It’s Time for TV Rom-Coms

Slate's Culture Blog
July 19 2014 10:30 AM

It’s Time for TV Rom-Coms

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Can You're the Worst (pictured above) kick off a new era of TV romance?

© Copyright 2014, FX Networks. All rights reserved.

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

FX's new comedy You're the Worst is about two awful shitbags who kind of fall in love. He's a British writer with a serious immaturity problem; she's a publicist to the stars, with a deep fear of commitment. They meet at a wedding and, as it often does, the misanthropy leads to festive boning. Maybe we're so wrong for each other that it's almost right, they decide. It's a rom-com setup, vaguely reminiscent of a Friends With Benefits kind of idea, but it's also surprisingly fun and sexy. It has a strong cynical side, but that's tempered by an overwhelming sense of romance. These two crazy kids are gonna make a go of things! I'm genuinely rooting for them, partially because I'm a softie and partially because the leads' chemistry is fantastic, but mostly because I want You're the Worst to kick off an era of TV romance. Let me love love!

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The frustrating current dearth of rom-com means there's a real opportunity here; as a people, we are hungry for smooches, and movies are not meeting that need. TV has a long, proud history of will-they-or-won't-they relationships, and it's easy to imagine a new wave of that as just when-will-they. (See: Danny and Mindy on The Mindy Project.) Conventional wisdom says that TV love stories tend be most interesting in their prelude phases, because once the couple gets together, the story's largely over. But that's a bigger problem when the show didn't plan on that couple's story from the get-go (like Nick and Jess on New Girl, who did not initially seem like they were destined for each other), or when a show was already running out of steam (sorry, Bones). A show can still find plenty of stories as long as the characters themselves have substantial defining traits beyond "he can't see the love of his life is right in front of him" or "she's great at her profession, but also a klutz."

Or what if a series did for romance what American Horror Story does for horror? An anthology miniseries with a new setting and characters each season, with each love story unfolding over 13 episodes. The mere existence of You're the Worst proves that romance and schmaltz are not synonymous. You can have serious drama or bawdy humor or full-on Hallmark Channel schlock—Broooklyn Nine-Nine and the upcoming Gotham are both cop shows, but one's a goofy single-camera comedy and the other is a moody Batman prequel. There are lots of kinds of love stories.  It's just a matter of shifting the focus: Instead of a lawyer show where characters happen to fall in love, it's a love show where characters happen to be lawyers. We have so many lawyer shows. Can't one of them be this?

The new fall season has a few attempts at romance-centric shows: ABC has Manhattan Love Story and NBC has Marry Me and A to Z. And You're the Worst has plenty going for it, though it is perhaps not as naughty as it thinks. (Sorry, I am not scandalized by the mention of period sex.) So let this be the beginning of the tides turning, the rise of the well-told love story. It's either that or another damn sheriff.

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