Saturday, February 13, 2010

The shippers have sailed

For the life of me, I do NOT understand hardcore "shippers." For those not familiar with the term, "shippers" (short for "relationshippers") are TV fans who base their entire enjoyment of a show on the successful resolution of a romantic subplot between their favorite characters. Usually, there's a cute portmanteau attached to the couple, like "Jam" (Jim and Pam from The Office) or "Jaters" (those who want Jack and Kate from Lost to get and stay together).

Shippers have been around forever, though they've really gained cultural currency with rise of internet message boards. I first remember the phenomenon with Mulder and Scully on The X-Files, but this week, shippers got some notoriety because of the whole Chuck and Sarah situation on Monday's episode of Chuck. Evidently, the NBC message boards were melting down, but you can get a good read on it in the comments of Alan Sepinwall's review of that episode here. (312 comments and counting!). Shippers were OUTRAGED that Chuck would decide to start dating the adorable new Nerd Herder Hannah, while Sarah would decide to mack on new secret agent man Shaw. Some fans went so far as to call for a boycott of the show, in order to teach the producers/writers "a lesson," and make them bring their favorite couple back together. (This is, of course, completely devoid of logic, as A) they're already waaaay ahead in the writing and production schedule, so a boycott would have little effect on plotlines, and B) any severe dip in the viewership of the show - one that's consistently been "on the bubble" for renewal anyway - would result in its cancellation entirely). Virtually every TV critic had some type of reaction to this supposed controversy, and it even prompted Sepinwall to get on the phone with the Chuck producers to address the situation. Whew.

I realize that fanbases can get passionate about the romantic pairings of their TV heroes. (Buffy with Angel? Buffy with Riley? Buffy with Spike?) But to call for an action that would result in the show you profess to love, and which inspires so much online dialogue and consternation, being axed? Doesn't that seem a bit extreme?

Hey, I love a good romantic coupling as much as the next fan. Last season's surprise pairing of Sawyer and Juliet on Lost was extraordinarily moving. I totally dug Willow and Tara together. And my favorite TV relationship ever was undoubtedly Crichton and Aeryn on Farscape. But would I quit watching a show, and encourage others to do so as well, just because my preferred pairing didn't work out exactly the way I wanted it to, when I wanted it to? Uh, no.

That's not to say that I don't experience frustration, as a viewer, when relationships don't work out. But it has less to do with the romantic pairings and their "togetherness" than it does with the illogic and clunkiness of the plotting and writing. For example, even though I just praised the Sawyer and Juliet relationship in the preceding paragraph, I rolled my eyes so far back into my head I tangled my optic nerve during last year's finale when Juliet decided to go along with Jack's stupid plan just because of a "look" between Sawyer and Kate. Bones thrives on the "will they or won't they" chemistry between the leads, and often goes to ridiculous extremes to keep the unresolved sexual tension simmering between them (Brain tumor? Amnesia? Please).

But here's the thing. Lost isn't completely about who Kate winds up with. Chuck isn't solely about a nerd winding up at a "rose ceremony." If that's all you get out of the show you watch, then maybe you're watching the wrong show.

Finally, with regard to the Chuckpocalypse, a few additional thoughts:

Why am I suddenly reminded of this

If you're so invested in this show, then of course you realize that it IS a TV show, right? So then you know that Brandon Routh (Shaw) and Kristin Kreuk (Hannah) are guest stars, signed only for a limited number of episodes. So do you really think they are going to keep Chuck and Sarah apart forever?

From two plus years of Chuck watching, I think we can reasonably assume that the producers' end game will involve having Chuck and Sarah wind up together. (Schwartz and Fedak don't strike me as the Whedon type who will have their star crossed lovers realize their romantic longings, only to have one of them turn evil or die tragically). So if that's your ultimate goal, then have a little faith in the creators and the story they want to tell.

And doesn't Chuck seem like a show that's odd to take so seriously? Don't get me wrong, I find it's a fun way to spend an hour on a Monday night, and hell, I even bought a Subway sandwich last year as part of the renewal effort. But at the core, it's a lightweight, entertaining, 80's pop-culture romp. Can't we just enjoy it for that? Even when a show that takes itself seriously, like Battlestar Galactica, doesn't "stick the landing" completely in the end (or have the characters make the decisions we'd want them to make), it doesn't detract from the hours and hours of quality storytelling and performances we got from the producers. I'd rather the creators follow through with their vision, and agree to disagree with the journey and/or the destination, than have them tremble in fear and change course because the fans are vocal in their disapproval over one thread in a complete tapestry.

1 comment:

  1. I certainly didn't have a problem with last week's Chuck, and the outcry was really ridiculous.

    My initial thoughts were that I thought that Sarah's behavior during the episode was unrealistic and out of character, but then I thought about do we even know that Sarah is telling the truth about her "feelings" for Shaw? How bout if we wait until the story is over before we freak out (if freaking out is even something that you want to do about a tv show that, as you say, is really just a fun little diversion)?

    There are MUCH bigger plot holes than Sarah's relationship behavior, if you really want to get all Comic Book Guy about it.