Special Valentine’s Day Article-Look at Sitcom ClichÃ©s : Unrequited Love
It amazes me how often the subject of unrequited love comes up in sitcoms. It usually works like this: Person A loves person B, but person B is either blissfully unaware, or in a situation which precludes a romantic relationship with Person A so they just drop annoying hints but never do anything about it.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to take look at some of these classic examples. As we’ll see, sometimes these work out, and other times they don’t. The one constant rule of this clichÃ© seems to be that when the two people finally get together, the magic chemistry vanishes. Is that really always the case?
Happy Days-Why do I always start with this show? I could be wrong about this, but I am pretty sure that when Chachi first came on the show Joanie pretty much turned down his advances. He was just an annoying boy to her. However, as time went one (and the creators started needing a reason to keep viewers interested), she returned his affections. They started dating, had an awful spin-off series, and in the series final episode got married. They had ok chemistry together so I guess it worked.
Cheers-In the early days this show was all about one thing: Sam and Diane. Some may argue all of the examples on this list owe their thanks to these two. I’ll be honest; I was way too young to care about this. By the time I got interested in Cheers, Diane was out and Rebecca was in. However, despite that even I knew about this romance. In the beginning we weren’t sure if they loved each other or hated each other, then by season 3 the real relationship started to form. The relationship went back and forth, Diane almost married Frasier while Sam hit the bottle, until they finally got engaged and were supposed to be married. However, she walked out to go write a book. She promised to come back in six months, instead she returned in six years. They tried again to make it work, ultimately deciding that it wasn’t meant to be. The idea of womanizing Sam settling for one girl would be hard to swallow, but somehow Ted Danson and Shelly Long made it work with their great chemistry.
Who’s The Boss?-This is one of the first successful sitcoms entirely based around this concept. On the surface the show is simple; Angela hires Tony to be her housekeeper. Just a simple role reversal show, right? The actual drive of this show is that Angela and Tony are hot for each other, but never admit it. Well, not when they are conscious anyway. As the series progressed they did admit it, but decided to stay friends. That finally ended the last season when they confessed their love, were engaged, and got marri…..no, the series didn’t end with a wedding, bit of a let down after eight years of will they/won’t they crap.
Saved By The Bell-Most of the love was returned in this episode. At first Kelly didn’t respond to Zack, but she gave in. Slater and Jessie kind of went back and forth, everyone forgets Slater went after Kelly in the beginning. Of course, there was Screech and his constant pestering of Lisa. I never really bought he had true feelings for her (we’ll see a better example of the same thing in a minute). He just comes off as a pest. There is one episode where Zack heats things up with Lisa, and Screech get so jealous he and Zack almost have a fist fight over her. Despite that, I think he just liked annoying her the way friends sometimes like getting on each otherâ€™s nerves in a playful way. Of course this could be because Dustin Diamond is one of the worst actorâ€™s god ever put on this planet.
Family Ties-Skippy was one of my favorite annoying neighbors. A later article will talk more about that, but his big character trait was his unending love for Mallory. Mallory couldn’t have been less interested in him that way. She usually shrieked at his presence. When Mallory started dating Nick they did have an episode where Skippy was jealous about it, but he quickly accepted that Mallory and he were not meant to be and stayed friends with all of them. It’s amazing when I watch Skippy on this show, is that what nerds were like in the 80’s? Compare him to the nerd of the 90’s…..
Family Matters-Oh, you knew this one would be here. What would Family Matters have been without Steve Urkel and his undying love for Laura? However, unlike Screech who was just a pest, you really felt like Steve had real feelings for her. Credit to good writing or Jaleel White’s acting, but it really came across on the screen. True Laura didn’t reciprocate the love, she did respect how good a friend he was. He was always there to support, comfort or protect her, and Laura couldn’t help but appreciate that even if it did come along with his annoying habits. I think this goes for the rest of the family, they could see that he really meant well and really cared about people. Why else did they put up with him causing more property damage than a severe storm? Of course, toward the end of the series Laura did finally develop feelings for him. I gave up on the show by then, but I believe it ended with them basically getting together (I am not even getting into the clone thing with Stefan, that was just absurd).
Night Court-It was pretty clear the creators wanted Harry to be pining over someone. The first few episodes had court clerk Lana, who disappeared quickly. Then there was Defense attorney Billie. They established Harry had feelings for her, just before she vanished from the show. Finally Christine Sullivan came along. It was clear they had feelings for each other, but their situation kept them apart (he was a judge; she was an attorney working in his court). They did kiss a few times but nothing really happened. However, toward the end of the series they did finally confess their feelings. Unfortunately, they ended up deciding they were better off just being friends.
