3P Reviews, Essays, Longform

What Makes a Good Character Relationship?

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Something weird happened to me a few weeks ago. I cried at a scene in a television series.

Six times.

That part’s not unusual for me, obviously. I cry at the drop of a pin. But what is unusual is that the scenes that made me break down were love ballads between two characters. Specifically these guys in Schitt’s Creek:

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Magnificent, aren’t they?

I hate romance in stories. I loathe it to my core, with every fiber of my being. So yeah, me crying at a romance scene in a silly comedy show is kind of a big deal. And before you go around thinking that I’m just finally growing soft and turning into the hopeless romantic I was always destined to become, I can stop you right there. This is no place for sentiment. This is a place for anthropomorphized hats to complain about narrative structure and try to hide silly jokes inside deep discussions about movies and shows where people run away from dinosaurs.

I think it’s more complicated than me just lying to myself about my interest in romance, is what I’m saying.

It’s made me realize that I don’t actually hate romance as a concept — I hate unnecessary romance. I don’t feel romantic attraction personally, but just like I can relate to characters who are parents or have been through war, I can empathize with romantic characters under the right circumstances. Namely, if the character relationship is solid enough. Bad romantic relationships are often forged from bad character relationships. If a relationship between two characters is solid enough, apparently that’s enough for me to empathize with them, even if they have something I don’t. And in a way, that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

 

Interactions, Dynamics, and Relationships

Characters can be complex or simple. Well-written characters are usually those with a variety of traits that mesh well together and create conflict within a single person. Flaws, desires, interests, personality — all of that is important when writing a significant character, especially if you want the audience to connect to them. However, characters don’t exist in isolation. Interactions with other characters allow them to express themselves. Have two characters interact often enough in a wide enough variety of circumstances, and they’ll have a relationship.

Relationships are a sort of way to expand upon character. You have a lot of flexibility in creating your characters, but if you’ve ever used character sheets for any roleplaying or writing project, you’ll know that not all personality traits a character hypothetically has will come up in all circumstances. Rarely do we express all aspects of our personalities openly and willingly; we’re secretive creatures, careful to tailor our personae to get through social situations. If, like me, you have a host of weird interests, you have to be attentive and only mention that part of your life if appropriate for the conversation at hand. Unless, of course, you enjoy awkward stares and rhetorical questions about how many cockroaches you own.

When it comes to fictional, revealing new aspects of a character’s personality can fit well with dramatic moments. It’s also a quick way to establish a solid bond between two characters and integrate them more fully into their world. One of my favorite tropes is a usually-inept character coming to the rescue of regular protagonists because of their very niche skills. The very best example being 1980s Something Space Man from The LEGO Movie, of course. I like to think of characters as being capable of taking any action in a given scenario, but their personality dictating which actions they’re most likely to take.

A good metric for character personality is imagining them in a grocery store. What do they do there? Do they act like a regular adult, run around like a child, ask questions like they’ve never been in a grocery store before (because perhaps they haven’t)? What do they buy, if anything? Do they get bored, and if so, do they do anything to try to alleviate it?

Relationships are more complicated, because you’re taking into consideration the personality traits of two characters and how those traits interact with one another — on top of the external setting or scenario. If you place two characters in a room, what do they do? Do they connect by their shared traits, or find the other person a competitor, maybe even insufferable? Would they get along well if given more opportunity to chat, or is every minute painful? Are they at each other’s throats immediately? Do they have chemistry, romantic or otherwise?

Fiction doesn’t work like a job interview; if you put two characters in a room and they don’t get along, that can actually benefit a story greatly. A good fictional relationship involves stakes, drama, and variety, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a friendly one. Arch nemeses are a popular trope for good reason.

