Issue #16: The perfect romcom exists

30% banter, 40% sexual tension, 30% happy ending

Hi, 

Welcome back to Continue Watching! Before we get down to business, both of us would like to place on record what a sacrifice we’re making to write this issue. If you immediately thought, ‘oh these women must be going through personal or professional hell if they’re saying that’, let us assure you that we are okay. This is a matter of the HEART. You see, today is the 29th, which means that if we do not write this newsletter today it doesn’t go out. The reason we are working on this so close to the deadline (apart from our catastrophic procrastinating tendencies) is that in the last one month, we have become obsessed with the K-pop band BTS. We think about them every single minute of every single day and watch reels or clips of Run BTS (the show Shahana wrote about in the previous issue’s Currently Watching section) every minute we’re not working. One of us has also ordered a very expensive ring that only vaguely resembles one that one of the band members was wearing in a concert and the other one is on her way to buy notebooks (which she will never use) that are covered with the faces of these men. 

It became so bad that last night we promised each other a day without BTS, just so we can:

a) see if we have some semblance of sanity left that is not tied to seven beautiful faces

b) write this newsletter. 

That day is today and, as you can see, one of us has already somewhat cheated by writing 200 words about them. But we’re keeping our pact and this day is hell (update from the end of the day: we survived and we’re never doing this again). The silver lining? THIS ISSUE.

The term romcom is usually associated with movies, but there have been some stellar TV shows that fit the romcom genre and are an absolute delight. We have, however, found their queen. A little show called Starstruck has charmed us so aggressively, that we have not been able to think about any other show ever since we watched it. Starstruck, written by Rose Matafeo, is the story of Jesse (played by Rose) who has a one-night stand with Tom Kapoor (terrible name, terrific face), played by Nikesh Patel, without realising that he’s a movie star.

Over six short episodes, we see the perfect romcom play out, with all the best tropes we love and minus all the obsolete, problematic tropes we loathe. For example, the sexual tension and chemistry between Jesse and Tom is electric, the banter is fun, and the arguments are just the right amount of stressful. Every time they’re on screen together, you’re filled with anticipation. It’s almost like having a crush yourself! No one mentions Jesse’s weight or body derogatorily, neither does she have to overcome body image issues to allow herself to fall for a movie star. Jesse is neither confident in a mean way nor under-confident in an annoying way. 

Nikesh Patel has played another romcom hero on TV in Four Weddings and a Funeral, but that was a lukewarm show at best, so clearly it’s Rose and Nikesh that are magic together. We can go on and on about this show in the intro but then we’d have no space left for our essays—also themed around what makes a romcom—so it’s time to move on from gushing about Starstruck. We’ve spent the last couple of weeks telling everyone we know to watch it, and now we’re imploring you to do so. 

It’s not available on any streaming sites in India, so you’ll have to do some work to find it. We’ve heard from many friends and readers over the last few months that sometimes they really want to watch a show we recommend, but end up skipping it because they’ll have to ‘get creative to find it.’ To them, we want to say, please make the effort because you’re missing out on so much great TV and, also, fuck capitalism. If you do not know how to execute these ‘creative’ means, please write to us and we will send you a step-by-step guide! 

With that manic intro out of the way, let’s quickly tell you what we’re watching right now and move on to our essays.

CURRENTLY WATCHING

Kashika

The Mermaid Prince: The Beginning: I saw one GIF on tumblr about this show and decided to watch it without even Googling what it was about. I do this a lot. Turns out it’s a simple, fun story about high school romance and friendships. An all-girls school suddenly goes co-ed one semester and the arrival of boys upends the life of our heroine and her friends. The show is just 10 15-minute episodes, so it’s the kind of breezy watch that never disappoints. Moonbin, our hero, is part of the K-pop band Astro and Chae Won Bin, our heroine, WAS BORN IN 2001. Streaming on YouTube.

Feel Good: Mae Martin is doing comedy in England and running from their demons when they fall in love with George, who is still in the closet and making every single one of Mae’s anxieties a thousand times worse. As Mae struggles with their addiction and past trauma, the relationship goes through several ups and downs, and takes up far too much space in the story. This is the kind of show I’d love, but in season two, I’m not really feeling it. Streaming on Netflix. 

