Saturday, March 1, 2008

When Life Imitates Art: Why TV OTPs Should Never Be Real-Life OTPs

Okay, I have been itching to blog about this for a very long time now. It's an issue that hits me at the core, to the point of quite possibly proving beyond a shadow of any doubt that I am - in fact - a big, big freak. It takes a very "special" sort of fandom kid to get wrapped up in the lives and romances of real people, not just the characters they portray. What's always struck me as odd about myself though, is that I absolutely loathe outlets such as Extra and Access Hollywood that are so determined to snoop around the most private of details about celebrities. I'm all for them having privacy and completely respect their desires to maintain personal lives outside of the spotlight. That doesn't mean I'm not going to swoon over what does leak out, however. Or, at least, I used to swoon over that stuff.

In the last few years I have learned a lesson about 'shipping real-life couples: it will only end in tears. What's more, supporting the real-life coupling of your onscreen OTP is basically the equivalent of supporting the destruction of the onscreen chemistry you fell in love with in the first place. It's just not a good idea.

When I was in middle school, I was addicted to Beverly Hills, 90210 and all the melodrama that it had to offer me. What's more, I was addicted to the romance between characters David Silver and Valerie Malone. Screw all of you David/Donna 'shippers, I am still bitter about the whole thing. But, in hindsight, it's easy to see how I completely lost that battle. Brian Austin Green and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, who portrayed my beloved David/Valerie pairing so well, were in a long-term relationship before Tiffani-Amber even joined the cast of that godforsaken show. They were dating when she was still bopping around the set of Saved By The Bell, and because of their romantic history I can believe that the writers of 90210 thought it would play quite brilliantly onscreen to pair their characters up as a couple. And ya know what? It *did* play quite brilliantly onscreen. I was so completely in love with David/Valerie that it broke my heart - I literally cried on and off for several days - when they broke up (the characters, not the actors) during the Valentine's Day episode one season. I had memorized the poem that David wrote for her in a card that day before their entire relationship fell apart. I could probably recite it to this very day if someone started me off with the first line or two. Seriously, it was hardcore love.

But I didn't really fret, because I knew that as long as Brian/Tiffani were still together it was basically guaranteed that David/Valerie would be back together. Dating actors on the same show don't typically take too well to their sig. other having love scenes with someone else all of the time. And I was right, because eventually David/Val did reunite down the line. But then one day I was in the grocery store flipping through and stocking up on my weekly/monthly issues of Bop, Teen Beat, Tiget Beat and the whole collection of 12 - 14year old gossip mags when I read an announcement that Green and Thiessen had broken up. Forever. For good. And I knew I was screwed.

You'd think I would have learned a strong enough lesson about rooting for onscreen OTPs to be OTPs in real life, but I so totally didn't. In the past few years alone, I have been disappointed and harshly reminded three times over as to why life should never, under any circumstances, imitate art when it comes to TV romance.

Lesson #1: The Pain of Gartan Will Likely Never Fade

Around 4-ish years ago, I was at my breaking point with ER and on the prowl for a new show - and a new OTP - to obsess over. Friends had been trying to coax me over to Alias for a couple of years already, but I was adamantly against it for reasons that now basically escape my memory. But I gave in; spent a week or so with bronchitis and a sinus infection hold-up in my apartment with my cousin watching nothing but Alias DVDs the entire time. It didn't take very long before we were both completely hooked on not only the mythology, but the Sydney/Vaughn chemistry and romance. They were so good together, it was almost painful. When news broke in the summer of 2003 that Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan might possibly be dating - that she quite possibly divorced husband Scott Foley so that she might openly explore her love for everyone's favorite hockey-playing Frenchman - the Alias fandom world exploded. 'Shippers had been fantasizing about this real-life pairing since the pilot, apparently, and I was all for it because Vartan is my dream guy and the idea of Syd/Vaughn being together in the real world was almost too perfect to think about. But it was actually happening. By mid-fall of that same year, they were both doing interviews on GMA and Ellen and anything else imaginable openly admitting to their new relationship as a romantic couple. We squee'd. The excitement was overwhelming and it was all so perfect that any idea of them ever splitting up was just unthinkable. This was Gartan. They were bulletproof. And SO DAMN CUTE TOGETHER.

