More than any other post, this one will get me flamed. I can almost feel the burning now.
After all, we’re in a era where “shipping” is commonplace. Many shows have couples – err, supercouples – that people focus on and vociferously debate on every message board on the Web. Zendall, Nuke, CarJack, Jeva, Scrubs – these are just a few names that avid fanbases know and love.
But I think the focus on supercouples has been detrimental to the long term health of the shows.
I’m hardly the first person to say this. I’ve read several books and academic texts that have analyzed soaps. Many of these books, published in the late 1980s and early 1990s, came to similar conclusions.
And it’s not couples per se that I’m suggesting are a bad thing. Romantic pairings will ALWAYS be a big reason why people watch all of the shows. They have been since Day One, and will be until the end. In fact, having a strong couple is a good thing, and can keep viewers involved in the show and in all of the stories.
What I’m talking about, though, is an environment where supercoupledom is put at the top of the list of priorities, above every other creative need the show might have. This has two negative impacts on the narrative:
- Any natural, organic path that the characters in the supercouple may take, alone or together, is set aside, and all of the writing for the couple takes wildly divergent paths from where the characters were or should be.
- Characters on the canvas are no longer considered for their individual worth, or what creative energy they may bring to the canvas – but instead, their value is based largely on how compatible they might be in a supercouple. As a result, exciting standalone characters and fun quirky characters are often pushed to the sidelines. Veterans characters who aren’t coupling up with the new tartlet or stud are pushed to the back burner. These moves weaken the show.
I think it’s a shame that someone as popular as Deidre Hall is leaving Days of Our Lives, but to me, the character of Marlena has been stuck in the supercouple bubble for several years now. Her entire existence seems to focus largely around the fact that she loves John. I can’t help but wonder if this contributed to the character’s period of “rest” – whether the show felt Marlena was dispensable.
I think supercouples (and their fanbases) can be a great boost for shows in some cases. Certainly, the support for the Luke/Noah romance on As The World Turns has really helped increase interest in the show, the story and the characters.
But more frequently, there are creative limitations that come out of supercouple status. Fans love the couples, but vociferously object to either character going through any personal journey on their own. I think that this can backfire on fans, because it sometimes leads to a lack of story for their favorites.
The most negative impact is that I think in many cases, the drive for supercouples has led shows to promote uninspiring pairings, and set aside individual characters we want to see.
We don’t see friendships portrayed as much as we used to, because it would take time away from the focus on couples, couples, couples. It is nearly miraculous that the friendship of Alexis and Diane on General Hospital exists, especially since neither one of them is a mobster, criminal or sleazebag.
I’m not dismissing anyone’s enthusiam for a particular show, a particular couple or a particular actor or actress. I just want all of us to watch a show objectively and try to enjoy the story as it’s being told. And I want the shows to appreciate their strongest couples and write captivating, engaging stories for them, without compromising the show’s history (or the character’s history) to do so.