Heteronormativity Is a Helluva Drug

I didn’t expect to like the reboot of Magnum PI. I only gave the pilot a shot because I’d been watching the 1980 series and decided to compare and contrast. I already knew that Magnum was now Latino and Higgins was now a woman. I went into it thinking it’d be fine, but not for me, like most reboots.

The pilot was a fun ride. I gave it the three episode test (pilot establishes the show; second ep is the adjustments; third ep is the vibe) and ended up hooked.

My one hope for the show was that they wouldn’t default to hooking up Magnum and Higgins.

Well, it was good while it lasted and it lasted until early in the 2nd season. Once it became clear that the endgame is Magnum and Higgins are omg-meant-to-be (and that it’s apparently going to be played out in poorly executed fanfic tropes), it then became a countdown until I got fed up and quit watching. That lasted until half-way through the 4th season. I haven’t given up entirely but I am absolutely half-assing it and I don’t care about the show like I once did.

It’s a shame, but thems the breaks.

And there’s plenty of history behind the continuation of the heteronormative narrative that defaults opposite sex leads or lead/supporting into a romantic tension leading to a relationship.

Obviously, the most known example of this is Dave and Maddie on Moonlighting, a show that so depended on the will-they-or-won’t-they, that when they did, it pretty much cancelled the show (to be fair there were other behind-the-scenes issues that contributed to the show’s demise, too). Also, Agnes and Herb had the much better relationship.

Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Remington Steele drew from the same playbook. On Barney Miller, it played out over five episodes between Wojo and Wentworth before Linda Lavin left to be Alice.

In the case of shows like Tales of the Gold Monkey, it’s less of a will-they-or-won’t-they and more of a when-will-he-commit. Because there’s obviously something going on between Jake and Sarah (hell, they kiss in the pilot), but it’s a situationship that allows Jake to kiss other ladies depending on the plot. There’s a similar sort of set-up happening with Walter and Roxanne on Automan. Are they dating? Kinda, maybe, it depends.

Emergency! actually began with Dr. Kelly Brackett and Nurse Dixie McCall in a romantic relationship, which was dropped in later episodes without explanation (read: break-up). From that point on, Brackett and Dixie were friends and colleagues, caring for and respecting each other in both professional and platonic ways, showing that, hey, it could be done.

I’m not saying that it wasn’t. There were series that didn’t necessarily default to the romantic relationship. Della Street didn’t get involved with Perry Mason or Paul Drake (though Paul did nickname Della “Beautiful” and there was some joking that might be considered flirting). Likewise Britt Reid clearly cared about Miss Case and vice-versa, but there was nothing but boss-secretary friendship happening with The Green Hornet. Clearly, it could be done.

But there’s no denying that it could be a struggle. For most of Hunter‘s seven season run, Rick Hunter and Dee Dee McCall were partners and friends, a caring and satisfying platonic relationship that Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer were happy with. But as the story goes, the network and the fans wanted more. As a result, a Season 6 episode informed the audience that Hunter and McCall had once slept together, but it caused an issue with their work relationship.

It’s the default aspect of the hetereonormative narrative, the well-worn path of it, the perpetuation of the idea that the only chemistry that exists between opposite sexes is sexual and the only important relationships are romantic that really grates. Worse, it’s dull. And it’s dull because it’s expected. No other options are presented or considered.

Magnum PI had an opportunity to explore something beyond the default, to establish a couple of opposite sex platonic soulmates without some sort of caveat or exemption (like one or both of them being queer), to really dig into that kind of relationship and do something different.

Instead, it fell for the same quick and easy high that’s been dulling senses for decades.

It really is a helluva drug.

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