There's something to be said of the fact that the one season they did spend together as a real-life OTP was spent onscreen playing out angst and heartbreak as it was S3 and Vaughn was married to Lauren and Syd was back from the dead. I personally think their love and romance together offscreen made that angst play out even more believably, because they were capable of "going to that place" inside themselves and dredging up the real emotions of "Okay, imagine this is really happening to you two. Imagine Michael is inaccessible to you now. Imagine Jen is right there in front of you but you can't do anything to lessen her pain." I mean, hell - that'd sure make my angsty tears and longing looks of heartbreak more realistic if I were them. Most fans hated S3 because of Syd/Vaughn being tortured. I personally loved it because of all the believable, heartbreaking angst that played out so beautifully. But with Gartan being so in love, so completely devoted to one another, there was always that looming fear in the pit of our stomachs: what will happen to Sydney and Vaughn if Gartan falls apart?

It didn't take us long to find out. One year after the initial rumors of their pairing had started flying around, the initial rumors of their split hit the gossip mill. No one wanted to believe it. It was hiatus, and they were apart because he was filming "Monster-In-Law" in LA whilst she was in Canada filming the worst mistake of her life, "Elektra." Of course break-up rumors will fly when a couple is apart like that for months at a time. But then Jen did a radio show stint one morning, the details of which I cannot remember nor do I have the urge to dig up and re-read, where she very carefully and casually let the cat out of the bag by stating that she was single and spent her Saturday nights at home alone.

Sometimes I can still feel that moment when the Syd/Vaughn and Gartan 'shipper's hearts stopped beating. We were so screwed.

Now, thanks to JJ Abrams and team telling them from the get-go that their personal relationship would have no impact whatsoever on his storytelling we were pretty sure we'd be okay in the Syd/Vaughn game plan. They'd still likely end up together no matter what, and they absolutely did with their two beautiful spy!babies and their secluded beach house with it's wrap-around porch. Jennifer and Michael's break-up was still felt quite notably though, because it was like the elephant in the room for the good first half of Season 4. You could cut the tension between them with a knife, and it was so palpable that I actually know a few 'shippers who gave up on the show entirely because the Syd/Vaughn chemistry just wasn't the same anymore. I kept watching until the very end, and it did get better. In interviews and bloopers you could see overtime that Jen and Michael were still very close, practically the best of friends and that any bad blood between them post-breakup had nearly vanished. But that didn't stop it from almost ruining so many moments over the years.

Everyone knew that Jen had left Michael to be with Ben Affleck - who is, to this day, the bane of my existence. And it made it very painful to watch Alias when they insisted upon reminding the fans of that fact via Sydney and her life. Was it really necessary for Sydney to wear a Red Sox cap and talk about her love of the team in that S5 episode? It made me cringe. And don't even get me started on the whirlwind of news reports and rumors that went flying around uncontrollably during S4 and the summer hiatus between 4 and 5 suggesting that Affleck had such a problem with his girlfriend having an onscreen romance with her real-life ex that he convinced Jen to figure out a way to get Michael off the show. Now, I love Jen Garner and cannot ever bring myself to believe that she did such a thing. But the constant reports made it very difficult to enjoy the onscreen romance. And the longing looks that Vartan would give her in character as Vaughn, especially during his "proposal" speech at the car dealership in "Welcome to Liberty Village," were basically heartbreaking to watch. It was so hard to focus on the wonder of 'shipping Syd/Vaughn anymore because any moment they had together automatically made one cringe and think: "Wow, I bet that was awkward to shoot."

