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  • Writer's pictureHannah Pearson and Susannah Powers Stengel

A Tellyfish TV Guide to Failed Love

The Tellyfish Team’s Desert Island, All-Time, Top-Five, Most Memorable Breakups Are As Follows:


Spoilers For: 1980's, 90's, 2000's, and 2010's TV heartaches we share.

Rob of High Fidelity(s) uses music to process pain. Here at Tellyfish, we use television.

High Fidelity, the confessional 1995 Nick Hornby novel about a record store owner, eventually became High Fidelity, the 2000 movie starring a deeply dopey, douchey John Cusack. We remember as tweens adoring his crabby demeanor and his top-five listicle direct camera addresses. High Fidelity, the book-turned-hit-Cusack-movie then morphed anew this February, this time into a 35 minute Hulu TV dramedy. Rob, now female, but still a record store owner, is played by the layered, vibrant Zoe Kravitz. Kravitz serves Rob with new bite, incision, and playfulness, but with a similar retrogressive, poetic vision of her own past as Robs of yore. Krativz kills it. We champion this show, from its vulnerability to its impeccable taste, including its gag-worthy music selection. That it hasn’t been renewed is a tragedy, a breakup that Hulu will come to regret. Throughout a tender, whip-smart season, Kravitz’s Rob infuses her raw passion for music into her broken love life, and transforms her trauma into a top-five music recommendation listicle for the ages.

Television helps us rupture at our own seams. Great TV spills its characters and plotlines into our own lived patterns, and demands we offer up our own connective links to its fictional frames. We animate our own memories, revel in them, and sometimes, even release them when we ride the tide of a good episode. Even though writing obscure television criticism articles isn’t as sexy as Zoe Kravitz’s vinyl (Thanks again for reading this, Mom.), TV analysis has always been our frame for handling life’s messes and victories.

TV is our therapy, as music is Rob’s therapy. Television is whatever you need it to be at the time you sit down to watch. A mirror. A foil. A grief counselor. A combat partner. As Rob, and Rob before her, and Rob before him have so bravely done before us, we now offer up to you a top-five listicle of our heartbreak art--a televisual, prismatic saga for our personal romantic dramas. Sit back, relax, and enjoy our catharsis. And don’t forget to bring your own.

Hannah’s Top 5

5. Laguna Beach: Every Couple (Babycakes, 2005-2007)

Image 2 Credit: TV Guide

Is there anything more enthralling to watch, more mercurial, more melodramatic than experiencing your first love and the inevitable heartbreak that follows? Yes, watching it on TV. In high school we were graced with the iconic Laguna Beach, a show that would be the pioneer in reality television about pretty people, being rich, and yelling at each other. It was the matriarch to the younger, more talented show, The Hills, and the grandmother to underwhelming The City and the bastard step children that were Kell on Earth and Audrina.

I lived for the volatile decision making of the sun-kissed Laguna Beach crew. So many storylines served as touchstones for fifteen year old Hannah as to what a “real relationship” was like. The unrequited love of LC for Stephen. The cheating D-bag Jason. The airport scene <3 Along with mimicking the iconic pin back bangs look, I also recreated the drama in my own high school romance...

I called him Babycakes… and not even in an ironic way. He was nerdy, shy, and deeply misogynist in that way most teenage boys who think of themselves as the “nice guy” tend to be. Our love started out like a teen romance of the 1950s. He asked me to the dance, we were nervous about holding hands the first time, and snuck each other sweet love notes in between classes. But after a few months we hopped a time machine to the early 2000s and started fighting, breaking up, getting back together (hit repeat.) I would post cheesy emo lyrics on my AIM away message. I kissed another boy like Jason did to Jessica. He called me a slut like Stephan called Kristin in Cabo. It felt like the drama was as staged as it was on MTV excep our houses weren’t McMansions with jacuzzis in the backyard and Hummers in the garage. But you bet your sweet ass I wore just as much eyeliner. Laguna Beach was probably not the best show to teach me about relationships. It could help explain my next four entries on this list. However, it did teach me great storytelling. When I was fifteen I couldn’t imagine life without Babycakes but a few years later I left my small town and the rest is still unwritten. ;)

“Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better.”