The one thing you don’t want two characters in a room to do is sit silently and never interact. This is where bad romances come from — if two characters are shoved together and spend time together because the plot needs a dramatic kiss, and for no other reason, the characters involved may as well exist on separate planets when they’re not being romantic or sexy. You can write relationships that come about from characters who wouldn’t normally seek out each other’s company (work and school relationships are common examples), but even then, these are only interesting when the characters build up a dynamic.

Let me step back a bit. As I see it, relationships have to build over time, in real life and in fiction. They develop at different rates for different sets of people, sometimes steadily, but also through big dramatic jumps. The stages of building a character relationship hit, broadly, the initial interaction, the dynamic, and finally, the history and/or proper relationship. Within a narrative, introductions usually serve as the initial interaction between characters (though not if one character knows about the other through, for instance, reputation). Initial interactions are where characters make snap impressions on one another and usually start to judge each other. How their initial interaction goes will set the bearing for the rest of their relationship, though they can course correct as the story goes on.

A dynamic is essentially a budding relationship between characters. It can also just be the baseline for interactions between characters who have a relationship. Thy dynamic plays on the prominent personalities of the characters, or at least the personalities that come out when they interact with each other. Dynamic is not necessarily tied to history or punctuated by significant events. Usually, it’s something that you see in characters who already know each other when you first meet them. They have a relationship, but the extent of it is unknown to you. What you see is their dynamic — the back-and-forth banter between old friends, the domestic flirtation of a stable couple, the alien-sounding arguments between family members. Dynamics can change over time and often do when the relationship between characters changes. However, they’re established as soon as characters start interacting regularly. If characters hit it off with a good dynamic at the start, often the writer will try to keep at least a few parts of that initial dynamic even as their relationship becomes more complicated.

Once you get to know a character and their interactions with another well, and they’ve been through a lot with that other person, that’s when you’ll see the proper relationship they have. In characters that are introduced already with a relationship, the story can convey that relationship through their dynamic, through backstory, and through repetition of events. Characters will treat and talk about familiar situations in a different way to new ones. The non-linearity, instant dynamic, and challenge of writing characters with an established relationship makes this approach appealing to some writers. However, I would say that established relationships are rarely complex compared to relationships established over the course of the story itself. In most narratives, at least a few important relationships involve characters interacting, forming dynamics, and eventually developing full-blown relationships.

So that’s character relationships in a nutshell — how they work, and why they work.

But it’s not enough to just understand the concept. Application of relationships, like any part of writing fiction, can be tricky. And as the title says, I’m here to talk about good relationships, not just relationships in general. As with most things, writing a good-quality character relationship comes with some requirements.

 

The Requirements

A good relationship (in a drama – not necessarily in real life) includes:

  • Well-defined (i.e., consistent) and fairly complex characters
  • Who interact often
  • In variable ways depending on the circumstance
  • And whose interactions change over time as the characters have more significant encounters together

If you want to write good character relationships, you must stick to this highly specific list at all times.

I kid.

But, not to brag or anything, I do think this is a good foundation for good fictional relationships. If you can fulfill all of these criteria, you’ll have a hard time messing up the  character relationship you’re working on. It’s not impossible, obviously, but a character relationship is one of those things that grows naturally if you give it the proper environment.

The crucial part you need to remember if you want the relationship to grow over the course of the story is that you can’t show all of your cards too early. Characters will want to conceal things from one another, and you can use that to your advantage later. It can be a source of contention, expression, or otherwise narratively relevant once that part of a character finally comes out.

Another important thing to remember is that a relationship can be flawed. I might even go so far as to say that it should be flawed in at least some way. Like with characters, the flaws are what make the relationship interesting to the viewer. In real life, we strive to deal with or downplay flaws, but those flaws are what create drama, comedy, and other poignant moments within a story. Flaws serve as a basis of comparison for the healthier parts of a relationship in fiction, and they make the story more relatable. The severity of the flaws in a relationship will vary depending on what the narrative needs of them, but stories can go into pretty dark territory in depicting characters who run into problems when they interact. Some of the most interesting and intense relationships in modern narratives involve characters who are outright abusive. This isn’t because we condone the actions of those characters or feel that the relationship should continue — often in these stories, the victim coming to terms with their complex feelings and finding a way to deal with their messed up relationship is the emotional crux of the story. For most narratives, though, smaller but still visible flaws are sufficient.

