tv tropes

A Guide to Sleeping With Your Co-Worker on TV

Photo-Illustration: Kelly Chiello and Images by FOX, Lifetime, AMC, Getty Images

Well, everyone, it’s official. As of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s new season, mismatched office-mates Jake and Amy are a couple. That means they have transcended “will they, won’t they” status and are headed somewhere between putting a ring on it and Amy running off in the middle of the night because she thinks that married life with Jake is going to be way too boring. (How’s life for you now, Diane from Cheers?)  Did they get together too soon, or just at the right time? We’ll have to wait and see.

Regardless, the office romance is one of the most tried and true TV tropes, and boy, have there been lots of them. There are so many, not every one is alike, but a lot of them are similar enough to fall into several different classifications. Take a look.

Will They or Won’t They: This is the classic and most common type of workplace hookup between two characters usually from different worlds or with very dissimilar personalities. Though they seem to hate each other, they can’t help the sexual tension that erupts like throwing Mentos into bottles of Diet Coke whenever they’re together. They get close repeatedly, only to be ripped apart again by timing, circumstance, or some dim-bulb significant other whom the audience can’t stand. While some of the couples do get together before the end of the show, it usually isn’t for long enough to keep the push and pull going indefinitely.
Best Examples: Sam and Diane on Cheers, Dave and Lisa on NewsRadio, JD and Elliot on Scrubs, Josh and Donna on The West Wing, Fred and Daphne on Scooby Doo.
How It Usually Ends Up: It seems these couples eventually work out on dramas, but love always tears comedy couples apart again.

The Soul Mates: These couples are obviously meant to be together from the moment they lock eyes over the watercooler. Because no show ever existed about a happy couple that stays happy forever, there are eventually roadblocks between the two of them. However, love usually conquers all, and we get to see a wedding and babies and all those wonderful heteronormative things.
Best Examples: Jim and Pam on The Office, Leslie and Ben on Parks and Recreation, Carol and Doug on ER, Will and Emma on Glee, Mindy and Danny on The Mindy Project, April and Andy on Parks and Recreation.
How It Usually Ends Up: With the couple growing old together and living happily ever after, duh!

Too Soon: This is a special subset of the Will They or Won’t They, but it happens way too soon and spoils the rest of the show. This usually happens when a show is built around the sexual tension of the two leads rather than office life itself, which then becomes superfluous to the romance. Once the flame has kindled, everything about the show has to readjust, making office life even more superfluous than before. It usually spells ruin for the show, but not always for the couple.
Best Examples: David and Mattie on Moonlighting, Jake and Amy on Brooklyn Nine-Nine (?).
How It Usually Ends Up: Does it count if the relationship is still going but the show gets canceled?

Crime Solvers: It appears that almost every time a man is paired up with a woman on procedural, they’re going to get together to use their powers for good and their genitals for sex. They fight the attraction initially, but the draw of helping each other clear cases is the ultimate aphrodisiac, and they eventually give in. Every procedural needs a little bit of sexy spice, right?
Best Examples: Castle and Beckett on Castle, Bones and Booth on Bones, Laura and Remington on Remington Steele, Dunham and Bishop on Fringe, Chuck and Sarah on Chuck.
How It Usually Ends Up: Other than Soul Mates, this couple stands the best chance of riding off in the sunset together.

The Office Ex: This happens in two ways: Either two future co-workers sleep with each other not knowing they will very shortly have to work together, or two exes are thrown together and forced to work side-by-side for the common good. Either way, reconciliation is eventually in the air.
Best Examples: Meredith and Derek on Grey’s Anatomy, Will and MacKenzie on The Newsroom, Scarlet and Gunner and Avery on Nashville, Carrie and Al on Unforgettable, Alex and Liam on Quantico, Laura and Jake on Mysteries of Laura.
How It Usually Ends Up: Other than Derek’s death (spoiler alert), these usually turn out for the positive, but some are still ongoing, so the jury is still out.

Doomed Relationships: Yes, there are some workplace couplings that everyone knows are a bad idea, even from the very first minute they happen. One half of these couplings are usually an emotional mess, and their only outlet for sanity is at the office, so they eventually find love there as well. While they’re good at their jobs (partially because of their emotional instability), that makes them bad partners (entirely because of their emotional instability). Not every romance is written for the storybooks.
Best Examples: Don and Megan on Mad Men, House and Cuddy on House, Rachel and Adam and Jeremy on UnREAL.
How It Usually Ends Up: They’re doomed for a reason!

The Office Affair: When there are troubled characters looking for a romantic outlet to escape the tragedy of their home lives, their first step is usually to start shitting where they eat. This is usually a dalliance from the character’s main romantic relationship, which once again becomes the main focus of his or her attention after the affair is over. Not every relationship that starts in the copy room is meant to end at the altar.
Best Examples: Ted and Skylar on Breaking Bad, Will and Alicia on The Good Wife, Peggy and Ted, Peggy and Pete, Roger and Jane, Roger and Joan, Don and Faye, and Don and Allison on Mad Men.
How It Usually Ends Up: Not every relationship that starts in the copy room is meant to end at the altar.

Sleeping With the Help: This is a very special subset of the office romance because the workplace for one of these individuals is the home of the other. Also, because one is such a part of the other’s life, there is often some reticence about upsetting the balance of the home by starting an affair. Also, there are usually kids involved (including future superstars like Alyssa Milano and Juliette Lewis). But it always happens, and the windows have never been more spotless.
Best Examples: Fran and Mr. Sheffield on The Nanny, Niles and Daphne on Frasier, Angela and Tony on Who’s the Boss?, Peter and Dora on I Married Dora.
How It Usually Ends Up: Everyone usually continues sharing a home together, which is good news.

The “Ship”: There are some co-workers who are never going to get together, even though the fans really, really, really, really, really want them to. These are the “shippers” that stuff the internet full of slashfiction about their favorite duos who aren’t doing the dirty. Sometimes they will flirt with romance or kissing, but in the end, something always keeps them apart, just the way God (and the writers) intended.
Best Examples: Mulder and Scully on The X-Files, Stabler and Benson on Law & Order: SVU, Kirk and Spock on Star Trek, Sherlock and Watson on Sherlock.
How It Usually Ends Up: Frustrating. Incredibly frustrating.

A Guide to Sleeping With Your Co-Worker on TV