In the end, Syd/Vaughn got to have a baby girl together before the show even ended because Affleck had to go and get Jen pregnant. Yeah, yeah, Violet is quite possibly the cutest thing I've ever seen. I adore her immensely and can't help but break out into a big ol' grin every time that I see a photo of her. But only because I adamantly try to forget who her father is on a regular basis. But a big part of me (and other 'shippers) still wonders where JAbrams and crew would have taken the story if they hadn't have had to write in the pregnancy. Would they have come up with a series finale that wrapped things up better? Would Season 5 have made more sense? Would there have actually been a Season 6 or even 7 of Alias if Jen hadn't become a mom and the ratings hadn't crashed the second they decided to "kill" Vaughn in the S5 premiere? We'll never know, but it does prove just how deeply the fallout of a real-life OTP can affect the story of the onscreen romance they portray every week.

To this day, it's a very bad idea to strike up a conversation about Gartan with me. It still breaks my heart and I'm still completely delusional over the idea that one day Affleck will fail at his husbandly duties and she'll realize it was Vartan all along. It's completely, unbearably heartbreaking for me to look back on - pictures and videos and interviews of Gartan together. The way we were, my friends. The way we were. The good ol' days.

If only I'd learned my lesson from that one, too.

Lesson #2: The Brody/Bilson Saga

Near the end of Alias, I knew I was going to need a new show to love and adore. The idea of The O.C. actually made me cringe, as I was totally turned off by my own interpretation of what the show must have been like. But I have a younger sister, and she was obsessed with it. And she lived with me, and I wanted her to watch Alias so that we could bond with one another over our obsession with Sydney/Vaughn. She refused to let me force my Alias DVDs upon her unless I agreed to allow her the same power over me with her DVDs of The O.C. - and that is how my addiction to Seth/Summer was born.

When it was brought to my attention that Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson were actually dating in real life, I made the mistake of actually caring. I invested a lot of time and energy into loving how adorable they were together, albeit it was a lot less time and energy than I had invested into Gartan. I suppose in that sense you could say I did learn a lesson or two from the latter. But the Brody/Bilson romance became the only thing I had left by way of Hollywood couples. Everyone was breaking up left and right, and I always said that if Adam and Rachel ever broke up I would probably break down and cry.

Well, I didn't break down and cry. But I did have a minor panic attack over what was going to happen to Seth and Summer. Just like with JJ Abrams, Josh Schwartz had stated openly to the public that he warned Adam and Rachel about what would happen if they ever broke up - meaning he had no intention of changing his story ideas or end game for their characters just because they split up and had a hard time being around one another anymore. Knowing that fact long before they actually did break up gave me a good feeling of hope, and I was pretty damn certain I didn't have to worry about Seth/Summer ending up together in the finale. It was just a matter of how awkward getting them to that point was going to be over the last season.

This, however, is where Brody and Bilson lucked out in my opinion: the show was already in it's final season by the time the couple broke up offscreen. We didn't have too far to go with them, and therefore putting up with any awkward tension was less-potentially deadly to the chemistry of Seth/Summer overall. And, sort of like the blessing of the story-driven awkwardness of Syd/Vaughn in the beginning of S4 Alias, the 4th and final season of The O.C. was also full of story-driven awkwardness for Seth/Summer as they dealt with her grief over losing Marissa and the long-distance romance that they tried to maintain whilst she was away at college. Story-driven tension and awkwardness is actually a major helper for characters being portrayed by two people who just recently went through a real-life breakup. You can absolutely see the weirdness and pain on their faces, despite how hard they try to be good actors, but the story allows them to be that way while the audience can say, "Well, yeah they seemed weird together but it was perfect for that scene so maybe they were just acting."

Which would have been well and good, were it not for one specific blooper from early that season that broke my heart. I'd show it to you now, but YouTube refuses to find it for me. (As Caroline just said, that basically goes against the principles of YouTube altogether - what exactly is it's purpose if I cannot find what I'm looking for? Sigh.) Anyway, I shall explain: Rachel and Adam are doing a scene where Summer has flown home from Rhode Island on a whim to help him out and take care of some important issues there in Newport. It's all very sweet, despite the built-in awkwardness that is supposed to be there because Summer is refusing to deal with her grief over Marissa. But in the blooper, which I really wish I could show you, Adam is in the middle of saying his line where he's sincerely and lovingly thanking Summer for coming home for him and being there for him. He stops midway and stares at Rachel for brief second before saying very clearly and sadly, "This is so awkward!" to which Rachel can only barely glance up into his eyes and attempt a sad, agreeable smile. It broke my heart.

