Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Evolution of the Epic Bromance

This post will focus on something which is not quite shipping in the romantic sense, even though the concepts share a lot of the same characteristics: I speak here of the televisual "bromance". As most of you reading this will probably be girls, I assume that we're all familiar with girl-friendships (hos over bros, y'all! Holler!), and enjoy seeing and identifying with these on TV (eg. Peyton and Brooke from One Tree Hill, or Maria and Liz from Roswell). As for relationships on TV I'm sure we all wish we could identify, and spend a lot of time trying and failing to make life imitate art – Jack Shephards just don't grow on trees, damn it! But when it comes to m/m friendships (or relationships for that matter), we don't really have a lot of experience or understanding of how these work in real life. Men can have beautiful friendships but they usually remain a mystery to us women because of those damn sexual politics. That's right, I just used that phrase. What TV can offer us in this case then, is an exclusive fly-on-the-wall glimpse at boy dynamics. It's true that sometimes all we see is delusional women's interpretation of how male friendships should work (see: all fanfiction in the world), but it's none the less fascinating to us. It's why your boyfriend steals your Cosmo (and thinks you don’t notice): we'll never understand the opposite sex, and thus it fascinates us, and those on-screen male friendships help satisfy that need for understanding.

But look no further: in this blog I'll investigate the idea of this so-called bromance! I'll look at a number of prominent examples and use them to discuss different aspects of this idea, and maybe discuss sexual politics some more. You know... for the lulz.


Let's start by looking at some specific examples with actual brothers. Haha, like I would ever pass up an opportunity to discuss the Winchester boys, so I'll start there:

Sam and Dean Winchester – Supernatural
"All I'm saying, Sammy, all I'm saying is that you're my weak spot, and I'm yours." – Dean, 3x16 'No Rest for the Wicked'

I thought I'd start with these guys rather than beat around the bush with it, because the Winchesters pretty much define the epic bromance as we know it. Supernatural revolves around the relationship between Sam and Dean, and everything they hunt, everyone they save, somehow reflects something the brothers are struggling with, whether it be the boy they meet who is trying to save his little brother, or the spirit of a little girl who haunts her now elderly sister's family because she is lonely. It's underscored time and time again in the show that all the brothers have is each other, and they would literally rather die than be apart. There's no white picket fences in these guys' futures, no chance of them settling down with a pretty girl each and only seeing each other for Christmas and Thanksgiving, their bond is far too all-encompassing for that. And we eat this stuff up, because there's nothing more attractive to us romantic suckers than a guy who can not only show compassion for his girl but for his fellow man (for any guys reading: that's the key, btw. You're welcome), and because Sam and Dean are brothers they can do so without it having any romantic undertones. As far as canon goes, the need to assure the audience of the platonic nature of their relationship never arises because duh, they're related, and this "excuse" allows the writers and actors to go all out emotionally. It's interesting to note that this show is primarily written by men (though my sources tell me they tend to leave the big emotional scenes for Sera Gamble), and of course the actors are the ones who really bring out the intensity in the scenes written for them. It's delicious for us girls to get to watch these guys be so close, and without having to worry about love triangles or the usual shipper problems, because it will always be Sam and Dean, no question about it.

In fact, the actors themselves are so invested in the Sam/Dean dynamic that in the episode where they had to act indifferent to each other, What is and What Should Never Be (2x20), Eric Kripke says in the commentary that they struggled massively with the material, both telling him that the brotherly bond was so instrumental in tying them together that it scared them to watch it absolve and not being able to play off each other like they usually did. That's an epic relationship if I ever saw one.

Nathan and Lucas Scott – One Tree Hill
"Just playing walkie-talkies with my brother." – Lucas, 6x14 'A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene'

I'll use Nathan and Lucas as my second example of a literal bromance, because I think their dynamic is significantly different from Sam and Dean's. Unlike Supernatural, One Tree Hill is a show primarily focused on romance and complicated love triangles, and the Nathan/Lucas relationship is allowed to slowly develop and be cemented in the background. But that doesn't make it any less adorable, and only intensifies the squee-level of the scenes they actually do get together, like the walkie-talkie scene depicted above. Romantic relationships are great but on television their milestones are usually limited to: the first kiss, the breakup, the reconciliation, the other man/woman, the engagement, the marriage, the pregnancy and the birth. Of course those epic ships we all love so much tend to feature more heavy angst because it adds that extra depth and raises the stakes (Jate, I'm looking at you), but in a show like One Tree Hill it's all relatively straight forward. Lucas and Nathan, however, are more complicated because of the rivalry between them instigated by their father, Nathan's growing disconnection from his parents and relationship with Lucas' best friend Haley, Lucas' relationship with Nathan's ex-girlfriend Peyton, and the usual ABC of growing up. Especially in season 1 the conflict between the two brothers was a central part of the show dynamic. Like a ship that starts out hating each other, we wish for these guys to have their epic throwdown and then bonding session, but it has to come slow and steady, and One Tree Hill delivered. Nathan and Lucas succeeded where Keith and Dan failed, and it tugged at our heartstrings.