Relationships play a big role in character arcs for the reasons mentioned. Often, as a relationship develops, it leads to a shift in a character’s personality. This is especially true if one or both characters is placed outside of their comfort zone by their relationship. I’ll get into this when I talk about Schitt’s Creek, but I think this is some of the unrealized potential of romantic relationships. While romances, especially those shoved into other genres, tend to focus on the giddy initial stages of falling in love (the parts I enjoy so much…), most actual romantic relationships involve far more of the later stages where two people spend more time together than with most other people and tend to experience intense life experiences together. A lot of people describe their significant other as their best friend, and there’s definitely a platonic aspect to most long-term romantic relationships. It’s even there in some long-term sexual relationships. The few compelling romantic relationships I’ve ever come across in fiction play up the characters’ stability and day-to-day interactions. Intense moments that fall along one or both of their character arcs are then tied to their romantic interactions. This makes the romantic interactions more intense, but also gives satisfaction to those who don’t care about the romantic aesthetic. Kissing is gross, but one character having to suppress or alter part of their personality to stay in a relationship they want intensely? That I can get behind.

It’s honestly easier to talk about what works in specific relationships, so in no particular order, some examples:

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender

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Avatar is a masterclass in character. Its deceptively simple story plays with archetypes and expectations, but eventually fulfills the deeper arcs and character beats that most fantasy series barely hint at. There are so many good relationships in this series, and one in particular — Zuko and Iroh’s — has made me cry in the past.

While the dedication to giving characters defined arcs and having those arcs require them to interact with other characters, I think the thing that works best to build relationships in this series is time. All of the characters introduce themselves, judge each other, and establish a rapport early on, but the series then slows the relationship growth in the first season. While this makes that season more episodic and often less spectacular than the later two, it also allows the series to gradually subvert expectations, especially where the relationships between Zuko and Aang and Zuko and Iroh are concerned.

All of the major character arcs are intertwined with their relationships. Zuko’s obsession with capturing Aang limits his perspective and feeds his vulnerabilities. Aang’s love for Katara, and his other friends to a lesser extent, complicates his need to become a detached godlike entity and ultimately play into his decision about how to defeat the series’ main villain. the other protagonists have networks of interrelationships that fuel their own character growth, like Katara’s connections to Sokka, Aang, Toph, Zuko, and her mother. Even more minor characters like Avatar Roku, Mae and Tai-li, and Suki are largely defined by their relationships to the other characters.

None of these characters becomes who they are on their own. Toward the end of the series, the show is careful to establish complimentary and conflicting interactions between certain characters so that the audience remains cognizant of everything these characters have been through. Even if it goes for long stretches without characters interacting, the characters remember those interactions and act accordingly when it’s appropriate for them to resurface. The one exception is the villainous characters, whose relationships are superficial and manipulative. The villains in the series strive for individuality (with the exception of Zuko, who accepts advice from his uncle), forming relationships for strategic purposes, but never deep connections. This is the distinguishing feature between the villains and protagonists in this series, and ultimately plays into the larger theme of unity that saturates the series.

 

Lilo and Stitch

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There aren’t many films among these examples, the reason being that shows often have more time to establish and build complex relationships. Similar relationships can exist in films, but they’re rarer. Complex film relationships have to convey a lot of information in a short amount of time, so they tend to rely on subtlety and have a safety net in case the audience doesn’t pick up on the context clues. In other words, complex film relationships usually also work as simple relationships. The result is that the complexity comes second to the practical needs of the story, and is therefore mostly interpretive.

