What Are TV’s Best Friendships?
There are a lot of “will they or won’t they” couples on television–it’s a trope that is definitely played out and then some. But I recently watched two episodes of television that made me think about how rare it is for friendships to be the central relationship on a show.
I’m not talking about the friends on Friends, the majority of who managed to hook up throughout the series’ run. I’m talking about friendships that have the depth and commitment of romantic relationships. I Love Lucy‘s Lucy and Ethel were one of the medium’s very first long-term friendships, and in their own lovably goofy way, set the standard for what a multi-dimensional platonic relationship can look like on television.
So here’s a list of my top TV friendships. I determined who would make the list based on my New Year’s Eve Rule. My criteria is that if one character goes out of his/her to wish another character Happy New Year, arriving from a long distance or despite previous conflict between them, the moment elicits the same kind of “awww” reaction as When Harry Met Sally‘s classic ending. First up, the friendship that inspired the rule.
Veronica Mars and Wallace Fennell
I’ve been zipping through Veronica Mars via Netflix recently. I was going to stop at season 1, but when I couldn’t remember the resolution to the “who’s at Veronica’s door: Duncan or Logan” cliffhanger, I immediately dived into season 2. During the episode “One Angry Veronica,” Veronica has been through a lot of crap and is watching the ball drop in Times Square drop by herself, when there’s a knock at her door.
And it’s not her boyfriend or her ex, but her best friend Wallace. For viewers unfamiliar with Veronica Mars (or diehard members of Team Logan) this must have been disappointing. But to me, and I bet most people who watched the episode, it was incredibly moving.
Veronica and Wallace have a completely platonic friendship, but they have a great chemistry thanks to her sharp wit and his sweetness. She knew she often used him or took him for granted to help her solve the mystery of the week, and the tension between the two about this was portrayed realistically. When the two experienced a rift, viewers felt Wallace’s loss as acutely as Veronica. And when he was the one to arrive on her doorstep just when she needed some comfort, we felt just as happy she did. Not long ago, Slate ran a series of articles about platonic friendships, and how they are a relatively recent phenomenon. The Veronica/Wallace relationship is a textbook example of one that works.
Meredith Grey and Christina Yang
The relationship between the “dark and twisty” sisters of Grey’s Anatomy was defined in the show’s seventh season premiere: “Derek’s the love of my life, but you’re my soulmate.” I was reminded of this again while watching the episode “Shock to the System,” in which Meredith help Christina through her post-traumatic stress in the OR, lying down on the floor to face her and talk her through her panic attack.
Despite all the hookups and breakups between the surgeons of Seattle Grace, its Grey and Yang whose relationship has stood the test of time since the show started. Shonda Rhimes and the writing staff have developed the Grey/Yang friendship the way most TV writers would develop a show’s marquee romance. There are complications to their bond, but not the kind developed to provoke fanbases but authentic ones that come when close friends attempt to balance their unique connection with their relationships and other commitments.
They’ve often been co-dependent, too indulgent with each other during their darkest moments and twistiest impulses. But the most emotional, gut-wrenching moments of the show are when Yang is there for Grey or vice versa, most recently seen during the hospital shoot-out and its aftermath. They talk each other through emotional crises, cut each other out of wedding dresses, and chew out each other’s boyfriends if they’re not acting up to snuff. The only sure thing on Grey’s (besides how the patient of the week will help the doctors come to a personal understanding about their own lives) is that Grey and Yang will be each other’s rocks, no matter how much calamity or romantic drama crashes against them.
Don Draper and Peggy Olson
Right now no one knows how many seasons Mad Men will last, but even if the show goes on for five more years, I have no doubt that season 4’s “The Suitcase” will be remembered as one of the series’ all-time best episodes. It was there that Don Draper and Peggy Olsen finally confronted the secrets that drive them, and ultimately draw them to each other. (The above photo is the end result of that process.)
Theirs is a work relationship that transformed from boss/employee to mentor/mentee to a quiet, powerful camaraderie, without ever coming close to turning into a Sterling Cooper office romance. It’s an unusual bond, since these two know each other in ways even they don’t fully understand. It’s not just that Peggy and Don are smart advertising people, and appreciate each other’s intelligence. They are actually relieved to meet someone who has their same worldview focused on ambition and survival.
Only Peggy could pull Don out of his season 4 alcohol-fueled meltdown, daring to confront him about his recklessness and self-destruction. Peggy is Don’s compass, how he was able find his bearings and re-orient himself after his family life was shattered. Since they work together, they have an ongoing conflict from the power dynamic that defines their roles in each other’s lives. (Don’s soon-to-be second wife Megan, who says she “admires” Peggy and aspires to a similar role at the company, will no doubt also affect their relationship next season.) But I think both of them are empowered by the idea that there is another person in the world that really gets them, and that unspoken connection is what keeps them going.
Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson
Like Peggy and Don, Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson would have never known each other if they didn’t have to work in the same office. In Parks and Recreation, Leslie is Ron’s subordinate, and they clash often due to Leslie’s wide-eyed optimism and Hillary Clinton-inspired work ethic, which interferes with Ron’s goal of doing as little work as possible. Their friendship is still in its beginning stages (as is the show itself) but it has been wonderful to see their relationship deepen. Leslie’s attempts to make Ron happy tend to backfire (bringing his ex-wife Tammy back into his life, staging a reunion of park director predecessors) but Ron’s bemused expressions at Leslie’s good-natured scheming betrays his fondness for her. She’s sunshine, he’s a curmudgeon, and their bond of opposites is one of the most charming aspects of a truly charming show.
Leslie & Ron Swanson/Park and Rec