Benjamin Franklin once said, “[I]n this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” but that is only because television OTPs hadn’t been invented yet. It’s a rare OTP that’s so damn good, they warrant the launch of an entire series of articles about our love for OTPs in general and them specifically, but endgame ship Clarkeman (Zoey Clarke and Max Richman from Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist) are just that good. Join us as we celebrate one of the best ships on television with this first article in our new OTP series. Given the existence of the series’ current love triangle, how do we know Clarkeman is the endgame OTP, anyway? Well, it’s not hard if you know where to look.
Shows Love Triangles
Anyone who’s familiar with television at all knows that every TV show is going to have its fair share of shippers – from Star Trek to Firefly to Law and Order to Hannibal. Most – if not all – show creators today recognize this fact and even use it to their advantage. Online fans of television shows may be passionate and engaged, but nobody is quite as passionate, driven, or determined as a shipper. For good or for ill.
Shipping is a tried-and-true way to build a die-hard, vocal fanbase, and nothing gets shippers more passionate or vocal than a good – or bad – love triangle. For show runners, it’s a fine balancing act. A love triangle (or multiple love triangles) delays the endgame ship while encouraging die-hard shippers to remain active and engaged, advocating for their ship on various social media platforms, which keeps the buzz going. But a triangle dragged out for too long can alienate the general, non-shipping audience, which usually make up the majority of viewers.
But love triangles being so ubiquitous, how can fans know which ship is the intended OTP – or endgame – for a show? Well, watch enough television, and the signs become pretty obvious. For each rule, there are probably a small number of exceptions, or shows that have broken the mold. (There are also examples of shows that changed their intended OTP endgame at some point along the line, either due to actor departure or audience disinterest.) However, taken as a whole, the following signs typically point to a series’ endgame ship:
The Ship Exists to the General Audience
I know this one seems pretty obvious, but if two characters exist on a show together, chances are likely someone out there ships them together. However, shows are as subtle as a brick to the face when they’re actually setting up potential ships, let alone love triangles. The writers don’t want to lose the general audience by throwing two characters who only ever shared a few “could be longing; could be indigestion” looks together.
So, has Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist been particularly subtle in their ships? Well, the Pilot set up her crush on her coworker, Simon. They later kissed (a couple of times, in fact). What about Zoey and Max?
Credits and Promotion
This one is so simple, fans can often determine who the intended endgame ship will be before a single episode is even aired. Networks are hardly at the leading edge of LGBTQ+ representation, it’s sad to say, so on a show where romance is likely to be a driving plot point (which seems like 90% of shows on air), fans can check the cast roster for the top-billed actor and actress. Are they both attractive, and roughly the same age but likely skewing between their 20s to 30s? Boom. Their characters are likely the intended endgame ship.
In Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, the top billed actors (the first two listed in the credits) are Jane Levy and Skylar Astin. They’re both attractive, approximately the same age (Jane is two years older), and in that sweet spot of between their 20s to 30s. Even without ever checking out the show, fans could bet their characters are the intended endgame OTP.
Another good indication of intended endgame OTP is to look at which pair is most often being marketed and promoted. Of course, in every show, cast members will be interviewed individually about the series or about their story arcs. There may even be times that the entire cast is interviewed together. (This is common in panel interviews at the (typically) annual San Diego Comic Con. However, if two characters from a potential OTP do many joint interviews or promotional activities together? Those characters are most likely the intended endgame.
Changes in this kind of promotion may also be an indication that the show is shifting direction in the intended endgame ship. When Arrow launched in 2012, Steven Amell and Katie Cassidy did a fair amount of joint promoting. It didn’t take long for fans to notice these joint activities begin to taper off. For those paying attention, it became apparent shortly thereafter that the endgame ship had changed. (Eventually, Katie Cassidy’s character would be killed off. Though she would return to the show, it was not as female lead.)
Given this, it should be no surprise that Zoey and Max are set up to be the intended endgame. Jane Levy and Skylar Astin are the female and male leads, and just look how they’re promoted together. Even in promotions for the triangle itself, there is a marked difference in how the ships are highlighted. As shown in this ad, which the promotion team aired and re-posted over the course of the season:
The Pilot Lays the Groundwork
Pilots for television shows are often filmed ahead of time. They are used to “sell” the network – and audience – on the proposed series. Successful pilots introduce the characters and set up the show’s basic premise and conflict. And, yes, lay the groundwork for the key relationships. Including the potential endgame – as well as whatever road blocks the show intends to use to delay said endgame OTP. These road blocks may be internal or external, and may even take the form of a love triangle.