Exceptions exist, and Lilo and Stitch is one of them. There are a lot of nice little relationships in this series, from the comic characters’ interactions to the villain and Stitch, to Noni and her boy toy, to Bubbles and Noni, but of course, the core is the relationships between Lilo and Stitch and Lilo and her sister. This is a highly underrated film in many ways, but the emotional core binds everything together. Rarely has a Disney film ever captured such a complex subject matter as a young indigenous woman thrust into motherhood, trying to balance the practical and emotional considerations of adulthood while taking care of her eccentric sister. Lilo’s perspective almost has the nature of something like Pan’s Labyrinth, with the fantasy proxy of the aliens and her willingness to go along with them acting as an escape and obfuscating the real-world issues she and Noni face. The relationship between the main human characters has to be solid in order to pull this off, and it is. Among the chaos of the cartoon aliens is a narrative about losing family, systemic cultural erasure, and being forced to grow up too young. Stitch’s internal character struggle is also compelling, but mainly as a mirror to Lilo’s feelings and as he watches her and Noni interact.

Seriously, though, this is a spectacular movie.

The End of the Fucking World

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This is a small, simple series (I know it’s about murder, but hear me out). The relationship between the two leads, young and in love and full of moxie, is the crux of he series, with Alyssa trying to figure out normal teenager things while weirdo James is in the corner figuring out if he’s a psychopath or not. The dynamic between these two is wonderful, as is the way their relationship develops as they encounter various situations and characters on their impromptu roadtrip. As in Avatar, the characters’ arcs are tied up in their relationships to each other.

However, while the interactions between the main protagonists are fun and unique owing to their peculiar characters and circumstance, I don’t want to overlook the side characters either. The lesbian cops communicate a plethora of history merely through their conversations, as do Alyssa and her father and James’ father and him. All of them come together to make the experience deeply fulfilling. Given that these elements are largely creations of the television series, they’re also effective ways to expand the narrative of the graphic novel into a full season of television without diminishing the charm of the original.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

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Two things set these character relationships apart from the others I’ve mentioned so far. The first is that they don’t really change — well, technically they do, but gradually. For the most part, as is typically of sitcoms, the characters in It’s Always Sunny have established relationship dynamics, and these carry most of their interactions.

That’s nothing new for the genre, though; I had plenty of sitcoms to choose from, and I went with this one. Why? Because of the second thing that sets these relationships apart: they are actively dysfunctional, and played for laughs. These characters are horrible to each other, constantly lying to, yelling at, manipulating, stealing from, and physically and emotionally injuring each other. I would be concerned for anyone in real life with friends like these. However, character relationships do not have to be healthy into order to be compelling. Provided a series establishes clear boundaries between normalization and the actions it depicts, it can get the audience to care about its characters and their relationships without condoning them. This series accomplishes that with the way its characters are called out on their absurdity through exaggeration and especially the mortified reactions of the normal people around them.

Dysfunctional characters are comforting because they make us feel more secure by comparison. My life may be fucked up, but at least I’m not any of these guys, right? One of the key advantages to dysfunctional relationships is they elicit powerful feelings of empathy for the character who gets the short end of the stick and schadenfreude for the character doling it out when their actions come back to bite them. This is the source of much of the show’s comedy. While some characters, like Dee and Charlie and several recurring minor characters, are often the butt of jokes and taken advantage of by the others, the series is careful not to make them innocent in all the affairs. They give as good as they get much of the time, and when they go off, it’s often at such inappropriate times or to such extraneous degrees that you’re left with a mix of confusion and concern, that the show directs into laughter.

The comedy is often dark and absurdist, frequently originating with the ridiculous and confrontational dynamics of the main characters. The character interactions aren’t the only reasons this show works, but they’re a big part of it. The longer-term changes to character dynamics tend to fuel the cycle of characters having rare sincere moments, those moments getting out of hand, the characters briefly ruining each other’s lives, and then just dealing with each other before stumbling upon a sincere moment again and starting the whole thing up again. It’s an oddly cynical yet satisfy series, all things considered.