4. Sex and the City: Carrie and Aiden (Keeper, 2010-2014)

Oh, the one that got away. Everyone has this person. We think about them whenever sappy love songs on the radio play or the moment in the movie when the guy finally gets the girl, and we think “why couldn’t that have been us?” Well did you ever stop and wonder if you are someone else’s “one that got away”? In the case of Aiden and Carrie, both of them got a turn being the one that got away. First, Carrie had her heart broken when Aiden left her for being unfaithful with Big. Then finally Carrie did more than break Aiden’s heart, she smashed it to smithereens when she broke off their engagement in season 5.

My Aiden was similar to John Corbett’s cool, laid back, country boy performance. Keeper was low maintenance, effortless, and sexy as hell. I pined for him like a schoolgirl (literally) for years but then he moved away, and I thought I would never see him again. He got away. But years later our paths crossed in that kismet, fairytale way. The relationship was absolute bliss for four years. We followed the path and the steps naturally led us to looking at rings and pinterest boards with white dresses. Everything seemed perfect. There wasn’t a scratch or dent anywhere to be found. Which is why it shocked many, including Keeper, when I woke up one day and announced I was moving to California. Alone.

Aiden’s down to earth charm counterbalanced Carrie’s larger than life, drama-fueled, "can’t be tamed"(her words) personality. Keeper and I were the same way. Without all the drama to deal with, or problems to fix, Carrie was able to have a moment to wonder if she was the marrying kind. Or if she could be happy in smooth waters forever. I faced the same dilemma. Like Carrie, I didn’t know if I was the marrying kind. I also realized that I was potentially sacrificing life experiences and hopes/dreams by getting married at twenty-four. Leaving Keeper broke my heart, but I knew that it probably broke his more. It was the best and healthiest relationship I have ever been in but marrying him would have been wrong. For him and I. So I headed west to seek my own fortune: becoming the person I was supposed to be.

“The most exciting, challenging, and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.”

3. Cheers: Sam and Diane (Maryland, 2005-2015)

The Will-They?-Won’t-They?-Couple is as synonymous with classic sitcoms as a laugh track or a quirky neighbor with a catchphrase. Almost every good show has at least one. But before there was Ross and Rachel, Pam and Jim, or Bert and Ernie, there was the OG couple of the trope. I’m talking about Sam and Diane. They invented the formula for the best kind of WTWT? couple. You take a straight-laced, type A girl with micromanaging problems and a penchant for bad boys and you pair her with… a bad boy. It helps if the bad boy is selfish, terrible at communication, but charming and swimming in sex appeal. Maryland was the Sam to my Diane. We put each other in our places, never held back on telling the other one off, and secretly wanted to rip each other’s clothes off.

Image 3 Credit: Today

For ten years we played this game of cat and mouse. We started out as friends who met at a nationwide school competition. He lived in Maryland and I was in Arkansas. We would have long chats on AIM and late night phone conversations that wouldn’t end until the sun rose. He would tell me about whoever he was dating and I would talk about my latest crush. Our conversations would be all over the map and oftentimes it would end in a fight that had us vowing never to speak to each other again. But we always, always, always did. Eventually. Then there was the period of time that we were convinced that we were in love and that distance was keeping us apart. It was a dumpster fire of an experiment and we went back to being friends. But there was always the thought in the back of our heads--will they? When he ended up engaged and uninviting me to the wedding, I had hit my limit of our game. I cut him off, but secretly feared maybe it was just another one of our long pauses. Even when his wedding was called off and he messaged me out of the blue after two years of not talking, I wondered--will they? But ultimately this was

one of the rare times I did not want my life to end up like TV. Mindy and Danny end up together and so do Niles and Daphne and Ross and Rachel, and 99% of those couples. But not Sam and Diane. And not Maryland and me.

“Have a good life.”