However, even in a Pilot that establishes a love triangle, the endgame OTP is more likely to have a more established romantic connection. This may be either as long-term friends, former rivals, or even one-sided crushes. It is more likely they will have another character comment on their “connection.” They’re more likely to have slower development towards a relationship, even in the Pilot. And the revelation of any hidden feelings is more likely to be a Big Deal – or a bigger deal, at least, than other potential relationships.
From the very first episode, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist makes it absolutely clear where the intended endgame ship lies: in Zoey and Max. They are long-term friends who have apparently shared everything with each other. This includes Zoey’s history of “opposite than good” relationships. Their friendship – and Max’s genuine caring for her – is set up perfectly even before his romantic feelings are revealed. Before the script has him profess his feelings through song, he is supportive and encouraging of her as she goes up for the promotion. The show gives fans ample reasons to root for these two, even before Max’s romantic feelings for Zoey are revealed.
And when it comes to the actual revelation of his feelings? It’s treated like a Big Deal – happening at the very end of the episode (almost like a cliffhanger). With her about to confess the truth about her powers to him. Coming as a complete surprise to her, even as he begins to sing. With a romantic number that involves him sliding across the floor on his knees to her. And she is, of course, blown away by the revelation. (Compared to dialogue throughout the episode about her crush on Simon.)
While Zoey and Max are set up to be Endgame (with a capital E), Zoey and Simon are set up as a viable short-term relationship. Simon is “the new guy” that Zoey hasn’t spoken to before the events of the episode. Also, the characters of Max and Simon have an interest contrast. At first, Simon is a man of secrets, at least from Zoey. He keeps his pain to himself, and Zoey can only connect to him because of her powers. (Powers, it must be noted, he’s entirely ignorant of to this day.) Meanwhile, she and Max have apparently shared everything (including her crush on Simon) until the events of the Pilot. It is the onset of her abilities and discovery of his feelings that changes this dynamic.
In fact, it’s her powers that set the relationship dynamic between these characters off on a new path. With Simon, her powers allow her to actually connect to him. Unknowingly to him, her powers remove the emotional barriers he’s apparently set up between with his fiancé, Jessica. With Max, it seems to be the catalyst for their initial “separation” – the first road block in this endgame ship. After all, she’s about to tell him about her abilities when she discovers his feelings for her. It is this revelation that prompts her to keep her discoveries to herself for a time. On television, the endgame ship is the one that faces the greatest hurdles in the beginning. Show runners want to prolong the show’s OTP getting together for at least a while. Which brings us to…
Where’s the Development?
As stated above, if the love story is important to the main character’s story, then the character intended to be their endgame is almost as if not equally as important. Their characters may not be developed to the same extent, but they are usually developed more than supporting characters. This is true for their characters as an individual and as part of a love story. If one character gets more development in terms of lives, jobs, back story, trials and tribulations, or relationships with other characters (including the main character’s friends and family), they’re more likely to be endgame.
Temporary love interests are sadly often treated as temporary characters on the show. Some are even written off when their role as temporary obstacle is over. Thus, it’s a sad fact that they often have no real storyline outside of their relationship with the main character, what bonds the two together, what moves their relationship forward, and what ultimately pulls them apart. Their story is often defined by why they don’t work or won’t work in the long term. This is particularly true as compared to the endgame ship.
Also, because of its long-term importance, the endgame relationship is often more consistently developed throughout the series. It will be referenced, mentioned, or even minorly in episodes that are not primarily about the main character’s romantic situation. This is in contrast to the way the non-endgame relationships may be forgotten in episodes in which that story isn’t the actual focus.
Here again, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist has repeatedly shown their hand in terms of intended endgame. With a short season, plots that might have been stretched out longer over ten episodes may be condensed into four. Supporting characters can’t necessarily get the back stories or development that they might get in longer seasons. However, Max got a solid arc over the season, particularly in terms with his career at SPRQ Point. He found independence and development upon assuming increased responsibility on the sixth floor. This was a shift from his position in early episodes, content to simply support Zoey in her career aspirations. The writers also touched on his backstory. This was done in his established relationship with Mitch and reference to his troubled relationship with his own father.
By contrast, Simon’s arc about his grief seemed primarily to connect his story to Zoey’s. It underscores how the two do and will relate, and why their friendship will be so important in season 2). It is even is a primary focus when she lashes out at him in her own grief. His experience with grief is what allows him to understand and forgive the things she said in anger.