The Umbrella Academy

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I’ve been talking a lot about this series, but for all of its other flaws, it gets character relationships right. The main characters in this series are adult siblings who have long histories with each other and commonalities that they’re unwilling to talk about. Some of the most sincere moments come from them comforting, yelling at, or struggling to talk to each other.

I won’t spend too long on this one since I’m in the middle of episodic reviews that are largely about the character relationships in this series, but I wanted to bring up this series here because it uses an effective technique of linking large numbers of characters. Most of the protagonists have special relationships to at least two other siblings, which allows the viewer to keep track of a vast web of interactions. Five has loose connections to Klaus and Vanya. Vanya is similarly connected to Five but has a deeper connection with Allison. Allison has a deep connection with both Vanya and Luther. Luther has a deep connection to both Allison and Diego. Diego has a deep connection to both Luther and Klaus. Klaus has a deep connection to both Diego and Ben (and to a lesser extent, Five).

There are other minor characters also involved, but the way this network interconnects all of the characters without requiring the audience to keep track of dozens of different relationships keeps the series entertaining. Some of these relationships are more compelling than others, but because most of the characters have at least two connections, even if one of them is tenuous, the other can usually pick up the slack. It also allows the show to set different characters with one another, which creates different sorts of tension depending on which characters are matched up. Even minor interactions can communicate a lot between two characters, and that’s based in the history those characters have, their base personality traits, and anything that has happened between them in the series.

A lot of superhero movies miss out on the importance of these sorts of built-up relationships.

 

Preacher

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I cannot get enough of this action horror comedy… thing. There’s a lot to discuss with this series, and I already have (for well over the length of a small novel, actually), so like with The Umbrella Academy, I’m going to try to keep this one short. It’s worth discussing the characters and character relationships, though, because those are kind of the core of both the show and the books. It lures you in with its promise of blood and guns and demons and explosions, but it’s actually a deep character drama about a love triangle and the power of friendship. Also the struggle against toxic masculinity.

The characters are energetic in their own right, well-defined and all quite funny, but deeply and sometimes disturbingly flawed as well. They have individualized arcs that, as with Avatar and many of the other series mentioned, intersect with their connections to the other characters. Significant moments in the narrative often force characters to choose between their own desires and the needs of those they have a close bond to. And those are not small asks; the main characters especially tend to be oblivious and selfish, even when they try desperately to be generous, but their bonds to one another are among the strongest I have ever seen in a fictional narrative. To say their relationships are a bit messy is an understatement, but even early in the series, you can completely believe that any of these characters would go to the ends of the earth just to get one of the others a beer. And that’s what they do. Constantly. I love it.

But perhaps the most unique feature of the relationships among the characters, particularly the main trio, is that the relationships are directional, changing depending on what perspective you’re viewing them from. Most fictional relationships are at least a little bit lopsided, with more experienced, important, or skilled characters holding more cards in disputes. Preacher keeps its characters mostly balanced in terms of capabilities, taking care to ensure the characters who can wave off certain problems face plenty of others. However, all of them hold onto personal information and use lies, omission, and half-truths to manage their relationships — often without seeming to realize what they doing. This means that what one character thinks their relationship is to another differs greatly from that reality. While the weaker romantic elements are worked in this way, so too are the platonic elements. Two of the protagonists dismiss the other’s obsession with the main plot as a personal quirk, when the audience knows it seeps deep into his identity and is based around almost every part of his childhood. Two of the protagonists view the other as a prize that they take for granted, oblivious to her emotional needs and unwilling to help when she needs them. Two of the protagonists consider the other to be annoying but harmless, unaware of just how much danger this character could put them in.

