[What Went Wrong? is a regular Monday segment in which we examine an artist — an actor, director, musician, etc. — this week, a FAD, and try to pinpoint the exact moment in which their once-promising career went off the rails.]
For the greater part of the 1990’s, knocking on the front door simply wasn’t the chivalrous way for a teenager to go about having a word with his love interest. Instead, ladders, fire escapes, drain pipes, nearby trees, and more served as devices to get to the real window of a woman’s heart: the window of her bedroom.
Take Clarissa Explains It All, which utilized this concept so regularly that it must surely be regarded as biting satire now, brazenly aware of the open-window culture-climate of the Clinton era. In each episode, best bud Sam would enter Clarissa’s room through a conveniently enormous window, using a ladder to first signal his arrival (“clack” “Hi Sam”), then to aid him on his ascent. Were he and Clarissa an item? Probably for an episode, but no (ed: just checked the Wikipedia page- one episode, totally nailed it). But something about his constant need to circumvent the Darling household to get a word in with Clarissa implies that there was something more devious to his routine than he let on.
Sam, though, was only a prototype for what would become the archetypal window entrance hero, a Udolpho in a sense to Cory Matthews’ Edward Cullen. In one memorable episode of Boy Meets World, Corey taps on girlfiend Topanga’s window in the dead of night in the hopes of connecting with her once more before she moves to Pittsburgh. Once she lets him in, she can barely get a word in before he’s kissing her, fully aware that the window had been opened and further conversation would only lead to the possibility of ruining the window trick. In that instant, Cory Matthews transformed spontaneous predatory nature into the blueprint for teenage romanticism in the 1990’s.
Then, slowly but surely, The WB became a virtual breeding ground for these late-night, open-shade rendezvous. The window was Angel’s entry method of choice whenever he wanted a cryptic word with Buffy. Tellingly, Buffy never chose to lock her window at night, the 90’s’ universal tip-off that a girl was secretly into a guy, even when she was threatening to put a stake through his heart. Hell, on Dawson’s Creek, bedroom windows were used as doors more often than doors were.
The kids on today’s TV shows don’t show up unannounced at a lover’s window, and haven’t since the world started to change at the start of the millennium. Now, I’m not going to sit here and blame 9/11 for this development, even if I am a little. But you can’t tell me that in a time where national security immediately became the country’s highest priority, network executives were racing to be the first to depict a 15-year-old girl sleeping with her bedroom window wide-open while the threat level outside was orange and rising.
The answer came quickly with shows like The O.C., in which out-of-town ruffian Ryan Atwood wasn’t going to waste time scaling mansion ivy to have a word with rich girl-next-door Marissa Cooper. If he needed to go through Julie Cooper to see Marissa, he was marching up to the door and fucking going through Julie Cooper. The producers quickly realized that this added a great deal of conflict to the show, adding an infinite number of parental obstacles to conversations that, beforehand, were made easily accessible by a ladder and simple tap of glass. If a character on The O.C. had business to take care of, they took it to the front door, re-establishing the front door as a front door, much to the delight of 80’s door enthusiasts.
The rest of the television landscape followed suit, developing male protagonists that were more actively aggressive than the heartthrob ledge-leapers of the 90’s. Can you see Tim Riggins of Friday Night Lights having the patience to climb a tree if he wants to explain himself to Lyla? No. If Tim Riggins wants a word with Lyla Garrity, he’s telling Buddy Garrity that he’d best move the fuck out of Tim Riggins’ way. Is Logan Echolls going to give Veronica Mars the latest tip on who may have raped her through two inches of cellophane glass? Come on, the kid walks around locked and loaded. He’s not afraid of this guy.
In short, as the world became a more dangerous place, the portrayal of teenage boys and teenage romance on television grew much more aggressive. Why? Because we need the youth of today to be the soldiers of tomorrow, damn it.
And you don’t get there by hauling around an eight-foot ladder every time you want a little action.
So, where did it go wrong? Sandy and Kirsten Cohen couldn’t have known it at the time, but their decision to take in a struggling child in a post-9/11 world would shut the door on opening the window forever.