Now that I’ve shared some of my favorite individual characters of 2015, it’s time to move on to some of my favorite relationships. Some people watch TV for the plot of a show. I watch for the relationships. Whether that relationship is romantic, platonic, familial or even antagonistic, it’s these relationships that get me invested and keep me coming back for more.
Bellamy and Clarke (The 100) Over the course of two seasons, the relationship between Bellamy and Clarke has grown from enemies to co-leaders to friends. While much of their development happened prior to this year and their time on-screen together was limited, the strength of their bond shone through the distance. We saw the unshakable belief that they would save their people and that the other could do the impossible. We saw the trust they have in each other. We saw Clarke’s concern for Bellamy. We saw that Bellamy would do anything to protect Clarke. We saw them make an awful decision to save their people. We saw them say goodbye. It was basically a year of pain for these two but until the end, they had each other. It has been each of them doing what was best for their people, confident in the knowledge that the other would do the same. Their goodbye may have been sad but in it, you see exactly what these two are to each other. You see the security and the teamwork and the history and the love. That love may not be romantic yet (or ever) but that doesn’t diminish its strength. Bellamy is Clarke’s home and she is his.
Abbi and Ilana (Broad City) I can never get enough of female friendships on TV and while they may not be the most conventional of people, the love they have for each other resonates deeply with me. Thanks in part to Ilana Glazer’s and Abbi Jacobson’s off-screen friendship, the easy dynamic of their on-screen counterparts suggests a long history together. These two accept each other exactly as they are. They have clearly seen each other at their best and worst and at the end of the day, there really isn’t anyone they’d rather spend time with. Ilana is clearly the less inhibited of the two and while that could scare some people away, Abbi appreciates that about her. Sometimes you just need to call your best friend when the guy you’ve been crushing on forever wants you to peg him and sometimes the best response that friend can give is to literally dance in excitement for you. Ilana wants Abbi to experience as much of life as she possibly can and she knows Abbi wants that to but isn’t always brave enough to go for it. She pushes her just far enough outside her comfort zone to try new things all while offering someone supportive to fall back on in case it doesn’t work out. They can be crazy and ridiculous but but they love each other and support each other and that’s what lifelong friends do.
Joe and Barry (The Flash) Of the many wonderful relationships shown on the show, this one continues to be so much of its emotional core. While they aren’t biologically related to each other, these two are father and son. Joe has never tried to diminish Barry’s relationship with his biological father but it’s been clear since episode one that they consider each other family. As his adoptive father, Joe wants what is best for Barry. This was never more clear than their discussion in the season one finale “Fast Enough”. Joe loved Barry enough to give him a chance to grow up with his biological parents, even if it meant losing all the memories and love these two had built. Barry may have missed his parents growing up but all it took was the torn expression on his face to make it clear that this wasn’t an easy decision. It was Joe who got through to Barry as a child to tell him it was OK to grieve and it’s been Joe supporting and loving Barry through his experiences as a superhero. Joe now knows that he does have a biological son but the watch he gave Barry is a reminder that he’s also his son, even if it’s not by blood.
Will and Hannibal (Hannibal) I want to send all of the awards to Bryan Fuller, Mads Mikkelsen, and Hugh Dancy for bringing this beautiful, destructive, and deeply intimate relationship to life. This friendship gave both Hannibal and Will something they had longed for – recognition of who they were. They saw everything about each other and accepted it all. None of the harm they did to each other ultimately mattered because their intersection forever altered their lives. Since their introduction, their worlds have slowly merged as they’ve rotated around each other until there was little space left between them. Where one is, the other is as well. Drawn together by an inescapable force, these two will never be free of the other. They understand each other in a way that no one else in their lives is capable of and while it was not what you would call a healthy relationship, the power they held over each other was strong. It was strong enough for Will to admit that even after everything Hannibal did to him in season two, he would have run off with him. It was strong enough that even after Will betrayed him (in Hannibal’s mind at least) he made it so that Will would come find him. Hannibal was smart enough to live the rest of his life without being caught but then he would have been without Will and he wasn’t able to live with that. Their relationship is intoxicating to them both and absolutely compelling for the viewers.
Jimmy and Gretchen (You’re the Worst) Gretchen may have moved in with Jimmy out of convenience and the transition into a committed couple who lives together may not have been conventional, but by the end the season, this was one of the best love stories on TV. There wasn’t any sweeping romance or grand gestures, just two selfish, flawed people coming together and finding recognition and acceptance in the other. It was them overcoming their selfishness for a moment and thinking about what a life looked like with that person in it. Even though they were together and doing well at the beginning of the season, they were still two separate individuals. They weren’t a team yet, decisions were still made with only themselves in mind. When Gretchen’s depression came back in full force, that divide and lack of teamwork and genuine understanding of the other made it seem like they were miles apart though living under one roof. It is only after they started incorporating the other into their decision-making and thought processes that they were able to get to that final moment on the stairs, quietly admitting their love for each other. It was more of a passing comment than a declaration of true love but the impact it had on them was huge. It is a relationship that is all about the small moments and choosing to cling to each other in the big ones and it felt achingly real.