Like with It’s Always Sunny, the relationships in Preacher aren’t exactly healthy. In fact, these people are poison to each other, and that’s where most of the drama of the series comes from. Their friendships are strong enough to overcome what would in almost any other relationship be insurmountable obstacles, yet the closer they get, the more exposed they become to each other’s weaknesses, and the more they suffer for it. The show uses the way these characters simultaneously love and hurt each other to create character-based tension unlike any other I’ve ever seen.

 

Bojack Horseman

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This is a somewhat unusual show to talk about in an essay (?) about relationships, considering it’s the only one with a clear single protagonist that I’m going to mention, but anyone who’s seen it knows why. This is a character drama with a touch of comedy thrown in, and while Bojack is the character the story revolves around, he is largely defined by his interactions with others. Namely in how he completely screws them over.

The minor characters around him, notably the four recurring minor protagonists, start the series as barley more than extras, aside from Diane, who’s the second most important character in the series. Todd, Princess Carolyn, and Mr. Peanutbutter are all distinct, but their connections to Bojack start out simple. Todd is his stoner roommate, Princess Carolyn is his catty agent, Mr. Peanutbutter is his inept rival. Even Diane mainly seems to exist to listen to Bojack and exist for him to fawn over. As the series progresses, though, and as Bojack pushes these characters in various ways, they push back against him and reveal their own depth.

Notably, the side characters work largely independent of Bojack. They have their own arcs that don’t really need him, even though he very much needs all of them. As the series goes on, the side characters become more separated from Bojack and become full protagonists on par with him, perhaps even more compelling at times. Bojack becomes a minor character in their story arcs, and, befitting one of the main themes, his isolation from his friends leads him to realize how much he needs them.

This series is a beautiful example of how relationships of all sorts — romantic, familial, friendly, professional — can fall apart, and the difficulty some people have in putting them back together. Bojack’s friends are there to support him, but they can only go so far. Todd’s relationship to him is especially compelling, as you can see the conflict between them each appreciating each other and also knowing that Bojack is actively harmful for Todd. The series repeatedly asks the question, “How far is too far?” and it doesn’t provide a straight answer. Diane helps Bojack even when he’s contributed to the collapse of her own life because she feels obligated to as his friend. The others drift away from him and maintain a professional distance, though. Todd actively avoids him when possible because he’s already gone down the path Diane is taking and realizes that whatever he can give to Bojack isn’t worth tearing up himself to give. It’s hard for strict dramas to cover these sorts of tragic relationships, much less comedies, but the show uses that duality to its advantage.

 

Schitt’s Creek

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Okay, so that scene that made me cry and started this whole tangent — compared to everything I’ve just discussed, it now feels kind of underwhelming. Schitt’s Creek does not have characters living through hell or facing life’s toughest dilemmas, at least not in the way that the audience would imagine. That’s the main punchline of the show, though; it’s about petty people learning painfully how to be less petty.

The premise is similar to Arrested Development, with a wealthy family losing all of their assets and being mortified at how ordinary people live. However, the world of the show is sanitized so that major issues like gender inequality, racism, homophobia, income inequality, environmental destruction, and the like are not really present. Like, they’re addressed, but not the source of any one character’s problems. It’s a sit com, but it’s not a very deep sitcom. It’s there to make you laugh. And it’s perhaps for the better; this isn’t exactly the format to give the necessary weight to, say, the prevalence of sexual abuse and hate crime.

That’s important to know, because it’s what made the scene where Patrick sings to David so impactful to me. It’s not that this scene addresses any of those big issues (though a few later scenes do, and yes, those are also effective); it’s that a rather significant character moment hit exactly when I was not expecting it. I was barely paying attention to this episode when I first watched it, and I looked down at the screen, realized what was going on, and, without warning, waterworks.

The scene itself is very simple: one of the main characters, David, and his business partner/new boyfriend, Patrick, are having a problem retaining customers. Patrick suggests they host an open mic night, and David, being a complete snob whose character attributes nearly start and stop at “likes overpriced sweaters” and “is afraid of moths,” is of course horrified by the idea. Patrick is an ordinary human being who occasionally likes mess with David (and who can blame him?), and teases him with the prospect of starting the night with a song of his own. This is a nice setup for the harmless sort of comedy common to this series. David of course has more depth to him than I’ve indicated and encounters significant turning points throughout the series as one of the core protagonists. However, his baseline personality is pretty firmly set from Episode One.

