Please, Television Writers: Stop Making Romantic Things Happen in Elevators


On Sunday evening’s Mad Men, the show that everything starts and stops and ends and begins with, Don Draper got himself into another adventure. No, I’m not talking about how he turned into Dom Draper for a moment there; I’m talking about how, yet again, an elevator was used to further the plot line of his romantic life.

Don has spent a ton of time this season making eyes at his neighbor Sylvia in the elevator of their building; he’s even literally made out with her mouth in the elevator. He’s also spent a lot of time with her husband Arnie in the elevator. The elevator, it seems, is where the most emotionally significant moments in Don’s life occur. During Sunday’s episode he wasn’t doing anything so hot, but it all began with this scene of him holding the door open at the wrong floor so he can listen to Sylvia and Arnie have a blow-out fight, that which is somehow totally audible through the door of their apartment. (Did they make walls thinner back then? For some reason I found this questionable.) I don’t know, maybe the elevator is code for how Don is coasting through life and pausing at different floors and waiting for something to happen and people join him in it but they can’t stay for long because it’s too small like his cold heart?

Mad Men does this all the time, but it’s not like they can get credit for inventing it. Awkward moments in elevators have been a television trope for a long time, probably because awkward elevator encounters have probably been happening since Hugh Jackman invented the magical contraption.

It was Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes who took the elevator romance and heightened it to a new level. There was a whole episode called “Elevator Love Letter”, you can watch a fan-made YouTube montage of funny things that happened on the show in elevators and the kiss scene that really cemented the whole Mer/Der love affair happened in an elevator. Rhimes took the whole thing further when she launched her spin-off Private Practice and the elevator became basically the star of crossover episode between the new show and Grey’s Anatomy. Shonda has made it her thing. It’s okay Shonda. You get a pass. Elevators are your Thing.

I think, however, that this needs to end here. The Mindy Project is the latest show to really take the elevator to the top floor, if you know what I mean. Mindy has witty love-triangle banter in elevators all the time. In fact, that last time we saw Mindy was in an elevator, playing a game of tonsil hockey with her boyfriend. The doors open. Her two coworkers see her. “This is a public elevator, so you guys want to clean it up?” asks one. The other decides to instead join in on the fun and take a few selfies. It’s pretty funny, but this scene lasts for a minute and a half (I timed it). I can’t remember a time in my life I spent a minute and a half on the elevator just trying to get from one floor to the other, and I went to the Empire State Building, so it’s not like I’m forgetting what it’s like to be in a tall building. And not to get too nitpicky, but we’ve seen the outside of what Mindy’s office building looks like and it’s not very tall.

There are a approximately a thousand other good examples of the television sexy/dramatic scene taken too far; in my personal opinion, The Good Wife basically ruined a much-anticipated get together by putting it in an elevator and setting it to some god-awful music. All those doors opening! I get it though. From a writing-a-story standpoint, it makes sense; this is a contained space, requiring no extras, a cheap set, an easy exit, a quiet space, etc. This is the stuff drama is made of. I can suspend disbelief. But this is not the space that romance occurs. Tell me: how often does someone have a truly dramatic and/or romantic moment in an elevator?

I’m serious. Enlighten me with your best tales of elevator love.

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