When Good Characters Can't Break Away from Being Love Interests, We All Lose

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TV romances are better when the characters involved have more to do than being someone's significant other.

Yet for some reason, many shows tend to only care about one half of the couple. 

The result: too many TV characters who could potentially carry storylines are reduced to bit players.   

Demoted to Love Interest

Remember Henry Burton from Grey's Anatomy? We met him on Grey's Anatomy Season 7 Episode 10. He was a sick patient who could not afford medical care.

Teddy impulsively married him to allow him access to her healthcare insurance. Despite her insistence on the two of them not having a romantic relationship, Henry fell in love with him.

Teddy eventually realized she loved him back. They were happy together until he died on Cristina's operating table during Grey's Anatomy Season 8 Episode 9.

For someone who wasn't a doctor and only around for roughly a season, Henry left a big impression. Outside of Teddy, he forged connections with Richard, Bailey, and Owen.

He became the surgeons' secret weapon in a softball game against a rival hospital on Grey's Anatomy Season 8 Episode 7

Henry the Catcher  - Grey's Anatomy

There were more stories Grey's Anatomy could have told with Henry, especially if he went through with the idea of going to medical school.

However, it was always obvious Henry's purpose was to die for the sake of furthering Teddy's story. 

Still compared to some other characters who mostly get relegated to the role of being someone's love interest, he had more development than most.    

Consider the plight of Toni from Riverdale. 

Episodes before it happened, Riverdale fans were ecstatic about the possibility of Cheryl and Toni becoming Choni. Sadly, the price of this wish was the death of Toni's autonomy.

The Maple Club - Riverdale Season 4 Episode 13

We barely know more about Toni now than we did when she got introduced back on Riverdale Season 2. Her role has gotten reduced to standing by Cheryl and occasionally saying “Hey, babe,” or “Come on, babe.”

Even when Toni is more than a glorified extra, the storylines she’s given are more about Cheryl than about her.

Riverdale Season 4 Episode 12 featured Toni getting revenge on Nick St. Clair, who had nearly date-raped Cheryl. Toni was the one taking action, but the emotional core of the plot was Cheryl’s pain and suffering.

Once again Toni’s role was to support Cheryl instead of having her own story.

Toni’s barely explored backstory and ties to the other characters could fuel plenty of interesting stories, so it’s frustrating to see her do nothing but be Cheryl’s supportive arm candy. 

Haunted - Riverdale Season 4 Episode 8

Will Scarlet/Knave of Hearts' character got fleshed out on Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, a spin-off of Once Upon a Time. 

After Once Upon a Time in Wonderland's cancelation Will was popular enough to join the fourth season of Once Upon a Time as a series regular.

At first, the series did a decent job of incorporating him into the show.

He ran afoul of David, Emma, and Hook and had a particularly amusing encounter with Snow White on Once Upon a Time Season 4 Episode 5. He also repaired his friendship with Robin Hood.

On Once Upon a Time Season 4 Episode 13, we discovered Belle and Will became a couple after the Snow Queen's defeat. Afterward, for the rest of the season, he didn't contribute much.

Will the Knave  - Once Upon a Time

It was obvious the show didn’t know what to do with him, so he was written out at the end of the season. 

Why did they bother having him on the show in the first place?

Kate from White Collar had the opposite problem. She was a pivotal part of the show's premise. 

As the girlfriend of con artist Neal Caffrey, she was the reason why the FBI captured him. With only months left on his prison sentence, Neal broke out of prison to find her.

It resulted in Neal teaming up with FBI Agent Peter Burke to solve white-collar crimes, and the rest is TV history. 

Cop & Con  - White Collar

When he wasn't working with Peter, Neal was busy tracking down Kate. Just as he found her on White Collar Season 1 Episode 15, she was unceremoniously murdered.

You would expect someone Neal loved so deeply would be his match in charisma and intelligence. However, Kate never displayed anything like Neil's magnetic personality.

Scenes featuring her were perfunctory, meant to keep the storyline going.

The opportunity to dig into her character posthumously came on White Collar Season 2 Episode 11, which explored how Neal became a debonair con artist.

Kate was present during the episode, but nothing new and exciting got revealed about her.

Neal & Kate - White Collar

She, who could have been a fascinating character, was just another fictional girlfriend who died to motivate her boyfriend. 

Dean from Gilmore Girls didn't start as the generic guy.

The early version of Dean could be considered a proto-version of Jess. Dean was the mysterious new guy in town with a penchant for leather jackets.

It was mentioned he liked Hunter S. Thompson and seemed to have tastes compatible with Rory's.

His mysteriousness and taste in literature would disappear. Dean's role on the show was limited to being the nice guy or the clingy guy obsessed with his relationship with Rory.

Dean the early seasons - Gilmore Girls

The closest Dean came to having a storyline independent of Rory was his marriage to Lindsay. Only it wasn't.

His marriage to Lindsay was a plot device to hinder and facilitate getting back together with Rory.

Dean's flat characterization becomes more apparent when compared to Rory's other boyfriends. Screentime was reserved for Jess and Logan's family issues, which were unconnected to Rory.

After Jess and Rory broke up, the bond between Luke and Jess continued to develop, and he matured greatly offscreen.

Dean flat out disappeared not long after he and Rory broke up for good on Gilmore Girls Season 5 Episode 8 and wasn't seen again until the revival.

Dean in Fall - Gilmore Girls

It was a poor sendoff for a character who had been around since the early days and could have been more compelling if the writers had given him a life outside of Rory.

Over to you, TV Fanatics!

What TV love interests deserved to be more than just another character's significant other?

Hit the comments below.

Becca Newton wis a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in February of 2023

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