Everybody loves it when two favorite characters start a romantic relationship on a show. But relationships that hinge on platonic love or sometimes even dislike — brothers and sisters, mentors and mentees, older and younger — are just as good IMO. So let’s celebrate those people who go to the mat for one another and never make us wonder, “Will they or won’t they?” These are some of the TV relationships we revel in week after week.
The Antagonists: Penny Hofstadter & Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory
Don’t tell Dr. Sheldon Cooper, but the girl who never graduated college is really his best sparring partner. We’re talking about Penny, folks — the very Penny who started out the series as bubble-headed as Three’s Company’s Chrissy. She’s the only character who has never been in awe of Sheldon’s accomplishments. And while everyone gets their barbs in at Sheldon from time to time, it’s Penny’s insistence on loving him despite his low opinion of her that makes her a complex foil.
The Team: Eleven & the boys, Stranger Things
What kind of friends can fight off a demogorgon yet still collectively not realize nobody else is dressing up for Halloween at school this year? The best kind! Will, Mike, Lucas and Dustin may have been friends so long they don’t remember meeting, but Eleven came to this group as a fully (well, almost fully) functioning human. Their willingness to accept her into their ranks and help her — defying parents, school, the town and the lab in the process — cemented them into that special kind of group that’s found in childhood and can last a lifetime.
The Coworkers: Meredith Grey & Alex Karev, Grey’s Anatomy
Meredith and Alex are the only two remaining from the original class of Grey’s Anatomy interns, and the bond these two have built is something special. They’re more than friends or colleagues, less than partners or spouses and somewhere in that sweet spot of being — well, of being each other’s person. Alex has made the journey from a self-absorbed playboy to a caring pediatric surgeon despite a near miss with jail. Meredith has climbed ever higher on the career ladder even as her private world caved in. They’re the kind of friends who can be searingly honest and love you just the same.
The Brothers: Sam & Dean Winchester, Supernatural
Nothing bonds a family like sticking together through tough times, and the Winchester brothers have seen more than their share. As paranormal hunters, the two have literally seen hell together and still manage to come out cracking wise. Their supportive on-screen relationship also continues off-screen, where their openness and joy with fans has earned them one of the biggest fandoms around.
The Inseparable Comic Relief: Jack McFarland & Karen Walker, Will & Grace
Rarely have two sidekicks teamed up to such great effect as Jack and Karen, the friends of friends who became their own crazy entity. Their catty comedy was so entrenched in our culture it was — sorry Will and Grace — the thing we missed most when the series ended its run. Their unleashed id is best served up in small doses, though, so bringing back the entire foursome for a series revival was just what we needed.
The Unexpected Friends: Grace & Frankie, Grace & Frankie
As two women in their 70s who are thrown together after their husbands come out as lovers, Grace and Frankie share a sarcasm and innocence that is reminiscent of Beaches. These are ladies who have had it all, and now know how fragile “it” is, whether that’s love, money or even life. Their relationship is the kind that wasn’t planned and leaves room for the unexpected. They lean on one another’s strengths and find ways to confront the weaknesses with a humor and honesty that only grows with age and respect.
The Roommates: Sherlock Holmes & John Watson, Sherlock
We’ve all known that one person who we defend even when we know we shouldn’t. They’re rude, arrogant, insufferable or, in the case of Sherlock Holmes, all that and more. As his roommate and assistant, Watson is the buffer that enables Sherlock to get along in life, but he also cares for the crusty genius. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock, has said that in the 21st century, it’s rare to see a couple — regardless of gender — who can’t be potential love interests, but the fact that it’s completely platonic for these two is part of the charm.
The Enemies: Jaime Lannister & Brienne of Tarth, Game of Thrones
We never expected to like a Lannister. But Jaime’s journey with Brienne showed us glimpses of honor that continued to grow into a part of his character. Her respect for herself and her job kept him alive. His respect for her as a woman lost him a hand but also gained him a place in our hearts. Since they’re still opponents in this epic chess match, we long for the scenes they play together while desperately hoping there is a way for both of them to end up winners.
The Siblings: Kate, Kevin & Randall Pearson, This Is Us
Rarely has a show found such an inventive way to bring three characters together and place them on a level playing field. Watching the way they each respond to their identical upbringing brings out varying degrees of support for their choices. But take the three of them together, and we universally root for them as a team. We want the big three to succeed as much as Jack did, may he rest in peace.
The Angel & the Demon: Good Janet & Michael, The Good Place
They’re technically a robot and a demon but who’s keeping track? While Michael represents everything we hope we never encounter, Janet is the person we all wish we had in our life. She is from The Good Place, which gives us a little glimpse of the joyful place the main characters are trying to find. And he is a demon who’s hiding his soft spot from his torture-happy boss. They’re the yin and yang that define the boundaries of the characters’ lives and create one bizarrely delightful little comedy.
The Mothers: Madeline Mackenzie & Jane Chapman, Big Little Lies
Brought together by children in the same class at school, Madeline and Jane became the windows through which we filtered the rest of the action in Monterey last season. Renata, because of her prickly interactions with Madeline, became a villain. Celeste, who welcomed Jane, was clearly a friend. It was refreshing that no matter how different their bank accounts, Madeline’s mothering instinct saw something in Jane and welcomed her with open arms.
Hall of fame
I can’t leave this list without mentioning some of the great relationships of shows past. Let’s be thankful for streaming services that allow us to continue enjoying these bromances, families and friends whenever we want.
- Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson, Parks and Rec — This was one of the best portrayals of mutual respect and even admiration between two people who couldn’t be more different.
- Shawn Spencer and Burton “Gus” Guster, Psych — Combining a quippy weird guy with a long-suffering friend is nothing new for Hollywood. But Shawn and Gus kept the trope fresh with a lifetime’s worth of memories, catchphrases and affection.
- Rory and Lorelai Gilmore, Gilmore Girls — There’s never been a sweeter mom-daughter duo. We all wanted to join these two for their coffee and just try to keep up with the conversation.
- John “J.D.” Dorian and Christopher Turk, Scrubs — It’s rare to find someone you can work with and still want to go home to at the end of the day. J.D. and Turk set the standard for the modern bromance. Sorry, “guy love.”
- Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad — Sometimes friends, sometimes enemies, always riveting.
- Troy Barnes and Abed Nadir, Community — The two goofballs of Greendale made us long for that one friend who loves us for, not in spite of, our eccentricity. The one with whom you speak your own language and love all the same quirky things. Nobody is odd when they have that one friend.