TV Cliche Watch: The Betty-or-Veronica Dilemma Takes Over NBC for a Night
By Gary Susman Posted May 21st 2010 05:30PM
Whatever you call it, it happened Thursday night on NBC, where season finales on three different shows ('Community,' 'Parks and Recreation,' and '30 Rock') not only had plots in which a character was forced to choose between two romantic rivals -- call it the Betty-or-Veronica dilemma -- but each show also had multiple characters forced to make such a choice. You could pore through a stack of 'Archie' comic books as high as your chin and not find as much Betty-or-Veronica dithering as you would have seen within two hours on NBC.
Granted, it's a sensible ploy for a season finale, a way for even a comedy to end a season with some high-stakes drama, or a cliffhanger. (That's what happened last year on 'Desperate Housewives,' when we were left wondering whether Mike walked down the aisle with Susan or Katherine.) And some shows can make it work over and over. 'Friends' did it routinely, with Ross often having to decide between Rachel and whoever he was dating at the time. And 'Nurse Jackie,' where Jackie's continued inability to choose between Kevin and Eddie has driven the plot for two seasons, shows you can stretch out the B-or-V dilemma indefinitely.
Still, this many times in one night on one network? At least the three shows handled the situation in their own unique ways. Here's how we rate their varied approaches to the same B-or-V plot twist.
The choice: Jeff was paralyzed when both Britta and Professor Slater declaired their love for him - in front of the whole school. Forced to choose in public, Winger wussed out. As he later explained to Annie, Slater makes him feel like the man he could be, Britta like the man he is. What do you do, stay who you are, or evolve? Jeff chose neither; in fact, he chose Annie. Guess she had just made a similar choice, having decided at the last minute not to go to Delaware with hackysack-playing boyfriend Vaughn; she must have realized she had some unfinished business with Winger.
How it was handled: 'Community' gets originality points for misdirection. This was a pretty shocking surprise. Despite a mutual attraction hinted at earlier in the season, during the debate team episode, that Jeff-Annie kiss was a development that not even pop culture-savvy Abed would have predicted. Though he'd have appreciated the writers' fake-out moves in recent episodes, bringing Jeff and Britta closer together. He'd also spare a smirk for the parodies of the same B-or-V dilemma at the dance, where the dean had apparently invited two dates dressed as dalmatians, and where Troy had to make a bro-mantic choice of whether to try to be roommates with Abed or Pierce.
How it'll play out: Um, isn't Annie about half Jeff's age? That's a little squirmy. Plus, sooner or later, she's likely to emulate Slater by pushing Jeff to improve himself, which is likely to push him back towards Britta.
'Parks and Recreation'
The choice: Andy and April finally admitted to each other that they had romantic feelings for each other. Should be simple, but April declined to follow through because she believed Andy was still carrying a torch for Ann. And maybe Nurse Ann was still carrying one for him, too, even though she's being courted by Rob Lowe's Chris. Feeling confused and desperate after she'd dumped Mark, and tending to the injured Andy in the hospital, Ann kissed him. Andy didn't exactly resist, and when he told April about the kiss, she fled. D'oh!
How it was handled: Unfortunately, Andy's blunder forces a potential relationship with April back to square one, an unsatisfying result after a season's worth of teasing viewers about the prospect. It also seemed out of character for the usually sensible Ann to turn back toward the childish ex she's been understandably shunning all season. More deftly handled was Leslie's mature farewell to her own ex, Mark (the episode marks a graceful exit from the series for Paul Schneider) and her possible romantic future with new-nemesis-but-secret-nice-guy Ben. And during the tag, there was a nice little shocker in which Tom, who seems to have an ideal new girlfriend in Lucy, is horrified to discover that his ex-wife Wendy is probably sleeping with Ron.
How it'll play out: By the way, was it me, or did Lucy linger a little too long during the moment she smiled at Ron? Is Lucy going to have her own B-or-V choice to make? Is Ron? Meanwhile, the writers seem to be setting us up for Ann-and-Chris, Leslie-and-Ben, and of course, Andy-and-April, but they'll probably take their sweet time getting there.
The choice: Jack, who's spent most of the season with a similar dilemma to Jeff Winger's (should he pick old flame Nancy, who lets him be who he is, or new flame Avery, who prods him to be what he could be?), finally picked Nancy, only to lose her when she met Avery and realized Avery is pregnant. So Jack wound up with Avery, reassuring her that he's up for the challenge of juggling their high-powered careers with parenthood. He seemed to be following Liz's advice to trust fate, since fate had just dropped into her lap Carol (guest Matt Damon), a dashing airline pilot who shared her misanthropy and love of fart jokes. His sudden appearance convinced her not to settle for the annoying Wesley. Unfortunately, her public declaration that she was ready to spend the rest of her life with Carol just hours after meeting him scared him away, but only temporarily.
How it was handled: It was sweet - and rare, for this show - to see Liz, Jack, and Jenna all in happy romances. Yes even Jenna, whose romance with Jenna drag impersonator Paul was a hilarious commentary on the B-or-V choices Liz and Jack faced. In this case, Paul was torn between imitating Jenna and imitating another famous diva, Cher. But then Paul heard Jack lament that you can't combine two women you love into one, "like a s'more you can take a shower with." If you're an enterprising drag artist, you can combine two women into one, as Jenna discovered when Paul made himself into a dual drag diva version of 'Batman' villain Two-Face. (Extra points to guest star Will Forte for being such a trouper.)
How it'll play out. Well, when you have big movie stars playing love interests, whether it's Damon or Julianne Moore (Nancy) or Elizabeth Banks (Avery), you know they're not going to stick around forever. Then again, who'd have imagined movie star Alec Baldwin would have spent four years already on this sitcom? Maybe Jack-and-Avery will last, and we'll get to see Jack as a doting dad. Maybe Liz-and-Carol will last, too, since his inevitable absences can be explained by his job. At least we know Liz and Jack will never get together; Tina Fey reassured us of that this week in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
Which of TV's Betty-or-Veronica decisions have been your favorites or least favorites? Let us know below.
• Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.
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