2. Orange is the New Black: Piper and Alex (The Hummingbird, 2014)

What’s more dangerous than the relationship that has you doing things you NEVER would do under normal circumstances? You know the people I’m talking about. They are so cool and sexy and you’d do anything to impress them. Most of the time the things you end up doing are at most embarrassing to think about later, but in the case of Piper’s relationship with Alex, the worst thing resulted in prison. For me and The Hummingbird our prison was screaming matches in the street and A LOT of risky sex in public places. It was a weird kink of his that had a novelty for me that quickly wore off. The Hummingbird was easily the most physically attractive man I had ever dated. He looked like a Disney prince and the kind of aloof that has you questioning your sanity but paradoxically wanting more.

After months of quickies in bar bathrooms, hiking trails… a jet ski in the middle of Lake Tahoe, I was over the spell that his perfect body and chiseled jawline had placed upon me. Along with the sex, The Hummingbird’s allure had me dropping everything else in my life that wasn’t him. It felt like his design, so when things ended I looked around at the rubble, and of course, blamed him. Just like Piper did to Alex. I made my decisions but couldn’t own them. Alex and Piper couldn’t avoid each other; even without prison walls, they were like sexual magnets. I wish I could say I stayed away from the Hummingbird for good the first time, but I blame physics. Eventually (2 years later) it was over, no cute double last name, just a tearful goodbye and a quick blocking of his phone number.

“Why do you always feel so inevitable to me?”

1. Fleabag: Fleabag and the Hot Priest (The New Guy, 2015)

2019 was a simpler time. Then again, every year was as compared to 2020. In 2019 the only thing that brought real tears to my eyes was watching the bittersweet life cycle of Fleabag’s relationship with the Hot Priest in season two of Fleabag and the way it reminded me of my own brief encounter. Their chemistry was off the charts, and the build up to their consummation was like television tantric sex, edging us to an epic release. The word “Kneel" forever makes me weak at my own knees. Fleabag, a brash, broken childish creature, and the Hot Priest, charismatic and equally fucked up, were the perfect couple that could never be. Just like my own Hot Priest, The New Guy, was off limits. Not because of God, thankfully, but because we worked together. But as well we all know, making something taboo only makes it sexier. The New Guy and I tried to enjoy each other’s company for weeks without giving into temptation. Even having a “date” at Catholic mass didn’t douse the heat growing between us. When the conversations were good enough to count as foreplay, the sex was inevitable.

We did the sneaking around, sending double meaning glances, and naughty texts when no one was looking. We met up for afternoon delights when we thought no one would catch us. We made each other laugh and bonded over similar interests. In all my life, among everyone I have ever dated, no one, not a single person, felt as similar to me as the New Guy. Cut from the same cloth, as they say. But it didn’t last long, and just like in Fleabag, the reasons were complicated but understandable. It’s difficult when things don’t end the way you want them to, when fireworks don’t go off or the best songs are too short, but honestly the New Guy taught me the lesson that some of the best love affairs are simply supposed to be blips. Flashes of lights. They don’t get tainted by time and the banality of a “real relationship.” So as much as I deeply craved a season 3, I know it’s better this way.

“I love you.”
“It’ll pass.”

(And it did.)

Susannah’s Top 5

5. Parks and Recreation: Ann Perkins and Andy Dwyer (Scooby, 2006-2007)

Like Andy and Ann, Scooby and I had a simple, goofy love. Scooby was my high school’s class clown. He was a hilarious Jack Black type, beloved by all. Much like Andy Dwyer, Scooby would speak in absurd non sequiturs. Stingy-wingy-doo, he called me. But, as with a certain beautiful nurse and Johnny Karate, silly camaraderie did not build lasting love. Scooby was a traditional Southern Baptist boy. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when he couldn’t so much as touch my butt without giggling. “I would never disrespect you,” he would sing, pointing finger guns at me. He would then keep his hands to himself. I craved the consensual canoodlings he decided for both of us not to pursue, but had no adult capacity to express my needs or ask for more from him. And I was seventeen. I wanted make out in cars. I was too ready to play his straight man (straight Ann?) as most young women do in love. Poor horny me, unable to articulate my own needs. As a bisexual Gemini empath chameleon, I often feel at odds with my own identity in a quest to please others or simply happily ride the waves of life. I had fun with Scooby, but still needed to learn myself.

