I don’t know if I’ve said this yet on this blog, but here goes. I absolutely loathe the idea of endgame couples. I hate that word, I hate that idea, I hate people who use that word to win arguments over which ship is better. I hate it. It makes my skin crawl.
Part of that stems from the fact that I don’t like the idea of soul mates, in real life or in fiction. I’m firmly on the side of choice. Of waking up every day and choosing to be in this relationship. Of working at it. Of knowing that love is not enough, and that sometimes things fall apart even if you’re so right for each other. And of knowing that one failed love isn’t the end of the world. I guess that’s what really gets me about soulmates. Sure, on one hand its nice to think there’s one perfect person out there for you, but on the other hand there’s far too much room for error.
And that’s true of the television world as well. There’s far too much room for error when it comes to crafting a soulmate love story.
Let me be perfectly clear, I’m in no way opposed to shipping or fans who collect OTPs like stamps. Believe me, I have my own (Derek and Stiles is a love for the ages and no one can convince me otherwise). But there’s a difference between fans who love a particular love story and story tellers who box themselves into something or can’t let go of their original ideas, who force certain relationships to go or stay canon while refusing to acknowledge the love they’ve accidentally developed between two others. If How I Met Your Mother had ended several seasons earlier, Ted and Robin ending up together would have made sense. But after developing her relationship with Barney, not to mention spending the whole last season at their wedding, it made none at all. Finn actually used the phrase “endgame” in a conversation with Rachel during Season Four of Glee and then the actor (and subsequently the character) tragically passed away, leaving the show scrambling and a lot of fans grossly demanding Rachel (a twenty year old woman) end the show loveless, forever devoted to her soulmate Finn.
Television is such a different story telling method than any other. It’s not like a book or a movie or play or anything else, because in almost all of those instances (not all, seeing as some books and movies are part of a series, but most) the audience is given a finished product. What’s done is done. There’s no room for interpretation, no maybes. Whereas with television, the story not only unfolds in drips and drabs throughout the years, but is developed that way. And unless a show has very specific source material that it’s choosing to be incredibly faithful to, there needs to be some semblance of adaptability. Some willingness to let things go and explore new options.
Now, none of this is to say that a couple that’s introduced in Season One of a show can’t still be relevant and interesting and loving all the way through the end of the series. That’s not what I’m saying at all. There are plenty of shows that are able to make that work (Seth and Summer, Corey and Topanga, and Chuck and Sarah all instantly sprang to mind). I just think going in with the idea that a couple has to work is a bad idea. And the ones that are able to deviate from the original plan are better. Remember, Friends was developed with the plan for the main couple to be Monica and Joey. Look how that turned out.
Okay! All this talk of soulmates and endgames and OTPs had just been one long introduction into what I actually wanted to talk about: Jeff and Annie.
I got a little behind during Season Six of Community and then got super behind because I just decided to go big and do a complete rewatch of the series. So I only just finished about a week ago. I’m still holding out hope for the movie (I’m particularly on board with the idea that the Study Group has to get together to rescue Troy and Levar or something equally ridiculous), but if this season finale is the ending to the whole show, I’m perfectly happy with it. Especially in regards to Jeff and Annie.
Jeff and Annie are, in my opinion, one of the best examples of deviating from the original plan. Season One clearly set up Jeff and Britta to be the main couple, with the premise of the show basically built around Jeff’s lust for her. Jeff was a rakish, egotistical jerk and Britta was the ultra-feminist hipster who was going to tame him. Early episodes were all about Jeff doing ridiculous things to win Britta’s attention, and Britta affectionately rolling her eyes at him and telling him to try again. When Jeff took up with Professor Slater, we were focused on Britta’s reactions, Britta’s jealousies. And towards the end of the first Season, the rest of the group egged on their relationship in an attempt to end their bickering. Britta and Jeff did finally sleep together during the first epic paintball game, but it was hardly the beginning of a relationship. Instead it was nothing more than the result of pent up sexual tension and convenience.
Jeff and Britta’s relationship came to a head during the Season One finale when she announced to the whole school during the Transfer Dance that she loved him. Immediately followed by Slater making the same announcement. Forced to choose between them, Jeff fled. He ditched both women at the dance and made a snap decision that changed his whole romantic trajectory. In a moment of mutual comfort for the hard decisions they were being forced to make, Jeff kissed Annie.
