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Evolution of the “Will They or Won’t They?” Couple

This article attempts to be as spoiler-free as possible, but I do discuss some plot points from Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Superstore

 

TV shows can be great for many reasons, but I think the best part of any show is the quality of its characters. No matter what genre, the characters and their development are what keep you coming back episode after episode. My favorite type of show is a sitcom, and there are countless reasons why: the comedy, the satirical drama, the rare but hard-hitting emotional moments, just to name a few. But, what separates a good sitcom from a great sitcom is its characters. Unlike dramas, it’s easy to omit character growth because there is humor to make you forget the fact. This makes sitcom characters more likely to be subject to Flanderization, which weakens the overall quality of the show.

The lack of character development can also be applied to one of my favorite TV tropes, the ‘Will They/Won’t They’ couple. In the first season of the show, two characters are shown to have romantic chemistry but aren’t together because of an obstacle. This can be exemplified by one (or both) of the characters being in another relationship, or them not wanting to jeopardize their current friendship. In the back of your mind, you know the characters will eventually get together, but the timing never seems to work out. As the show progresses, more obstacles are thrown their way until they finally live happily ever after. The ‘Will They/Won’t They’ trope started with Sam and Diane from Cheers, and has since been present in many modern sitcoms. 

 

Towards the Beginning

One of the most culturally significant examples of this trope is Ross and Rachel from Friends. The two characters had known each other since childhood, but reunited in the first season. Although Ross always had feelings for Rachel, timing was not on their side. They eventually get together, break up, get together again, and break up again; this cycle lasts for ten seasons. It was definitely entertaining, but after ten years, it was obvious that the writers were running out of ideas on how to keep them apart. Fans were ecstatic when the couple ended up together, but how are we supposed to know that the characters are going to stay together? It’s obviously implied, considering the nature of the show. But after struggling to make the relationship work for ten years, it loses credibility. And this problem wasn’t just unique to Friends.

 

A Little Later

Unlike Friends, the show How I Met Your Mother created storylines that aided in significant character development, which is why the finale was universally despised. The show started in 2005 (the year after Friends ended) and storylines like the Ross/Rachel one were still popular. That couple inspired How I Met Your Mother’s ‘Will They/Won’t They’ couple, Ted and Robin. Their story started out similarly to its predecessor, but when the show ended in 2014, views on television relationship dynamics changed. So when Ted and Robin ended up together, their character growth over nine seasons seemed obsolete. An example of this change is also evident in The Office, which also premiered in 2005 for nine seasons. Although Jim and Pam never break up after getting together, the writers added marital problems for the sake of drama, which frustrated fans. This time period seemed to be a transitional phase, when adding unrealistic drama for these couples was becoming obsolete.

 

Right Now

In modern sitcoms, the ‘Will They/Won’t They’ couple is still alive and well, but there’s a bit more realism to it (as realistic as sitcoms can be). There is definitely still drama and obstacles that keep these couples from getting together, but it comes across more grounded. An example of this is Jake and Amy from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It took a little while for the characters to end up together, but they have stayed together since. Another example is Amy and Jonah from Superstore, who did temporarily break up, but it’s because one of them had to move for their job. The plot lines in these shows are still entertaining, frustrating (in a good way), and a bit prolonged, but they aren’t as outlandish as previous ‘Will They/Won’t They’ couples. This trope has evolved significantly in the course of a few decades, and I can’t wait to see how it keeps changing for the better.

Annie Melnick

Washington '24

Annie is an English major at the University of Washington, where she is a contributing editor and writer for Her Campus. She is originally from Los Angeles and enjoys creative writing, reading novels, listening to music, traveling, and drinking coffee.
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