We all know the guy.
Kind of shy and unlucky in love, conventionally attractive but not the one everyone goes for. A stable career and a clear future ahead of him: filled with marriage, kids and a comfortable lifestyle. He’s completely average in every way, and honestly, he’s nice. He’s the one we’re meant to root for in his quest for love as the nicest guy in the room, but often nice is the exact opposite of what this guy is.
Take Brooklyn Nine Nine’s Charles Boyle for example. If you’ve seen the show then you’ll know two things about Jake Peralta’s bestie: he loves food, and in the words of Terry Jeffords, “he loves love.” He is the biggest shipper of the shows ‘it’ couple Jake Peralta and Amy Santiago, often getting too close to their relationship in his over eagerness to support their relationship. Boyle, although a little over-zealous, is a great friend to Jake and a fantastic partner to Genevieve, whom he shares many qualities with and clicks with instantly. Yet, Boyle’s romantic life wasn’t always such a whirlwind. Having left an abusive relationship with his ex-wife, Charles is desperate for love and in the show’s first season he projects this on to his colleague, Rosa Diaz.
As a character, Boyle is notoriously obsessive, and this is no exception for his love life. From the show’s pilot, Boyle is clearly besotted with Rosa as our first introduction to him is in conversation with Gina, who advises him how to best approach his feelings towards her. Though admitting she enjoys his company, Rosa makes no advances towards him. In the episode “The Bet,” Charles becomes a beacon of truth as the result of his pain medication and a fearful Rosa confides in Gina that she does not want to lead him on, especially after Charles saved Rosa’s life. Eventually, Charles reveals that he didn’t know who he was saving and would have done it for anyone. Yet what he follows it up with is nothing less than cringey: “When you finally go out with me—and you will – its because I do things that only Charles Boyle would do.” Because of course, Rosa’s solely platonic feelings for Charles will be consumed by love soon enough as he wins her over; that’s what love is, right?
Brooklyn Nine Nine, however, was hardly the first sitcom to use this trope, and Charles Boyle is hardly the worst ‘nice guy’ of them all. Scrubs used this to play along the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ relationship between JD and Elliot that ends up spanning the shows entirety. In the episode “My Best Friend’s Mistake”, JD fails to make a move on Elliot and thus must try again within a forty-eight-hour period to avoid being trapped in the (imaginary) friend zone, where his feelings for Elliot would forever be pushed aside. In The Big Bang Theory, Leonard’s infatuation with Penny is the catalyst for the entire series, and their on and off again relationship is one of the shows key arcs. When the pair initially get together in the show’s third season, Leonard becomes obsessive and protective over the woman he has “fought” to have on his arm, he even refuses to let one of Penny’s ex’s sleep on her sofa without so much of a conversation, fearing that he will lose Penny to someone better – a fear that prevails throughout the show’s run.
“People get things they don’t deserve all the time. Like me with you.”Leonard Hofstadter in The Big Bang Theory
Cult classic Friends is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to this sitcom faux pa, with its characterisation of palaeontologist Ross Gellar. His high school crush on his sister’s best friend, Rachel Green, extends far past high school and consumes not only most of his adult life but the series run. When the relationship with his dream girl hits the rocks, Ross sleeps with a girl he met at the bar the same night. As expected, Rachel flips when finding out what he had done, leading to one of the most famous Friends quotes of all times as Ross exclaims: “We were on a break!”, trying to justify his actions as he pleads to Rachel – the supposed girl of his dreams. Throughout the show’s run, Ross never apologises for his actions and constantly stands his ground whenever the issue is brought up. When Rachel dates other men he barely tries to hide his jealously and often tells her that the men she sees are not good enough for her whilst constantly complaining about his awful love life and divorces, all because he doesn’t have Rachel.
Even a show such as How I Met Your Mother, one focused entirely on how our protagonist, Ted Mosby, meets the supposed love of his life (who we assume to be the mother of his children) fails to stray away from the ‘nice guy’ stereotype and give us a character that we feel we can actual root for. Instead, we have Ted: a self-centred romantic whose idea of love is grand gestures and nuclear families that live in a happily manufactured machine, all-consuming of not only his life but that of his close friends as he is just so unlucky in love. By unlucky, I mean that he was unable to date Robin Scherbatsky after they broke up at the end of the show’s second season, as Robin doesn’t share the love for the nuclear family as much as he does.
The nice guy trope is unfortunately one that seems truly embedded into sitcom culture and has no signs of slowing down. It’s even bleeding into other genres, particularly teen dramas such as the highly controversial Thirteen Reasons Why, through the central protagonist of Clay Jensen, who proclaims: “I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her.” This statement, much like the show itself, is highly problematic and coerces the idea that love can save anything, especially the love of a nice guy. Except it can’t, and romanticising suicide is only the start of the show’s problems. But by demonstrating to the youth of today that this kind of love is okay, we are only fuelling the fire of not only more ‘nice guys’ in TV, but for them to bleed into the real world.
What is disheartening is that all but one of these nice guys gets the girl in the end. Scrubs’ JD and Elliot’s on-again off-again relationship ends in marriage and children, as does The Big Bang Theory’s Leonard and Penny’s. Rachel gets off the plane for Ross in the final episode of Friends and Ted performs one final grand gesture to win the heart of How I Met Your Mother’s Robin Scherbatsky (and spoiler alert: it works). Sitcoms are teaching us that the nice guys (who pursue the women of their dreams regardless of the feelings of the opposite party, get jealous when these women date men they actually like, and then complain when they don’t date them ‘as they deserve better’) always get the girl, and that their behaviour is completely acceptable. Yet it isn’t.
There isn’t anything attractive or funny about a guy who can’t say no and accept the feelings of those they crave to have. In fact, it’s kind of scary to think of a guy pursuing you because he just loves you that much, even though you may have differing opinions or, shockingly enough, might not be interested. But because it’s a television show, and a comedy at that, that makes it perfectly okay, right?
No, it doesn’t. And I, for one, am desperate to be rid of these nice guys for good.