Shahana

Kevin Can F**k Himself: Starring Schitt’s Creek’s Annie Murphy, Kevin Can F**k Himself follows Allison, a sitcom wife who’s sick of her husband Kevin and decides she wants to finally play the lead role in her own life instead of being a side character in her husband’s. The show switches back and forth between the brightly-lit, multi-camera style common to sitcoms and a darker, single-camera setup for more contemporary drama-based shows, but it never feels jarring. There are two storylines that exist separately but also parallelly, and show how Kevin’s supposedly bumbling, lovable buffoonery has darker undertones for Allison. Murphy is great as Allison and the way the show plays with TV structures and conventions is extremely smart. Definitely a great watch. Not streaming anywhere. 

Leonardo: I have said this before, if a period show exists, I will watch it. Leonardo is not a complicated show; it charts Leonardo da Vinci’s life through his works. And he’s also been accused of murder. The show doesn’t try too hard to be historically accurate and someone at one point even said, “You know what I mean?” It’s shaping up to be an okay watch; I recommend you watch it if you’re into da Vinci and are looking for something entertaining but not too serious. Streaming on Sony Liv. 

We officially enter the second half of 2021 tomorrow. It is also OUR BIRTHDAY MONTH, so expect some surprises coming your way. This year has kicked all of our asses but our hope for you is that you are blessed with good health, happiness and more shows like Starstruck in the next six months. 

Continue Watching (and reading!),

Kashika and Shahana

Beyond When Harry Met Sally: Recipe For The Perfect TV Romcom

By Kashika

Romcom is my favourite type of art. I like it more than comedy or drama or tragedy or whatever else you’re supposed to say you’re into to sound cultured and smart. If you ever ask me what I want to watch or read, I’d say romcom. It used to bother me that the romcom arena is so rich when it comes to books and movies, but not fully explored in television, but that was until I stumbled upon K-dramas four years ago. Since then, every second show I watch is a romcom. Not all of them are life-changing in a way Starstruck has been, but they make me happy and that is all I ever want from my shows. I like to get my misery from books. 

Because of my rich history with romcoms, and because I cannot think beyond Starstruck right now, I feel confident in the knowledge that I know what it takes to make a superior romcom. It is a simple yet effective formula that doesn’t always need high stakes or dramatic conflict, it just needs two people who, when they fall in love, make you feel like you’ve just kissed your crush for the first time. I’m 31, so I know that life is not a romcom and every Starstruck-type moment is followed by a Blue Valentine-type wake-up call. But that doesn’t make me resent romcoms, it only makes me appreciate them more. 

So here are seven essential things every romcom needs, without which your piece of art is either romance or comedy or drama but not a romcom. For the purpose of this essay, we will only talk about TV shows, because if I start writing about romcom movies, we’ll be here till 2022 (also, BTS is waiting for me). 

Two leads with insane chemistry and sexual tension

It sounds obvious but this is hard to get right. Jesse and Tom from Starstruck are a gold tier couple, like Shivaay and Annika from Ishqbaaz. You can feel your screen heating up the moment they’re in a room together. Sometimes the couple has great chemistry but no sexual tension (Min-hyuk and Bong-soon in Strong Woman Do Bong-soon). You have to be able to see them, as the Duke of Hastings would say, burn for each other. When they’re in a room after a fight or before they’ve confessed, you should feel uncomfortable with your desire to see them get together. That’s sexual tension. 

On a scale of 1-10, where does Starstruck rank: 10000000000000

TV Shows that did this really well:

  • Younger

  • The Mindy Project 

  • Her Private Life

  • Hart of Dixie

  • Insecure

The perfect meet-cute

How the two leads meet is essential to the story because it dictates everything that happens after. For example, if they meet in an office, the conflict is almost always work-related or colleagues-related (Liza and Charles in Younger). If they meet at a family function, the conflict is always family-related, which is also the most boring conflict of all time. If they are friends, we have to keep worrying about their extended friend circle (Lovesick). Jesse and Tom meet at a New Year’s Eve party, which, if you’re into parties, is the second most important party of the year (the first is your birthday). According to me, the perfect meet-cute is on the street, because then you get to leave immediately and think about your new crush THE ENTIRE TIME. 