Frasier-What comes to mind when I say Frasier? Niles and Daphne of course! This was one of those unrequited love affairs you would have never expected to get resolved. Daphne worked for Frasier, and his brother Niles almost immediately had a school boy crush on her. For several seasons there were all kinds of gags about Niles secret love for her, and a few times she almost became aware but for the most part never caught on. Finally when she was engaged Frasier let it slip, and suddenly Daphne was the one mooning over Niles (who had apparently finally moved on). However, in an admittedly great episode Niles and Daphne finally revealed their feelings for each other. After that it got kind of got boring as they eventually married and, in the final episode, had a kid. But the early shows when Niles was pining over a clueless Daphne had some real cute moments. I could mention Frasier and Roz, but that never really turned into a relationship.
Friends-Ross & Rachel. Do I need to say more? If Cheers set the standard then Friends perfected it. First Ross liked Rachel but she had no clue. Then Rachel liked Ross but he had no clue. That little secret came out and they got together, until a huge fight and Ross’s one night stand broke them up. Then there was some back and forth, and when Ross met Emily and was going to get married that seemed to be it. Until Ross said “Rachel” instead of â€œEmilyâ€ at the altar. There were more up and downs, Ross and Rachel were married in Vegas but that was quickly ended. Then they had a baby and even lived together, but that too ended. Just when all hope of them getting together and staying together was lost, we got the series finale where Rachelâ€™s moving to Paris forces Ross to confess his feelings. I’m going to reveal a little secret, of all the relationships in this article; this is the one I cared about. I know, but I was really into their relationship and I was very happy to see them get together in the end. I did want to mention the other unrequited love in Friends and that was Gunther, the guy at Central Perk who had the unending crush on Rachel. I was very surprised to see them actually resolve this in the series finale.
The Nanny-The 80’s had Who’s The Boss?, the 90’s had The Nanny. I was not a loyal fan, so if I get the facts wrong I apologize. Fran Fine became the Nanny of Maxwell Sheffield’s three kids. Almost immediately there was chemistry, but the two never acted on it. For about three years there were lots of flirting and heat between them. It took a near plane crash for Maxwell to reveal he loved Fran, and even then he backed off on it. At first. They were married and the last season of the show was about their married life, and man was it boring. I need to mention another unrequited love on this show. C.C. was Maxwell’s business partner and had a crush on him which was totally not reciprocated. However, that isn’t the love I wanted to mention. Through the run of the series the butler, Niles, constantly made fun of C.C. Any chance to insult her, he took it and had some funny lines. In the final episodes of the series, its revealed all that time Niles had a crush on her! Wait, what? This is like Benson revealing he loved Ms.Kraus the whole time! Oh wait, it gets worst. C.C. found the idea hysterical, at first. Somehow, and the creators didn’t show how probably because it didn’t make sense to them either, Niles and C.C. are together in the end and she’s pregnant in the final episode! Sorry, didn’t buy any of it. Niles and C.C. were great antagonists, and they should have kept it that way.
A Different World-When this Cosby spin-off first premiered, we saw Dwayne Wayne with a crush on Denise, who didn’t reciprocate. However, the end of the first season they shared a kiss. Of course, when Denise was written off the show that changed things. Dwayne changed his sights from Denise, to Whitley. This was the focus for the remainder of the series. They dated, and then broke up. Then just before Whitley was about to marry another guy, literally just before in a really well done scene, Whitley changed her mind and married Dwayne who she truly loved. They were happily married when the series ended. There were other love triangles in the show, like with Ron and Kim and Freddie, but I never really watched the show enough to report on them.
The Office-It amazed me when I first watched this show and found this trope very much alive and well. We all know this one, Jim and Pam. They are co-workers who are real good friends. They played pranks together and shared everything. Actually, Jim likes her a little more than that. However she is engaged so even if she feels the same, there’s no way she can act. By the end of the second season he admits this and kisses her, only to have Pam say she is still getting married. The next season the wedding is off but Jim has transferred out of the office. Jim and Pam kind of kept their distance until one of the series great scenes in â€œThe Beach Gameâ€ when Pam admitted missing Jim and his friendship. Finally Jim returned to the office and he starts dating Pam. That leads to them becoming engaged, married, and finally having a child. Now she is pregnant again. Iâ€™d be lying if I said I have seen every episode. However, I did like this couple they seemed to have a nice chemistry.
