Let’s talk about cooking for a second. Say you’re going to slow-roast a big hunk of meat. What’s the first thing you do? You pick out all the necessary seasonings and throw them in the pot. Then, you add the meat and let it sit for hours. You make sure to give the meat enough time to soak up all the ingredients, never forgetting that it’s there, until it’s time to eat. Then, you put the meat on a platter, cut it open to make sure it’s done, dress it up as necessary, and serve it. Sounds simple, right? Well, the same rules apply to sex scenes in television shows.
First, shows present the given will-they-won’t-they couple or couples with all the necessary ingredients to get fans on board. There are longing glances, small touches, a few kisses, etc. Then, the show lets the couple sit in the background for a bit, allowing the anticipation to build, never forgetting that the couple is there. Then, when the time is right, the couple finally hooks up in a scene that combines everything fans have come to love about said couple. And you know what? It’s pretty delicious.
However, not all shows know what it means to follow a fairly straightforward recipe. And in some cases, variations are acceptable. For example, Gilmore Girls was able to wait four seasons for Luke and Lorelai to kiss, which is a long time to let something simmer. So why did it work? Because Luke and Lorelai were not the centerpiece of the show, or the main dish, if you will. Gilmore Girls was about Rory and Lorelai and the town of Stars Hollow and all of the guys in between.
On the other end of that spectrum, a show like The O.C. could not afford to drag viewers through four seasons of will-they-won’t-they with the likes of Ryan and Marissa or Seth and Summer. Instead, The O.C. turned up the heat on the cooker and got things moving a bit faster than usual, mostly because the show pitched itself as a sexy, beach-adjacent teen drama. So if that’s the starting point, it knew it had to provide, well, the sexiness. By the pilot, there were sweaty people gyrating in bikinis, and by episode 9 (out of 27), Ryan and Marissa were making out on a Ferris Wheel. From there, a slower simmer began, but with multiple cooks in the kitchen—read: multiple couples—everything was a bit more flexible.
However, unlike The O.C., not every show has multiple couples to play with. When a show revolves around one meal, or rather, one central will-they-won’t-they couple and not much else, it’s much safer to stick to the recipe. For example, CBS’ Reckless, which just ended its 13-episode run, came onto the scene as the steamy new summer drama. It was set in Charleston, South Carolina, where things are always sweaty, boys drive boats, and the air is so thick with sexual tension that the words “Southern gentleman” are thrown out the window at the first sight of sunlight. In fact, the show’s entire first season revolved around a sex scandal at the local police department. So why was it that the show’s main couple never slept together?
Listen, when your entree is the only thing keeping people at the dinner party, you make sure to cook it properly. Instead, Reckless presented a poorly seasoned, dried-out meat in the form of Roy and Jamie’s relationship. After one kiss halfway through the season, Reckless waited to put the two in a bedroom until the season finale, only to have their alone time get interrupted. So after 13 episodes of a painfully slow build-up, the steamy, sexy, summer show left viewers without ever giving them the steamy, sexy sex that all the promos had promised.
For comparison, that’s the equivalent of having Walter White wait to cook his first batch of meth until Breaking Bad‘s season one finale … only to have him decide not to cook it at all. Boring, right?
But that brings up another question: How long should Reckless have waited? What is the appropriate time to
let your meat roast wait for a couple to get together? And the truth is: It varies. For Reckless, the best comparison is probably Grey’s Anatomy, a show that’s proven that waiting an entire season can make for some good television. After all, isn’t that the definition of slow-roasting?
After season 1 of Grey’s ended with the arrival of Derek’s no-one-knew-she-existed wife, season 2 became about the will-they-won’t-they relationship of Derek and Meredith. Specifically, it drew out the relationship for twice as long as Reckless, with 27 episodes in the second season, which ended in a finale sex scene. So what separates Grey’s from Reckless? Well, for one thing, Grey’s is a much better show with many other characters worthy of screen time, but that aside, Grey’s Anatomy‘s success was about the ingredients, the long simmer, and the final product.
Throughout season 2, Meredith and Derek shared a few forbidden kisses, an unforgettable “I love you” speech, countless small touches, and a handful of moments of jealousy. And when their emotions finally boiled over and they ended up sleeping together in the finale, it was presented in a drawn out, incredibly sexy hook-up. There was even slow-motion, for goodness sake. In other words, the meat had been properly seasoned, it had used the previous 26 episodes to soak up all the necessary goodness, never forgetting about the meat, and in the end, the final presentation was perfectly cooked, and most importantly, flavorful.
For Reckless, the show would’ve been better suited to throw all the ingredients into the pot early by presenting the couple upfront with an early kiss, a la The Vampire Diaries—which had Stefan and Elena making out by episode 2—and after letting all the ingredients sit, using a couple hot make-outs as “reminders,” the show should’ve waited 10 episodes max before the sex. As for its decision to stop the sex from happening altogether? Well, let’s just say that this tough meat left a very poor taste in viewers’ mouths.
Final tip: If you don’t want viewers to be sex-obsessed, try casting someone less attractive that Cam Gigandet. That’s like putting one of the most delicious seasonings on a meat and then telling someone not to eat it.