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Will they? Won't they? And ... why do we care?

The chemistry between Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams) has simmered for three long seasons on <em>Abbott Elementary.</em>
Gilles Mingasson
/
Disney
The chemistry between Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams) has simmered for three long seasons on Abbott Elementary.

Last week Season 3 of Abbott Elementary came to an end, and the one thing every single viewer had predicted would happen since the premiere of the pilot episode finally did happen: Nerdy, awkward school teachers Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams) got together. For real, for real. To get there, it only took an untold number of gawky flirtations resulting in direct-to-camera looks of embarrassment, a drunken one-off kiss (in Season 2, during a work conference), and several spectacularly failed attempts at dating other people while denying or downplaying their romantic interests in one another.

Surely plenty of fans have found joy in the resolution of this long-delayed one true pairing; if so, I’m genuinely happy for you. But call me the “will they-won’t they?” grinch — I’m mostly just relieved the convoluted storyline can finally (hopefully!) be put to rest. The writers’ insistence on making them the Jim-and-Pam of Abbott has long been the least interesting element of this smart and consistently funny series, and as utterly charming as Brunson and Williams are, even they couldn’t keep the perpetually unresolved sexual tension between their characters from grating by Season 3. (The episode where Jacob and Gregory attempt to go on a double date and Gregory gets distracted by seeing Janine out with school district rep Manny might’ve been less tedious had it not been such a similar iteration of several earlier plotlines.)

Of course, this is TV Writing 101, one of the oldest tropes in the playbook. Some shows have found clever ways to mess around with it, as with the deeply intimate but platonic work relationship between 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy — anyone actively rooting for them to be A Thing plucked that desire from thin air, because there was zero amorous chemistry popping off between those two. (The writers poked fun at this expectation all the time, as when the pair mistakenly married in Season 5.) Before being unceremoniously canceled, Happy Endings began with Alex and Dave’s broken engagement, which provided plenty of “will-they-won’t-they-get-back-together” fodder a la those classic Hollywood remarriage comedies like The Awful Truth.

Living Single actually managed to juggle two different versions of this trope in satisfying ways: the flirtatiously antagonistic Beatrice-and-Benedick vibes shared between corporate climbers Maxine and Kyle, and the goofy puppy love of TV’s original Awkward Black Couple, handyman Overton and office manager Synclaire. In both cases, the show confronted the simmering tensions early; Max and Kyle sleep together in Season 2, making their ongoing love-hate dynamic that much funnier throughout the rest of the series, and Overton and Synclaire make it official in Season 1, allowing them to explore other silly hurdles and milestones throughout their courtship.

It's easy enough to imagine a version of Abbott that took a page out of 30 Rock, and gave us a fruitful platonic friendship with Janine and Gregory. But watching a lot of TV primes us “will-they” grinches for disappointment, because it seems we’re vastly outnumbered, or at least not as vocal in our annoyance as the champions are about their excitement. Law & Order: SVU fans have been rooting for Benson and Stabler to get together for 25 years, and recentlyalmost got their wish. And I’m already exhausted by the corner of social media that insists on ’shipping not only Carmy and Sydney on The Bear, but alsoJeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri, the real-life actors who portray them.

What's cooking between Sydney (Ayo Ebebiri) and Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) in <em>The Bear</em>? Dinner.
Chuck Hodes / FX
/
FX
What's cooking between Sydney (Ayo Ebebiri) and Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) in The Bear? Dinner.

But if Janine and Gregory must be more than just friends, Abbott has the opportunity to inject the next season with some inspiring coupledom obstacles. They’re both richly drawn characters with distinct personalities and flaws, finding their way within the challenging and chaotic public-school ecosystem. It’s been delightful watching her learn how to more efficiently channel her do-gooder energy and him loosen up and accept that a job as principal is not in the cards just yet. Now that they’re both a little more confident in themselves, here’s hoping they follow in the footsteps of their Awkward Black Couple predecessors Overton and Synclaire, and the show opens them up to less hackneyed storylines together.

This piece also appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations about what's making us happy.

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Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.