Will-they-won’t-they TV couples aren’t half as exciting when they get together

We can fall out of love with even the most cherished telly pairings when the thrill of the chase wears off, says Sarah Doran

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Wise men say only fools rush in… and that’s probably why TV writers do precisely the opposite. They make us wait for what seems like an eternity to see our favourite on-screen couples united.

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But it’s in watching those characters make their tentative steps towards each other that we find TV gold. In fact, the will-they-won’t-they phase of their relationships is often the most entertaining.

We need only look to (SPOILER ALERT!) Downton Abbey’s Carson and Mrs Hughes to find a prime example.

Ever heard of the art of shipping? It’s got nothing to do with the briny deep, referring rather to an insatiable desire to see two fictional characters develop a romantic relationship.

You might, for example, have ‘shipped’ EastEnders’ Kat and Alfie. Do you currently find yourself willing Broadchurch’s Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller to unite off the beat? Well then you ‘ship’ them too.

Whole corners of the internet have been reserved for the practice, with each and every stolen glance being dutifully dissected by dedicated fans. Take away the thrill of the chase though and even the most rollicking romance loses the magic that inspires devotees to pen fan fiction. 

Take Downton Abbey’s Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) for example. We spent three years watching the pair dance around each other in the halls of Downton as the icy Earl of Grantham’s daughter played hard to get and loved every single second of it.

So eager were we to see the pair united that we even willed death upon lovely Lavinia (Zoe Boyle). Only when she perished could the “show that flopped” get its second act.

Yes, we delighted in watching the wedding but within weeks Matthew and Mary became just another married TV couple. It wasn’t until the once and future Earl of Grantham met his maker in the motor that we really felt anything powerful about the pairing again.

Flick a little further back and consider one of TVs most famously fragile pairings: Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) and Rachel Greene (Jennifer Aniston). The iconic Friends couple became synonymous with the phrase “we’re on a break” for an entire generation.

And it’s precisely because they spent so much time on that break that audiences never grew tired of them. Their ten-year will-they-won’t-they had fans hooked on a feeling from beginning to end. 

It’s just as well the writers closed the book when they did. The intentionally married Ross and Rachel (what happened in Vegas stays in Vegas) might well have lost their spark. 

So many of television’s most cherished pairings are the ones that never had a happily ever after. Think of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Geller) and Angel (David Boreanez), of The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), and even Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long). Would we remember them quite so fondly if their stories had ended differently?

They say art imitates life and, whoever they are, they have a point. The thrill of the chase is often the most exciting part of our own relationships and that’s probably why we find ourselves willing two people together on screen.

Who didn’t want Tim (Martin Freeman) and Dawn (Lucy Davis) to find love in a hopeless place? We all want the fairy tale ending but once we get it that little thrill of anticipation wears off. 

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So is the writing on the wall for TV’s latest will-they-wont-they union between Downton’s beloved butler and his Mrs Hughes? Only time will tell if they’ll more than just “do”, Carson.