Be it drama or comedy, or whatever exists in between, most television series have a crutch they can’t help but lean on: creating endless scenarios and possibilities of characters hooking up. Sexual tension and emotional vulnerability offers unlimited avenues of story lines and dynamics, but all too often such threads are used unnecessarily, due to convenience, laziness, or comfort.
It’s hard for lots of shows not to devolve into such situations. If a series is long running and short on ideas, introducing some potentially romantic entanglement allows for episodes,even seasons of stories. You get characters flirting for a while (almost exclusively your attractive heterosexual leads), you create a series of awkward and unlucky circumstances that push them apart, and then you later put them together. This was basically the premise for every season of Friends.
It doesn’t matter if they work together, live together, are dating or married to other people, or possess no romantic attraction or practical connection whatsoever. They shack up. And once as a writer you are done rearranging the main characters, you get working on connecting secondary characters, for everyone must have a partner because being single is just awful, right?!
This desire to couple up characters seems constant, even when it’s on shows that aren’t really about sexual chemistry or romance (The X-Files), or shows that mock this trope itself (Community).
So, our need to prolong tired plots, and fans’ desire to couple up any two attractive heterosexual people, make it rare to find two leading characters that don’t do that and writers that resist the temptation. Thankfully, some do exist, providing authentic, and arguably more common and realistic relationships to be portrayed.
So let us cheer the platonic relationship, something more likely to actually happen in real life than on television, and something that is likely to last much longer. These people aren’t just friends, as if to suggest friendship is something mere or unsatisfying. They’re close, even best friends, and that makes their bonds special.
Liz and Jack – 30 Rock
Two enduring, supportive, hysterical, and at times combative friends, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) are rare exports from network sitcoms. That is, they are both the leads, they are attractive heterosexuals, and yet romance is never realized, let alone hinted at. That’s a credit of course to Fey and her writing crew (Fey has stated that pairing them up would have been just lazy writing). While her Lemon is made to be an awkward, almost asexual being, navigating work and dating in an absurdist world, she and Donaghy have a quirky, caring relationship that is tender, earnest, and yet not romantic. What’s more, they move from quarrelling colleagues to, well, quarrelling friends, and that strong bond is entirely endearing.
Linden and Holder – The Killing
For the first two seasons of The Killing, which didn’t really encompass too much real time, these two newly minted detective partners brought their own independence into a situation that required teamwork and vulnerability. As personal problems and professional hardships arose, their unlucky bond grew, but subtly and naturally. Their connection wasn’t shown with embraces or overt dialogue; it was demonstrated with subtle gestures and actions. There wasn’t necessarily any physically chemistry between them, and their personal circumstances never warranted them getting together, which is great. They slowly formed a genuine connection due to the stress of their work, because that is sort of how real life works.
CJ and Toby – West Wing
While Aaron Sorkin loves to write in romantic workplace dynamics with all his workplace series, he also creates strong platonic bonds between characters, where professional respect, quick wit, and social awkwardness bring people together. The West Wing, Sorkin’s acclaimed and idealistic series—which, perhaps given the current mood in Washington, everyone might want to revisit to feel some sense of hope and positivity—featured a slew of smart and savvy, if not emotionally insecure, characters. One of the strongest friendships belonged to CJ Cregg and Toby Ziegler, two fiercely independent and brainy figures who had a way with words, supporting each other while butting heads in a hectic DC landscape. A bombshell in the seventh and final season demonstrated just how strong their bond was, and tested what it could endure.
Veronica and Wallace – Veronica Mars
A connection that sparked immediately in the very first episode, Veronica Mars and Wallace Fennel developed as close friends who always backed, and even saved, one another. As high school students, they were wise beyond their years. They are both protective of the other without being possessive, and they never confuse their chemistry for romance, two things that are really rare for people of all ages, let alone teens. What’s perhaps most comforting in their enduring relationship is that Wallace (and the writers) never suggest that being friends with Veronica is some sort of consolation, a common trope that is pushed upon male figures in both dramas and comedies. Obtaining women is seen as the highest achievement, so if you aren’t with someone romantically and sexually, then you’ve failed, and spending time with a woman means you are justified to this apparently. So good on you, Wallace.
Abed and Troy – Community
One area the brilliant and problematic showrunner Dan Harmon struggled with early on in Community was the pressure to couple up its two attractive leads, played by Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs. While the show played with their dynamic for a while, introducing another female character to create a love triangle, it was two other characters that formed the strongest bond on the show, and it was natural and welcome. Troy and Abed were innocent, imaginative goofs, and their friendship was instant and everlasting. A sexual connection was also hinted at and teased with these two, with plenty of juvenile jokes — so much so that other characters were simply waiting for them to announce they were dating. When Troy left the series, his farewell episode was near perfect, and Abed’s farewell experience was heartbreaking.
Jerry and Elaine – Seinfeld
Despite trying to date early on in the series, these two maintained a strong friendship throughout the series, and maybe by the end they realized they were just sort of stuck together because everyone else was un-dateable.
Mulder and Scully – The X-Files
They inevitably got together on the show, but that never felt like anything especially romantic, and surely not sexual (though Mulder, as we know, was a bit of a perv). Throughout the series, they cared deeply for each other, devoted their lives to each other and their collective work, and going through so much chaos and trouble together brought them even closer. While hooking up didn’t quite feel right, we know they would never leave each other anyway.