On a scale of 1-10, where does Starstruck rank: 7

TV Shows that did this really well:

  • Jane The Virgin (Michael, not Rafael) 

  • Younger (Josh, not Charles)

  • Love Life (Augie)

  • True Beauty (Seo-jun, not Su-ho)

Banter

Let us go with the assumption that you are falling in love with a person with the expectation that you will stay in love with them. This means that you are going to have a gazillion conversations with them over the course of many years, and most of these conversations will be soul-crushingly bland. If you don’t have banter in the beginning, I suggest you break up. If your banter doesn’t involve lightly ribbing each other, break up. If your banter makes the other person cry, break up. 

On a scale of 1-10, where does Starstruck rank: 10

TV Shows that did this really well:

  • Dash & Lily

  • High Fidelity

  • Insecure 

Supportive friends 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that once you fall in love, you become the main character and your friends become the supporting cast. It’s the law. It’ll happen for them also, but now is your time. If these friends are not aggressively supportive (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), not freaking out about running out of tea the first time your crush comes home, not whisper-screaming WHAT’S THE VIBE in your face to understand how they should act (Starstruck), they need to exit the narrative. The important thing to note is that you cannot be a dick to your friends in this time either (Never Have I Ever) because then you immediately lose the right to be the main character. 

On a scale of 1-10, where does Starstruck rank: 8 because Tom had no friends????

TV Shows that did this really well:

  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 

  • Love Life

  • Lovesick

  • Younger 

  • Insecure 

Conflict that doesn’t make you dislike one or both of them or make you want to die 

While conflict is usually important for a story to move forward, I disagree with the notion that a love that is not forged in fire is not worthwhile. It is okay if your conflict is something mundane like distance (Dash & Lily) or timing (Lovesick). It doesn’t always have to be a global conflict (Crash Landing On You) or crippling childhood trauma (What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim). A romcom is supposed to cheer you up, not exacerbate your existential angst. Also, if the conflict reveals one or both the people as assholes (Sex and the City), it’s over. 

On a scale of 1-10, where does Starstruck rank: 8

TV Shows that did this really well:

  • Romance Is a Bonus Book

  • Awkward

  • Love Life

Good speeches that are not about describing various body parts 

When the going gets tough, you can’t just kiss and make up. You have to make a Great Speech™. It’s something that should make not only your beloved’s eyes well up but also mine. And I cry at everything so that’s very easy to do. You should be able to make this Great Speech™ without having to describe the other person’s body like a creep. “I cannot stop thinking about how ears go red when you laugh and how you scrunch your nose when you’re reading something carefully” is a shit speech so please gtfo. 

On a scale of 1-10, where does Starstruck rank: 5

TV Shows that did this really well:

  • The Mindy Project

  • Jane The Virgin 

  • New Girl 

  • Hart of Dixie 

A happy ending

I will die on this hill. I hate vague, messy, open endings. And when that happens in a romcom (Crash Landing On You, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Younger), I want to murder someone. If you’re making a romcom, the two people better end up together, happy and miserable in equal measure for the rest of their life. And none of the ‘her girlfriends were the central love story all along’ bullshit, which is where The Bold Type (and even Insecure) seems to be headed. Friends are the greatest love of our life, we know that already, don’t make a fucking romcom about it. LET PEOPLE END UP TOGETHER.

On a scale of 1-10, where does Starstruck rank: 10

TV Shows that did this really well:

  • New Girl

  • Lovesick

  • What's Wrong With Secretary Kim

  • Her Private Life

  • Dash & Lily 

  • The Mindy Project 

BONUS

Romcom tropes I hate:

  • Love triangles that never end (Jane The Virgin, Younger)

  • The heroine being made to feel like shit about herself in the name of conflict (True Beauty, Awkward)

  • Emotionally abusive parents (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, most K-dramas)

  • Mean friends (True Beauty)

  • Abuse portrayed as love (all my Hindi shows)

In 2021, A Romcom Doesn’t Need Two People Falling In Love

By Shahana 

When you hear romcom, what springs to mind? At its core, it’s basically this: two people meet, there’s chemistry, there’s an obstacle, they overcome it, and then get together. Growing up, romcoms primarily meant films like 10 Things I Hate About You or When Harry Met Sally, and maybe Sex and the City if we wanted to look for a television show. In the last decade, there have been multiple features and essays on how the romcom as a genre is dying out. Just type “romcoms are dead” in your search bar, and you’ll see someone declaring its death almost every year. Somehow though, the romcom has survived, and continues to. The reason some people might continue to believe in its death might be that they simply haven’t noticed that the romcom, like the people watching it, has changed. With Hollywood focusing on making big budget superhero films, the romcoms quietly shifted to television where it found a wonderful, safe home that allows it to experiment, evolve, and truly become something magical.

