Making the Case for Platonic Partnerships on Procedural Dramas
Will they or won’t they? Should they or shouldn’t they? Although the focus of procedural dramas tends to be the cases, it’s no longer rare for detectives and agents’ personal lives to bleed into the workplace. It seems more often than not teammates will break NCIS‘ Rule #12. (“Never date a coworker,” Gibbs has said, and he would know how that can turn out.)
But why does that have to be the case? Is it simply because it’s the easiest way to raise the stakes in high-pressure situations? Is it really that much worse for crime-solvers to lose partners if they’re also romantically involved rather than someone they’ve worked with and put their lives on the line for for years?
Is it because a tense atmosphere lends itself to heightened emotions, which can lead to those who were “just” friends crossing the line? Is it too easy to use already existing characters to introduce a romantic component to a show? Or to set up a will they/won’t they romance and hope it keeps fans tuning in?
Whatever it may be — one of the above or any other number of reasons — it seems to be rare to see platonic partnerships that stay that way on procedural dramas, especially recently. All it takes is one moment or one confession, and suddenly there’s no going back.
For instance, other than one failed attempt at a date in Season 1, Criminal Minds‘ JJ (AJ Cook) and Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) were one of the best examples of a long-lasting platonic partnership up until the Season 14 finale. (He is the godfather to her children.) After she confessed her love, albeit at gunpoint, fans were left wondering just how she meant it, what it means for her marriage to Will (Josh Stewart), and how it will all play out in the 15th and final season.
Up until then, what helped Criminal Minds stand out from all the other procedurals on TV now is that it didn’t have any inter-team relationships. Hotch (Thomas Gibson), Rossi (Joe Mantegna), JJ, Morgan (Shemar Moore), Kate (Jennifer Love Hewitt), and Simmons (Daniel Henney) have all been married and had kids, without getting involved with someone else at the BAU. (Some relationships have been more successful than others.)
Now, the CBS drama still has Reid’s relationships with Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) and Prentiss (Paget Brewster), but it’s not the same because neither of those has ever carried the same weight as his with JJ. We didn’t need a hint of the potential for there to be more between them to believe how worried each was when the other was in danger, whether being tortured or in prison.
Another set of partners that took a turn in recent years is Blue Bloods‘ Jamie (Will Estes) and Eddie (Vanessa Ray), but they did make it clear on more than one occasion that they hadn’t taken that step because they wanted to continue to ride together. But the CBS procedural still has Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) and Baez (Marisa Ramirez), and there has been nothing to suggest that just because his wife has died that will change.
Wahlberg did tell TV Insider that Baez would probably be his date to Jamie and Eddie’s wedding, and she was at the event, but we never saw him ask on-screen. Furthermore, the actor said, “She would want to be there with him, knowing how emotional it will be without [his late wife] Linda.”
It’s something like that — being there for one another during tough times without it having to be more than what it is — that procedurals could use more of. Show us that work partners can be there for each other without it turning into something more. Show us that they can do that and go home to a family if that’s an aspect of their lives that will be explored. The two don’t have to mix.
NCIS might have dragged out Tony (Michael Weatherly) and Ziva’s (Cote de Pablo) will they/won’t they to the point that, after eight years working side-by-side, everything romantic happened, for the most part, off-screen, but since then, it has taken a step back. Yes, right now we’re wondering what the plan is for Bishop (Emily Wickersham) and Torres (Wilmer Valderrama), but the series thankfully never even tried to go there with Bishop and McGee (Sean Murray) (even with the two going undercover as a married couple, the same situation NCIS: LA put Kensi and Deeks in before they got together).
NCIS: New Orleans has been quite successful in showing a close bond between partners without even the hint of it turning romantic with Tammy (Vanessa Ferlito) and Sebastian (Rob Kerkovich). They’re not together (and never will be), and we buy the desperation and urgency to rescue the other if one is in trouble.
One of the best examples of a partnership that is and will continue to remain platonic is Elementary‘s Holmes and Watson. While that was the case in the source material, fortunately the series hasn’t changed that just because Watson is a woman — and according to Lucy Liu, it likely won’t.
“That’s not what [creator] Rob Doherty wants,” she told TV Insider in 2018. “He’s vowed never will they be together. As is, we’re breaking tradition by having Watson be a woman, so we don’t want all of a sudden to have Holmes and Watson have sex.”
That’s not to say partners can’t become romantically involved. NCIS: LA has been successful in taking Kensi (Daniela Ruah) and Deeks’ (Eric Christian Olsen) “thing” and metaphor-filled conversations into a stable marriage. Jamie and Eddie’s leap into an engagement allowed Blue Bloods to change up their dynamic, put each in a different position at work, and bring Eddie into the Reagan family fold.
But for now, let’s just say that we’ve had enough of procedurals needing to “go there” to add a little romance to the mix.