In my list of my favorite characters of 2016, I talk a little about the fact that strong, well-written characters will always take priority for me over plot on TV shows. If a character arc makes sense, I’m happy. But characters can’t stand on their own. It is their relationships with others that help define them and give them what they need in order to grow. In the words of Cory Matthews, “people change people”.
These people have all been permanently impacted by the people they have chosen to let into their lives. For better or worse, they have played a significant role in the way they interact with the world. Those are the kinds of stories I will never have enough of, in all their possible forms. Whether they are familial, platonic, romantic, or exist somewhere in the intersection of two of those forms, these are the relationships that I will remember from this year.
1. Dad!Kane and his children (The 100) In the course of building a new way of life on the ground, Marcus Kane inadvertently adopted several of the delinquents. It wasn’t intentional and it’s in no way official, as most of the kids are young adults and have been on their own for far too long. But he took them under his wing and mentored them and they developed a respect and love for him that no one could have anticipated. When the adults landed on the ground, Marcus was the authoritarian who still saw these kids as the rule-breakers he helped imprison on the Ark. But as he grew and learned that things couldn’t be so black-and-white on the ground, he saw the drive and skill it took for them to survive. He saw children who grew up under harsh conditions who have found their way but still suffer from the long-lasting effects of their culture. So he helped guide them. He was supportive of their emotional needs and made sure that they knew they could come to him. He tried to steer them back on the right path when they got lost in fear and anger and told them the things they needed to hear, even if they weren’t ready to hear it. There was never a doubt that he cared and it was the bond they had formed that helped Bellamy realize that the road Pike was leading them down was dangerous and to take the first steps toward making amends. As they all work together to save the world in the upcoming season, I can’t wait to see these relationships continue to grow.
2. Riley and Maya (Girl Meets World) No matter who else comes into their lives, what these two girls share is extraordinary. This is the relationship at the heart of this show and these two are better because they have each other. Maya helps to ground Riley while Riley shows Maya that sometimes it’s OK to fly. These friends love all the parts of each other that others might consider flaws and want only the best for each other. They may not always know what the best is, as Riley ended up sending Maya into a bit of an identity crisis this year, but her heart was in the right place and she didn’t want to see Maya lose the parts of herself that were uniquely hers. When Riley gets to be too much for everyone else around her, Maya is there by her side. When someone implies that Riley’s made Maya weak, she’ll literally chase them away because Maya knows it’s Riley’s influence that has made her strong. When Maya gets scared of Shawn finding out that she and her mom can be kind of a mess, it’s Riley who gives her the confidence and trust that he loves them because what seemed like a mess was borne of a deep love. She gives up her traditional Christmas with her best friend because she knows that she needs to spend this one with her new family. It’s Riley who laughs at her boyfriend when he says that her relationship with him was more important than her relationship with Maya. These two are it for each other. No one else will ever hold such a special place in their hearts and that bond will keep them together no matter what comes. It’s friendship at its purest and it is a beautiful thing to see.
3. Donna and Cameron (Halt and Catch Fire) Give me more relationships like this on television. I want positive relationships between women on TV but I also want messy ones that don’t fit into easy descriptions. This season was complicated and so very painful for these two but I loved every moment of it. These two have been the highlight of Halt and Catch Fire since it realized what it had in them in season 2. Their friendship is strong and built on trust and respect for what the other has to bring to the table. They balance each other out and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But it’s not enough and it breaks, seemingly irreparably, because despite all that, there is an omnipresent part in both of them who think they are the person with the best vision and will forge ahead without any discussion. It’s fine when they are fighting for the same goal, but when they are on opposing sides, it’s brutal. They know each other well so they know exactly where to strike to hit each other’s insecurities. They had a tentative truce in the finale but I should have known it was too good to last. Cameron’s admission that she enjoyed working with Donna again but couldn’t ever trust her with another project was heartbreaking but fitting for these characters and their history.
4. Maya and Lucas (Girl Meets World) I seem to need a new pairing to fall incredibly hard for each year and in 2016, Maya Hart and Lucas Friar were that pairing. In them, I see the promise and potential of a deep, lasting relationship based on recognition and love for everything that makes these characters who they are. I see something that is too big for them right now and too overwhelming to really wrap their minds around. It lacks the ease of love at first sight, at least in their young minds. Maya keeps her feelings close to her, it’s only when she can no longer hold them back that they slip out at all. But Lucas has seen them. He knows the heart that lies underneath that tough exterior. He sees the girl who would do anything for her best friend, who will put everyone else in the world first because that’s how she believes it should be. He’s always been among the first to fight for the person that Maya is. That beautiful girl who scares bullies away by running at them with hammers. As someone who loves Maya, that is all I want for her. Lucas doesn’t have the same level of development as Maya. We haven’t gotten to see him work though the fact that the person he was in Texas is still a part of him today. It doesn’t seem that he’s allowed himself the same complexity he allows Maya. But with everything we know about Maya and how she loves, she would be the same supportive presence that he was while she doubted herself. Maya was right to end the triangle the way she did. Neither of them are ready for what the other has to offer right now. They have some growing up to do first but what they shared was real. It wouldn’t take much for them to discover it again when they’re ready.
