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Monday, 9 May 2011

The Mileage of Longing

As anyone who follows me on Twitter will be aware of, I'm currently going through one of my periodic binges on excellent television. This time, it's American sitcom, Frasier, which I hope many people still remember fondly. It told the story of radio shrink, Frasier Crane, as he returned to Seattle to start a new job. His father, Martin, moved in with him, along with English physical therapist, Daphne Moon. And, quite often, his brother, Niles, dropped in to visit. From their very first encounter, it was clear Niles was entranced by Daphne, something which later developed into a strong love.

The comedic value of that attraction was massive. There were some notable episodes which played on it: the series one episode, 'A Midwinter Night's Dream', in which Niles and Daphne are trapped by a storm at his house:

Another favourite of mine is the series three episode, 'Moon Dance'. Daphne helps Niles learn how to dance and eventually ends up accompanying him to the event after his partner cancels. Martin has warned Niles that he'll say something he'll regret in the heat of the moment. Niles duly does this, only for Daphne to surprise everyone by declaring her love as well. For a blissful few seconds both Niles and the audience are ecstatic, only for Daphne to joke that they had everyone fooled:

By series six producers had decided to end the audience's agony. During this series there were several hints Niles and Daphne would get together, despite Daphne accepting a proposal from someone else. Series seven saw Niles start a relationship with someone else, only for Daphne to finally learn how he felt about her for six years. As will occasionally happen, she finds herself suddenly attracted to him too. We get the happy ending, despite Niles marrying someone else and Daphne preparing to walk down the aisle with her fiancée. They start series eight as a couple, in a move which altered the dynamic of the show considerably.

I'm probably not the only one who thinks the most magical aspects of the Daphne/Niles relationship occurred while they were apart. Aside from the merits of the earlier years, when Niles pined silently after her, I'm extremely attached to series seven. From the very next episode after Daphne has discovered how Niles feels about her, she begins to alter her perception of him and starts to look at him in a different way. In a half-an-hour comedy where the spotlight is on another character there isn't much space devoted to the on-going trials of the ensemble cast. That said, the writers and Jane Leeves (playing Daphne) pulled it off magnificently. With little moments scattered throughout series seven, the audience were as involved in Daphne's realisation as they had been in Niles's adoration over the previous six years.

The Frasier producers seemed to have realised they'd pushed the unrequited love boat as far as it could go. It was a key ingredient of the show and I know people who think it suffered for losing the will-they-won't-they strand. But it had to happen. They had to get together. You can't build the expectations of your audience up for years then betray them. This sense of longing can offer immense mileage to a writer, whether you're writing fiction, scripts or anything else, but you have to be careful to resolve the tension before interest diminishes. Soaps are one medium where you can milk this kind of thing too much. For every wonderful Olivia/Natalia storyline (from American soap, Guiding Light, now sadly defunct) there is an Ashley/Bernice (Emmerdale, quite a few years ago now). The beauty of the former was that it switched from longing to fulfilment at just the right time. The viewer had been able to follow both Olivia and Natalia's emotional journey's and jumped when they jumped. However, the problem with the Emmerdale storyline was that the couple couldn't last. They were too different. Once they were together the producers didn't know what to do with them and so the character of Bernice eventually left.

I love my will-they-won't-they dramas. Currently I'm hoping for Rita and Norris to settle into happy retirement strangling each other in Coronation Street. Or what about Sean and Vicky in American import The Event? The tension there is beyond belief! As a fan of Downton Abbey I was screaming at the screen for Bates to admit how he felt about Anna all through the first series and it's one of my motivating factors for watching series two later this year.

Let's face it, if love makes the world go round, longing from a distance certainly makes it a more interesting ride. Anybody else have some excellent will-they-won't-they shows for me to get hooked on?


Anonymous said...

I LOVED the Daphne/Niles drama when that show was on. Even watching reruns late at night, they are my favorite part.

For me, the chemistry between John and Sherlock in the Moffat/Gatiss creation has that same element. I don't know how they managed to pull it off in a platonic relationship. (At least, platonic so far. If that changed, though, I think too many people would cry blasphemy.)

Others: (Kind of, but good enough for me:Jack/Ianto from Torchwood). Mal/Inara and Kaylee/Simon from Firefly. Sierra/Victor from Dollhouse. Josh/Donna and CJ/Danny from West Wing. All these are to a lesser extent that Niles and Daphne, but I still found them quite satisfying.

CharmedLassie said...

How could I forget Firefly?! I'm appalled with myself. The Mal/Inara connection was another excellent one, again combining fantastic writing with excellent performances. 'Heart of Gold' was painful to watch, because I was right there with Inara the whole time.

I haven't seen the new Sherlock, though it's on my list to get round to eventually. I like a little subtext, even if they won't have the courage to develop it into anything more. That said, I'm studying an 1870s novel at the moment where if I just changed a few sentences the two heroines could live happily ever after! So why shouldn't John and Sherlock?