I Ship The Platonic: Relationships In Television

We’ve all seen them. Those on-screen romances that lead us on an agonizingly slow burn for seven, eight, or nine seasons. As much as some of us might love a good romance, it’s deeply irritating to be forced to watch a “will-they-won’t-they” for years on end. Is there another possibility? Is there another way to watch a relationship unfold without all the drama that too often solely rotates on a merry-go-round of cheating, jealousy, heartbreak, and death?

I submit the following: platonic relationships.

“Too boring!” you say? What about every single buddy cop movie? Or every family drama? How about shows like Almost Human, short stories like Sherlock Holmes, and musicals like Wicked? My question is, why aren’t there more shows that primarily focus on platonic relationships? Why is that considered more boring than cheesy romance, angst-ridden dramas, and dull procedurals? Trust me, we have plenty of those already.

I love the community of Tumblr because there’s such a rich variety of “shipping” (being a fan of a certain relationship) — platonic, romantic, sexual, etc. Those of us who choose not to participate in sex-and-romance saturated stories can choose to dream about the day when platonic relationships will be recognized to be just as strong and just as (if not more so) complex, variegated, and diverse.

Some people ship John and Sherlock from BBC’s Sherlock as JohnLock, either as a homosexual couple, an asexual and/or aromantic couple, or bisexual (and possibly even pansexual). While Moffatt is known for queerbaiting, and his statement that “asexuality is boring” (which is highly offensive to all those who identify as such, while also not allowing that, canonically in Doyle’s stories, Holmes is in fact an asexual), the characters are taken by the fans and explored in several different types of relationships that would be exciting to watch on screen.

Almost Human was the first show in a long time that had a platonic relationship between the two leads. While there was romance happening in the background, the focus was on how two beings who were vastly different found common ground and built a strong friendship upon it. How is that not beautiful? Inspiring? Complex? Intriguing?

I wish there were more shows like Almost Human. Most of our relationships throughout our lives will not be romantic, and yet we don’t see that portrayed nearly as much on the small screen. Instead we see almost a decade of indecision between people like Mulder and Scully, Jim and Pam, and Ted and Robin. How are we still putting up with this? And why?

I wrote a series of articles a while back talking about representation in the media. Platonic relationships could have well been discussed over several thousand words all by itself. We’ve got a rich history to glean from, if we can’t come up with our own pairings. Some of the best relationships on screen have happened in a platonic relationship, but alas, they’re still so few and far between.

One of my favorite platonic relationships is between Hawkeye and Honeycutt from M*A*S*H*. Their relationship was multi-layered, weathered through war, stress, personal disagreements and romantic entanglements, while providing us with hours of humor, wisdom, and courage. Their love for each other is evident, and yet they don’t need an episode where they wake up in bed together.

It’s also interesting to note that platonic relationships are almost never promoted as the main relationship where women are involved (there are, however, hosts of platonic pairings such as Kirk and Spock, Sheldon and Leonard, Alfred and Bruce Wayne, etc). And forget adding in other genders. Orange is The New Black is the only show I can remember in recent history that has shown women in platonic relationships. What is the difference?

One of my favorite storylines in Orange is the New Black is the relationship between Poussey and Taystee. While Poussey may have romantic feelings for Taystee, she and Taystee don’t let it ruin their relationship, and in fact Pouseey goes beyond romantic feelings to a deep camaraderie from which she tries to protect Taystee from V’s emotional abuse.

Taystee’s reactions are fueled by V’s attempt to break apart their friendship by excluding Poussey’s platonic feelings of friendship for Taystee and focusing instead on the romantic feelings, which are negligible when compared to her friendship with Taystee. Ultimately, V discovers the endeavor is fruitless because Taystee and Poussey have a deeper connection than romance; they have forged a platonic friendship through their time in prison, sharing their love of literature, their intelligence, and their humor. It’s a testament to the power of the platonic, which can override gender, orientation, religion and ethnicity, as well as romance, which at times finds issues more difficult to overcome (and is often exploited by writers to provide a break-up in order to spur movement, which is different than character growth)

Why aren’t we seeing more platonic relationships between various genders in diverse walks of life? Possibly because that would mean we’d have to have more diversity among writing staffs. When Hollywood is mostly populated with white, cis-gender, heterosexual males, there isn’t a lot of diversity to pull from. The writing would also be more difficult, because there would be more variety among the characters. But don’t we want to see the best stories?

I want to see platonic relationships on screen. I want to see characters like Poussey and Taystee weather through conflicting feelings about other people, reaching understanding despite different life experience, and even distance and over time. A deep and intimate relationship with someone is possible without a romantic or sexual component. We do ourselves a disservice if we think romantic relationships are the only ones that can be intimate, deep, and loving.

As a writer, I feel a responsibility to be mindful of such things. As someone who is outside the norm in some aspects, I also, as a fan, want to see representation in the media. It feels lonely and hurtful to only see one type of relationship predominantly portrayed. Don’t settle for what’s common. Instead, choose and support the unique and extraordinary.

K.M. Cone

K.M. Cone

K.M. Cone is a story nerd, particularly for the episodic stories told via the medium of television. When not parked in front of the TV, K.M. Cone can be found writing kooky urban fantasy on her personal site, attempting to learn German, or making a huge pot of soup for her friends, who are probably coming over to join her in her latest TV or animated film obsession.

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  • Gina

    BJ and Hawkeye are one of my favorite platonic relationships as well. I also love Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins, and Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson, and Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy…I could go on.