I dedicate this post to my sister, Michelle Spilecki, whose birthday it is today.
So over the weekend I learned a catchy new abbreviation and the idea that goes with it: OTP, One True Pairing. Think about some of the TV pairs from the last twenty years. These are just the shows I watch. I am sure you could come up with plenty more yourself, especially if you are more of a Zombie Apocalypse kind of individual.
Scully and Mulder
Buffy and Angel
Booth and Bones
Castle and Beckett
Phil and Melinda
Carter and Martinelli (or Sousa, if you prefer)
Xena and Gabrielle
These are all pairings in which the chemistry between the actors almost immediately got conveyed to people who were prepared to see it. When I think about The X Files, Buffy, and Castle, in addition to Xena: Warrior Princess, I would argue that in the pilot of each series you see the kind of chemistry before the end of the episode.
I think one of the things that makes these shows so effective is that most of the pairs develop their relationship–their knowledge of each other, their professional and personal respect for each other, how they work together and when they give the other person space or slap them upside the head (usually metaphorically)–on the job, working to make the world a better place.
I have often observed that some of the solidest seeming marriages were between two people engaged in one or more complex, long term projects together: leading a church choir, producing community theater, things like that. Raising children together is not the ideal project for marriage building, simply because at some point your project learns to, for example, talk, and then express her/himself, and often what s/he might be projecting is disagreement with one or more of the aforesaid partners in the marriage. In comparison, plays and concerts don’t talk back (although to be fair, actors, singers and the like often do, although as they are not part of the marriage, even if they are part of the family, it does not matter as much). Anyhow, that is what it seems like to me.
So a friend was writing about OTP on her blog an I saw it and thought, as one does, Huh? So I asked her and she said:
One true pairing. As in, “Xena and Gabrielle are my OTP,” or, “Gabrielle and Xena are OTP more than any OTP in the history of fiction, and if you don’t see it, you’re crazy.”
Which makes sense. One of the big problems I see with all my favorite pairs is that they are never completely equal. One person, usually the man, is a little better, smarter, stronger, more… Part of that is how the star billing goes. Part of that is our culture. Part of that is our culture running how star billing goes.
But even on something like Buffy, whose two main squeezes were superpowerful vampires, well, Angel couldn’t be around her without problems, so their equality was made out to be impossible. And Spike was morally her inferior (that whole century of killing sprees thing not followed by a quest for redemption as Angel managed). So they were only equal at fighting not at being in the world and making decisions about good and evil, until really close to the end. And when Spike finally did something to redeem himself, he blew up hell and died with it. Whoops. One more sorta equal relationship bites the dust.
I think what they are doing on Castle is hopeful, with Stana Katic as Detective Beckett matching wits with Nathan Fillion and frequently taking on the more physical roles, but we will have to see how that goes. Hell, the fact that they are so much more often casting women who are five foot nine, and then putting them in four inch heels so they are as tall as the men, goes a long way toward changing how we see women as possibly strong and still lovable. But there is still a sense of women’s sphere and men’s sphere as different and probably not equal. Once Bones had her baby, she stopped going out into the field.
In comparison, what we see with Xena and Gabrielle is two people who start with a very uneven friendship, and end up, six years later with one of the most equal, solid friendships/ partnerships I think I have ever seen on television. I think we would all like a relationship like that. And to some extent I think one reason we often watch these shows is to try out what we think we want and see whether it works. Some writers serve their characters better than others, and we love best the ones that not only show the chemistry and respect between the pairings, but also resist the inorganic cultural forces that try to bend the relationship into an old familiar pattern at the risk of the relationship.
Because, you know, mystery babies are NEVER a good idea. And I would love to see more of Philinda…