The ultimate resolution for these non-ships is usually a hug. In a ship it would be a kiss, and really the difference in the happiness these moments bring us is not that great. We just want the characters we love to be happy and together, in whichever way we choose to interpret that word.

Joey and Chandler – Friends
"All right, look! If this is just a big joke to you, then forget about it, all right?! This means something to me! And if it doesn't mean anything to you, then you should get out of there, otherwise you're just an idiot in a box!" – Joey, 4x08 'TOW Chandler in a Box'

I've discussed the close relationships between brothers – but when the characters are not brothers, the lines get a little blurry. I almost left these guys off my list but bumped them up over McDreamy and McSteamy, because, it's Joey and Chan! J and C! J-Man and Channie (6x02)! These guys defined awkward best-friend 4eva male relationships for the comedic generation. A lot of the humor in the Joey/Chandler relationship stemmed from the homosexual undertones and their "girly" way of being friends (i.e. they actually shared their feelings). Their friendship sometimes strayed into ambiguous territory, but it was always done with a laugh: the most significant moment (in my opinion; there were a lot) to show this is when they get the chick and get into a very domestic argument parodying parentage:

Joey: Well, anyway, I got to go change, I'm ah, meeting some of the cast for drinks.
Chandler: Excuse me?
Joey: What?
Chandler: I stayed home from work today while you were at rehearsal so somebody could be here with our chick!
Joey: Hey! Who was up from 2 o'clock this morning until 5 o'clock this morning trying to get her back to sleep?
Chandler: You don't think I get up when you get up?
Joey: Ohh, here it comes.
Chandler: Yes, here it comes! I'm stuck here all day, and then you come in and spend two seconds with us and then expect to go off gallivanting with your friends?! Well I don't think so mister!
Joey: Hey! I need to relax, okay? I was working all day!
Chandler: And you don't think taking care of our chick is work?
Joey: That's not what I said. Okay, I just meant...
Chandler: I know what you meant! (pause) You notice that ever since we got this chick, we've been fighting a lot more than we used to?
Joey: I don't know, maybe we weren't ready to have a chick.
(3x21 'TOW The Chick and the Duck')

Before Chandler and Monica got together (and to some extent after, as well), there was a lot of writing for Joey and Chandler as if they were a couple. Besides from Rachel and Ross they were probably the two friends who were closest and spent the most time together, and while for the most time the "relationship" insinuations were comically exaggerated, there was a lot of truth in it as well. Looking at Friends realistically is always a challenge, but if we try, we see two guys in a New York apartment, unlucky/unhappy in love and with their careers, who at the end of the day can come home to each other and take a deep breath because it's safe, and easy, and free of complications. That's what characterizes a true friendship and what makes life a little bit easier for us all, and it's nice to see that guys can also have it. For me personally I take a lot of comfort in the Chandler/Joey friendship because it reminds me of my own best friends, and it's always depressing to see those guys who only hang out to get wasted or play video games. Joey and Chandler's friendship is one for the ages, and it's influenced the televisual bromances that followed – for example Seth/Ryan, which I will discuss below.

Seth and Ryan – The O.C.
"Alright, come on buddy, get ready. For some old-fashioned Seth/Ryan Time." – Seth, 3x04 'The Last Waltz'

Like One Tree Hill, The O.C. is primarily about romance, But Ryan and Seth's relationship did a lot to define the show, and came to symbolize The O.C.'s over-arching theme: the merging of two worlds (Chino and The O.C., rich and poor, tough and touchy-feely, etc).

Seth and Ryan are like the odd couple, with their different backgrounds and personalities it shouldn't be possible for them to be friends, and yet they are. They have very funny, sarcastic scenes and their jokes are usually focused on Ryan's masculinity and Seth's lack of same. Like with Chandler and Joey, Ryan and Seth's close bond is sometimes indirectly (more or less) addressed in the show:

Seth (walking in on Ryan changing): Hey! Oh... sorry. I'm surprised that hasn't happened before. Not saying I'm disappointed it hasn't happened before just saying the mathematical probability of...
Ryan: Yeah. Crying during chick flicks... walking in on me getting dressed...
Seth: Yeah, what's your point? Okay, I'm not seeing what you're getting at. Do you work out?
Ryan: Not really.
Seth: Cool, me neither. I'm gonna go watch some hockey.
(1x24 'The Proposal')

But nothing is ever actually insinuated between them, and why would it be? Sure, there are Seth/Ryan shippers out there and by all means go for it, but it's always been clear in the show that Seth and Summer belonged together and that Ryan, at least, never considered a relationship with a man. We love this friendship because it functions as a Constant among all the Ryan-Marissa-Seth-Summer-Anna-Taylor-Luke-Oliver-Trey-Johnny-Kaitlin-blablablablaaaah drama. We never have to worry about it, or read anything into it, it's nice and relaxing, and I know I personally always get that "aaahhhh" feeling settling into some good old-fashioned Seth/Ryan time. It's just them. Nothing to get worked up about here.