5. Jules and Ophelia (Sweet/Vicious) Sometimes people come into our lives exactly when we need them. The Jules of a few months ago probably wouldn’t have given much thought to Ophelia. Their paths may have crossed during a party or on campus somewhere, but they would never have formed the friendship that they have if Ophelia hadn’t inadvertently run into Jules in the course of her vigilante work and later saved her life. Ophelia became Jules’ confidante. She is the only person who knows about her rape at the hands of her best friend’s boyfriend. She’s the one who knows Jules still has trouble sleeping at night and is terrified every time she ends up in a room with Nate. She may not have known the old Jules but she knows what made the current one who she is. Together, they fight back. They have different experiences and reasons for what they do, but they have made it their mission to cut down on the culture of rape and hazing on their college campus. They used their combined skills to make a difference and the more they do so, the closer they become. It’s given Jules a much needed person to get through this time until she can open up to Kennedy about who her boyfriend really is. It’s given Ophelia a purpose. She’s found a motivation she didn’t know she possessed and she seems fulfilled by the work they are doing together. It’s a friendship that has been beneficial to them both and one I am excited to see continued in the rest of season one.
6. Team Machine (Person of Interest) Over the course of five seasons, five people who never intended to care for anyone became a family. They found people they couldn’t sacrifice and people for whom they would sacrifice themselves. They were united in a mission, unwavering in their desire to rid the world of Samaritan’s influence. So many of the smaller relationships within Team Machine were incredible stories in their own right. There was the deep respect, friendship and love between Harold and John that started it all. There was the beautiful love story of Root and Shaw that lives on past Root’s death, thanks to The Machine. There was the occasionally contentious partnership and friendship between Lionel and John. There was Root’s admiration and affection for “Harry”, creator of The Machine who became one of her dearest friends. There were the Mayhem Twins of Reese and Shaw (if they’re calling each other by their first names, you know something is really wrong), the soldiers and physical protectors of their friends. Though the team is fractured and missing a few members by the end of the season, the impact these people had on each other’s lives will be carried forward.
7. Darryl Whitefeather and White Josh (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) This relationship was one of the most unexpectedly delightful things of 2016. These two genuinely enjoy spending time together and being with each other but they also continue to stand alone and be some of my favorite characters even when they aren’t sharing a screen. There is a sincerity and and earnestness to Darryl that I find completely endearing and his enthusiasm toward his discovery of his bisexuality thrilled me. White Josh often serves as a (judgy) voice of reason to his friends when they are being disasters, which is often, but it’s coupled with a genuine support and desire to see them do better. Their first “I love you” was very sweet as was White Josh’s desire to meet Darryl’s daughter and be a part of her life. It’s never going to be the relationship that gets the most attention on the show, but it’s a solid and comforting presence that I enjoy.
8. Marcia Clark and Chris Darden (People vs. OJ Simpson) I feel slightly weird including these two because they are actual people, so I will make the caveat that I’m specifically talking about the versions of them that appear on People vs. OJ Simpson. During the trial that came to define both of their lives, Marcia Clark and Chris Darden were each other’s rocks and that that relationship was beautifully portrayed by Sarah Paulson and Sterling K. Brown. It was a partnership no one else would ever quite understand. The whole of the country’s attention was focused on them and when the outside criticism and problems worked their way into the courtroom, it was the other who could steady them. And late at night, when they couldn’t work anymore and needed a break, they danced and for that moment, everything was OK. They encouraged each other when they were overwhelmed and gave each other a small respite and normalcy from the spectacle surrounding them. It’s a partnership in the best form and the easy chemistry between Paulson and Brown made this relationship something special to watch.
9. Kara and Alex Danvers (Supergirl) No matter what else was happening on the show, this relationship was solid and immensely gratifying. There were disagreements and there were hurt feelings but they were talked about and resolved. There was unwavering support and acceptance and above all else, love. They are each other’s biggest allies. Kara may have the superpowers in the family but Alex is just as fiercely protective and will do whatever necessary to protect her sister. She’s always felt like she has to be the strong one in their relationship but this season has shown that when Alex is hurting and confused, Kara is right there willing to hold her and support her and tell her that she is unconditionally loved. These two sisters are the heart of the show and I’m so glad they’re allowed to take center stage the way they have.
10. Drew, Rick, and Brianna (The Night Shift) There are few things I love more in fiction than characters who feel lost and alone finding a home and somewhere to belong. Sometimes it’s more of a emotional journey and the family they find is in their friendships with others. Sometimes, like in this season of The Night Shift, it’s physical and a character finds themselves with a new home and people to love and guide them. When Brianna’s foster mother died, she was afraid she was going to have to go back into the system. That once again, she was alone and unwanted. But a kind doctor sat with her, comforted her and read to her. He became her anchor while she waited for a transplant that may never come. He became her advocate and her friend. All Drew wanted was to give Brianna a home. He had grown to care about her so much so he introduced her to his husband and they decided to adopt her. They gave her a family and a place she was so very wanted and loved. Drew and Rick fought for her when her biological father (who had already signed his rights away) didn’t want her to be raised by two men. Way before it was official, she was already their little girl and nothing was going to get in the way of that. Loving Brianna changed Drew and it was clear that despite his earlier fears, he was always meant to be a father. She filled a hole in him that he didn’t know existed and was the perfect addition to the family.
Honorable Mentions: Jimmy and Gretchen (You’re the Worst), Bellamy and Clarke (The 100), Nova, Charley, and Ralph Angel Bordelon (Queen Sugar), Mike and Ginny (Pitch)