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Viewers have a stake in TV romances

From Kate and Sawyer to Jim and Pam, viewers have a rooting interest
In this undated publicity photo provided by NBC Universal, John Krasinksi, as Jim, and Jenna Fischer, as Pam, appear in the NBC series \"The Office.\" The pair are among TV's hottest non-couples. (AP Photo/NBC Universal, Justin Lubin)
In this undated publicity photo provided by NBC Universal, John Krasinksi, as Jim, and Jenna Fischer, as Pam, appear in the NBC series \"The Office.\" The pair are among TV's hottest non-couples. (AP Photo/NBC Universal, Justin Lubin)AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Television is a haven for matchmakers.

That certainly goes for the folks who create TV. They know better than anyone how a little heat, a little on-screen hanky-panky, can do wonders for a show’s drawing power. You gotta have heart — or an erotic substitute. Then, when your TV twosome clicks, the audience can become as committed to the relationship as the partners themselves.

But as we watch love bloom or wither on television’s vine, we viewers are more than passive observers. We actively identify. We serve as advocates. We cheer on a happy couple. When trouble brews, we search ourselves for how the struggling lovers might get back on track. Or maybe from our living rooms we call for them to cut and run.

As Valentine’s Day looms, it’s a good time for us to take note of our role as wannabe matchmakers in the TV world.

Consider ABC’s “Lost,” for instance. Other viewers may be rooting for Kate (Evangeline Lilly), the sexy fugitive, to settle down with Sawyer (Josh Holloway), the sexy con man.

They’re both hot all right. But I argue that Kate and Sawyer together is a little too much of a bad thing.

No, Kate should hook up with the sexy doctor, Jack (Matthew Fox). It’s obvious why. Jack is just as handsome as Sawyer. And besides, he’s a doctor!

But reasonable people can disagree.

In 2004, fans of “Sex and the City” were as divided as voters in the presidential race when, after six seasons, time came for the HBO series’ finale. The polarizing issue: Should Carrie bolt to Paris with her sexy artist boyfriend, Aleksandr Petrovsky? Or stay with her longtime squeeze, sexy businessman Mr. Big? (Everybody knows it was Big who won Carrie, but there are probably still Aleksandr advocates who would like a re-count.)

‘Office’ romanceTV comedies are a great way to observe romance, and no wonder. Love is often funny when it’s happening to somebody else.

Or even funnier, when it’s not happening. Nothing is more poignantly funny (and, oddly enough, hotter) than unrequited love.

Among TV’s hottest nonstarters: Pam (Jenna Fischer), the sweet, wallflower-ish receptionist on NBC’s comedy “The Office,” and Jim (John Krasinksi), the smitten sales rep who suffers from the knowledge that she’s out of reach. (She’s engaged to a loutish warehouse worker, but sort of wishes she weren’t.)

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Poor Pam and Jim! Friendly but forced to stay at arm’s length, these lovebirds with clipped wings have every viewer pulling for them: Carpe diem, Pam and Jim!

Second thought, never mind. The longer Pam and Jim hold out, the more comically tormented they will be. And that’s all the more amusing for the audience.

Not quite so amusing is the sexual tension between Tony and his psychotherapist, Dr. Melfi, and when the HBO drama “The Sopranos” returns with new episodes next month, nothing is likely to have changed.

As played by Lorraine Bracco, Jennifer Melfi is beautiful and smart. She’s also professionally ethical. That puts Tony, as with any client, squarely off-limits, no matter how much she might prefer otherwise.

For Tony (James Gandolfini), Melfi is exasperating. She is that rare thing to which he can’t lay claim through charm, a payoff or violence. For each 50-minute hour, she’s his guide through his psyche — and a tantalizing tease.

Homer’s sex appealAnother portly TV family man seems far more satisfied with his love life. For starters, Homer Simpson loves beer and food, and gets his fill of both. But Homer also has a sweet tooth for Marge, his high-haired better half on Fox’s “The Simpsons.”

We viewers may find Marge less than physically enchanting and, at the same time, wonder what she could possibly see in Homer.

Still, the bond between them is obvious to any “Simpsons” fan, and goes much deeper than their mutually jaundiced complexions. After all these years, Marge and Homer are still hot for each other, as the occasional sex scene has made clear (though shot discreetly, of course, even if it is Fox).

But leaving behind Homer’s cartoon town of Springfield for “Desperate Housewives” and Wisteria Lane, the temperature drops. What are we to make of the tepid pairings on this ABC boudoir comedy?

Sure, the women (Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Eva Longoria and Nicollette Sheridan) are sexy. The leading men (James Denton, Doug Savant, Ricardo Antonio Chavira and the now-departed Steven Culp) are sexy.

So how can there be so little heat, so little chemistry between any given man and woman on this show? Each character is easy on the eyes but, when relating to another, might as well be wrapped in cellophane.

Don’t get me wrong, I like “Desperate Housewives.” But I despair at how unsexy it is. For pure steaminess, I’ll take one of Jim’s yearning glances toward Pam at her reception desk on “The Office.” They’re a match that warms my heart. And sometimes even breaks it.