And I found it hard to focus on anything else the rest of the season, even though Seth/Summer were completely together and adorable the entire time. Subsequent bloopers from the show showed them much better around each other, quite similar to how the tension between Gartan faded over time. But I couldn't get past it. And in the last episode of the series, they made a point in the script to have Summer reading a gossip magazine and comment on her shock over the fact that "real-life Jake broke up with real-life April" - the fake actors in the world of The O.C. who were built-in to mirror the lives of Adam and Rachel as they played out a storyline similar to Seth/Summer on the fake drama, "The Valley." I had a momentary jaw-drop that it was so blatantly mentioned, and even more so over the fact that they were basically answering the fan question of what had happened to Bilson & Brody; if real-life Jake is said to have broken up with real-life April, that meant that Adam was the one that broke up with Rachel. Being aware of and worrying about their post-breakup tension all of the time was really just too damn distracting. It makes the show so much less fun to watch overall, even if your couple does still end up happily ever after in the finale.

And still, I did not learn my lesson. Still, I swooned over real-life OTPs from TV. Until this, the third and final lesson, which is still in the process of teaching me why it is such a bad idea.

Lesson #3: It's Tuesday, but Jennifer/Jesse May Ruin it For You

I've always been addicted to House, and for a long time I was baffled over how I could love a show so much and yet have no idea who I was going to 'ship overall. I was so intrigued by the character of House and his brilliant wit that I just wasn't that concerned with finding an OTP to carry me through for this show. I mean, I was a little concerned, simply because I'm not one to love a show without being invested in an OTP... but it wasn't that daunting. I was entertained by the banter of House/Cuddy (although I've always favored the short-lived House/Stacy arc); I thought the Chase/Cameron meth!sex was pretty damn hot; I already knew I was entirely creeped out by the idea of House/Cameron and thus didn't know where to turn, as it seemed as if that's where everyone expected it to go. House is not short on 'shipping possibilities - it's just always lacked any real 'shipping canon. I knew I had options. I just had to decide.

Early on last season I decided, and I decided hardcore. I was (and still am) a 'shipper of Cameron/Chase. I fell madly in love with their banter and ridiculous denial of true feelings for one another well before I was ever even aware that their portrayers, Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer, were a real-life OTP in their own right. They went off and got engaged at the Eiffel Tower (which is so very TomKat of them, really) and Cameron/Chase progressed quite nicely. I predicted in the previously-linked blog that there was no way their "no strings attached" situation was going to work out for them, and then followed up in this subsequent blog on how that was so clearly going to be the case. It didn't quite go down the way I had dreamed up in the last paragraph of that last blog, but I was correct overall. What's more, the build-up of it was sheer perfection. Oh man, it's been a long time since I've seen something so beautifully pieced together in this slow dance of denial on her part and loving patience on his. Chase decided he wanted more than just casual sex - he was falling in love with her. Cameron ran scared, pissed at him for getting emotional and ruining the good thing they had. And for weeks and weeks and weeks we had this glorious moment in every episode where, at some point be it predictable or random, Chase would say to her: "It's Tuesday. I like you." His promise to remind her of his feelings every Tuesday, instead of badgering her about it on a daily basis, was so desperately beyond adorable. And in the finale last year, it was almost heartbreaking to watch her be on the verge of giving in whilst at the same time he's on the verge of giving up when he admits to her he knows "the whole 'it's Tuesday, I like you' thing" was silly and pathetic.

And then, something so simple and yet so perfectly perfect in it's wonderment happened. Thanks to YouTube not being entirely worthless tonight, I can actually show you said moment instead of having to describe it - which is far less fun and only supports my longwindedness.

