The Happy Imperfect Team

I just started The Closer (my local library owns Seasons 1-5), recently finishing Season 2. One thing the show does quite well is present a team of reasonably happy people who nevertheless sometimes fail to get along.

Multiple characters in a work or family milieu pose a dramatic conundrum: how to keep them together while also keeping them interesting.

SOLUTION #1: Star Trek: The Next Generation (and Bones, to an extent), where everyone is best buddies forever. The problems all come from the outside.

I don't mind this solution since I prefer to watch people getting along with each other more than not. However, it does lack dramatic intensity, leading writers in later seasons of such shows to more and more bizarre external problems.

SOLUTION #2: The fourth season of House--constant infighting amongst intrinsically ambitious, troubled, and/or angry people. This approach provides plenty of dramatic tension, but it can be a real drag after awhile, even when well-written, making you grateful for writers' strikes (the fourth season of House is shorter than the others).

SOLUTION #3: The Closer, in which characters' idiosyncrasies cause flare-ups, miscommunications, and occasional head-butting without these problems taking over the script and/or ending the shows' relationships.

To achieve this solution it helps to have a Provenza and a Flynn.

Provenza is the classic adorable grumpy old guy.  He is one of the first to support the main character, Brenda Lee Johnson, not out of warm and cuddly feelings but because he doesn't care enough to put up a stink. In the first season, while Flynn is still trying to dig up dirt on Johnson and arguing that Provenza should help take her down, Provenza snaps, "Flynn, have you ever known me to do anything for anyone?"

Flynn is the second extremely smart aspect of the team. When Johnson first arrives in L.A., he objects to her as an outsider--he digs up dirt, spreads gossip, and basically tries to get her replaced. But unlike Taylor (who does the same thing far more subtly), Flynn is motivated by "the good old boys" network rather than by politics/advancement.

Once Flynn realizes that Johnson IS his best chance at a "good old boys" network, he changes sides. In some ways, he is comparable to the awesome Fusco, but unlike Fusco, Flynn doesn't want to be good for the sake of being good. He isn't quite that far up Maslow's hierarchy.

What Flynn wants is to work for people who will hear him out and protect him. Johnson does. Consequently, he occupies the unusual position of being an enemy-turned-friend, who (non-romantically) absolutely adores the boss he frequently can't stop himself from criticizing (or looking wry around).

This characterization is much cleverer than Flynn being Johnson's best buddy OR her undying nemesis.

A variation on Solution #3 is the Bellisario approach. It ONLY works if the producer/writer has a long-term plan and knows before the season begins where s/he wants to end up. It entails creating a minor problem that affects a relationship long-term without ever becoming a major problem. Bellisario accomplishes this in the fourth season of NCIS.

Gibbs has returned to duty, but Ducky is pissed at him (not angry, just pissed). His pissedoffness takes the form of calling Gibbs by his full title (to which Gibbs responds by calling Ducky, "Dr. Mallard"). The conflict lasts for ten episodes. It is completely subtle, relying on writing and acting rather than any "telling." Like typical reserved males, Gibbs and Ducky don't yell or play politics or even stop working together. (A first-time viewer starting in Season 4 might not even notice.) When communicating, Gibbs and Ducky are just very, very curt.

I'm a fan of this solution--it doesn't disrupt the story; it doesn't lead to overly dramatic scenes involving floods of angst, yet it does reveal more about the characters. (In the case of Ducky and Gibbs, the problem is lightly resolved in a touching way.)

In conclusion, I do have to mention that nicest, most incredibly patient boyfriend/husband on television: Agent Fritz Howard.
The caustic hero has his place.

But sometimes, it's nice to just get . . . nice.

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