“And once we've all said goodbye / You take a running leap and you learn to fly.”

4. The O.C.: Anna and Seth (Rushmore, 2003-2011)

Image 4 Credit: Katablog

I loved the Death Cabian pretensions of Orange County’s favorite B plot hero, Seth Cohen. The show premiered in the summer of 2003, the same year I pined for my own selfish schmuck, Rushmore. Rushmore was a baby sociopath whose frosted tips and witty quips had me trippin’. He was whip-smart and could wittily, unrelentingly zing me. We had a crap-ton in common. My brain became a sex organ sitting next to him in keyboarding class.

I remember wearing my goopiest lip gloss to the movies at the start of my eighth grade school year,

determined to make Rushmore my guy. I saw him from across the butter pump. I was surrounded by my faithful girl squad. I can still remember, with Lovecraftian horror, the moment I saw him looking, with unfamiliar cartoon hearts in his eyes, at my oldest squad sister friend. I tasted the bitter butter of jealousy. Squad Sister and Rushmore dated on and off for the next six years; he and I never would. But like Anna’s lingering imprint upon the Orange Co. scenescape, Rushmore lived on for me as a symbol of anticlimactic longing. And, like Seth and Anna, I knew he didn’t want me. Not really. I watched him choose other girls again and again throughout our pubescence. Like Anna, I often shipped Rushmore with other girls, a quest to eliminate my ever-regenerating love for him. When I finally touched his dick (many years later, after a viewing of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore) it had the sensation of sapping both mystery and desire. Anna was lucky and got out of the O.C. before wasting years romanticizing her as yet unexplored future with Cohen. I was not so lucky with Rushmore. The hours spent friend-zoned were way hotter than our eventual one-off dalliance. But during the time between him choosing my best friend and him missing my pleasure zones, Rushmore was my heart’s long lost misanthrope, ripped straight from a bop by The Shins.

But who knows, maybe one day we'll be perfect for each other. I don't know.”


3. Skins: Cassie and Sid (Starburst, 2012-2013)

Like Sid and Cassie in the soap operatic coming-of-age British odyssey Skins, Starburst and I brought out the most rancid parts of ourselves in our symbiosis, and played out our most polluted courtship rituals. I still to this day do not know if Starburst cared for me romantically. It took me years to figure out that it was romantic for me. I was performing myself as purely hetero at the time of my new teacher life in my early twenties. The sister squad bond was familiar for me, but my relationship with Starburst was something else. Every weekend for a year, she came over on Friday afternoons and left on Sunday nights. We would talk and text all day. We shared a bawdy sense of humor, and a love for binge-eating, binge-drinking, emotional monologues, and blackout disorderly conduct. I wasn’t sexing men at this time, I was going home with and cuddling her instead.

Like Cassie in Skins, Starburst loved to talk about how her life might improve if she stopped eating. Due to my own disordered eating, Starburst’s propensity to binge and self-shame found me back in my own cycle of disordered eating. As Sid so often left Cassie’s side confused, I often found myself lost around Starburst. Like Sid, my immature ass didn’t know how to love a gothic heroine. During her rants, Starburst always settled on the same theme--how I was a horrible friend. I remember us screaming at one another in the streets of Houston at 3 a.m., a tiff blown out of control when I told her I would need the coming weekend to myself. Our friendship’s toxicity gave it the mercurial passion of epic romance. We had to break up. I learned two things--I like to cuddle girls a lot, and, when you’re consistently spending time around someone who brings out the worst in you, run away and don’t apologize more than once as you refuse to look back. Who was surprised Sid and Cassie weren’t still together in her final series installment? Anybody? Bueller?

“I’ll love you forever, Sid. . . . That’s the problem.”

2. Game of Thrones: Ygritte and Jon Snow (Matlock, 2013-2016)

As my Starburstian saga faded, I was ready for a good ole fashioned Texas dicking. Enter Matlock, a native Texas wildling with a rude wit and a gun collection. A country boy through and through, he made me feel special by reminding me I didn’t belong. He called me a chatty city girl. Matlock was my next-door-neighbor, a ballistics expert with a ginger Clint Eastwood vibe. And, like, everybody’s favorite bastard, Matlock knew nothing--about emotional intelligence. His contentious attention thrilled and activated a new part of me. I knew nothing--about long-term dating. I was all stress, inexperience, awkwardness. I could tell he treasured my strangeness and my spirited disavowal of gender roles. He expected a mewing lamb, but I taught him to want the opposite in me. We grew together, for a while.

