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Exploring the Language of the Stars

The Perpetual Need for TV Characters to Make Out

The Perpetual Need for TV Characters to Make Out
Credit: See-ming Lee

(Warning: Contains spoilers for New Girl and Who’s the Boss?)

Here is what it is like to be obsessed with Bruce Willis when you are in junior high school in the late ’80s.

The only hour of the week you can even stand to be alive, the only time you can focus on something other than the terrible skin covering your ungainly blob of a body, is Tuesdays from 9 to 10 p.m., when Moonlighting is on. Even though everyone else in your class is more excited about Growing Pains and Wonder Years, and the only person who seems willing to listen to your thoughts on the latest episode each week is Ms. Jonas, your decrepit sixth grade English teacher, and her patience with you is thinning.

Other kids wish they could pull off the linen suit and loafers-with-no-socks thing like Don Johnson in Miami Vice. You go to Chess King at the mall to try to find a vest similar to the one Bruce Willis wore in the “Respect Yourself” video.

You stare longingly at the commercials for Seagram’s Golden wine coolers, watching Bruce Willis sing and cavort with models, everyone laughing and having so much fun, while you angrily decry your useless youth, aching for the day when you’ll be enough to try a Seagram’s wine cooler. (I am still waiting, incidentally.). Sixth grade is a complicated time.

Because mostly you wonder why the writers on Moonlighting seem so insistent that David Addison and Maddy Hayes end up together.

Even then I understood that this is how TV works: The two main characters, though terribly mismatched, are still somehow meant to be together. We’re supposed to relate to this, loving as we do so many things we cannot have, or that we aren’t supposed to want. But David Addison was fun and cool (like I wanted to be) and Maddy Hayes was kind of a downer, and not at all who I want him/us to end up with, and surely he/we could do better? Leave the boring romantic tropes to the other shows; let stupid Sam Malone and Diane Chambers have their boring missionary sex. Let Angela Bower bend Tony Micelli over the stove (even though it would have been SO much hotter if Tony and Mona got together). Wouldn’t it be nice if just once TV didn’t follow the expected formula?

These conflicting feelings came flooding back to me this week because Nick and Jess KISSED on New Girl this week. You guys. New Girl, if you’re not watching it, is that show with Zooey Deschanel. If you’ve never watched it it’s probably because you feel like you see enough of Zooey Deschanel in gif format on Tumblr. But New Girl is really good, especially this season. If you remember what Community was like, when you first started loving Community, New Girl has been like that this season. A solid cast and writers and editors firing on all cylinders. Now potentially ruined with a bunch of kissing.

Even though the show has hinted at a possible pairing of Nick and Jess since the very beginning, it felt hand-wavy. Like, we know we are a TV show and we are supposed to pretend these characters might eventually hook up. But did they want to? Everything was fine as it was. I thought: No one really wants to see them together, so it won’t happen, or it won’t happen any time soon. And then it did? It feels like a letdown, like it would have been nice to leave that unexplored.

Judging by the flood of post-kiss fanfic that has flooded the Internet I was not alone in my feelings about seeing them together. The fanfic communities are a good way to take the temperature of any major TV event. After The Kiss, fanfic forums were flooded with “what happens next” stories. They’re really sketches more than stories, short scenes where the characters, as stand-ins for the writers, process the aftermath of The Kiss and what it means. Most of the stories posted this week are more along the lines of “Uh, what now?” rather than “OMG WHAT NOW!?” And if the fanfic writers, the most ardent fans of the show, aren’t so enthralled by the kiss that it becomes a jump-off for the type of imaginative and bizarre scenarios we expect from them, what was the point?

It’ll be interesting to see if the New Girl writers go somewhere different, more unexpected than what typically happens at this point in other shows, where the characters step back and slightly regret their actions, and we have to go through another round of will they/won’t they before the next make-out session.

Fanfic creates a path around those tropes, exploring myriad other interesting scenarios and what ifs that would never get explored on network TV. We’re already seeing fanfic become more mainstream; maybe it’s not too much to hope that sitcoms won’t always be compelled to give in to generic heterosexual talking points. Maybe the long arc of TV will eventually bend toward something more surprising.