The episode follows some other plot developments, as is typical of the genre, and it ends with the open mic night. It doesn’t take much to imagine that it goes better than David anticipates, with Patrick actually being quite a good singer and adapting a retro pop song into a lovely acoustic ballad. Being a retro pop ballad about love, it has all of the expected chorus lines — love, devotion, you’re the only one and whatnot. It is sweet, but the song itself isn’t what makes me cry; it’s the characters interacting through it. Patrick has only recently come out of the closet, and owes a lot of that to David. They have a playfully antagonistic dynamic, but do genuinely get along and have a healthy romantic relationship at the end of the day. It’s progressed more smoothly than one would expect for a sitcom of this ilk, and that’s quite nice.

But Patrick pouring his heart out — in public — revealing a hidden talent and trying to quell David’s concerns through it, that’s a sort of dedication in the characters’ relationship that is unexpected. This isn’t just Patrick having fun — all of it is for David, and everything about the music, the cinematography, and the acting shows it.

What’s more, it works. David spends the entire scene looking like he’s trying not to cry, embarrassed by the attention but clearly delighted too. He’s so overwhelmed by emotions that it’s hard not to empathize, but that means so much more when we’ve seen these characters develop their relationship as they have. The scene is based in the characters’ love for one another, yes, but the context communicates so much more. We have David lowering his defenses and enjoying something because it’s more fun than he expected, and we have Patrick trying successfully to reach out and genuinely share something that he loves with his skeptical boyfriend. Neither of these characters has even been in this sort of relationship before, and in the span of a few seconds, they go from being in a cute little sitcom romance to a devoted relationship that connects them on an intensely personal level.

This sort of jump is expected in a series that’s about romance, but I rarely see it pulled off so effectively even there (not that I spend much time with romance series, admittedly). Usually, the story is so focused on building to moments like these that you see them coming from a mile away and don’t really have anything else to latch onto. The first kiss and marriage proposal in a typical romance relieve tension, sure, but only as much as the series can build up before then. I think this probably works better for people who like romance. Non-romance genre fiction often incorporates romantic plots alongside action and adventure, but these are almost universally weaker than straight romances because they’re extraneous to the plot (and romance writers know their craft better than other writers).

I’m not entirely sure how a little comedy series with plenty of its own weaker romantic subplots pulled this off, but not only does it pull it off, it continues to do so. Later romantic developments between main character Alexis and her boyfriend Ted are also deeper in this and the next season, and the series continues to knock it out of the park with Patrick and David (please don’t do anything to these precious cinnamon rolls, show, I’m begging you).

Another scene that made me tear up comes a few episodes later, when David learns that Patrick has an ex-fiance hanging around that he never told anyone about. David sulks, Patrick sends him apology gifts, David immediately gets better, and then continues to ghost Patrick in the hope of receiving more gifts. When Patrick finally confronts David about this, he is understandably upset and decides David has to make up for his selfish behavior.

David’s solution? Dance and lip-sing to the original version of the song Patrick sung for him in the Open Mic episode.

Damn, show. That’s adorable.

There are plenty of other wonderful characters and connections between them in this show (I don’t know how I’ve gone this long without even mentioning Stevie, but Stevie is amazing). The townies becoming regular buddies with the main family, not because either group would want the other as friends, but through sheer proximity, is an excellent source of comedy. The occasional sincerity, even when it’s small, works well. This is the sort of series that doesn’t need big character moments in the same way it doesn’t really need more dire subject matter. In small doses, though, those things can pack a punch. In order to do that with the greatest impact, the show needs those relationships alongside the characters occupying them.

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