Hurley and Charlie – Lost
"Just remember... I love you man." – Charlie. "Yeah whatever, I love you too." – Hurley, 3x21 'Greatest Hits'

My last example is one which might not have gotten a lot of screen time in which to develop, but it was one of those rare treats for Lost fans whenever these guys got to bond and remove us from all the seriousness for a while. This relationship was maybe not as epic in its entirety, but they sure had their squeeful moments! My top three are:

3. 3x10 'Tricia Tanaka is Dead'

Bromances on TV are often used for comedic effect, but sometimes the funny is interwoven with seriousness and melancholy, and that’s when it gets really great, in my opinion. This moment from the car is great. "Let's look death in the face and say, whatever dude."

2. 3x21 'Greatest Hits'

The last hug. Charlie has to make sure Hurley doesn't come along, because he's set in the sacrifice he has to make. It's heartbreaking, and poignant, and even if Charlie is doing this for Claire and Aaron it doesn't make his love for Hurley any less beautiful.

1. 1x07 'The Moth'

When Charlie and Jack emerge from the cave we get the romantic payoff when Kate hugs Jack, but the male fans (and us) also get their resolution, which they can enjoy without feeling emasculated, in the Hurley/Charlie hug followed by "Dude, you rock!" (It happens a while into the video but it's worth waiting for, just for the Jate hug!)

(But... what about the actual romances?)

Before we finish, there's a dilemma I want to address which inevitably comes up when you discuss bromances in this fashion: On one hand, you want to distance yourself from the hormone-ridden fangirls who over-sexualise everything from Shrek to Harry Potter, and thus you try to completely ignore the supposed homoeroticism in these relationships (as I have done so far)... yet on the other hand, is it really such a stretch to imagine that Ryan and Seth or Chandler and Joey could have been romantically involved? The intense feelings are certainly already there, and sometimes I wonder if the only reason shows choose not to go there is because of the political statement it would make, and the creators are, ironically, trying to avoid the drama. It's true that not every relationship is romantic, but the problem with television is that romance is always a factor in m/f relationships. Hence the triangles and quadrangles of doom. Torchwood intensifies this by making Captain Jack bisexual (above shown making out with James Marsters), but here it's just another extreme because he just has sex with everyone. Television shows simplify the world, and included in this we sadly have our token ethnicities, our token gays, our token white trash, etc. I suppose if there is a morale to this post it is that it would be nice once in a while to see some complexity and variation in television show relationships. Let's see a bromance that actually develops into a romance without the fuss and fanfare (see Willow and Tara in Buffy – they got it right). Let's see a friendship between a boy and a girl which is never anything else (Haley and Lucas from OTH is the best example I can think of here). Show the world that these issues are not such a big deal, and then move on.

In conclusion:

We all have our soft spots, and male friendships is one of mine. I'm not one of those people who need to make everything into romance, and in the cases I have mentioned above I think the relationships are as amazing as they are because romance plays no part in them. From Supernatural, where the brothers' relationship is the core of the whole show, to Friends where everything even remotely serious needs to be turned into a joke somehow, these bromances have touched me, and I hope you feel the same way. What is your favorite on-screen bromance? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

*Screen cap credits:,,,,
**And special thanks to Aly for looking over this post for me and helping me find a good Churley quote!

5 Responses to “The Evolution of the Epic Bromance”

Two thoughts:

1) Joey and Chandler also answer to "the chick and the duck," respectively. Or at least when the building super is around.

2) ...James Marsters making out what?

Mae Vaughan said...

Love this, Selina! I know you narrowed it down for length, but some of my other faves:

JD/Turk (Scrubs-blatant double entendres and fanservice to how homoerotic they could be, LOL)
House/Wilson (House-SO EPIC)
McDreamy/McSteamy (which you mentioned)
Will/Jack (Will & Grace-this is epic because they're both actually gay but never crossed past the friendship line)
Shawn/Gus (Psych-probably my current fave)
Vaughn/Weiss (Alias-"No man should smell as naturally good as you do right now.")

Every bromance you listed is fantastic, though, and I think Seth/Ryan is my absolute favorite of all time. SO. MANY. AWESOME. QUOTES. Aw, Seth/Ryan Time. I'm going to have to marathon that show again soon. It's been way too long.

Selina said...

Will/Jack is a GOOD one! Adds a whole other dimension to the topic! :)

I left Vaughn/Weiss off my list because, as cool as they are, they're hardly "epic"... the relationships that define Alias are really Svaughn, Sydney/Jack, Sydney/Sloane and Sloane/Jack... imo anyway.

JD/Turk - totally true, I guess I just think Chandler/Joey are a more classic example but these guys have pretty much the same kind of relationship, it's awesome.

Some others I didn't mention include Jawyer (again, not so much epic as just funny for the fans), Locke/Ben (cause the dynamic is so fascinating), Harry/Ron (cause they're not on TV... but man are they epic), Peter/Nathan (cuz Heroes is lame), and Chuck/Nate. I could never mention them all but I hope you like my choices. :)

Thanks for commenting you guys!

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