Jen Krueger: Sitcom Love
On the list of things I originally expected from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, emotional resonance isn’t to be found. With a former Saturday Night Live cast member as the lead, I figured the show would be goofy (in a good way) and peppered with cameos from comedians. While these expectations were met early in the first season, the thing I’ve come to like most about the show is the slowly developing romantic storyline between Jake (Andy Samberg) and Amy (Melissa Fumero). But as much as I’ve enjoyed the pining these characters both think is unrequited, I keep reminding myself not to get my hopes up too much about the future of this storyline since sitcom love rarely flourishes in an enjoyable way.
I’m not sure there’s a single narrative show on TV that doesn’t have at least one romantic storyline, but very few half-hour comedies seem comfortable letting their characters actually get together. The Office was getting so much mileage out of Jim and Pam wanting each other but not being together that even after Jim put his cards on the table in “Casino Night” (sorry, couldn’t resist), the show kept inventing reasons to keep them apart. And though I’m about as big of a fan as you can find of the slow burn approach to the development of relationships in TV, I hate it when the hurdles a couple must leap feel like they’ve been put there just for the sake of adding more hurdles. Jim transferring to Stamford smacked of artificially inserted conflict, and I never bought that he’d bother keeping up a relationship with Karen after returning to Scranton and finding Pam single. And since it was inevitable that Jim and Pam would get together in the end, it drove me nuts that the show was delaying the one thing I so badly wanted to see.
I’m sure the prevailing TV wisdom behind keeping love unrequited (or at the very least, requited but unfulfilled) is that two people pining for each other provides more avenues for conflict than a happy couple does. But to that I say, watch almost any episode of Mad About You. Yes, it’s an older show that’s pretty different from the way sitcoms are today, but it’s also a show that holds up because its characters are solid and the storylines rarely depend on problems between Paul and Jamie. With the exception of the season in which their marriage is on the rocks (which also happens to be the worst season of the show), Mad About You manages to find enough conflict for the Buchmans to face as individuals or as a unit without having to resort to artificially driving a wedge between the two of them.
So if it’s entirely possible to have a happy couple in a sitcom, why do so many shows draw out storylines about couples getting together? Perhaps the difference lies in where the relationships are in the pilot. Mad About You begins with married protagonists, so the show never has to get the audience to root for the relationship to start. When a sitcom spends time building toward the genesis of a romance, though, maybe there’s a fear of viewers losing interest as soon as the hook up they’ve been waiting for finally happens. This would certainly explain the inevitably ensuing forced relationship conflict in the cases where characters actually do get together, like the “problems” Jim and Pam faced in the final season of The Office. But this way of artificially extending the will-the-won’t-they element always strikes me as undermining the depth of feeling established during the rise of a TV romance.
I have to admit, I was surprised to see Jake confess his feelings to Amy in the first season finale of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I expected the show to draw out his pining for her well into the second season, but I was pleased to see Jake fess up sooner than I anticipated. And since the writers not only bypassed some of the romantic roadblocks I assumed were on the horizon, but bypassed them with a scene so sweet that I was genuinely touched by it, I’m hoping the show will continue to put the quality of Jake and Amy’s relationship arc over empty gambits at delaying them from getting together. And if season two starts with Amy welcoming Jake back only to learn he started dating someone while on his undercover mission, let’s just say Rosa’s disposition will look sunny compared to my reaction.
- Could Brooklyn Nine Nine Save The Sitcom? (nyulocal.com)