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Tyler James Williams is The New Sitcom Heartthrob

Tyler James Williams is the new sitcom heartthrob. Design courtesy of Michelle Liu.
Tyler James Williams is the new sitcom heartthrob. Design courtesy of Michelle Liu. By Michelle Liu
By Maria F. Cifuentes, Contributing Writer

Major spoilers for “Abbott Elementary” ahead.

Since the ’80s, male film actors have been stealing the audience’s hearts with their perfect looks and charming smiles, but in the ’90s the same phenomenon expanded to teen sitcom stars. From Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Zach Morris in “Saved By the Bell,”to Joshua Jackson as Pacey in the hit series “Dawson’s Creek,” sitcoms have typically had a “hot guy” character that they push and want the public to view in a certain way. This heartthrob phenomenon has created a standard for male actors based on attractiveness and their ability to make the viewers gush over them. Through on screen romantic gestures, a longing gaze, and easy to fall for smiles, show creators and producers continue to write characters so that male actors can make the viewers’ hearts flutter.

But why do directors and screenwriters intend to create heartthrobs in the first place, and how does this change the way the actor is perceived by the audience? The moment the actor is labeled as a heartthrob it can entrap them in this category, blurring the line between talent and good looks, thereby leading them to gain popularity for their attractiveness rather than their acting. As seen in the film industry, Hugh Grant is widely known as the strapping male lead for swoon-worthy rom-coms, including “Notting Hill,” “Love Actually,” and “Bridget Jones's Diary.” Grant achieved acclaim and success, but when it was time to move on from playing that type of character, it was difficult for him to land roles outside of this genre.

These kinds of heartthrobs are now popularized in the television industry as a whole, as more male characters from TV shows and sitcoms are being placed on this pedestal. Social media, fan reactions, and press interviews have played a major role in the growth of this trend. On social media, video edits of male characters are easily created and shared by fans who are enamored with the actor’s role, which influences what the public views as the “it man” of the month. Additionally, press interviews for the sitcoms focus on the love interest and potential relationships in the shows, tailoring their questions to highlight the romantic aspects of the show. This encourages the viewers to root for a certain couple, and causes them to notice the male character’s attractiveness and positive qualities.

Recently, Tyler James Williams from the hit sitcom “Abbott Elementary” has earned this title for his role as the elementary teacher and love interest, Gregory Eddie. In particular, the buildup of his romantic relationship with coworker Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson) has led viewers to swoon over Williams and view him in a different light than he had been viewed previously in his career.

The show’s popularity is mostly due to Gregory and Janine’s will-they-won’t-they plot. Fans have watched the tension build and a special friendship form between the two characters, which has contributed to Gregory’s establishment as the sitcom’s heartthrob. On top of it all, Williams has the good looks and charisma to fit the part.

Brunson, the series writer, creator, and producer of this Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series was interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter and discussed this heartthrob trend. In the interview, Brunson explains that male actors can be made to be perceived as hot to the wider public because the show is essentially telling audiences that they are hot. She specifically mentioned that she told Williams he would become a heartthrob because of the way Gregory was being written. However, after the article implied Brunson should be credited for making Williams be viewed in this way, she refused to take credit for this.

Although Brunson’s short tweet reply — which simply stated “No I didn’t” — did not answer the question of how she intended to participate in the heartthrob trend she identified, it is clear that Williams has earned the title of heartthrob and it has changed the way people think of him. In an interview on “The Tonight Show,” Williams shared that people now view him differently because of his character in the sitcom. As they walk by him on the street, he says he can tell from their facial expressions what work they recognize him for, as viewers did not give him the same reactions for his roles in the iconic series “Everybody Hates Chris” or “The Walking Dead.” As the show is set to release a third season, it will be interesting to see how Gregory’s character develops and contributes to Williams’s portrayal of being a heart stealer. That being said, it does raise concerns that his future roles might constrain him to this category.

Not only do the writers of television series create heartthrobs for a viewer’s entertainment, but the use of social media also contributes to the growth of this phenomenon. Particularly, edits on TikTok have become increasingly popular and have proven to hold an immense amount of power in creating heartthrobs, as seen with videos of actor Pedro Pascal from the current HBO series “The Last of Us”, who has become the man of the moment on the internet. TikTok edits of Pascal as his characters in shows such as “Narcos” and “The Last of Us,” have brought much attention to his attractiveness and endearing personality. Pascal is only one of the many male actors that have been popularized in this way.

The sitcom archetype of the hot male lead has helped boost the careers and public perceptions of many male actors, but for some has also restricted the roles they are able to to take on as they age out of this character type. Fan use of social media has made this trend more pronounced in recent years, but Brunson’s interview and her tweet reveal that the hearthrob narrative fails to do the actor’s abilities justice. Although shows that capitalize on this trend gain a lot of popularity, it’s important to focus on the actor separately so as to not ignore their acting skills for their good looks.

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