I recently read The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti in preparation for a new project I’m working on. It was written over a hundred years ago so some of the language and attitudes reflected in the book are seriously antiquated. This was especially blatant in The Twenty-Eighth Situation – Obstacles to Love chapter. Contempt and disdain for the romance genre goes back a long way. Halfway through the chapter Polti interrupts himself with
“but enough of this! What are we doing, co-spectators in this hall, before this pretend situation?”
Polti proceeds to spend literally half of the chapter on the twenty-eighth situation denigrating the situation.
W. T. F.?
Despite this, I decided to analyze the pilot episodes of some of my favorite female- relationship- romance-driven TV shows to see if the thirty-six situations idea holds up.
Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce (Bravo)
Twenty-Fifth Situation: Adultery
The cold open reveals in a wickedly humorous and compelling manner that the marriage is on the rocks because the husband, Jake, has just returned from the latest event of his ongoing adultery against his wife Abby.
“You smell like sex.”
Twenty-Fifth Situation: Adultery
Hmm, this appears to be a common situation, indicating that there are, indeed, many obstacles to love. The drama stems from the main character, Issa, becoming re-infatuated with an old high-school sweetheart and pursuing him after her unemployed live-in boyfriend flakes on her birthday.
“Her standards are way too high.”
“Yeah, maybe she should lower them like I did.”
Sex and the City (HBO)
Twenty-Eighth Situation: Obstacles to Love
One of the most beloved and iconic shows centered around this situation, offering a modern twist on the specific obstacle of “Inequality of Fortune an Impediment to Marriage.” The pilot posits that (het) women who make as much or more money than men can’t find love because men are too threatened by them.
“This is the first time in the history of Manhattan that women have had as much money and power as men.”
Thirteenth Situation: Enmity of Kinsmen
The troubling and memorable midpoint tryst with bad boy Adam makes for some juicy conflict for sure. The driving force of the episode, though, is Hannah dealing with her parents cutting her off.
“No. More. MON-EY.”
She’s Gotta Have It (Netflix)
Twenty-Fifth Situation: Adultery(?) or Fourteenth Situation: Rivalry of Kinsmen(?)
The challenge in finding a central situation in Spike Lee’s reboot might explain why it was consistently met with mixed reviews. (I experienced significant frustrations with this story.) It could be adultery because even though the central character, Nola Darling, is polyamorous, one of her lovers, Jamie, a father of one, is cheating on his wife. It could also maybe be rivalry of kinsmen, but the only person conflicted with rivalry regarding Nola’s other lovers is Jamie the cheater. Besides, the other lovers are not his kin. Nor his friends. He doesn’t know them and has no grounds to feel rivalry in the first place. Can you hear one of my rants starting? The two potential situations are weakly centered on a side character
nobody I care about the least.
“What about my flow?”
“What about your other two flows?”
There’s something to this Thirty-Six Situations idea after all.