Characters, Rant, Television

Why TV’s “Perfect Couples” Aren’t

There is a thing that I have noticed in television (mostly sit-coms) that bugs the shit out of me. I have noticed this in several TV shows, but the most current violator is one I’ve been watching from the beginning, How I Met Your Mother, so that is the one I am going to talk about. If you don’t want it spoiled for you, probably you shouldn’t read this. If you don’t watch it and don’t care if it gets spoiled, I’ll try to explain the characters in a way that doesn’t require watching the show to understand.

Here’s the thing that bugs me: in whatever couple is put forth as the “ideal example” against which all the single characters measure their lives, the woman is always a completely crazy bitch.

In HIMYM, this couple is Lily & Marshall, pictured above (Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel). The two met in college, have only ever been with one another, and at the outset of the show they get engaged. Throughout the series, Ted, Barney and Robin–the singletons–are constantly measuring their own relationships against Lily & Marshall to see how good they are, essentially setting them up as the standard to beat. In their interactions with each other, they are portrayed as disgustingly love-dovey, as evidenced by their pet names for one another: “Marshmallow” and “Lilypad.”

But guys. Lily. She is an incurable, raging bitch. Let’s just take a quick look through the things she does:

1. Controls absolutely everything Marshall does. When he wants to go to a bar, or put up some of his own decorations in their house, or even just tell a story, she almost always steps in to censor/limit his actions. For example: in one episode, they get into a spat because Lily insists that he wash every dish as soon as he’s finished with it, because she doesn’t like dirty dishes in the sink. Marshall resists this, saying it makes more sense to wait and wash them all at once. Hilarious bickering ensues. In the end, they “resolve” the fight by Marshall agreeing to wash all of his dishes to keep her happy, and everyone comments on how amazing it is that they can just compromise like that. That is not healthy compromising. That is browbeating.

2. Similarly, when Marshall and Lily disagree, Lily is always right. Even when she’s wrong. For example: in one episode, Marshall coaches Lily’s kindergarten students in basketball, and he’s a hard-ass on them like his own father was on him. Lily berates and chastises him, and insists that gentleness and love are the only way to go. At the end of the episode, they “compromise” by doing both, and Marshall admits, “Your way isn’t completely stupid.” And what does Lily answer? “Yours is.” Yeah, that’s healthy.

3. Constantly meddles in the lives of her friends, thinking that she knows what is best for everyone else. On several occasions, she was the “mastermind” behind plans that split up couples and left heartbreak strewn across entire seasons (for example, Robin & Ted, and later, Robin & Barney). The fact that she does this is pointed out several times, but she is never chastised for it–only praised for her intelligence and insight.

4. Does horribly irresponsible things, then forces Marshall to fix the resulting problem for her. This is most notable when she goes into insane amounts of debt from buying too much designer clothing she can’t afford, and Marshall has to give up his lower-paying dream job at an environmental agency to work for Goliath National Bank, where he’ll make enough to pay back her debts. Then, later, she berates him for giving up on his environmental dream, saying that he isn’t the guy she met in college. Because that makes sense.

She’s also judgmental, violent, and passive-aggressive, and regularly holds grudges over minor infractions for years (like the guy at the corner shop, who gave her regular drip coffee instead of decaf). Not exactly what I would call the “ideal woman.”

And yet, this is the woman who has been able to hold down a happy, healthy, long-term relationship within her TV universe. With that kind of an example, it’s easy to see how some girls get confused and think that they have to emulate that behavior in order to find their own happiness. After all, completely sacrificing your own personality in favor of emulating one you saw on TV is a small price to pay for happily ever after, right?

Of course, it doesn’t work. Because most guys are rational human beings, not walking punching bags (like the dudes in “Perfect Couples” seem to be). So they leave these crazy girls, and they go write sit-coms based on their experience, and it all starts all over again. Lovely.

And in case you were going to argue that Lily is a lone case, she isn’t. Other examples abound. The three that come most immediately to mind for me are Carla and Turk from Scrubs, Donna and Eric from That 70s Show, and Jim and Pam post-season 3 of The Office. Similar characteristics also pop up in women who were not formerly that way once they’ve entered into a relationship: see Robin when she’s dating Barney (How I Met Your Mother), Karen when she’s dating Jim (the Office), Priya when she’s dating Leonard (Big Bang Theory), etc. Apparently, getting irrationally angry over stupid things and brow-beating men is normal romantic behavior for the women of the television world.

Man, I love it when TV gives my gender such a great name.

Your favorite harpy,
M.M. Jordahl

“Men who don’t like girls with brains don’t like girls.” ~Mignon McLaughlin

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