When we think of romcoms, we expect certain tropes. Meet-cutes, grand gestures of love, love triangles, crying in the rain, a dramatic dash across the airport, a declaration of love at or shortly before a wedding, and at least one person saying “You complete me.” Those were things we were told an epic romance needed to have, but I beg to differ. When I say the romcom has changed, I mean that modern romcoms have abandoned and overturned these tropes to give us endings that are a little more realistic than a couple kissing and then walking into the sunset. 

Instead of a romcom being all about the journey of a woman trying to “complete” herself with the love of a man, we now get to see a relationship as part of a larger journey instead of the end goal. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I stand fully opposed to everyone (by everyone, I mean Kashika) who thinks a romcom needs to have two people “in love” to actually be a romcom. Fleabag’s second season could easily be described as a romcom—there’s two people with electric chemistry who fall in love, there’s an obstacle (God), but they don’t work it out. 

Fleabag confesses she loves Hot Priest, and he simply says, “It’ll pass.” Because it will. We’ve been in love before (and for those who haven’t, he’s right), and we know he’s right. What won’t pass is Fleabag’s decision to stop avoiding living with herself. To be loved is to be known, and the entire show is a love story—just because it doesn’t involve anyone else doesn’t make it any less of one. She completes herself, and what romance with a man competes with that?

If you’re not of the opinion that loving yourself is not the greatest romance ever and someone else needs to love you, then I welcome you to Dollface, a fun show about losing touch with female friends because of a Man, and then finding your way back to them when said Man turns out to be a disappointment (as men often turn out to be). Or, a show we talk about (and rant about) often, The Bold Type, where the greatest love story truly is between the three female leads. Neither Dollface nor The Bold Type sets out to actively demonise men, but it is telling that at their worst moments, it is their female friends who are by them, nary a man to be seen. 

What is common between the shows I’ve mentioned is that they’re all doing something that traditional romcoms didn’t, which is give us a ridiculously simple world that cannot exist now, and perhaps, never did. A romcom can exist in a world without a traditional kind of love, and there are ways to be happy in this world. A happy ending doesn’t have to be two people “in love” holding hands and kissing, it can be one person walking by themselves, content and happy because their own company isn’t torture anymore or it can be you and your best friends holding each others hands because they know exactly who you are and love you because of it and in spite of it. 

Recommendations

We get so many requests for TV show recs from friends, so we’ll get to them here in every issue.

Your relentless Vincenzo obsession got me really curious so I caved and watched it. And now I’m going through the same kind of withdrawal (I hate you but I also kinda love you). Is there a similar K-drama I can watch that isn’t about sappy romances or happy friendships? (p.s. I know I’m generalising, but this is why I’m texting you!)

Beyond Evil is what you’re looking for. At its most basic level, it’s a murder mystery, but shapes up into something so much more. Police officers Lee Dong-sik and Han Joo-won set out to hunt down a serial killer, one who’s perhaps started killing again after 20 years. In the process, they discover that the killer might be closer than they thought and that it may never have been a secret as to who it was. There are twists at every turn, everyone is under suspicion at some point, and every time you think you’ve figured it out—there’s another twist that has you questioning everything. There are 16 episodes, but somehow Beyond Evil manages to stay consistent in holding on to the tension and does a great job in keeping viewers at the edge of their seats. 

Streaming on Netflix. 


We hope you enjoyed reading this issue as much as we loved writing it. Please write to us if you have any feedback. We look forward to your emails, comments, tweets, and DMs with requests, criticism, recommendations, and anything else that you want to tell us. You can also follow us on Instagram here. And if you haven’t already, do subscribe!