Good guys: Aidan Shaw on Sex and the City; Jake Ballard on Scandal.
Photo: HBO, ABC
This story originally ran on Nov. 5, 2015. We’re rerunning it for Vulture’s TV Couple Scuffle, in which we to determine the greatest couple on television in the past 30 years.
There are few things in my life that can make any day feel like Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa. A McDonald’s employee accidentally putting an extra nugget in my ten-piece; a cab driver telling me I look like Halle Berry because he thinks I’m gorgeous or he thinks all black women look alike; and joining a group of late-20s/early 30s women who are passionately discussing the men of Sex and the City. A few weeks ago, I saw the following posted in a Facebook group I belong to: “Here’s an outdated debate for a Friday: Team Big or Team Aidan.” I was fresh off ending a four-year relationship, so I had recently rewatched the entire series and decided that Aidan is the greatest man of all time. I dipped my toe into the discussion, assuming that when I pledged my allegiance to Aidan, all the women in the thread would figuratively do the Hora and hoist me in the air. That did not happen. What happened was two hours of a back-and-forth that lasted 134 comments. And my Aidan Shaw was losing! By a lot.
This dream man — the good guy — who was thoughtful, loved Carrie immensely, and charmed all of her friends was losing to Big, the very rich and toxic partner who played with Carrie’s heart for six seasons before finally committing. WHAT? How is this possible? Why is the good guy who is emotionally available, great in bed, and has a successful career labeled “boring,” and passed over for the handsome bad boy? This happens all the time in TV and film, in everything from Rock Hudson versus Tony Randall in Pillow Talk to the more recent Team Rafael versus Team Michael on Jane the Virgin, and Scandal’s Jake and Fitz. It happens all the time in real life, too, and quite frankly, I’ve had enough. I’m sick of the good guys being amazing, only to lose the gal to some trifling dude with mommy issues. I’m here to defend the Good Guy, and I’m starting with the quintessential modern representation: Aidan Shaw.
During the aforementioned Facebook conversation, I asked some of the women to explain why they chose Big over Aidan. Some of the reasons made sense (the heart wants what it wants, and Carrie, deep down, just wanted Big more), but a lot of them made me scratch my head. Qualities such as attentiveness, thoughtfulness, and Aidan stripping her crusty hardwood floors were suddenly turnoffs. That’s it? You dislike him because he called Carrie “Ladybird,” asked her how her day was, and wanted her to meet his parents? You know what I dislike? When Big took a dump on Carrie’s heart by basically going, “I’m moving to Paris for work. Nope, I didn’t think about what this meant for our relationship. We can be friends, though. You’ll be in New York City, addressing shoes, ‘Hello, lovah’; and I’ll be in Paris, mainlining carbs and banging models. Friends forevs!” If I were dating a man like Aidan, I would be having all his babies, and we would raise our biracial kids to play jazz and model for United Colors of Benetton.
Now, some of you might be saying, “Of course you’re into Aidan. He’s played by John Corbett.” Yes, John spends his days and nights looking like a delicious Clif bar after a morning run. But his good looks are not why I’m ride-or-die for him. The truth is, Aidan is the type of man who would be a good father, be loved by my family, and would push me to be my best self. What’s so bad about that? Nothing. What’s so boring about that? Again, nothing! Good guys are where it’s at, and I’ve been feeling this way since the ’90s.
When I was 14, Felicity premiered on the WB, and I immediately fell for Noel (Scott Foley), the adorable RA vying for Felicity’s affection alongside bad-boy Ben, who couldn’t express himself emotionally and spoke in a whisper like he was watching Suffragette in a crowded Magic Johnson movie theater 24/7. (C’mon, dude! You’re out in these loud New York City streets. QUIT. WHISPERING.) Unfortunately, his low-talking ways were no deterrent for Felicity and, you guessed it, after four seasons, she chose him over Noel. While watching the good guy lose devastated me, it seems not to bother Scott Foley all that much.
Foley and his plush, goose-down-pillow lips are now playing Jake Ballard, the good guy, who loses the girl to President Fitz Grant, the bad boy on Scandal. Because Fitz is Olivia’s true love, Jake is friend-zoned and spends his time giving his ex-relationship advice (a habit he finally put an end to last week). D’oh! Jake is such a good sport that when he [SPOILER ALERT] killed Cyrus’s husband James in season three (for what turned out to be a good reason), I thought the good guy had snapped. I yelled at my TV screen, “Is this because Felicity chose Ben? Is this because Felicity cheated on you and lost her virginity to that that painter played by Simon Rex instead of you, even though she told you she wasn’t ready to cash in her V-card yet?” Of course, neither of those is the case. This is all scripted narrative. As often happens on television, the bad boy gets reformed/rewritten to be a good-ish guy, and the OG good guy gets nothing. (I don’t give a damn how charming Hugh Grant is in Two Weeks Notice — he was a fool for 93 percent of the movie until he realized he loved Sandra Bullock and tried to get her back.)
So let’s rewrite the story.
Enough with the woman spending two hours — or, if it’s a TV show, several seasons — having knockdown, drag-out fights, with the bad boy only to end up with him because he gives one moving speech. No more perpetuating the fantasy that being jerked around by a man is worth it in the end because he will change when he falls in love. Let’s stop acting like a man who is clear about his intentions, is open to love, and has a good head on his shoulders is “boring,” “lame,” and “not passionate like the edgy guy.” Aidan Shaw isn’t boring; he’s the complete package. Noel isn’t “lame”; he respects Felicity and treats her as his equal. Jake isn’t “not passionate”; he just isn’t ruled by emotion because he’s a grown adult who has learned to tame his impulses.
If the nine-month wait to see Book of Mormon on Broadway is shorter than the time it takes for the bad boy to learn how to say “I love you,” he’s not a catch. If the guy does not treat you with love and respect, does not cease-and-desist with all the game playing, is not willing to share his world with you, then he is bad for you. The fact that this type is propped up as the guy we should want to date is a bunch of crazy voodoo. The good guys should be taken, as my good friend Jessica calls it, “to the bone zone.” Then to the “marriage zone.” Then to the “we die together after 60 years together as our loved ones sit around the bed and watch us zone.” These good guys, who will love us no matter our flaws, are the heroes of the love story. Because when it comes down to it, I think most of us would agree that it’s better to have an amazing guy who loves us as much as we love them and calls us “Ladybird” as opposed to a guy who doesn’t call us at all.