Take Five: 00s TV Couples Improved By Ditching the Boring One for the Jerk
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 18, 2009
After missing the second half of the first and the first half of the second season of True Blood (more due to a lack of HBO than anything), I picked up watching again with some friends of mine recently. I was glad to see that they seemed to have expanded the show to a wider cast of characters, themes, and freaky supernatural phenomena (Shape-shifters! Demons of self-indulgence! Frank Sobotka from The Wire!), while leaving some of the groanworthier plots from S1 in the dust. Still, having Bill and Sookie (Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin) at the center of it all was proving to be something of a hinderance–with all the excitement around them, the two were proving to be little more than wet blankets with irritating vocal tics. If the love story between the two was really supposed to be the driving force of the show, that could’ve been a major roadblock to True Blood‘s long-term success.
In last week’s episode, though, a wrench was put into the works–Eric (played by Alexander Skarsgard, son of Lars Von Trier favorite Stellan) tricked Sookie into sucking his blood, forming a bond with her, which in the ceaselessly libidinous True Blood universe means that Sookie is now unconsciously drawn to Eric as well. We saw this in action as Sookie had a fantasy dream about Eric–one which stunned me and my friends watching it, as it contained more passion, chemistry and just general hotness than all of Sookie and Bill’s scenes had combined through the first season and a half. Skarsgard is certainly a better looking guy than Moyer, but without all the brow-furrowed seriousness that had come to define Bill and Sookie’s relationship, Paquin looked cuter and just more red-blooded than she had since the show started as well. It’s an interesting dilemma for the show, but an even more interesting one for the audience, who now I’m sure has no idea if they want Bill’s true love to win out over the con game of the rogue-ish Eric, or if they think maybe Sookie’s better off this way after all.
The more I thought about this situation, the more I realized that this was really not an uncommon phenomenon in TV in general this decade–in fact, it’s close to becoming damn near formulaic. It’s nothing new, of course–everyone loves the bad boy/girl, right?–but you’d be shocked at the number of shows in recent years that were improved by giving a main character a switch from a boring, super-serious love interest to a sleazier, more caustic one. Consider the following…
Lyla and Jason/Tim, Friday Night Lights
Lyla and Jason were the dream couple at the start of Friday Night Lights, your archetypal quarterback / head cheerleader pairing. Things got complicated when Jason got paralyzed in the first game of his senior year, and Lyla ended up having a guilt-soaked affair of mutual consolation with his teammate and best friend, the greasy-haired and beer-soaked Timmy Boy Riggins, who blamed himself for Jason’s injury. Jason and Lyla spent most of S1 back together until Jason’s insecurities drove him to cheat and they broke up, Lyla eventually finding redemption in the church and an impossibly Forgiving and Understanding fellow volunteer. But Riggins stayed on the warpath, and when Godboy wouldn’t sleep with her, Lyla’s devilish impulses got the better of her, and she went back to Timmy.
Jason and Lyla were just too well-intentioned a couple to make it on the show long-term, and with Jason thankfully on his way out at the end of S2, Lyla needed someone to get her wasted on tequila and nag her into skipping a couple classes for her character to remain on the right side of bearable. Meanwhile, Lyla provided a good sounding board for when Tim’s prideful loserdom crossed the line into out-and-out bullshit. You rooted for them to stay together, because not only were both good characters, but they brought out the best as characters in each other.
(Interestingly, Tim’s ex-girlfriend Tyra made the reverse move on the show–ditching bad boy Tim for nice-guy nerd Landry–and it paid dividends for both. Might be a precedent to be had there as well.)
Kate and Jack/Sawyer, LOST
From the outset, it looked like LOST was setting up as the Story of Jack and Kate, two troubled souls who’d lost their way in their lives but found solace and redemption in each other. But then came Sawyer, who threw a wrench into that by charming her with his devilish grin and penchant for endearing nicknames. Sawyer’s hold on Kate followed her and Jack back to the mainland, where her devotion to a promise she made Sawyer tore their relationship apart, and Jack decided to send everyone back to the island and then blow it up in an attempt to turn back time and potentially win her back. (Yeah…)
Jack and Kate actually did have fairly decent chemistry at the beginning, but as his character descended into near-Scarface levels of paranoia and violence, his character became a little too ridiculous to make a believable love interest for anyone. Meanwhile, Kate and Sawyer got on like a house on fire, sharing just a couple nights together over five seasons, but containing enough friction and spark in their interactions throughout the show to make those few hook-ups feel like the huge moments of release they were intended to be.
