Sitcoms aren't popular because they shock and amaze us, or because they're unpredictable. That's what marathoning Lost on Netflix is for. They're popular because they're comforting. For thirty minutes a week (or many more if you watch nearly all of them like I do) we get to sit in on a world where things always work out. Rachel and Ross were always going to get back together, despite the fact that in our world—it would never have happened. In the real world, Ross and Rachel probably wouldn't have even been Friends anymore. I don't have a problem with happy endings. In fact, in my sitcoms I expect them. But for some reason, in sitcom world eternal happiness can only be achieved by breaking up first—in order for us to have our happy ending, there has to be strife in the first place. This is sitcom logic. Sometimes couples are simply happy. They don't have to break up in the rain and get back together later for their love to be validated.
It's a sitcom staple. The central couple breaks up over something trivial, easily manageable, but for some reason they just can't get over that hump, and they break up. This way the show can get the most out of the couple—it can be mined for all its worth. First is the "will they, won't they?" Next the glorious union (often very short lived), followed by the break up for the aforementioned silly reason, and finally the pinnacle: what I like to call "The Rachel Got Off The Plane." The formula has worked very well for countless shows, and I think it will continue to work, but I don't think it's always necessary. There are some TV couples where the chemistry between the two (actors and characters) outweighs the entertainment value of the traditional model.
One such couple is Nick and Jess from New Girl, portrayed excellently by Jake Johnson and Zooey Deschanel. The most recent episode, "Coach" is a perfect example.The two are rarely even on screen together during the episode, but their relationship still overshadows all the action. While Jess is out with Cece and Artie (guest star, Taye Diggs) and Nick is at the strip club with Coach and company, all anyone can talk about is relationships. Nick's heartfelt, albeit inebriated speech about Jess makes Coach cry and confess that he didn't break up with his girlfriend—she broke up with him. Meanwhile, after being inundated with talk about Nick all night Cece realizes the error of her ways and admits (what everyone can see anyway) that she was projecting her Schmidt problems on to Jess. The writers manage to make the show about Nick and Jess, without obscuring other characters for long stretches of time, something Friends' writers failed to do at certain points.
"Coach" isn't just an impressive addition to the New Girl canon, but a compelling argument for Nick and Jess to stay together for the duration of the show. This is the closest the two have come to breaking up, and I'll admit to being worried, but when Nick says, "I believe you," I exhaled deeply, and felt profoundly gratified. I realize that admitting I was gratified by them staying together, all I really accomplish is admitting the traditional model works. I thought they would break up, but they didn't—time to tune in next week. The difference is that it all took place in one episode, not the course of many seasons. Nick and Jess don't need to break up. Fans of New Girl don't want Ross and Rachel, they want Ness. They don't want "she got off the plane," they want "I believe you." They want the increasingly epic leg wrapping kisses, and a healthy dose of strife. In other words, what an actual couple that stays together looks like. No break up necessary. Thank you very much.
Disclaimer: I love Friends. Don't believe otherwise.