The Happy Ending Project: Jemma is the most charming lesbian couple on TV

This week’s happy ending pairing comes from Germany, from a show called “Hand aufs Herz” (“Hand on Heart”), which aired during the 2010-2011 TV season. Let’s be clear up front: “Jemma,” the portmanteau for Emma Müller (Kasia Borek) and Jenny Hartmann (Lucy Scherer), is one of the most charming teenage lesbian couples ever to grace the small screen. Endstop.

They’re adorable fluffballs of cuteness who just get cuter as the show progresses, even during heavy or dark storylines. But even more importantly, Jemma is what lesbian TV couples could be if shows gave them the same amount of screen time and allowed them the same amount PDAs as straight couples. Emma and Jenny are main characters who contribute to the storylines of others, undergo multiple storylines of their own, get tons of attention, and who kiss so many times it would be pointless to count (unlike other shows, where the number of kisses during the entirety of the lesbian storyline can be counted on one hand).

Because Jemma are in so many episodes (around 150), “Hand aufs Herz” shows many relationship events that few other lesbian TV pairs have ever been given. In fact, Jemma even has some elements that may be singularly unique in the history of lesbian TV; most notably, a conversation between two teenage lesbians about waiting to have sex until both are ready, and the pressure felt at wanting the first time to be perfect, something that is boringly common for straight teenage couples on TV but wholly absent for lesbian couples. In a landscape of almost exclusively femme lesbian TV characters, Jemma is also the pairing of a (very) soft butch with a high femme.

They’re SO. FLUFFY.

The best way to describe “Hand aufs Herz” is to suppose that one day, somewhere in Germany, an executive producer was like, “Okay guys, we’re going to do ‘Glee’…in GERMAN. And also, it’s going to be a soap opera and have strong anti-establishment themes, because we’re European. And also, our students aren’t going to look like high schoolers at all. Go!” So alright, the concept and execution for the overall show are a bit unusual (serious question: do schools in German really have beach volleyball teams or is that meant to be a joke?), but Jemma is worth sitting through the twenty renditions of Destiny Child’s “Survivor.”

When we first meet her, Emma is an adorkable ball of anxiety and self-doubt who somehow has not yet figured out how gay she is despite evidently living in Melissa Etheridge’s closet. Jenny, on the other hand, is the drop dead gorgeous popular girl who used to be a child singing sensation in Asia but has now been unceremoniously dumped in relative backwater Cologne. Jenny starts off an arrogant, unlikable villain, actively doing whatever she can to undermine Emma out of what seems like a malignant and insatiable vindictiveness.

From the outset, there’s not an inkling that the two will one day become the lesbian fairy godmothers to a straight guy trying to get a date, or that Jenny will one day conduct the Pizza Dance of Rejection Sadness over Emma. Instead, the two fight worse than cats and dogs, so when they get together, it’s rainbows and unicorns and truckloads of kittens. Just kidding. First there’s more soap opera drama but then there are unicorns. And then more drama. You know what? There’s just a lot of drama. Because soap operas are gonna soap.

Emma: Hello, I am a heterosexual.

Jenny: Yeah, sure, okay Ellen Page DeGeneres.

The Good:

  • Emma is highly relatable as the socially awkward high school student discovering her sexuality. Emma wears her heart not just on her sleeve, but all over her body. The viewer can see everything Emma feels: her jealousy watching Jenny kiss Emma’s male best friend, the awe in her face after Jenny kisses her the first time, her angst at confronting her own feelings, etc. Borek owns every minute of this role and is a real standout in her performance.
  • Jenny, in contrast, is everything you would wish your high school girlfriend would be: dedicated, fiercely protective, warm, loving, and flirtatious. Not to mention Scherer, whose theater and dance background comes through strongly in her acting, has adorable dimples and beautifully intense facial expressions. Both Scherer and Borek clearly commit 100% to their roles, and each brings something unique to her character (also in Jenny’s case, some of her unique is clothing. Be prepared to see some crazy leggings).

Jenny spends most of the show with a bullet as an earring, FYI.

  • Jemma kissing is one of the most adorable things in the world, and when they cuddle or flirt your head might just explode from too much.

  • As longtime readers of the site know, I’m a strong proponent of the need for fictional couples to demonstrate a workable “spoonality.” In this case, Jenny is clearly the big spoon and Emma the little spoon. This grounding of the pairing in a clearly identifiable, logical relationship dynamic serves as a solid basis from which to build the couple. Jenny is the strong protector, the driver of the relationship, while Emma is shy and more tentative. Although the roles sometimes change temporarily, this spoonality gives Jemma consistent identities in the relationship.
  • “Hand aufs Herz” dedicates a good deal of time to exploring how difficult it is to be a high school student trying to have a same-sex relationship–whether clandestinely or openly–and the specific trials and tribulations that Jemma undergo have a very real feel to them. At the same time, the show also takes some common “heterosexual” tropes (ex: popular guy is into nerd girl) and applies them in a same-sex context, proving they’re not actually gendered at all.

The Bad:

  • Jenny’s vindictiveness at the beginning of the storyline feels slightly overplayed, particularly since Emma clearly doesn’t deserve that degree of abuse. Instead, the storyline might have benefitted from spending some of that time humanizing Jenny more, which would have allowed for more scenes showing her interest in Emma. In the absence of that extra time, Jenny’s profession of a crush on Emma seems just a tiny bit out of the blue.
  • This is a tiny, minute, judgey nitpick, which I feel guilty for even mentioning, but for reasons unknown, Jemma are sometimes not the best kissers. As in, sometimes…they kind of miss. Or don’t really lean into the kiss or something. 95% of the time they’re great, so when they’re off the mark, it’s just a little noticeable. This may have to do with the fast pace necessary for shooting a soap opera: no time for reshoots for minor issues.
  • For a soap opera that largely revolves around singing, the cast almost certainly would have sounded better singing in their native German rather than trying to force English words (with the exception of Selina Müller, who plays Luzi and sings the English almost seamlessly). They’re all good singers, but it’s unclear why they chose to use so many English language songs.

Your face when you realize you’ve watched all the Jemma and there’s no more. 

Overall grade: A. The Jemma storyline has so much everything: screentime, kisses, loving looks, longing looks, etc. It also has something else that historically has been so rare for lesbian TV couples: long periods of happiness as a couple. Jemma had a massive international fan base (Jemmanation), and Borek and Scherer were very appreciative of their fans around the world, which is like icing on the cake for a fandom. For more about Jemma, read Heather Hogan’s fantastic recaps here.