This piece includes spoilers for the new seasons of Emily in Paris & The Sex of College Girls.
This Valentine’s Day, I took a moment to look back at the love stories I’ve seen on TV this past year. And, to be perfectly honest, I was a little disappointed. Hit shows like Emily in Paris and The Sex of College Girls featured relationship arcs that felt incomplete and even shallow. In some cases, even if the viewer gets invested in the couple at first, their often quick and almost emotionless breakups make us question why we’re rooting for them in the first place. After all, why would I mourn a relationship more than the characters themselves?
In the first half of Emily in Paris season 3, viewers started to buy into Mindy (Ashley Park) and Benoît’s (Kevin Dias) relationship. After all, if a TV couple isn’t a classic will-they-won’t-they, it may take a while for viewers to fully “ship” the couple.
At the beginning of the season, Benoît is Mindy’s biggest cheerleader as she begins her singing gigs solo at a local jazz club. The two prove they have undeniable chemistry, too. Before each of her stunning performances, the couple always have sex backstage and it became, for Mindy, a sort of superstition. When Benoît couldn’t make it one night, he even sent her a vibrator to get the job done without him. Did someone say the ultimate Valentine’s gift?
So there it is, a few episodes into the season and I was perhaps more invested in their relationship than whoever Emily (Lily Collins) was with. Benoît and Mindy were supportive of each other, they had chemistry together, and they were kind of perfect for one another – or so I thought.
After one of her gigs, Mindy receives a bouquet of flowers from a recently reconnected high school friend called Nicolas (Paul Forman) and Benoît gets jealous and storms out. Though they didn’t officially break up, Mindy said they were over by the next day. No conversation, no conclusion, nothing. Wasn’t this worth fighting for?
And, mind you, she wasn’t sad about it either. Mindy shed no tears, no late-night watching of Nicholas Sparks movies, no sleepless nights. The next day, Mindy was apparently already over it.
Unsurprisingly, not long after, she started dating Nicolas.
This somewhat confusing turn of events begged the question: Why did the show want us to love Mindy and Benoît so much just to ruin it in a split-second?
Here’s my take: TV writers seem to be more focused on telling the beginning of a love story, a couple’s firsts, rather than telling the ins and outs of a long and complicated relationship. Once all the firsts happen, writers seem perfectly okay with writing them off or breaking them up. And, just like that, a new love interest comes knocking and we start all over again.
Coming from someone who’s about to celebrate my four-year anniversary this week, this pattern is beyond frustrating. After all, to me, the ins and outs of a relationship are truly the best part.
Normal People, for example, does this perfectly. Sure, Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) share their firsts on screen, but the show is much more than that. Over time, the two fight, take breaks, get back together, and share their lives together. In just 12 episodes, viewers get to know the characters and their relationship completely and feel all the emotions alongside them.
Another recent show that had the same frustrating cycle of cutting love stories short was the second season of the HBO hit The Sex Lives of College Girls. Whitney (Alyah Scott) and Canaan (Christopher Meyer) started the season together, displaying some major chemistry and compatibility. But, after a misunderstanding about whether they’re officially dating or not, and a moment of jealousy from Whitney, Canaan called it quits.
After the breakup, once again, Whitney doesn’t seem too bothered to have ended the relationship she was just fighting for. Instead, she focuses on her academics for a bit and begins hooking up with her new love interest Andrew (played by Julia Louis Dreyfus’ son Charlie Hall). “It just opened up a new door of growth for her, which was great, and then it also [leads] her to another world, which was also very great,” Scott told TV Line of the Canaan breakup. This leaves me wondering — aren’t breakups supposed to be sad and reflective at any point? Isn’t it okay for it not to be “great”?
Now, I’m not trying to shame anyone here. Getting back on the horse and finding a rebound as a distraction is so normal there’s literally a name for it. But what’s bothering me the most is how small and insignificant the breakups feel to the viewer. After all, if the splits are so unimportant, why should I care about the relationship in the first place?
Not all TV shows have followed this same pattern. For example, Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess’s (Zooey Deschanel) relationship in New Girl felt so real and believable that it took us a while to get used to Deschanel and Johnson being with other people in real life.
When Nick and Jess first broke up on the show in season 3, their lives after the split were everything they should be: awkward, sad, and downright messy. “I know I did the right thing I just feel really upset and Nick seems to be okay and I guess I just need someone to tell me it’s gonna be fine,” Jess tells her mom (Jamie Lee Curtis) right after the split. Even though they lived in the same house, Jess spent countless hours crying to Dirty Dancing, and Nick struggled to live next to his ex as they both navigated dating again.
And, of course, when either of them was dating, bottled-up confusing feelings would often surface, leading to some relatable and hilarious storylines. In one episode in season four, Nick makes their group go on Jess’ tour of Oregon after Ryan – her first boyfriend after Nick – bails on the trip. Whether it was a friendly gesture or some unresolved feelings, it made for a sweet and heartwarming moment.
The same goes for Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) in Friends. The breakup not only made for one of the most iconic scenes in history but all the ups and downs that followed made perfect sense too.
When Rachel began dating Joey (Matt LeBlanc), for example, Ross was so filled with conflicting feelings that he got drunk on margaritas just to drown his sorrows. Rachel doesn’t do much better when Ross started dating Bonnie, a love interest introduced in the show’s third season. In fact, Rachel secretly convinces Bonnie to shave her head, something Ross just can’t get over. (Though that’s problematic by itself, we can discuss that another time). And can we talk about Ross and Rachel’s steamy night years after they split? Guess they couldn’t hide that secret for long…
Overall, I miss seeing the complete beginning, middle, and end of a love story in TV shows. After all, if I’m fully immersed in a couple’s first date, first kiss, and even first time having sex, I should be allowed to be there for their fallouts, their Dirty Dancing tears, and the mourning of their relationship. New love interests are fun, but that’s not what life is all about.
Before you go, click here to see more TV shows and marriages about marriages falling apart.
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