Matlock stole my “l-word” relationship virginity. I thought he was my last everything. I blame the cave. While I attended grad school, I lived with him for one blissful summer. We created a love cave, a temporary suspension in time, with kisses in the dark and playing house with no rules and a playful ticking clock. When I returned the following summer to stay, we couldn’t find our way back to the love cave. Despite his homegrown good ole boy stats, I was the wildling. A loud progressive girl, all liberal academia realness. He became a volunteer sheriff’s deputy during the summer of 2016. The summer Hilary Clinton took the Democratic candidacy. A year peppered, like so many others, by the deaths of black men by white officers of law. We fought about the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The false center that Matlock and I had built burst at its flimsy seams, and our relationship died. He cast me aside for being exactly who I was when he first chose to love me. Unlike Ygritte, I didn’t perish from an arrow shot by a lil’ assassin urchin of the Night’s Watch, I simply learned a lot about intrinsic incompatibility. The personal is political, y’all.

“I don’t want to leave this cave, Jon Snow. Not ever.”

1. Grey’s Anatomy: Burke and Christina (Sneakerhead, 2016-2019)

After moving out of Matlock’s man cave, I slept on my best friend’s living room floor. I was happy alone, so, of course, the most overwhelming love story of my life so far began almost immediately. I met Sneakerhad at work; we were both theatre artists. Staff meetings were burning glances and double entendres. Our love felt magnetic and all-consuming. Never before had I met someone who wanted to love me so utterly. I felt comfortable stating my needs and being myself. Until I didn’t. Like Burke and Yang, the rigid heteronormative romcom plot found us and stifled us, and competitive work dynamics poisoned us. We were both theatre directors and attention whores who sought public acclaim (I from him, he from his peers). On paper, we wanted the same life, and we wanted to build that life together. In practice, there was competition and an ever-petering spark.

Unlike Burke and Christina, Sneakerhead didn’t need me to hold his hand in surgery or to help him at work. He was great at his job. But Sneakerhead also loved to party hard, a love developed during our relationship, not before it. Sneakerhead juggled his endless responsibilities with feverish, addled abandon, and, as he fumbled again and again to prioritize me, I watched myself slip into insignificance. I was drowned out by a wave of parties, concerts, work tasks, and contentious comparison games. I began to carve into myself, hoping he would give me back what I took out. The idea of his forever love was offered as endgame, but I stopped enjoying being his daily partner because I began to hate the desperate, lonely, shrinking violet I became in his noncommittal committed company. And for him, everything was optics. Love became a sort of narrative inevitability for his own pre-programmed American dream. Work, proposal, house purchase. There was a season, rather than a reason, for love within his story of self. Like Christina details in a gripping season six monologue, I let my partner take and take from me during this mad narrative dash to a finish line we couldn’t reach together.

Image 5 Credit: CheatSheet

Small sacrifices. Christina lost her eyebrows. I stopped watching The Bachelor franchise (temporarily). Life-shattering sacrifices. We both put on wedding dresses, costumed as the women our men wanted us to be. I only let him go because he didn’t fight. He didn’t fight when I took off my engagement ring and placed it on my bedside table. He gave into the grey fog. If he had stopped me, I’d probably be married to him today, twisting myself into pretzels made of gaslight. His failure to fight for me imbued me, finally, with the tenacity to take up the fight for myself. May Shonda bless every broken engagement, and nurture every broken heart made in its loneliness free.

“He took something from me. He took little pieces of me, little pieces over time, so small I didn't even notice, you know? He wanted me to be something I wasn't.”

Release your narrative demons. Join us. Come play.

-Hannah Pearson and Susannah Stengel,

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Comment on your top TV themed heartaches below!

CATHARSIS TIME! Nicknames and neuroses welcomed.

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