To Ship or not to Ship? Relationships on TV

Content Warning: Mentions of Sexual Assault

Why do we love to watch love? Relationships are sometimes the greatest reasons to watch a new show. It’s the reason to save a Saturday to binge a season of ‘First Dates’, or go back to watch the wedding episode of your favourite sitcom. It’s realising Chandler is the one for Monica, or that Diane can’t fit with Mr Peanutbutter. A relationship can build a cult fan base around a show when it is done well, especially when that relationship feels inclusive to groups with little representation. Television over the last decade has increased its inclusivity with all kinds of popular LGBTQ+ relationships taking centrestage, from ‘Will and Grace’ to ‘Pose’. This has caused a competition between many shows to have the best and boldest new couples.

Currently everyone’s focus seems to be on ‘Bridgerton’, Netflix’s latest experimental period drama, for having many POC in leading roles and queer characters seeking love in Regency England. However, backlash has emerged over portrayals of some aspects of character relationships. A controversial moment includes a female character sexually assaulting her husband; the show uses this scene as an attempt to further the plot of the relationship, but it is never properly addressed. Should these characters be used this way, especially in a show that has designed itself to be inclusive of minority performances? It is usual for shows to develop or test character relationships, but can poor execution sometimes hurt its fans?

In its last season, ‘Supernatural’ canonised a popularly theorised gay relationship between Dean Winchester and the angel Castiel (which fans have nicknamed Destiel) but there was some disappointment in how the relationship was one sided. A similar controversy happened in the animated show ‘The Legend of Korra’, where the protagonist entered a lesbian relationship in its ending moments. It is common to see inclusive relationships being used for media attention but with barely any screen time or development put into them. This could be seen as a move to normalising these relationships in television, but at the expense of risking a proper address of television’s dismissive history.

Few people realise one of the first TV mega couples, Ricky Ricardo and Lucille Ball, were regularly met with threats due to Ricardo’s actor being Latin-American and Ball being white. The response from the show was to ignore this factor all together and present both as regular WASP Americans. In the past (and still noticeably in some modern shows) discussions of race and sexuality were clouded as irrelevant for a TV relationship, however this is no longer universal.

Raymond Holt and Rosa Diaz (both in the show ‘Brooklyn 99’) are POC who have same-sex relationships which impact their actions throughout the show, but are never misused to further their plot. Both are given the same attention as the relationship between Jake and Amy, but have contrasting focuses on the treatment of LGBTQ+ relationships and character’s cultures. There are many examples of relationships that were not willing to “stand down” for television, and some of these I find are the best. It is a reward that as popularity for new shows increases the investments for new talents, some of televisions oldest recurring themes are experimented with.

The scope of relationships available to watch today is amazingly vast, and everyone has their favourites. Him and her, her and her, him and him, they and them. Lovers, buddies, colleagues, couples. Everyone has their perfect TV relationship, and it’s not an article’s place to try and firmly define what that should be; we just know which one we want to be real. We love to watch love.

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Fin Little

May 2021
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