Numb3rs is online. Two other shows I got hooked on recently are also online. Leverage and Psych. I haven’t been getting much sleep the last few nights. I was better off when you could only watch network TV at set times and HBO and Showtime if you had HBO and Showtime. If a show wasn’t on when I was home to watch it, too bad for me—or lucky for me. I missed all of The Larry Sanders Show and NYPD Blue, Buffy and Firefly. But Felicity passed me right by too. Now I’m up at two in the morning, watching Psych.
Psych’s fun. It’s mostly about its own goofiness. I don’t know if it started out that way. I’ve been watching shows from the second half of the third season. But even if it took itself seriously at first, there’s no way that could have lasted. Why does a brilliant, natural-born detective, with observational and deductive powers that rival Sherlock Holmes’ have to pretend to be a psychic? Why are the cops he works for as a consultant apparently the only people who fall for his act? The goofiness and constant stream of allusions to movies and other television shows hide the fact that there isn’t any real reason for Shawn’s fake psychic charade as the not particularly original or complicated plots roll along and the not all that mysterious mysteries get solved.
I probably wouldn’t have stuck with the show very long, in any case. It’s definitely a seen three or four episodes you’ve seen them all kind of show. But there’s something developing that I’m pretty sure’s going to drive me back to late night viewings of another show I probably never would have watched if it wasn’t online, Saving Grace. Save me. Maybe I’ll finally get around to starting The Closer instead. At any rate, the disturbing development on Psych is that Detective Juliet O’Hara is finally beginning to admit she has feelings for Shawn.
It’s completely understandable why Shawn would have feelings for O’Hara. She’s pretty, she’s smart, she’s very good at her job, and like all women cops on TV these days, except for Dexter’s sister Deb, she dresses for police work in inappropriately tight tops with deep necklines in order to show perps and victims that spectacular cleavage is not incompatible with effective law enforcement.
But why on earth O’Hara would be attracted to a fake, a flake, and a fraud like Shawn is incomprehensible. Maybe she suspects that he’s conning everybody and is attracted by his brilliance, despite the fact that’s he’s, well, a con man. Maybe she has a thing for smart-mouthed arrested adolescents in their mid-thirties with serious issues about being a grown-up who dress, act, and flirt by showing off and teasing exactly as if they were still sophomores in college.
By the way, who told James Roday he was charming? I mean it. Whoever did probably ruined him. I have no doubt that once upon a time, before somebody pointed it out, he was charming, but now that he knows it, he is “charming,” the way a little girl who’s been told she’s pretty is suddenly “pretty” or another one who’s been told she’s smart is suddenly “smart.”
At any rate, unless O’Hara has plumbed hidden depths the writers of the episodes I’ve watched so far haven’t bothered to plumb themselves, there’s no reason for a bright, responsible, professional grown-up like O’Hara to fall for Shawn except that she has to obey the rule.
The rule is that on just about any TV series these days, whatever the genre, no matter if it's a comedy or a drama, every unattached main character must at some point become attached. There must be a love interest.
If that love interest can be another member of the cast, so much the better. It saves on salaries. You don't have to hire two new actors. The writers are spared the trouble thinking up two new characters who must be likable, a requirement that makes it highly probable that they won't be in the least---they'll be "likable."
Don't worry if the characters pairing up are unsuited for each other. Don't worry if there's no chemistry between the actors playing the newly coupled couple. Don't even worry if there's another character one of the lovers would be a better match for. Apparently audiences need to be assured that their favorites aren't sleeping alone.
Love is always a good thing. Hence, the rule.
Both Leverage and Numb3rs respect the rule, although so far Leverage isn't adhering to it. But the potential is built into its premise. Nathan and Sophie have a past, like Batman and Catwoman have a past, and Hardison is carrying a torch for Parker and according to the rule every good-hearted character who carries a torch must be given his or her heart's desire eventually. I sure hope the writers disregard the rule in this case. Part of what makes Parker such a great character is that she is pathologically anti-social. She is so completely alienated from normal human company that she might as well be an alien from another planet. She doesn't have ordinary feelings and she doesn't even begin to understand them in other people. Romantic and sexual encounters aren't at all appealing to her, at least not as appealing as extreme physical danger and reckless disregard for her personal safety in the pursuit of the ultimate turn on, a bit of very grand larceny. An erotic encounter between her and some poor, unprepared guest star could be funny, at least up until the point where she got him hospitalized or killed. But a love affair between her and Hardison would turn the series into Splash, with Hardison trying to teach the mermaid, who in this case is more shark than dolphin, how to be a real live human girl.
On Numb3rs, Charlie and Amita make sense as a couple, although it would have been nice if Navi Rawat had been allowed to look as much like the geek she plays as David Krumholtz is allowed to look like the one he stars as. And so far as I know---I haven't watched every episode yet---Don's love life is confined to reunions with ex-girlfriends who don't stick around. But it was the rule and only the rule that brought sensible, and gorgeous, FBI Agent Megan Reeves and goofy, and goofy-looking, physicist Larry Fleinhardt together, a match made only in the imaginations of nerdy male writers.
Speaking of Agent Reeves, or actually the actress who plays her, Diane Farr, who also played Firefighter Laura Miles on Rescue Me. One of the things I like about Rescue Me is the many ways the writers find to pervert the rule. It was easy to understand why Farr's character and Daniel Sunjata's Franco Rivera wound up in bed together, despite their initial resistance. But they never liked liking each other that way and their romance didn't make either of them particularly happy. Which is about how you'd expect things to go between an arrogant borderline narcissist who enjoys the company of other human beings only up to the point where actual feelings become an issue and a level-headed young careerist struggling to be taken seriously in a very male-dominated profession who's insecure enough about her own ability to handle the job without having to deal with the men's doubt and contempt. Franco hates it that he's allowed himself to become vulnerable. Laura feels sheepish and guilty because she can't help suspecting that by sleeping with Franco she's using sex as a way into the fraternity.
Most of the other characters are even unhappier in love than Laura and Franco. On most shows, love is a reward or a comfort or a happy adventure. On Rescue Me it's practically a punishment from God. Tommy and Sheila's relationship is an emotional demolition derby and whatever it is he has with his ex-wife Janet is only marginally less destructive, if only because the two of them enjoy the torture they inflict on each other.
Psych is too lighthearted and emotionally shallow a show for a developing romance between Shawn and O'Hara to turn into the disaster it could only turn into if anything like real life were to be written into the scripts.
When did this rule kick in anyway? It wasn't in effect when I was a kid. There was no rule that regular characters had to pair off like swans and turtle doves. None of my favorite shows had a love interest. Captain Kirk didn't have a love interest. Jim Rockford didn't have a love interest. Hawkeye Pierce didn't have a love interest. They had love interests, plural. Even into the 'Eighties, main characters on TV shows were unabashedly and cheerfully serially monagomous. MacGyver didn't have a love interest. Magnum didn't have one.
When the writers felt like writing a mushy story they invented a character that a guest star was brought in to play for one or at most two episodes before she or he got killed, betrayed the hero or heroine, or decided for the hero or heroine's own good that they had to part forever.
That's how they handled in on the Ponderosa. How many wives did the Cartwright boys go through. Little Joe alone filled whole cemeteries with the women he loved and lost to illness, bullets, or an Indian's arrow. That was the Bonanza Way and if it was good enough for Ben, Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe, it's good enough for Shawn Spencer...
Although I hope Maggie Lawson's agent got a No Cartwright Wife clause written into her contract.