Tuesday, May 08, 2012

TV Notes -- Thanks for Leaving out the Kissing

For me, nothing gets that TV shark a jumpin' quicker than a drama adding romance after the main narrative has been established. I'm not talking about sexual tension or stories where a romantic relationship is not part of the story. I am inconsolably miffed when a storyline that has never needed or much hinted at romance crosses that line where suddenly something akin to love sparks into a flame that, sadly, does not engulf characters, writers and producers who thought the "relationship" was a good idea. For me, even classic shows like ER and Moonlighting were never the same after the stories became hinged on how events would affect goofy, tossed-together relationships.
Why do these sudden blossoms of love and pollen bother me? First of all, romance radically changes the dynamic which drew me to the program in the first place. I'm not against love stories, but most often these plot devices are intended to "spice up" a show that doesn't need it. If the show needs something to make in more interesting, I say try writing a better show.

Second, it almost always produces something artificial, like teen drama. Watch most shows aimed at teens on Nickelodeon or ABC Family, and you have many characters whose "problems" are not real crises. When mainstream dramas add these liaisons, they also include the same sort of fake issues that make me a little nuts when my kids are watching the shows. It isn't sweet or cute. It is annoying.

As bright and interesting characters are relegated to gooey-eyed simpletons, their dialogue turns downright stupid. Even romantics should be tired of the cliches that get thrust into their speech. Several expensive minutes of air time is choked with uncomfortable filler that does nothing to help the story along.

This is why I want to tip my hat to the writers of "All's Well That Ends," the season finale of USA's In Plain Sight. The well paced and clever show about marshals working for the Federal Witness Protection Program (WITSEC) could easily have ended with Mary Shannon and her partner "finally" hooking up after years of working together and becoming best friends. Instead, writers gave us a thoroughly satisfying, and much more realistic and interesting conclusion.

I feared the romance was coming. After all, Mary and Marshall Mann (her partner) had not only developed a close relationship (made even more significant by Mary's reticence to open up to anyone), but with the return of Mary's long lost father, all the daddy issues were right up there to carry the plot, should that plot be in the hands of lesser writers. And no one knows daddy issues like the wise, intuitive Marshall. 

Further, tension was building because of Marshall's impending marriage. As I sat down to watch the final episode, I fully expected Marshall to leave his bride at the alter, profess his undying love for Mary, and well, you know the horrible rest of the story.

But no! Marshall tells Mary he loves her. However, it is a love that comes from a deep friendship, the sort of love almost never celebrated in our culture, as he tells her that she has got to stand on her own. "When you call, I will always come," he tells her. But it is clear he wants her to care about him enough to not call, so he is free in the new chapter of his life.

In Plain Sight was not a perfect show. It did have its share of formulaic episodes, and
sometimes even I got tired of Mary Shannon's misanthropic musings. However, it did a good job of drawing a unique character who has to navigate some of the same work and family problems all of us have and problems many of us cannot quite understand. Even when I didn't "like" Mary, I was always interested in her. We got to see a character grow without wanting to yell at the screen, "For Pete's sake, grow up!"

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