Because Reality Bites: The Best and Worst On-Screen Couples for Valentine’s Day

This holiday does little to get me excited, save perhaps for the prospect of sugar cookies and heart-shaped Spree (do they even make those anymore?). Because I have spent the better part of the last couple of unemployed post-grad months plopped on the couch watching Netflix, I thought that a post dedicated to vicariously living through the lives of on-screen couples would be an appropriate way to celebrate the holiday. I am a-okay with being single this Valentine’s Day. I’m going to be working ten hours, so I am excited to just order some Pizza Luce, watch some quality TV, and pass out on my futon!

So here is my Bitch Flicks-style review of some inspiring, progressive on-screen couples, and some seriously lame ones.

A Few of My Favorites

Naomi and Emily from Skins

Their relationship certainly wasn’t the best, but I feel like it was one of the most realistic ones portrayed on the show. Skins was the first show (since Buffy) I watched that really took the relationship of two teen lesbians seriously. They didn’t use a girl on girl kiss just to draw in viewers or include it only as part of a drunken escapade. Why is it that so many shows are lauded for their inclusion of gay male adolescents, while at the same time, gay females are rarely portrayed or even talked about? I remember reading about how groundbreaking Glee was for including a storyline featuring two gay male characters losing their virginity, but Skins definitely went there first, in a more realistic, non-musical fashion. The emotional toil of sexual confusion, coming out, and figuring out how to be in a relationship was to me, the best, and most realistic storyline on Skins thus far (let’s be honest, most of the things those kids get up to are ridonkulous). I love Emily for having the courage to finally be true to herself, stand up to her family, and confront Naomi. My favorite moment? When Emily says, “I know you, Naomi! I know you’re lonely. I think you need someone to want you… Well, I do want you. So, be brave and want me back.” And kids these days are looking up to Bella and Edward???

Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt from Parks & Recreation

Diane Shipley of Bitch Flicks describes exactly what I love about their relationship – the fact that, unlike the women in so many relationships in prime time,

“…not only is Leslie Knope an intelligent and capable character, but that these are qualities  admired by her colleagues, friends, and boyfriends… [In the episode “Flu Season”] she escapes from hospital, stealing flu meds from other patients on the way, makes a convincing presentation despite being dizzy and barely able to see her notes, and then collapses into a chair. “That was amazing…” says Ben, his face conveying his admiration. “That was Leslie Knope.” 

Plus, Ben is hilarious. Dinner date at the Low-Cal Calzone Zone, anyone?

April Ludgate and Andy Dwyer from Parks & Recreation

This pretty much encapsulates it:

 Andy: What? What’s wrong?April: Nothing. It’s just adults are boring and I hate them. And I don’t want to buy all this stupid, boring adult stuff and become boring adults. Andy: Hey, listen to me. Yes, we’re gonna get a dish rack and shower cutains and a cutting board. But if you think for one second I’m not also gonna get that marshmallow shooter so I can shoot you in the face with marshmallows when you’re asleep, then you’re the dumbest woman I know. April: You’re gonna make me cry.

Andy: What? What’s wrong?
April: Nothing. It’s just adults are boring and I hate them. And I don’t want to buy all this stupid, boring adult stuff and become boring adults.
Andy: Hey, listen to me. Yes, we’re gonna get a dish rack and shower cutains and a cutting board. But if you think for one second I’m not also gonna get that marshmallow shooter so I can shoot you in the face with marshmallows when you’re asleep, then you’re the dumbest woman I know.
April: You’re gonna make me cry.

Dawn and Tim from The Office (UK)

Like Andy and April, I love that they don’t take things too seriously, and that they refuse to completely “grow up” and give up their sense of fun in the office. Their friendship is so sweet, and who wouldn’t want a boyfriend like Tim? He admires Dawn, respects her artwork and her ambitions, and he is hilarious. SPOILER ALERT (if you haven’t watched this series, you needta get with it) – when Dawn opens her Secret Santa gift and Tim’s card tells her to never give up on her art (unlike her at-the-time a-hole boyfriend), how can you not get emotional? I want to pull pranks on Gareth and listen to Hat FM with these two!

