Watch even a few dramas or sitcoms, and a familiar pattern emerges: Tension builds between two of the primary characters. Sometimes they outwardly despise one another; sometimes they acknowledge an attraction but are kept apart by jobs, spouses, the fear of ruining a friendship or other situations outside of their control. But whether they are FBI agents, Dunder Mifflin employees, shipwrecked castaways, ER doctors and nurses, or vampires and mere mortals, we the viewers become convinced that they are soul mates, and their story arc is what keeps us coming back week after week. Soap operas used to call them "super couples," while TV fan boards have their own term for it: OTP, the "One True Pairing." Can real-life love ever measure up?
Of course, the minute these soul mates do get together, the writers need to find new ways to spice things up. And so the best-friends-turned-lovers become ex-lovers, then best friends again, all without permanently shattering their extended circle of friends (see "Friends," "How I Met Your Mother" and "Grey's Anatomy," to name just a few).
Family sitcoms and dramas from "The Brady Bunch" to "Family Ties" to "Gilmore Girls" have featured idealized parents who listen, understand and admit their mistakes -- and kids who come around to their parents' point of view within the space of an episode. These couples and families seemingly have it all: careers, marriage, perfect kids, witty banter, fabulous social lives, and quick, satisfying resolutions to even the most daunting problems and challenges.
At the other end of the spectrum are shows that portray one or both members of a couple in a negative light. Shows like "According to Jim," "King of Queens," and, to some extent, "Modern Family," rely on a bumbling dad and husband inexplicably paired with an attractive, together mom and wife, while "Married with Children," "Roseanne" and "Malcolm in the Middle" play up the shortcomings of both partners.
We've come to expect these themes from our favorite TV shows, but do they affect the way we approach real life?