This picture is of Alicia Florrick and Will Gardner (Julianna Margulies and Josh Charles) from The Good Wife. When these two were in a room together, the heat that was generated was so overpowering, it's a wonder the sprinklers didn't come on. I'm naming them the couple with the best chemistry in some of the recent television programs.
Where does that chemistry come from? Is it just great acting? Is it great writing? Does it depend on how the actors feel about each other and about the characters they're playing?
I have these questions because I've been watching a TV series where I find a lack of chemistry. It's a little disappointing because it's a character-driven show and without the chemistry, there's a let-down.
I chose Alicia and Will but there are other recent couples who sizzle when they're together. How about Noah and Alison (Dominic West and Ruth Wilson) from The Affair?
There's always a risk for a television program to allow the passionate couple to consummate their relationship too early because the theory is that once the sexual tension is gone, the viewers will lose interest.
It wasn't easy for Alicia and Will. They had gone to law school together and had feelings for each other back then. Somehow, things didn't work out and by the time they meet again, Will is a named partner in a big firm and he hires Alicia who has been home raising her two children and standing by her sleazy husband who is now in jail.
So Will is her boss, she has a husband (in prison) and two teenaged children. Although the sparks are evident, it takes 46 episodes to get to the scene that's depicted in the photo above.
The Affair is a little different although the barriers are no less daunting for the lovers. Noah and Alison are both married. Noah, an author with one published book and a teaching job, has four children. His family is mainly supported by his wife's wealthy father. Alison is married and struggling with the recent loss of her only child. She works in a restaurant which is where she meets Noah and his family when they come in for a meal.
The picture above is shortly after they met but look at them: you can see where this is headed. There's also the name of the program, of course, which is a pretty big hint.
But I still haven't answered my own question of where the chemistry comes from.
One of the series I watched is called Covert Affairs — (not that kind of affairs.) It's a CIA show and the main character is Annie Walker. Annie is an agent and her handler is Auggie Anderson. Auggie is blind — he lost his sight in an IED explosion in Iraq — but he knows everything technological and he has what one of the TV critics called "Super Blind Man Skillz." Here are Auggie and Annie (Christopher Gorham and Piper Perabo):
They had good chemistry and a really sweet affectionate relationship and it eventually became a romance. I'm assuming that the ratings went down because a few episodes later, they decided that it was better not to mix business with sex and they went back to being agent and handler. As the show went on, Annie became involved with another fellow and here, I found no chemistry at all. I kept saying, "Why are you with him?" No matter how many romantic things he did or how many times they ended up in the sack, it just didn't ring true.
I can see a lot of the problems with moving relationships along. There's so much more scope for drama in the leading-up-to, the anticipation of a passionate interlude. But really, after it happens, what then? In many of these shows, adding a domestic element wouldn't work so what do you do with them after that?
There are mixed reviews about what happened with one of the more popular romances in a comedy. Jim and Pam (John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer) in The Office shared a much-awaited climactic kiss at the end of the second season and kept viewers on the edge of their seats throughout the following summer.
There was only one barrier but it was a big one. The Office was a much more innocent show that the others under discussion and the fact that Pam was engaged to someone else when she kissed Jim was quite shocking.
The mixed reviews are about what followed. In time, Pam broke off with the other guy, was wooed by Jim, became pregnant, got married, went on maternity leave, came back to work etc. etc. The old excitement wasn't there and even when they tried to resurrect it by causing a rift in the marriage and then bringing the lovers back together, it wasn't — it could never be — the same. Just like in a real marriage, most of the critics agreed.
So I think I've established that there needs to be some realistic barriers to a romance for the chemistry to be established. There probably does have to be some connection between the actors in real life. And maybe the most important thing is, the actors have to believe in their characters.
Maybe, as always, it comes back to the writers.
P.S. Just to round out the line-up, here are a couple more well-known couples. I have nothing to say about them that hasn't been said a million times but I hope you'll feel free to add a narrative of your own if you have something to add.