Teen emotion has always been big, dramatic and very rightnowrighthere. On TV these days, it’s also very immediate. Watching ABC Family’s crop of delightfully soapy teen shows… it’s like watching the relationship version of the Indy 500!
I tuned in to the fourth episode of Switched at Birth to see Daphne (Katie LeClerc, right) tearfully breaking up with the guy she met in the pilot. The previews for the next episode showed Bay hooking up with the guy she encountered in the pilot. On The Nine Lives of Chloe King, Chloe was having “ZOMG! I can’t be with a boy!” angst by episode three. Over at Make It Or Break It, Payson was declaring her love for Max despite him only being on the canvas a handful of episodes. I was sitting in front of my TV, mouth agape, thinking, “What is the rush?” And let’s not even talk about Pretty Little Liars‘ Aria and Ezra, who went from being a spicy, forbidden hookup to a boring, domestic duo in two blinks of an eye.
Remember when Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s cryptic Angel followed Buffy around for weeks before she trusted him? And how she didn’t learn he was a vampire until 7 episodes in, and that was also the first episode in which they kissed? Their season two love scene was literally life-changing. Or how about Dawson’s Creek, which made bank on drawing out the Dawson/Joey/Pacey antics for years? Remember when Haley became Nathan’s tutor on One Tree Hill? Sure, they had a hasty marriage, but we then saw every beat of how that reckless impulse impacted them. Writers took time to build relationships, to draw out tension, to take the tumult of teen emotion and milk it for every last drop of pathos.
These days, it’s like teen relationships come stamped “just add water.” Daphne sees a hot guy; two seconds later they’re in love and sacrificing that love to keep Daphne’s family at peace. Chloe meets three hot guys; one ends up dead and the other two are her obvious swains before the audience even knows who she is. Aria and Ezra hang out at his apartment and stare at each other a lot, and Emily’s already on her third girlfriend. Where is the drama? Where is the investment factor? Make us work for it!
I hate to bring up Twilight, but you know what…? I’m going to bring up Twilight. I feel like it certainly influenced the narrative tide for teen romance. Bella and Edward are drawn to each other Just Because. It’s mystical, it’s instant, it defies explanation and doesn’t need any rationale. Characterization? Fuggedaboutit. She’s clumsy, he sparkles… what more do you need? Who needs a build-up when you have freesia-scented blood? The phenomenon proved that insta-love is easy, and… well… it sells.
Let’s not deny it: I’m a lone nay-saying voice in a sea of Edward/Bella fans and Ezria enthusiasts. People clamoring for reasons and actual time spent are few and far between. TV shows, in particular, have to be faster, because the viewer will change the channel to Jersey Shore unless they’re given a paint-by-numbers relationship to quickly invest in. It’s a race to keep your timeslot, to stay afloat for more than one season. So, it’s all about setting up the pretty pins and knocking them down. Hot Girl Meets Hot Guy (or, in Emily’s case, Hot Girl), Cue Twu Wuv!
Sure, the trope existed before, in both books and on TV, but I feel like it wasn’t as pervasive. And we had a lot more characters who, gasp, didn’t have a designated soulmate. I mean, God, how many women did Beverly Hills, 90210‘s Steve go through before marrying Janet? And in between romancing Brenda and Kelly and stirring up fan fury, Dylan had that tragic marriage to Toni. (“Brandon, look what they did to her!”) These days, not being paired up with a long-term love interest means you’re probably worm food by the show’s fifth or sixth episode!
But I want more! Instant gratification is nice and all, but I miss being tormented by questions like, “Will they get together?” and “When will they get together?” I miss ‘shipping people that might not get together at all. (Perish the thought!) So, all these couples being gift-wrapped and handed to viewers… ironically, it tries my patience!