In the final C/C scene of the show last year, we were left with this little gem of hope:

Finally, House had a canon romance. And it was the one I wanted! But you know what happened next? Yep, just when it's all falling into place and getting good... Jennifer and Jesse broke off their engagement and split up back in August. I was desperately wanting to bang my head against a wall repeatedly, because I honestly couldn't believe I let it happen again. I do realize that these are all real people with real lives and real emotions, and I do totally feel for them and how painful it must be not only to breakup with someone you loved so deeply but to also have to return to work with them day after day - I get that, okay? I adore both Jennifer and Jesse, as separate individuals, and would never make light of what I know nothing about. But that also just furthers my point of why dating your OTP co-star IS A VERY BAD IDEA. Although, to be fair, the Js were together off-screen long, long before any hint of Cam/Chase OTP-status ever existed. There was absolutely no reason for them to hold-off on dating when they initially got together soon after filming the pilot. It wasn't like they were pre-destined a la Syd/Vaughn or Seth/Summer. The Js are slightly exempt in that sense.

But still. Like it or not, your real-life chemistry is absolutely going to effect how your characters are portrayed. And y'all - every single one of you actor couples - are slowly killing me one OTP at a time.

So Morrison/Spencer split up in August and seeing as it happened so close to (or even after) the start of new-season filming, I can't really hold them accountable for the state of the show today. I'd have to assume that the writers and show runners had already decided to go this new route where House finds a new team and we rarely ever see the original three. Really, that's no one's stupid fault but Shore and Jacobs. Nonetheless, I'm bitter and heartbroken because we didn't even get to see Cam/Chase together AT ALL and now Jennifer/Jesse are kaput. That, I'm sorry, does not bode well for any future Cam/Chase romance. It's hard to really tell or keep track with this new format of House this season, but it appears as though Cam/Chase are actually a couple on the show - albeit one we see nothing of save for them leaving the hospital together once or twice. I can't really tell, it's all very confusing anymore. But it's also frustrating because if they are currently a show OTP, I'd like to... oh, I dunno... SEE IT HAPPENING. Except that with Jennifer/Jesse no longer together in real life, maybe I don't want to see it happening. Maybe it wouldn't work anymore. Or maybe it would be better, more angsty. I'd like to know, though! Considering that all of S4 (thus far) has been entirely without C/C romance, it's still a wait-and-see game as to whether or not the chemistry will change due to the shift in the J's relationship. Just because Garner/Vartan and Brody/Bilson basically ruined it, that doesn't predestine Morrison/Spencer to do the same. Who knows? Maybe they'll be the glorious exception. They do honestly appear to be extremely close and easy-going with one another, so perhaps this time all is not lost.

That is, of course, if the show even actually decides to continue with the Cam/Chase romance at all. They don't HAVE to keep any couple together on this procedural-based show - especially not one they've hardly even delved into yet.

And that makes me sad. And it makes me angry. And it makes me want to pass out fliers and start a support group so that we can get the word out to actors far and wide:

If you're attracted to your co-star and you really want to date them, do me a favor - build up the UST for however many seasons your show is on the air, and save the sexy dating explorations until after you've wrapped the series finale. Pretty please?

3 Responses to “When Life Imitates Art: Why TV OTPs Should Never Be Real-Life OTPs”

Anonymous said...

Michael Vartan and Jennifer Garner will make me sad forever.

Also, for good measure, I want to throw Chad Michael Murray/Sophia Bush into the long list of real life break-ups screwing up OTPs.

I'm really afraid of the rumors about Blake Lively and Penn Badgley dating. Serena/Dan are so adorable and they better not screw it up.

Mae Vaughan said...


I knew I was forgetting someone when I posted this blog. I asked Caroline at least 100 times if there were any failed real-life OTPs that I was leaving out... and alas, Chad Michael and Sophia. Duh. Perhaps the most destructive of them all. However, I've only ever watched One Tree Hill in passing and therefore claim that as my excuse for completely forgetting about the horror of that OTP loss.

Post-Chad/Sophia I would see in the promos that they were blatantly going with Lucas/Peyton now... and that always felt to me, even as someone who hardly ever watched. So, absolutely you are correct! Considering them high-up on the list of reasons why dating (or, ya know, marrying.) your OTP co-star is bad, bad, very bad.

Serena/Dan? Fill me in. I have no idea who these people are. I'm intrigued - if only to find out what I should steer clear of if in fact they are becoming a real-life OTP :)

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