Good Morning, Miami-Never heard of it? There is a good reason. I wanted to put this bad series on here to show this doesnâ€™t always work. This series pulled out every clichÃ© associated with this trope. The whole plot of the show was the main character kept a job at a low rated Miami morning show because he fell head over heels for a woman who worked there. He loved her; she had no idea and was in a serious relationship. On top of that, there was another woman who was interested in him but he had no clue! If you turned this clichÃ© into a sitcom, this would have been the sitcom. The show failed and the creators rushed the relationship in an attempt to save viewers, it failed of course when they got together and the romantic chemistry vanished.
The Big Bang Theory-Leonard had a crush on Penny from the first moment he laid eyes on here. After some flirting around he finally managed to ask her out, and they dated for awhile before breaking up. Penny then regretted letting Leonard go while he dated others, and at this point in the series the two are together again and working on making their relationship work. The big problem with this relationship is Penny is insecure about the fact that Leonard is much smarter than her.
There are plenty other examples. For the sake of brevity, let’s take a quick look at some other famous TV crushes, some less unrequited than others:
WKRP in Cincinnati-Herb had a crush on Jennifer (who could blame him?) which was totally not reciprocated (who could blame her?). They did go on a date once which was a disaster.
The Wonder Years-Of course one of the main plots of this show was Kevin’s love for Winnie. In the end, they didn’t get together.
Full House-When Jesse and Rebecca first met, Rebecca had no interest in Jesse. After about a year of flirting and will they/won’t they teasing, they quickly got together and were married.
NewsRadio-Dave and Lisa hooked up early in the series run, and subsequently broke up. Even though there were hints of them getting back together, it never happened.
Boy Meets World-Cory and Topanga was a hot item. They finally got married, but I am not sure if this counts as unrequited when it began. I didnâ€™t start watching this show till very late.
Seinfeld-Of course Jerry and Elaine was a former couple. Despite the teases that they may get back together, they never did. I always liked it when someone would inquire about their relationship and rather than saying a simple no Elaine would explain the whole story to a complete stranger.
Murphy Brown-Eldin the house painter had a crush on Corky, which made for a few good laughs
Everybody Loves Raymond-Robert and Amy had a very roller coaster relationship. They broke up four or five times before finally getting married (despite her parentâ€™s objections).
Just Shoot Me-The first three seasons we could tell there was something between Maya and Elliot, and finally they confessed those feelings and went out for about a year. The interesting thing is when they did break up, they stayed broken up.
Caroline in the City-When Caroline hired Richard to color her cartoons, the chemistry was almost instant. First Richard had feelings for her, and then after he was married Caroline has feelings for him. It took some time but the two did finally confess for their love for each other.
Scrubs-J.D. and Elliot had a relationship which so mirrored a Ross & Rachel kind of romance that it even made it as a joke in one episode. They did wind up together in the end, but there were lots of twists and turns. At one point J.D., after pining for so long, admitted his feelings. Elliott dropped the guy she was with and went with J.D. who changed his mind! Wow, that takes guts.
It doesn’t need to be a sitcom to have this. Drama’s like Moonlighting were famous for his too. Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd had a very hot will they/won’t they romance. Finally, there is no way I can finish this without discussing Star Trek. There were tons of these through the course of all the series. Here they are quickly:
Original Series-Nurse Chapel had a thing for Spock; of course he was incapable of returning those feelings.
TNG-Riker and Troi were the Star Trek version of Ross & Rachel. They had a history, and then decided to just remain friends, but you could still feel the heat between them. There was also Picard and Crusher, and when they finally revealed how they felt they decided it would be best not to act on it.
DS9-Odo had a thing for Kira through the whole series. Of course, Bashir’s crush on Jadzia started literally from the beginning. She never returned those affections; instead she seemed amused by them.
Voyager-The Doctor had feelings for Seven of Nine that were never expressed. We also felt like Janeway and Chakoty had feelings for one another. I don’t include Harry and his ogling of Seven of Nine, Harry was a horny guy who liked anything with a pretty face, which is why his relationships were always disasters.
Enterprise-We were given the distinct feeling that Archer had feelings for T’Pol, but she hooked up with Tripp in an on again, off again relationship.
The funny thing is even after all that I feel like I missed a few. As you can see this is a very popular trope. Why is that? I think it’s because when a show is written well and we really care for the character, we want to see them happy. So when love is in the air, how can we not route for things to work out? It also makes for some awkwardly funny moments when we see one character to clearly in love with other who either doesnâ€™t have a clue or does not share those feelings.