This is a Nerdbot “Nerd Voices” contributor post from reader Rachael Brennan. Follow her on Twitter!
Today’s Trope is a strange one that’s been bogging my brain for like, five minutes now.
I’ve watched a lot of old TV. And after a certain amount of time, patterns and trends come to the forefront. Therefore in today’s article, we decided to address one of the most annoying tropes of all, one that’s typically played up for laughs.
What’s so funny about the husband who won’t bed his attractive, sexually starved wife? Is there comedy in there? We’re not completely sure. Just to make sure there was no overlap we looked on the TV Tropes website. And you know what? We couldn’t even FIND this trope on the site. Sure, we found the Sexless Marriage. You know the ones, where the couple slept in separate rooms or the show joked about the husband being closeted or a germaphobe. But after searching for the “Husband whines about taking it to the bone-zone trope” all we found were real-life issues about couples not having sex anymore and that was just sad.
Thankfully, sadness doesn’t apply to our below selection of men. In fact, they’re just curmudgeons who don’t know a beautiful prize when she’s swaying down over his face, such as the cases with…
5) Three’s Company: Stanley and Helen Roper
Simply put, these two are weird. Even as a kid watching the show, (more of the show than I ever anticipated watching) I never thought Mr. and Mrs. Roper looked right standing next to each other. Maybe it was as simple as Mrs. Roper’s hair was so big and red or perhaps it was their similar heights or the difference in the actors’ builds, but I swear it looks like Mr. and Mrs. Roper belong on different shows.
However, a lot of what I do remember in Three’s Company was Helen Roper’s constant mumu garb, her smoky voice, and her incessant need for sex.
Meanwhile, Stanley Roper’s twisted, snarling face always has a nasty comeback ready to go, as well as a bizarre trademark “breaking the fourth wall smug grin”.
And while copying from a show’s Wiki page isn’t my MO, I had to make an exception for these two. Because, truthfully, I could never quite understand what was so terrible about Helen that repulsed Stanley quite so hard.
And apparently, neither could the show:
A significant amount of their tension is due to Helen’s regular desire for romance with Stanley, while Stanley, at whom the series storyline suggests, may have issues with impotency, is either clueless, distracted by concerns over repairs around the apartment, money (particularly the tenants rent being overdue), tenants’ complaints or simply indifferent and uninterested. During the character’s time on the series, he was known for breaking the fourth wall by smiling and snickering at the camera after telling a sarcastic, snappy one liner joke, often at his wife’s expense. He usually uses the term “Not tonight Helen, I got a headache.”
See? Not even the writers could figure out his excuse.
4) Married with Children: Al and Peggy Bundy
I will stand not stand for argument here- Married with Children is one of the best shows that ever existed. With its over-the-top humor, bawdy sexuality, and unconventional character depictions, seeing the Bundy family command the airwaves again week after week was both hilarious and exciting. Especially after the show found its voice and style somewhere between seasons 2 and 3.
What was so funny about Married with Children is that everyone, the entire cast, was exceedingly attractive. Especially Peggy Bundy!
But speaking of Peg Bundy, there is one funny thing about the way Al, a man filled with lust and wanton deviance, views his wife.
He doesn’t want to have sex with her.
Not on the regular, anyway.
We know Al loves Peg. Many times throughout the series, the two are caught being affectionate and even tenderly pawing at each other.
Do you remember the episode “The Propositions” where Al’s ex-girlfriend (played by Vanna White) comes back rich and tries to buy him away from Peg? She stood for none of that. And Al let Peg take him back, no questions asked.
But with sex? Hell, maybe it’s because Al is bored. After all, he and Peg were high school sweethearts. Maybe it’s because he’s unhappy with his job as a shoe salesman in the mall. (Which is even more ironic that the Bundy family has a nice house). But on numerous episodes, we have Peg, clad in ruffly nighties with her glorious cans hanging out…and Al wants nothing to do with them.
In fact, the only times he’s interested in sex with Peg is when other men find her sexy, like in this episode where her bedroom-eyed billboard is hanging outside Al’s shoe store…
Or this episode here, where Al convinces Peg to cook and clean. Somehow, her actual “performing domestic duties” is enough to get him all riled up, much to her dismay. Al drags Peg away, caveman style, for another spontaneous diddle-sesh, all while she’s cartoonishly clutching the picnic table squealing “I’m so tired!”
The internet was smart enough to make this awesome gif for our viewing pleasure.
And what sweet, sweet pleasure it is.
3) I Love Lucy: Fred and Ethel
Even I Love Lucy, arguably one of the greatest shows in the history of television, used this trope for laughs. While both the Ricardos and the Mertzes obviously had loving relationships, Fred and Ethel seemed to up the ante on your typical marital spats. The show aired during a time when the networks wouldn’t even consider showing a married couple sharing a bed, let alone making any kind of sexual innuendo, so we never heard a sad slide whistle when Ethel climbed into bed or anything like that, but the writers still managed to make it clear that Fred couldn’t help but be a little repulsed by his wife.
Fred often refused to show physical affection towards Ethel as a gag in the storyline, making comments as though he thought she was fat and unattractive. In one of the very first episodes Ricky tries to convince Fred that they should romance their wives into going to a boxing match with them, to which Fred reacts as though Ricky suggested making out with his own brother:
Fred: Smooch? Ethel?
