The Maddening ‘Will-They/Won’t-They’ Trope in My Favorite TV Shows

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been making my way through a re-re-watch of the TV series Smallville, and while watching, a rant emerged in my head: the TV trope of the will-they/won’t-they? with the top guy/girl on a show kills me. And then I realized it’s a trope present among some of my favorite shows. This also isn’t a post for the efficacy or whatever else of the trope. I’d be interested in digging into that in another post. This post is just to list some of the maddening ones in my favorite shows.

1. Family Matters: Steve Urkel and Laura Winslow


Probably my favorite sitcom of all time, and one I also recently re-watched is Family Matters, which ran from 1989 to 1997. In this one, once Steve Urkel (played by Jaleel White) becomes a fixture on the show, and as such, once his fixation of Laura Winslow (played by Kellie Shanygne Williams) becomes a fixture of the show, that will-they/won’t-they trope gets used episode after episode, season after season. And it’s only in the last season, episode six’s “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Read,” where Urkel reads Laura’s mind and realizes she has affection for him, that they start moving in that direction. Then, of course, we don’t get to really see them together because the series ends in short order. Gah! Granted, sure, you could argue that the show wouldn’t be the same if they had gotten together early and true, they did try to get away from it for few seasons with the introduction of Myra Monkhouse (played by Michelle Thomas) as the new objection of Urkel’s affection, but it was always seen as secondary to the Urkel/Laura storyline.

2. Friends: Rachel and Ross


Another one of my favorite sitcoms, which ran from 1994 to 2004, and again, one I’ve also recently (the last couple of years) re-watched. This is the classic example almost everyone is familiar with. In fact, it probably defines the TV trope will-they/won’t-they the most: Rachel Green (as played by Jennifer Aniston) and Ross Geller (as played by David Schwimmer). We get teased with their on-again-off-again relationship throughout the series with various ups and downs, including, “WE WERE ON A BREAK!”, Vegas hotshot weddings, and pregnancy. At some point, you just want to see them be together and stay together. But, of course, it’s television and they have to play up the soap opera aspect.

3. Smallville: Clark Kent and Lana Lang


Like I said, I’m rewatching this show, which ran from 2001 to 2011. The central will-they/won’t-they throughout the early seasons is that of Clark Kent (played by Tom Welling) and Lana Lang (played by Kristin Kreuk). Every time it seems like we’re finally going to get Clark and Lana together in the first two seasons (where I’m up to at the moment; my memory isn’t good enough to know what happens up to season seven, when Kreuk leaves the show), something goes wrong. Usually, it’s Clark having to go save the day, leaving Lana hanging, and then since he doesn’t want to reveal his secret superpowers to her, he leaves her hanging again by not being able to fully explain what happened. It’s maddening! Just get together! Tell her your secret! It’s killing me. They both want each other, and things keep getting in the way. That said, perhaps it’s for the best because while I think Welling and Kreuk have incredible chemistry, somehow Erica Durance, as Lois Lane, who joins the cast in season four, and Welling have even better chemistry. And of course, Lois is the quintessential love interest of Clark’s. But still! Gah.

4. NCIS: DiNozzo and Ziva


One of my all-time favorite shows, which I started watching through syndication on the USA Network and became obsessed with, has been running and still is running since 2003. I’ve fallen out of the last several seasons, but those first probably 10 or so seasons are incredible television for a broadcast procedural. Early on, there’s a will-they/won’t-they between Anthony (Tony) DiNozzo (played by Michael Weatherly) and Caitlin Todd (played by Sasha Alexander), which is actually quite good, but then the Todd character gets killed off. In season three, Ziva David (played by Cote de Pablo) steps in, and the will-they/won’t-they between her and Tony starts up. And like the other shows, it gets teased and teased and teased and teased, and the fanbase even started calling it “Tiva.” Ziva also gets killed off, or seems to, in season 13. We never get to see that relationship flourish, and again, you could argue the show would have been killed had they gotten together because then you lose the allure of the will-they/won’t-they, but man. At some point, the teasing gets frustrating!

It’s going to also kill me to not finish off with a nice round number of five for a list, and I’m aware that there are other notable ones in television, but I’m doing the ones I’m a big fan of and have seen extensively.

What are the frustrating will-they/won’t-they relationships in your favorite television shows?

One thought

  1. Friends was a television show that had the demographic of white and middle class or high class people. Not black people who are poor. Ross was a white and wealthy asshole because his parents never disciplined him to know how to communicate with normal people. Rachel was an emotional wreck because her wealthy father didn’t discipline her enough when she was growing up. Rachel and Ross are polar opposites having significantly different interests who have an extremely difficult time communicating with each other. Them getting back together in the series finale was forced, not natural because of fan service. Rachel was abused by Ross so many times, not the other way around. Rachel kept going back to Ross despite that he doesn’t treat her the way a man should because of soap opera B.S. that wouldn’t make sense in reality. Because most intelligent females in real life wouldn’t stoop so low to date abusive guys like Ross. Also, here’s a video to explain the relationships in the Friends show:

    There were so many white people in the Friends show despite that New York state has so much diversity from different races of people. Also, Friends is more like a fantasy show with soap opera B.S. for a white audience.

    Lana and Clark were much more compatible with each other than Rachel and Ross together. But, it makes sense that Clark and Lois end up together anyway.


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