Joan and Sherlock (Elementary) This partnership and friendship have grown so much in the past year. At the start of the year, they were still physically separated because Joan was looking for a life that was separate from Sherlock’s. Now, you couldn’t separate them, not even professionally, if you tried. They come as a package deal now. This is the partnership that has been building since the show started. Yes, it was painful to see them apart last year, but it was necessary for each of them to grow. Sherlock needed to learn how to be a partner. He needed to learn that they could be a team without being codependent. He needed to learn that it was OK if Joan had a life outside of him and their work. Joan, on the other hand, needed to realize that it was OK for her to want that work more than anything else. She needed to see that she didn’t have to have a “normal” life in order for her to be fulfilled. This partnership was one of the best relationships on TV this year because the show allowed them to grow as individuals before growing as a team. And now that they have, they are stronger than ever.
Jane, Xiomara, and Alba Villanueva (Jane the Virgin) This show deserves some praise for actually creating an understandable love triangle where both guys have their positives and negatives but at the end of the day, I’m not watching for Jane’s romance with Michael or Rafael. I’m watching for the relationship between Jane, Xiomara, and Alba. They are the truly the heart of the show. It is her relationship with her mother and grandmother that has made Jane the person she is and it is them that she will always go to when she needs guidance or support. With Mateo’s birth, she began to understand on a deeper level the maternal love these woman have always given her and what they have taught her that she can pass down to her own son. It has been a busy year for this family, with Mateo’s birth (and kidnapping), his baptism, Xiomara’s renewed relationship with Rogelio and Alba’s decision to apply for a green card and through all of the happiness, fears, doubts, and tears, this women have been unshakable pillars of strength for each other. This multigenerational, matriarchal family is a beautiful tribute to the power of family and the love that is sharing among them. There are few other places to find this level of warmth on TV and I can’t imagine my TV landscape without these three marvelous women.
The Sensates (sense8) Over the course of one season, these eight people have gone from being strangers to being a part of one another. Some of that is baked into the premise of the show, as these eight people have a unique link with each other that blurs the lines between them. The rest of it had nothing to do with their connection and everything to do with who they are as individuals. They have shared their fears and concerns with each other, they’ve opened up about their past and their journey of self-acceptance, they’ve shared each other’s pain, they’ve stepped in to help one another as their skills are needed, and they’ve even shared a cross-continental song. Some of these connections have been romantic, as has been the case with Will and Riley or Wolfgang and Kala, but most have been built around friendship and understanding the other. They have all led very different lives with different sets of experiences but when they bring those differences together and find understanding in each other, it is nothing short of breathtaking. The moments between them are often deeply intimate and emotional in a way that isn’t often depicted on screen, especially as the season progressed and they each started to understand what was happening, and these moments have worked to created one of the most beautiful, complicated relationships to appear on-screen this year.
Firehouse 51 (Chicago Fire) I’m a sucker for chosen families and that’s exactly what this firehouse is. While it’s not expected for people to develop close bonds when they work a dangerous job together, it is clear that the amount of loyalty and devotion this house has to each other, and to its Chief in particular, is something extraordinary in the Chicago Fire Department. They refer to each other as family because that’s exactly what they are. When one of them needs something, whether it be some encouraging words after losing a baby, offering a job to a former gang member being mentored by one of their own, or investing in a dream business, these people are there for each other, no questions asked. They look after each other and try to make sure they don’t make stupid decisions and support each other when their leadership is called into question. They have each other’s backs, in the field and off. It is nothing short of beautiful to watch and the people that make up this firehouse and the love they have for each other is the true secret to the show’s success. It was never about the fires, it was always about the family.
Emma/Maggie/Mark (Playing House) These three people are utterly delightful in any combination. If you like platonic relationships between men and women, it doesn’t get a lot better than Maggie and Mark. If you like exes turned into friends who might turn romantic again in the future, Emma and Mark are the couple for you. If you love deep friendships between women, Emma and Maggie are up there with Leslie and Ann as the best television has to offer. Whether it’s someone to go to a dance with after your divorce and offer fashion advice, someone who will drop everything to help raise your daughter so you can finishing nursing school, or someone who is so grateful for what you have done that she writes a letter to your favorite singer and asks him to dedicate a song to you at an upcoming concert, these people are there for each other unconditionally. Just one of this set of relationships is hard to find done really well. Playing House has all three and none are in competition. Emma can be Maggie’s best friend and Mark’s almost-girlfriend. Maggie loves Emma to death but it doesn’t mean she’s giving up on her friendship with Mark when Mark and Emma aren’t speaking. In one combination or another, these three and their friendship have provided me with some of the biggest smiles and happiest tears of 2015 on television.
Honorable Mentions: Jake and Amy (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Vanessa and Ethan (Penny Dreadful), Meredith and Alex (Grey’s Anatomy), Jessica and Trish (Jessica Jones), Liv and Major (iZombie)