Ricky: Now, look, everybody knows you can get around a woman with a little sweet talk.
Fred: Well, that’s all right for Lucy but it’s a longer trip around Ethel.
Ricky: Do you want to go to the fights, or don’t you?
Fred: All right, all right, I’ll smooch.
The thought that Fred wouldn’t ever want to touch Ethel romantically isn’t even limited to the two of them! In the episode Fred and Ethel Fight, Lucy and Ricky talk about how sad they are that Fred and Ethel are squabbling:
Lucy: I heard Ethel downstairs crying all morning. I’ll bet Fred’s eating his heart out too.
Hah?! Why would Fred be upset that he isn’t speaking to his wife? I mean, they’ve only been married for 25 years and own a business together, obviously he would never miss such a disgusting sea hag of a woman, right?
This isn’t a gag that was used once or twice and abandoned, either. This joke was a constant, including the episode “Desert Island” in the last season.
Fred: How do you like that? Marooned on a desert island and it’s got to be with – *jerks thumb towards Ethel*
Ethel: Fred, you’d better be nice to me. We may be here so long that I’ll start looking good to you.
Only on TV sitcoms can a man be a fat, bald, 50-year-old cheapskate and still have the audience laugh at the thought that a woman who looks like Vivian Vance isn’t sexy enough for him.
2) The Muppets: Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy
Since Miss Piggy’s first appearance on the Muppets in the late 70’s she has told everyone who was willing to listen about her relationship with Kermit the Frog. According to Piggy, not only are they in love but they’ve been married since at least 1986 when she announced that Kermit was a “happily married frog” in The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years.
Kermit, however, has been pretty adamant that he is not romantically involved with Miss Piggy. In 1993 Kermit told Larry King that he and Piggy were not together, that they were not married, and that their relationship was misconstrued by the press. He has repeated this over and over again in multiple interviews with everyone from Gene Shalit to Jay Leno, only to recant in 2008and admit that they are actually romantically involved after all.
What kind of dick move is that, Kermit?
While we’ve never explicitly seen any of the Muppets pre-coital (at least officially…there are some crazy weirdos on YouTube, after all) the relationship between Kermit and Piggy has essentially been the PG version of this trope for more than 40 years. Telling the world that he would never be willing to pork a pig while going home to Piggy at the end of each day is emotionally abusive. If Piggy didn’t have more confidence and self-esteem than Kanye West Kermit probably would have destroyed her.
The are-they-or-aren’t-they relationship between them has forever been played as a humorous bit, meant to give you a chuckle at poor Kermit’s inability to convince Piggy he doesn’t love her. We are supposed to laugh at the fact that he is so afraid of being karate chopped that he won’t just walk away from the woman who is basically stalking him (which is a different article altogether) when in reality she is just being honest when she talks about love, marriage, and children with the recalcitrant frog. We are meant to think it is hilarious that a frog of Kermit’s caliber – smart, attractive, star of movies and TV shows – would ever be in love with a porker like Miss Piggy.
Well, you know what Kermit? Miss Piggy is quite a catch. Called an “international sex goddess” by People magazine, Piggy is a confident, powerful pig who doesn’t need to be your secret girlfriend. Like all women who know deep down inside they deserve better, now that your relationship has ended Piggy’s future seems so bright she’ll have to wear shades.
1) Sex and the City: Charlotte York and Trey MacDougal
All right, here’s the thing. When we started wracking our brains for couples on TV that fall into this trope (and asking friends on Facebook who watch lots of TV for recommendations), this couple was thrown at us a few times. At first, it was a no brainer, out of the question rejection. What do you mean include Charlotte and Trey from Sex and the City? They don’t fall into this trope! The dude is impotent. That’s not being played for laughs. They’re in a sexless marriage, but it’s circumstantial.
But then we remembered the episode where he admits that he is physically turned off by the idea of sexing his wife. And that’s when all the goods started rolling in.
Trey sees the person occupying the role of his “wife” in a staunch, chaste, rigid, pious way. Therefore, when he imagines having sex with Charlotte, who probably could be anyone and he wouldn’t want to be with her as long as she was wife, it’s Soft-Schlong in the City all the way.
Ultimately, it comes down to the Madonna-Whore complex, a very much real thing that exists in some men’s heads. Even still, Trey’s issues with sex and/or sex with Charlotte were very much so played up for comedy when convenient to the plotline. Do you remember the line “Can I get my mu-shu without a side of sperm?” when he and Charlotte decided they would try for a baby?
How about that scene where Trey’s mom was giving him a bath? Or rather, how about Trey’s entire relationship with his stereotypical overbearing mother? Was that played for comedy in the series?
And what about when Charlotte and Trey did decide to go to therapy and the psychologist suggested they name their genitals in order to take some of the pressure off the premise of sex, penetration, and baby-making?
Come on, remember Schooner and Rebecca?
To this day I can’t look at girls named Rebecca without thinking about Kristen Davis’ lady parts. Which really…just makes for a more amusing day for me.
Did we miss any TV couples who hit this trope? Tell Nerdbot about it in the comments and get the conversation going!