And with that, the idea of Jeff and Britta was done. Sure, we found out at the end of Season Two that they had spent the better part of the school year sleeping together, but we, the audience, were never privy to it and the moment it was discovered by us and the Study Group, they parted ways. There were a few moments throughout the rest of the series that threw Jeff and Britta into an awkward romantic situation – Britta’s popularity with women immediately after her declaration of love, Shirley’s wedding rehearsal, and the imminent end of Greendale, for example – but all of these moments were called out by their friends as wrong and ended up being less about romance and more an uncomfortable game of wedding chicken.
And so with the end of Britta, Jeff’s entire romantic story shifted. To Annie.
Just 18 and barely out of high school, Annie was tricky for Jeff. She was young and naïve and idealistic, and Jeff was everything she wasn’t. She wasn’t like Britta, someone experienced and cynical (Britta lived in New York, remember), and so Jeff held back. Annie was never really going to make a move, that was for Jeff to do, and he held back. He was well aware of his track record with women and he was absolutely unable to do that to Annie. More than that, he was absolutely aware of what everyone would think of him for pursuing Annie. And so they skirted around their feelings, denied anything was developing between themselves, and held each other at arms length.
Despite their reticence to become something more, that didn’t save them from jealousy. Annie was constantly jealous of Jeff’s closeness and sexual relationship with Britta, and Jeff couldn’t stand Rich, a good-guy version of himself Annie developed a crush on. And though they weren’t sexually or romantically involved, that didn’t stop them from developing an emotional relationship anyway. I think it was a Season Three episode where the two ran against each other for student government that they finally gave voice to just how important they found each other. “I care what you think about me,” each one admitted, saying more in that admission than any love declaration ever could.
Without the trappings of sex and romance, that aspect of Jeff and Annie’s relationship continued to grow. I know in the Season One finale, Jeff was comparing Britta to Professor Slater when he said one made him feel like the worst side of him was okay, and the other made him want to be a better person. But that comparison easily shifted to Annie in Season Two. Britta was a mess, just like Jeff, and she was someone who Jeff was comfortable laying out all his own mess in front of. Which is why Britta became such a close friend to Jeff. But Annie made him take notice of all the ways he was slacking. She made him realize that not only could he do better, but that he wanted to do better. Annie was the one who forced Jeff to care about people outside of himself. She was the one who was there demanding he actually teach his Intro to Law class instead of blowing it off. And she was the one questioning his jaded and cynical ideas of truth and honesty.
Jeff wasn’t the only one who was made better by their relationship. Just as Annie’s poor opinion of him could spur Jeff on to try harder, his opinion of her was equally important. From her very first appearance in the Pilot episode, Annie’s biggest goal was to be an adult, and to be treated as one. And despite all the head pats and kiddos, Jeff always, always treated her like an adult. Like an equal. And called her on it when she slid back into her more childish and immature ways. For all that a batted eyelash and a pout could get Jeff to be nicer to Pierce on Annie’s behalf, he wasn’t going to let her get away with negating their Spanish grade in order for the group to stay together.
More than being people that just helped push the other along towards bigger and better things, Jeff and Annie just honestly liked each other. They appreciated each other’s company and tended to gravitate towards each other. They liked to partner up during class – sometimes just so Jeff could get a better grade – and they liked partnering up together outside of class: working at the school paper together, investigating the identity of the Ass-Crack bandit. They planned a ski trip together for when the rest of the group was at an Inspector Spacetime convention They planned a couples costume for Vicki’s Halloween Party. Maybe they didn’t always see eye to eye on things (seeing as Annie dressed up as the girl from The Ring rather than the scantily clad ring girl to Jeff’s boxer) but the intent was there.
Annie and Jeff’s romantic relationship never actually materialized. Instead they were a six season slow burn of will they/won’t they that actually ended in no, they won’t. Annie and Jeff weren’t soulmates. They didn’t belong to each other, weren’t destined to be together. I’m not even sure I can say they were ever truly in love. But they could have been. If they’d taken one more step. If they’d given in to feelings they recognized but weren’t sure they approved of. Annie was constantly seeking approval, and she wanted Jeff’s most of all. And the few times Jeff let himself actually dig deep into the recesses of his heart to find importance and meaning, it was Annie he thought of. So no, maybe not true love. But potential.
In the end, Annie left. She left, acknowledging Jeff as a man she cared for and one she could have loved, but one who wasn’t a part of the next step of her life. And Jeff let her go. He knew she was a woman who made him better, a woman who made him realize it was worth the effort to make the right choice, but who he couldn’t hold back from what else was out there for her. Maybe they’ll find their way back to each other, once Annie’s conquered the FBI. Maybe Jeff will finally make it out of Colorado and run after her. Who knows. We had six seasons. I’m still holding out hope for that movie.