, we knew from the first episode how Ted and Robin’s relationship would go down. Teasing a wife for Ted and then backing off smacks of writers trying to stretch a story-arc past its expiration date. Not a big deal on this show, since the rest of the cast easily carries the weight – and Barney’s interest in Robin creates a slow-burning secondary romantic spirit – but it’s a weird thing for a sitcom to promote “Lost”-levels of continuity irritation.

Meanwhile, “The Office” had to figure out how to get rid of Holly, Michael Scott’s perfect girl (read: totally adorable dork). Now, I don’t believe this was a half-assed decision – they knew when they got Academy-Award nominee Amy Ryan that she probably had some other stuff coming up, job-wise (like, say, a Clint Eastwood movie).

But after a few episodes teasing the relationship and one of them actually getting together, Holly and Michael (due to her corporate-mandated transfer seven hours away) split quite suddenly (though narratively, it made total sense – Dunder-Mifflin clearly recalled the last time Michael dated within the company, so…probably a smart move on their part).

Nevertheless, it's the mark of a great show that they could not only create a character as absurd-yet-realistic as Michael Scott, but create a believable love-interest for him. So here's hoping that Holly will return at some point.

In the case of both shows, by removing the love interest, they've reset the clock on a part of their larger narratives. Dramas that do this are (often rightly) lambasted for this kind of reboot. But comedies have a little more leeway, and as said, both shows are pretty clever with their larger viewpoints.

So if you hear anyone complaining about "jumping the shark," I would advise an authoritative, ISTV Global Stronghold-sanctioned slap.


ISTV Global Stronghold said...

God bless late-night cable. Fun fact: Did you know the female lead in "Lambada: The Forbidden Dance" (now playing on Encore) is Melora Hardin, AKA Jan on "The Office"?

The more you know, right?

Anney E.J. Ryan said...

i love holly. i knew the end was coming, but she made those last couple episodes so much more fun. btw what the eff was up with pam & jim's brothers? did that make any sense to anyone?

ISTV Global Stronghold said...

I don't know what the deal was the the Jim's brothers subplot, other than to continue the false tension of "Pam in NY will strain their relationship."

Alternatively, it was...a way for us to learn Jim didn't get his pranking skills from his brothers?

Whatever, it was a waste of a few minutes this episode. Fortunately, it ended with Dwight chomping down on a raw beet, which made it all worthwhile.