(Also interestingly: I thought that newly-mature Sawyer and the Good Dr. Juliet did make for some surprisingly touchy moments last season, though with Kate’s inevitable return, it was obvious it wouldn’t last).
Seth and Anna/Summer, The O.C.
The relationship works with the genders inverted as well, apparently. Anna was introduced to Seth early in the first season as a character sort of in the John Hughes mold–the geeky best friend who pines for the main character while he lusts after the hot popular chick (she even talks about going to see Some Kind of Wonderful at some point–go figure). So Anna helped Seth in his pursual of the hot, bitchy Summer, all the while angling to get him for herself.
Eventually, it worked, and it should’ve been a triumphant moment and definitive love story for nerds worldwide. Except that Anna was a nothing character that wore stupid hats, and we all liked Summer way better. Eventually the show and Seth were both smart enough to realize this, and Seth threw over the best friend to take another shot at the hot chick. Both characters eventually became equally annoying in their own right, but for a couple seasons, Seth and Summer were the First Couple of teen-dramadom nationwide, their opposites-attract relationship one of the show’s more endearing qualities.
Veronica and Logan/Duncan, Veronica Mars
Veronica started the show still pining somewhat for blandly handsome rich-boy ex Duncan, unsure of why exactly he had dumped her and was now being so strange to her (Spoiler: He thought he had discovered that they were brother and sister after they’d had sex, he was wrong). Duncan’s far more smug and obnoxious (though charismatic) best friend Logan started out as a personal tormentor of the now-outcast Veronica, but became an unexpected love interest as the two worked together on a couple investigations, and shared one of the best (and most surprising) first kisses in TV history–a moment which should’ve established Duncan as being out of the picture for good.
Unfortunately, the show couldn’t leave well enough alone, and Duncan wormed his way back into Veronica’s heart with some nice-guy manouevres after she broke up with Logan before the second season. But in a thankful case of fanbase reaction dictating plot mechanics, the overwhelming disapproval among Mars-ians for Duncan eventually got him booted from the show in an indescribably dumb adoption rescue subplot. Luckily, it eventually opened the door for Veronica and Logan to get back together.
The problem with Veronica Mars is that it could never seem to really figure out a way to have Logan and Veronica stay together without some sort of crisis to bind them–when in the third season all their fights were about Logan not wanting to go to a museum or some such, all the spark died, and she ended up with an even lamer nice guy as a result (“Piz,” maybe the ultimate 21st-century Jump the Shark character). The show got canceled shortly after, but here’s hoping that Logan and Veronica turned out to be a DA and public defender respectively, so they have to spend the rest of their lives arguing about something and making up intermittently.
Rory and Dean/Jess, Gilmore Girls
Rory was shacked up with quintessential nice guy Dean for much of the early run of Gilmore Girls–a nice guy with a nice name and nice hair and no nagging bad habits. They had an idyllic little relationship of well-meaning, hand-holding teenage love, until bad boy Jess with his leather jacket and piercing glare showed up, spitting bile at just about everyone in his path, with the occasional exception of Rory, who he won over with his gooey center of poetry appreciation and pop culture knowledge (even the bad boys can usually name all five New Kids on the Block in Gilmore universe). Dean never stood a chance.
Technically speaking, though, Dean did have the last laugh here, as Jess’s fiery temper and unceasing jealousy eventually alienated Rory, and his rolling-stone tendencies caused him to bolt Stars Hollow altogether. Meanwhile, Dean eventually ended up taking Rory’s virginity on a visit home from Yale–while he was married to someone else, unfortunately, but a small victory nonetheless. Jess came back every couple seasons or so for cameos in Rory’s love life, but she eventually ended up with the insufferably preppy Logan, proving that even the swoon-inducing rebel is no match for geled-up blonde hair and a trust fund.