These Couples are Just Terrible…

Bella and Edward from Twilight

It pained me to do a google search for this image.

Really, there is more than enough internet space devoted to this subject, but I cannot get over my amazement that so many young girls are looking up to such a terrible example of what love should be. I have not read the books (but I have read Wikipedia synopses of them all, which was more than enough, thank you), but in the films, they never really seem to be enjoying themselves all that much when they’re together. They don’t exactly seem to make each other very happy, yet they are unhealthily obsessed with each other (yet we are never really given a satisfactory explanation for the attraction). When Edward breaks up with her, Bella is depressed and sits around feeling sorry for herself for months, convinced that her entire self worth is tied to Edward. She acts recklessly and endangers her own life just to get his attention. GREAT message for the young girls, Stephanie Meyer! Furthermore, when they finally do it, Edward “can’t control himself” from hurting Bella, because he just loves her so much. And she’s okay with that. Sex isn’t supposed to be enjoyable anyway, right? It is just a means of creating horrific vampire babies that your former best friend and almost-boyfriend will fall in love with in a totally non-creepy way.

Ray and Debra from Everybody Loves Raymond (and Every Other Stereotypical Sitcom Couple)

I’m not even going to post a picture. I used to watch this show as a child before I had cable, and looking back, I am really appalled at how sexist it was. Ray is basically a “lovable” asshole, always trying to get out of helping out and doing things with his family, while Debra is the tired stereotype of the nagging, haggard housewife, who is constantly made fun of and degraded for her lack of culinary talent (which as we all know is the true test of being a good wife, mother, and woman). Every episode is the same. Debra and Ray’s mother nag him about stuff, try to get him to do stuff, he shirks his responsibilities, talks about sports, complains about women with his doofy brother (who we are supposed to laugh at on cue for his hilarious failures to be “man enough”), the men and women get into a tiff, and eventually all is resolved magically, with the hilarious realization that “men will be men” and we should just love them anyway. The terrible perpetuation of these stereotypes for husbands and wives is of course not limited to this sitcom. I remember watching Still Standing, The King of Queens, and countless other sitcoms in which this exact pattern was repeatedly played out. Have we really not moved past this?

Buffy and Riley from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Nick Carter called. He wants his hair back.

If you are a fan of the show, enough said.  I really don’t have a whole lot of political commentary here, I just cannot stand Riley. He lacks any depth or interesting qualities, and he gets jealous because Buffy is stronger than him. Move over, asshole, Buffy can do WAY better. At least both Angel and Spike weren’t intimidated by Buffy because she was a strong, powerful, independent woman. Not that both of those men didn’t have their flaws, but I think we can all agree seeing Buffy with such a no-personality tool was painful.

And the Biggest Letdown…

Pam and Jim! Really?! Who didn’t love them in their wisecracking, prank-pulling heyday? Their relationship still is, and has always been, built on equality and respect, which I admire. BUT, the thing that I always loved most about their relationship was that it represented hope for a future beyond the doldrums of Dunder Mifflin – a hope that by getting together, they could create something more. Like Dawn and Tim, I loved that Jim unconditionally supported Pam’s interest in art, and that he refused to define himself by his boring office job. However, as soon as Pam  all of a sudden “failed” art school (seriously? terrible plot point), I feel like both characters just resigned themselves to their fates at the office and gave up in a way. Sure, they are happy because they have each other, and that is sweet, but what is the message? If you have a great boyfriend, you don’t need to pursue your dreams anymore? Once you find love, nothing else matters? For me, many other things matter! I could never understand how two young people could resign themselves to a life of doing work they do not care about, even if it means they get to work together. Also, they’re just boring to watch now. Boo.

What do you think? Who are your picks for worst and best?


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