The ‘will they won’t they?’ story is one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep audiences glued to the screen. From Sam and Diane to Ross and Rachel, an effective TV relationship can go on and off again until long after the viewers are sick of it. The TV crush covers a wide spectrum of events: tantrums, fireworks lingering looks, and pent up secrets to name a few.
Indeed, the addition of at least one love story is now almost mandatory in a long-running TV show, and while it can be clumsily handled and completely unbelievable, it can also add a solid emotional core and another layer to the characters in question
Here’s five of television’s greatest ever crushes…
HEY ARNOLD! (1996 – 2004)
It’s not the most mature crush, nor the most stable, but few (if any) unrequited love stories make such great use of a shrine made out of gum. Helga, the exceptionally bizarre looking and downright thuggish female lead of Nickelodeon’s HEY ARNOLD, doesn’t care for too many things in life, generally choosing to stand slouched slightly backwards, arms crossed and monobrow furrowed to indicate a total lack of interest in any given situation. The victim of her ire is often Arnold, a spikey-haired, good-natured classmate, whose cheerful demeanour can’t be shaken by Helga’s insistence that his head looks like a football. In private, though, Helga drops her tough girl facade and launches into an often eloquent soliloquy in which she delves into her deep feelings for Arnold. While Helga’s unreciprocated feelings may cause her emotional turmoil, she at least has a source of catharsis: a heavy breathing goon by the name of Brainy, who has his own crush on her. Whenever the weight of her loveless existence weighs too heavily, she can always punch him in the face to briefly cheer herself up.
FREAKS AND GEEKS (1999 – 2000)
FREAKS AND GEEKS is the show for which the adjective ‘bittersweet’ was coined. Next to every scene of teenage hi-jinx sits a story of broken hearts, with a prominent (but never overplayed) message that ‘growing up is hard’. Nick Andopolis’ courtship of main character Lindsay Weir is in turn sweet, dumb, clumsy, creepy and crushing, and truly one of the most fleshed out and believable relationships (romantic and otherwise) television has ever achieved. The writing is note perfect, detailed, rich and specific. Clearly the pairing is not functional – that the relationship started out of Lindsay’s pity for Nick is something of a warning sign – but it’s still easy to root for the couple, since the characters are so monumentally likeable and real. Further plaudits must go to the performances; Linda Cardellini is an extremely expressive actress, and really sells her discomfort with Nick when he’s at his most clingy. And Jason Segel combines patheticness with humour masterfully, always willing to embarrass himself for the sake of a joke or a storyline. It’s a painfully one-sided crush that won’t and shouldn’t work out, but you can’t help but hope for something more.
THE OFFICE (2005 – )
The US version THE OFFICE takes several cues from the British original, though most notably in its central love story. The shy flirtations of Jim and Pam bring an element of drama, counteracting the lunacy of Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute, and probably make the best use of the show’s documentary format, which catches little glances and reactions to lay out the emotional beats. Dawn and Tim – the UK version – are obviously the benchmark, and are fantastic throughout. But they only get twelve episodes and a Christmas special to play out their romance. Furthermore, it is, at times, melancholy to the point of being bleak. At Wernam-Hogg, employees go to work, gets on with their day, and shuffle off home; with the exception of the odd Tim-led prank, it is a laugh-free environment. The love story is a slight ray of hope, but seems almost implausible; nothing that good can happen in this world. The Jim and Pam storyline gets to evolve much more, due to the sheer number of episodes over which it takes place. Even if their world isn’t as bleak, the sense of expectation the audience has for the relationship is greater. After fifty-odd episodes, the desire for some sort of payoff is almost explosive.
PARKS AND RECREATION (2009 – )
THE OFFICE’s sister show tackles its own slow-burning love story in almost the opposite direction to Pam and Jim’s. While those two were kindred spirits (in the confines of the office, at least), paragons of normalcy in a world gone mad, Andy and April start out as chalk and cheese. He’s a loveable buffoon, a clumsy ball of sunshine who’ll enjoy anything you throw at him even as it clonks him in the head. She’s brutally cynical and unwilling to do just about anything unless it’s shielded behind a thick cloak of irony. But it’s a relationship that works, as they bring new elements out of one another, evolving more than sitcom characters have any right to do, whilst retaining their individual personalities. It’s a credit to the PARKS writing staff that this builds slowly and naturally, instead of leaping straight into a big relationship storyline. Again, the documentary style works wonders, particularly for April. The character is innately closed off, but is forced to come out of her shell during the occasional talking head interview, in which the odd eye shift or facial tic belies her apathetic exterior.
DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006)
For the characters in THE OFFICE or FREAKS AND GEEKS, their romantic successes and failures are a huge deal. They live relatively sheltered lives, and don’t have an awful lot more to worry about. For the characters in DEADWOOD, you’re rarely more than one cross-eyed look away from getting your throat cut. As such, love often takes something of a backseat in David Milch’s western masterpiece. Women in general tend to have something of a hard time in Deadwood, with about half of them finding work in the seedy saloons of Al Swearengen or Cy Tolliver. City slicker Alma Garrett is a notable exception. Arriving at the camp with her foppish buffoon of a husband, she is surprisingly able to adapt to her vicious new surroundings. While her husband is arrogant, naive, and quickly dispatched, she is smart and resourceful, and quick to draw the attention of hot headed sheriff Seth Bullock. But though the personal connection is clear, the pair possess personal lives that go beyond murky; Alma’s murdered husband aside, the sheriff has a wife and kid to take care of. It’s a melancholy story that adds to the richness of Deadwood as a fictional community.
And here’s one not so good TV crush…
ENTOURAGE (2004 – 2011)
ENTOURAGE is one of the easiest TV shows to mock, and for good reason. Over eight increasingly tedious (though mercifully short) seasons, it followed a group of pretty dreadful narcissistic chancers whose greatest dreams came true again and again. Every couple of episodes a problem would rise (Vince’s movie’s fallen through!), only to be quashed an hour later (but there’s another movie he can do!). The showbiz storylines were kind of fun to start off with, but Vincent Chase’s various relationships dragged down whatever storyline Doug Ellin and muster up. In season two he restarts an old relationship with Mandy Moore, playing herself. ‘I can’t believe Vince is back with Mandy!’ Turtle says. ‘Remember how he was when she left him before?’ Drama reminds. ‘Vince needs to be careful,’ E points out. After this ends (with two minutes of Vince being sad before starring in James Cameron’s AQUAMAN), Vince embarks on several more relationships which somehow manage to be even less interesting than this one.