Romance on TV is hard. Just ask Timeless

Contributed by
Apr 11, 2018

We've all been there. You're watching a series and, if the series is good, you fall in love with the characters because the characters are part of what makes the show so good. You also fall in love with the writing because the writer creates the characters and the stories for those characters you love.

If the show's characters and stories are particularly good, you often fall in love with the idea of characters you think should fall in love. This is especially true when the actors have a chemistry together that works.

So there you are, watching, and you want to put your hands through the TV screen and mash their faces together — but you can't so you yell, "Just kiss already!" Okay, maybe you haven't, but I have.

I do this all the time with a lot of shows, but especially with Timeless. I love Timeless. Truly. I also love it enough to ask more of it. So, I'm asking. Romance is big in Timeless, and some issues with its romance have crept up in recent episodes, specifically in the episode "Hollywoodland."

Credit: NBC

I have to imagine that everything I've said above is something showrunners hope for from their audience when they're making a show. It's the reason we get romance. Romance sells. We like the idea of people liking one another and ending up together. Even if it's not what you watch the show for, when it's done well, romance is highly enjoyable.

Sometimes this dance goes on for a short period of time, but it's usually drawn out as much as possible because that "Just kiss already!" enthusiasm can last a good long time if someone knows what they're doing.

What all of this means is that, sooner or later, you'll have to actually deal with the romantic build up between your characters and, in most cases, that means actually having them kiss.

This is where things can go terribly, horribly awry and, in my experience, usually fall apart.

One of a few things happen*:

1. Some outside influence comes in and puts a kibosh on the whole thing. That can be anything from the pair suddenly being separated to realizing they're siblings. People have come up with some pretty amazing ways to keep people who have just kissed from doing it again, thus keeping the romance alive but shifting it back to the yearning stage. Note: Dany and Jon in Game Of Thrones don't really count in this category. At least, not until we know how they'll react to the news that they're related. (That's a strange sentence to type.)

2. They kiss and then there's some sort of problem. This is commonly referred to as the "Sam and Diane" or the "Moonlighting Problem." Either the actors don't get along or the characters don't really mesh, but they got put together because someone thought it was a great idea. It's not a great idea and everyone involved ends up feeling sort of icky, including people watching.

3. They kiss and now they have to deal with the idea that they might be in a relationship. Usually, this is dealt with by having them have to keep it a secret for some reason. Secret relationships are good for, at least, one to three seasons depending on how it's written. If it's well done, it's funny and sexy. If not, it's angsty. But either one does the trick.

4. They kiss, it's amazing, and they find a way to be in this new, sexy, discovery phase of being in a relationship and it's a lot of fun for them and everyone watching.

Most of the time, we get number 1. Number 2 is one that happens, but no one wants it to happen. It just sort of does. Number 3 gets used but it's entirely situational.

Number 4? That one hardly ever happens. Number 4 is like some mystical unicorn or creature that people believe exists but haven't personally seen.

If you're wondering what got me all worked up on this subject, it's NBC's Timeless. In "Hollywoodland," Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer) and Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter) fell into bed together and finally admitted their attraction to one another. They were positively giddy. It was sweet and fun and charming.

In the very next episode (talk about ruining the honeymoon stage), we learn that Wyatt's previously dead wife is now alive thanks to some manipulation of time (who and how isn't known yet) and Wyatt is understandably conflicted. Of course, he is. I mean, if your long-lost love was suddenly alive again, you'd immediately feel pulled back to them.

Except now we've put Lucy in the position of being "understanding" about a situation she has no control over after she's finally admitted her feelings. To top it off, she can't even be upset about it without looking like a heartless b*tch. That's a terrible position to put someone in.

From the outside, what this looks like is the showrunners dealing with the natural chemistry between the characters (and actors), giving the fans that quick hit of a relationship, and then dropping one hell of a deux ex machina into the mix to hit pause.

In other words, we got 1 and 3, but it doesn't equal 4. Because 4 is rare. Two people meet, become attracted to one another, act on that attraction and start a functional relationship? That's impossible!

And I joke about it, but it really does seem to be the least likely outcome in any fictional scenario. Just look at the evidence. Ziva and Tony were head over heels for one another on NCIS. They dragged that one out so long, we didn't get anything that looked like a possible romantic resolution until both actors had left the show. Let's not even get into Olivia and Elliot on SVU. They threw everything but the kitchen sink in the path of that one. Can anyone say X-Files? Haven't Mulder and Scully gone through enough already?

"My Struggle III" Robert Falconer/FOX

The list of "almost"s is long. Which, frankly, makes no sense to me. There's got to be a way to get two characters who really like each other and two actors with great chemistry through the proverbial courting stage and into a relationship that actually works.

The list of actual, functioning relationships? If they do exist, they're usually relationships that started that way. Zoe and Wash in Firefly are one of the best examples; they were married when we met them and, as such, we skipped all the "will they/won't they" and just got to enjoy them together.

I mean, it happens all the time in the real world. People meet. People flirt. People date. People fall in love. People get married. All while having jobs and lives and working together or dealing with family issues or, hell, going on life or death missions for the government.

This makes me wonder why we keep seeing this happen over and over again? Are people not ready to see more characters they love be in love? Are showrunners averse to harmony in relationships? Is there some network rule that says there must be drama in relationships for a show to get renewed?

There's got to be a reason things like this keep happening. The big question is, does it need to keep happening or is the unattainable relationship a trope in fiction that could be retired for a while or used more sparingly?

Personally, I'd like to see a lot less of numbers 1 and 2, a lot more of 4, and more well-written number 3s.

What's the worst that can happen? It doesn't work? It's already not working — so what have you got to lose?

*For clarity, I have not included the Grey's Anatomy, ER, insert procedural here, mix of all of the above because that's a whole different kettle of fish. Soap operas also don't factor in here because they're specifically made for drama and skew all the numbers.