(this post contains spoilers for last night’s How I Met Your Mother. Reader beware.)
Last night, as I sat through another episode of a mostly lackluster HIMYM season, I tried my best not to let my irritation with Barney’s pointless relationship with Patrice and Ted’s pointless feelings for Robin ruin what was a pretty decent episode. Then it happened. An ending that, despite the fact that I kinda saw it coming near the end of the episode, still overwhelmed me emotionally to the point of giddiness. Barney and Robin were together again–engaged even!–and suddenly everything about what made this show a good one in the first place began to show its face again. Yeah, the all too familiar tropes were there–dramatic presentation, flashbacks, a theatrical indie-rock soundtrack–yet I reacted to it like it was all new.
Then I calmed down and started to hate myself. You see I thought I couldn’t bring myself to care about “will-they or won’t-they” anymore. We knew Barney and Robin would get together (even if it wasn’t revealed within the show already), so it wasn’t a surprise. Yes, the investment we as viewers have put into these characters play a large part in our reactions to what happens to them, but I think most people can agree that stretching the ultimate ending for these two out as long as possible got pretty annoying. In fact, that’s the problem with all the “will they or won’t they” couples on TV… it overstays its welcome.
Friends was the first abuser. Ross and Rachael were America’s favorite couple that weren’t… well, they were for one season, but that was it. The biggest issue with this one was that the two of them weren’t a couple for so long that you almost forgot about the whole thing. I remember watching the final episode and thinking “ehhh, I forgot all about that”. The U.S. edition of The Office sought to grip its viewers with Jim and Pam they same way the original U.K. series did with Tim and Dawn, and it worked… for 3 years. Rather than drag it out year after year, they brought the saga to a close with Jim asking Pam on a date in the season 3 finale and P am saying yes, it was the cutest damn shit ever and if that had been the end of the series I would’ve been fine with it. Instead the show went on–for years past its prime–and Jim and Pam became the boring couple that everyone remembers used to be cool.
But nobody was a worse perpetrator than J.D. and Elliott from Scrubs. Insufferable doesn’t even begin to describe it. It started great (as it always does), J.D. seems to like Elliott, Elliott seems to like J.D., so will they or won’t they? Then they did, for one–well 2 I guess–episodes. It was an interesting concept, following the initial honeymoon period of a relationship only to find that life, ego and personal insecurities get in the way of what you thought you wanted. Maybe it would’ve been perfect if it had stayed that way, maybe it would’ve still worked if they had worked through it (even if it was later down the road), but it didn’t work because they over did it. They broke up, got together, broke up, hooked up again, stopped, etc. By the time they back together (again) and J.D. realizes 2 seconds later that he doesn’t want her, I was officially done with those two.
As far as getting it right, that’s a little trickier. Maybe it’s because most TV shows last too long, but it’s rare that people strike the right balance. The Office U.K. got as close to perfect as you can get. Spaced was great because it was an open-ended story that worked best that way. Both Community and Parks And Recreation get points for playing around with the trope by having damn near every character hook up with each other at one point. Maybe it is just an outdated trope representing an old fashioned way of entertainment; but, as last night showed me, there’s still some magic left in that old bag of tricks.