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The Best TV Couples of the Aughts

By Paddydog | Lists | December 23, 2009 |

By Paddydog | Lists | December 23, 2009 |

Since the Aughts courtesy of the Blogosphere introduced the thoroughly objectionable term “shipping” (to describe ones interest in an established or potential TV couple) into our lexicon, I thought it only appropriate that we should have a look back at the couples who, presumably, inspired such bastardization of the language. Creating a TV couple that appeals to our emotions is an art. For every Sam and Diane, there are 100 generic fat balding guys over-married in a sit-com. For every Mulder and Scully, there are 1000 boring pairings of man/woman procedural teams. For this list I chose pairings who really made us sit up and care about whether the relationship grew or imploded over the past decade. There are some obvious couples of the Aughts who didn’t make my list: Tony and Carmela Soprano on “The Sopranos” (great show, but pretty uninteresting couple: he screws around; she gets upset and spends his money); Donna and Josh on “The West Wing” (a guy with Josh’s ambition was never marrying the admin from Wisconsin: it just wasn’t believable); Ross and Rachel (giant yawn). I also left out TV depictions of literary couples even though some were very well-executed (Margaret Hale and John Thornton in “North & South”) and once-off encounters that could have been great (The Doctor and Madame de Pompadour in “The Girl in the Fireplace”).

10. Veronica Mars: Logan and Veronica: Like most great TV couples they were great until they got together. One of my favorite lines of the entire show was in the Christmas episode where Logan delivers his fabulous “Ho, ho”, then turns his head to look at Veronica and finishes with “Ho!” After they resolved their differences, the spark was gone; there was nowhere left to take their story other than betrayal. We knew they were doomed when their only big bedroom scene was conducted to a Leonard Cohen song.

9. Gilmore Girls: Luke and Lorelei: If relationships were built purely on the ability to banter with each other, then this was a coupling for the ages. We watched through five seasons of “why won’t she just realize he’s the one” until they finally got together and then Amy Sherman Palladino didn’t like the money she was being offered and sabotaged her own show with a ridiculous character assassination of Luke. The final two seasons were painful shadows of what the show used to be. It stumbled toward a very unsatisfying end and when it was over we were all left wondering what might have been if the characters had been allowed to be as they were originally written.

8. Scrubs: JD and Eliot: Be honest, we were rooting for them from the very first episode and I have to hand it to the writers who kept the relationship interesting for so many seasons. They managed to keep it funny as well as heart-breaking when JD got her and realized he didn’t want her. In what was supposed to be the final episode of the penultimate season, we see them lying together in the residents’ room frustrated and miserable with their failed relationships with others and grasping hands less like lovers than like solid old friends. I thought it should have ended there.

7. The Office: Pam and Jim: Another couple everyone liked from Day 1 for all the obvious reasons. They were sweet, they were believable. I loved that they were each other’s refuge in the clusterfuck of Michael Scott’s branch of Dunder Mifflin. But Pam and Jim have long since worn out their good will with me. In recent seasons I find Pam and Jim smug and annoying. I have no interest in their extremely boring relationship. Am I the only one?

6. Deadwood: Sheriff Bullock and Alma Garrett: Remember the good old days when Seth Bullock would stride up the stairs of the Grand Central hotel and then the bed springs would start to creak and then the dust would start coming through the ceiling while the breakfasters put down their forks, turned their heads respectfully upward and listened? Fifteen minutes later Bullock would stride down the stairs again; tip his hat to the assembly and leave. It was a relief when Bullock’s wife finally showed up in Deadwood. I don’t think EB’s ceiling or Alma’s body could have taken much more.

5. Mad Med: Don and Betty Draper: Ah, schadenfreude! Does anything make us feel better about our own relationships than the beautiful successful couple who are miserable as all hell with each other behind closed doors? I have a friend who maintains that “Mad Men” keeps his marriage going because compared with Betty Draper, his wife no longer seems to be the most miserable bitch in the world. It’s difficult to imagine that Don and Betty ever loved each other, but I have a feeling (despite last season’s ending) that they will end up together and become one of those senior citizen couples one sees bickering at the Walgreens pharmacy window long after their children have moved far away and find excuses not to come home for the holidays.

4. Ashes to Ashes: Gene Hunt and Alex Drake: Many people were disappointed in “Ashes to Ashes” after “Life on Mars,” but I found the sexual tension between educated, empowered, posh Alex and loveable caveman Gene Hunt to be just the kick a second season needed, and it gave Philip Glenister a chance to deliver some great one-liners: “Take that seatbelt off! You’re a police officer, not a bloody vicar” or Alex: “I don’t think she’ll open up with a man present.” Gene Hunt: “Plenty of women have opened up to me without so much as a shandy down their necks.” It’s a credit to Glenister that he makes a character whose personality I would find repulsive in real life so drop dead sexy that I’m actually hoping they get to have shag before the series ends.

3. Rome: Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus: Sure, there was red hot passion between Antony and Cleopatra; there was your standard issue incest between Octavian and Octavia; in fact there was enough coupling and decoupling and multi-coupling in Rome to make even a Christian Brother in an Irish Institutional School blush, but we all knew who the real couple was on Rome. How these two managed to keep it in their shorts (or whatever real men wear under their togas) whenever they were alone, I’ll never know. The smoldering passion right beneath the surface of all that man talk and sword fight was there for all to see. When they walked off into the sunset, we knew this was how it was always meant to end.

2. Doctor Who: The Doctor and Rose Tyler: I’ve posted on this site before about how the real love story in “Doctor Who” is about The Doctor’s love for the people of Planet Earth. And I stand by that statement, but that doesn’t mean he can’t fall in love with individuals and he fell hard for Rose Tyler. Why Rose? I think it’s because she epitomized everything he loves about humans. She was the Chav who took a chance. She was living a very limited life, but was willing to believe there was more out there and step out of her comfort zone to see it. She loved the exploration and the wonder and the excitement, but she also had compassion for a dying Dalek and was willing to risk all sorts of rifts in the time-space continuum just to see her father one more time. And she loved The Doctor because…well…if I have to explain why someone loves The Doctor you’ve probably stopped reading this already.

1. Deadwood: Al Swearengen and Chief Head in the Box: Deadwood had many moments that transcended good TV and went into a league way above what we had come to expect from even the subscription networks. And by far the best of these moments were when we got glimpses into who Al Swearengen really was; what he really felt inside and what had made him the man he was. Almost all of these moments came when he confided in his closest friend: the head of the Indian chief whose decapitation he had demanded Herod-like in season one. Al’s conversations (I refuse to consider them soliloquies since the chief was present) with the chief are mesmerizing. The chief really is the only person in the world with whom Al can be completely honest. He uses him to strategize, complain, and admit his vulnerabilities. He even vents his personnel problems, complaining about one of his workers: “Dead, and without a body, you still outstrip him for intelligence”. In the end the relationship between Al and chief was about how extremely lonely Al was. He had placed himself in a position that he could only maintain by having no close relationships, except with the severed head of a man whose brutal murder he had ordered.

PaddyDog whiles away her time in the permafrost of Chicago hoping her clients never realize how much time she spends trying to solve cryptic crosswords while their projects sit forlornly on her desk. Having a conscientious objection to dangling participles and split infinitives, she plans to violently execute everyone on earth who uses “like” as a verb.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.