The term “supercouple” gets thrown around a lot, and has come to mean merely “a couple that’s really super.” However, to my mind a true supercouple adheres to a certain storytelling formula that Days had in the 80’s. It throws two well-established characters, generally opposites, together in a situation that has nothing to do with love. Attraction is generally immediate, but there is something about their situation that makes the coupling seem impossible. Internal conflicts arise based on their opposite natures and on their life situations, but these are overcome one by one as the attraction and, later, love between them cannot be denied. Later conflicts are more external, but ideally still tap into character-based issues. I think of Steve and Kayla, Shane and Kim, and Jack and Jennifer as the purest examples of the supercouple formula, with Bo and Hope kickstarting the era, and Roman I and Marlena and Doug and Julie offering (perhaps) the initial inspiration.
To say the show moved away from this formula in the mid-nineties is an understatement. And yet the legacy remained. In positive ways, as we see with Bo and Hope and Steve and Kayla, who are still sexy and wonderful all these years later, and whose fans are still devoted.
The legacy remains, too, in negative ways.
Nowadays we have couples with supercouple PR without the stories to back them up. Their status as true love soulmates has not been earned over time through internal character struggles. Instead, their coupledom is based on chemistry between the actors (and sometimes not even that), a hasty declaration of love, some generic obstacles (scheming third parties being the most common), and the constant assertion by other characters that this couple is meant to be. Carrie and Austin and Shawn and Belle fit into this bastardized version of the supercouple.
Attempting to address this problem, a common suggestion on message boards now is that the show shouldn’t take sides in a triangle. Why should EJ be demonized to make Lucas look better? Write each character as best you can, the argument goes, and may the best man win. This argument sounds good, but I think in the end it doesn’t work. Demonizing one character for the sake of another is never a good idea. But not to have a plan for which couple is the “endgame” leaves the writers and actors at sea.
We can see the effects of keeping an open mind on Days of the past few weeks. We have “Lumi week” followed by “EJami week.” We have Belle playfully sexing up Shawn before his job interview followed by a eyesnog fest with Phillip. An actor has to know who to look at lingeringly. If Belle loves Shawn, Phillip’s attentions should be annoying. If on the other hand Shelle is dead and Belle is going to be with Phillip in the future, she should be looking longingly at him. If she is drawn to both men for too long, she is dangerously close to coming off as wishy-washy and capricious.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see the show toying with other couplings. For too long, the show has lazily behaved as if every couple they threw together that accumulated a few fans was true love meant-to-be, never to be questioned or challenged.
Back in the 80’s, the show didn’t try to turn every couple into a supercouple. The show was organized around couples, but they didn’t try to turn Jennifer and Glenn into Bo and Hope. They weren’t afraid to move on to the more successful Jen/Frankie pairing, and they weren’t afraid to move on from there to Jennifer and Jack. But at any time, the show generally had a plan. It wasn’t afraid to change direction, but a triangle was never presented without it quickly becoming clear who the “winner” was eventually going to be.
What’s happening with Chelsea and Nick is a fatal consequence of not making up one’s mind. Soaps have long adhered to the tradition of bringing on a new character as a foil or spoiler to the existing couple, as Jett is for Chick. And I heartily support making the foil character a good guy and a viable option. But there’s a line you don’t go over.
Part of the problem is that Nick is being demonized in favor of Jett. In fact, the Nick/Chelsea/Jett dynamic resembles the Glenn/Jen/Frankie dynamic after the show had decided to go for the Jen/Frankie pairing. It also resembles the Pete/Melissa/Lars triangle when Pete was transformed into a jealous, insecure, pretending-to-be-paralyzed tool in order to pave the way for Melissa/Lars. For good or ill, the show always took sides in triangles back then, and they knew how to demonize the guy who was on the way out. This character assassination is very similar to what is happening to Nick now.
But I’m not quibbling with the deballification of Nick (well, I am, but not here) as much as with Chelsea’s sudden seeming sexual attraction for Jett. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Steve and Kayla’s great falling in love story, where no matter what doubts they had, they always longed to be together. Chelsea and Nick’s story, as haphazard as it has been at times, has shown them really earning their attraction and love. To suddenly have Chelsea truly drawn to another man seems a betrayal of all that has come before. Imagine if, when Jack came on the scene, Kayla had decided that Steve was too rough compared to the smooth and sophisticated Jack, had rolled her eyes at Steve’s insecurity and jealousy, and had exchanged longing looks with Jack across the room?
Maybe it would have been more realistic. Maybe even compelling storytelling. But one thing it would not have been is romantic.