More subtly, the finale implies that this focus on grief is why Zoey and Simon will not ultimately work out. Zoey sees Max in a new light when she sees him confident and excited for the uncertain future. This new perspective leads to the endgame-reaffirming kiss (and makeout session) in the season’s final episode. This is in complete dichotomy to Simon’s struggle to heal from the events from his past. And to be absolutely clear, this isn’t a condemnation of his character. Simon has suffered from a loss anyone would struggle to heal from. However, while they may be able to relate to each other’s losses to an extent, one wonders how much Zoey and Simon will ultimately be able to help each other heal.
The Greater the Obstacle, The More Likely the Endgame
Is the obstacle standing in the way of a ship something temporary, and quickly dispatched? Or is it complicated and unlikely to be resolved right away? Showrunners today are often still concerned about the “Moonlighting Curse,” where it is believed a show dies when the unresolved sexual tension between the leading characters is resolved. (Even though there are several ships that have successfully defied that notion.) It isn’t uncommon for shows to drag out the endgame ship for at least one to two seasons (and sometimes many, many more.) In Television Land, the easier the obstacle to overcome, the less likely a ship is to be the intended endgame.
Is the obstacle the existence of the other ship? Something that exists to be an obstacle to the intended endgame isn’t intended to be the endgame itself.
For Zoey and Simon, the obstacle standing in the way of their relationship was the existence of Jessica – a character who appeared in only a few episodes and has already been written out of the show. The second obstacle is Simon’s grief and need for time to heal. Finally, the finale suggested that their final obstacle will be Zoey’s loss and need for time to process her grief before jumping into any romantic relationship.
On the other hand, two obstacles currently stand in the way of a romantic relationship between Zoey and Max. The first is Zoey’s grief over her father’s loss, the resulting emotional turmoil, and her need for time to mentally be in a position to enter into any real relationship at the moment. The second is Zoey’s attraction to Simon and their potential romance (which show runner Austin Winsburg swears will continue into the second season, even though the show reaffirmed its endgame ship pretty hard core in the finale).
Zoey and Simon are the obstacle. The obstacle isn’t the endgame.
The Endgame Ship Isn’t the First Ship
For every rule, I’m sure there are exceptions. However, as stated above, love triangles are usually set up to get shippers invested in the show. Show runners often use love triangles to draw out the coming together of the endgame ship.
So if there’s one rule of thumb to remember, it’s that the endgame is unlikely to get together right away. Therefore, the faster a ship seems to progress towards getting the characters together romantically, the less likely it is to be the intended endgame OTP. Fans can determine a lot from the nature of the obstacles put before a ship. Particularly whether those obstacles are seemingly temporary or long-term in nature.
Because of show runners’ fear of the Moonlighting Curse and typical desire to drag out the endgame ship for as long as possible, the first couple to kiss, date, or be on the verge of either in a television show probably isn’t the endgame ship. And while both Zoey and Max and Zoey and Simon had their share of shipping moments over the course of the season, which one was “put together” first (even if only for the span of an episode before they “put a pin” in that relationship until next season?
But The Endgame Ship is the Last Ship
Show runners want their intended endgame OTPs to be “slow burns” to keep shippers actively invested – as well as to avoid the “Moonlighting Curse.” But that means they have to keep the endgame shippers along for what may be a long haul. They want those fans to stick around regardless of the obstacles repeatedly thrown in their way, so they have to regularly give their intended endgame OTP shippers hope for the future, and reassurance that they will eventually see their preferred couple together. (This also tends to have the effect of showing the endgame ship developed to a degree that other ships are not generally allowed.) Often this seems to mean that, regardless of whatever else happens in the season, the endgame OTP gets a big shipping moment in the finale.
And, oh….what a big shipping moment did Zoey and Max get in the season finale of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. The back half of the episode was an emotional gut punch, as Zoey finally lost her father to his long illness. But just before the half hour of emotional devastation, the show gave Zoey and Max one of the cutest “OTP finale setup” scenes of any show I’ve ever seen, in a scene with the perfect mix of humor, romance, sexiness, and love. Watching Zoey try to kiss Max while he’s so overcome with love for her, he can’t stop singing heart songs? OH MY GOD.
And that’s only the beginning. The fact the two are together when she gets the call about her father? Max’s unwavering support for her and demonstration of selfless love, as he calls upon his romantic rival, Simon, so that he can support Zoey as well? His recognition that her feelings – and need to focus on herself – is more important than their relationship at the momen? His ever-present, silent support for her throughout the wake, culminating in her resting her head on his shoulder for comfort – and a forehead kiss? Not to mention the way the series established he told Mitch how he felt about Zoey before he died – and the fact that Mitch already knew???
That is some top shelf, gold-tier endgame OTP material right there. There may be many other endgame OTPs on television right now, but absolutely none of them are cuter (or sexier, funny, or flirtier) than Zoey Clarke and Max Richman. Clarkeman endgame confirmed.