Netflix’s Dead to Me and GLOW also focus on female friendships over a major will-they-or-won’t-they romance. There are relationships with men, sure, but they’re not at the center. Even Dead to Me’s James Marsden—who has a face created for the longing glances that define will-they-or-won’t-they couples—is mostly there to get in the way of Christina Applegate’s and Linda Cardellini’s characters. He’s simply an instrument used to create tension between the women.
Both Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Broad City came to an end this year without the culmination of a will-they-or-won’t-they couple finally getting together. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend especially seemed like it might end with a romantic climax—the show did begin with a woman moving across the country for her ex-boyfriend, after all—but Rebecca’s romantic pursuits were in truth a reflection of her mental health, and that was the note on which the show ended. Meanwhile, Broad City expertly subverted the trope throughout its run: First with Abbi’s flirtation with her neighbor, which culminated in a single night, and later through her relationship with her former coworker, which ends with a rejected marriage proposal.
The will-they-or-won’t-they trope isn’t totally dead, though—it’s just evolving. There’s no better example of this than Killing Eve. If the Big Little Lies formula is about female characters finding deeper intimacy among their friends than their romantic partners, Killing Eve takes that and turns it up 10 notches. The show’s central will-they-or-won’t-they couple is a pair of female friends. That is, if Eve and Villanelle are friends? Or are they in love with each other? Or both? Whatever the case, Sandra Oh’s Eve, a British intelligent investigator with amazing hair, and Jodie Comer’s Villanelle, an assassin with whom Eve becomes obsessed, are one of television’s steamiest couples, with the question being: Will they get together? And, Won’t they end up killing each other?
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag also found a fresh way to execute the trope. In season two, Fleabag’s love interest is the Hot Priest. (Oh, his beautiful neck.) Of the two, the Hot Priest is the softer, more sensitive, vulnerable character. He essentially takes on the characteristics of how female characters are traditionally been written, as he shyly flirts with Fleabag, torn between his infatuation with her and his religious obligations. Fleabag, on the other hand, is the pursuant. The flipping of the traditional roles, which in turn flipped the power structure, made for a thoroughly engaging dynamic.