FOX’s The Mindy Project comes back on Tuesday, April 1, after more than two months on hiatus. Two months spent by many in a fever of anticipation, wondering what the future will hold for frenemies Mindy (Mindy Kaling) and Danny (Chris Messina), whose slow-burn snark-filled almost romance has become one of the most captivating on TV, as H&H’s Heather Waters so gleefully articulated in her post regarding the show’s game-changing winter finale.
Of course, romance in comedy is hardly new, and on the small screen, and in the half-hour format, we have seen a lot of compelling relationships develop under our amused, at times angst-filled, eyes. From 86 and 99 to Joni and Chachi to Sam and Diane to Ross and Rachel, we’ve seen many a love bloom under the aegis of a helpful laugh-track (or, so it is often claimed, a “live studio audience”-track), and it is most when dealing with the vagaries of such emotions that sitcoms elevate themselves from mere short bursts of entertaining nothingness to actual thought-provoking worthiness, by delivering a surprising punch of piquancy, passion, and pathos.
Here, a list of the Top 10 couples from TVs current sitcom crop that have brought us more than just the funny. (A note on the use of the word “sitcom”: true, some of the shows on this list don’t necessarily fit the textbook definition of the term, what with the variable sets and the lack of laugh-track, but “Top 10 TV Half-Hour Comedy Romances” just doesn’t really have the same ring.)
TOP 10 CURRENT TV SITCOM ROMANCES
10. LEONARD AND PENNY
The Big Bang Theory (2007 – Present)
Played by Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco
When aspiring actress Penny moved across the hall from two CalTech physicists, little did she know that it would be the beginning of a seven year on-again, off-again relationship with the less hilariously irritating of the two. Dr. Leonard Hofstadter is the product of a high-pressure upbringing by driven academics; he’s wry, self-aware, insecure and just as needy as he is adorably nerdy. Penny is a flyover state prom queen ever quick with a comeback, if not at parsing the scientific and/or science fictional jargon with which Leonard’s conversation abounds. Superficially unlikely, this couple keeps our interest with their variable affection, their pop culture-laden banter, their opposites attract hijinks and their uncommon rightness for one another, despite all appearances to the contrary.
PENNY: You have destroyed my ability to tolerate idiots!
– “The Lunar Excitation” (03.23)
BONUS: Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik); Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch); Howard and Raj (Kunal Nayyar)
9. SCHMIDT AND CECE
New Girl (2012—Present)
Played by Max Greenfield and Hannah Simone
While much of the attention on New Girl inevitably falls on the Lovers-of-Friends trope being enacted by the entrancing Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and her adoring if abrasive new man, Nick (Jake Johnson), the unconventional relationship of sidekicks Schmidt and Cece is actually closer to many a heart, and not just because Max Greenfield was once Deputy Leo on Veronica Mars. The thing about Schmidt and Cece is that perhaps we shouldn’t care about their love at all, the one a pretentious try-hard who even his best friends consider a douchebag, and the other a self-absorbed model whose unspeakable beauty and flippant nature made her less than sympathetic in the early days. But between pregnancy scares and decreasing fertility, arranged Indian marriages and insecurity-driven infidelity and deep concern disguised as shallow one-upmanship, Schmidt and CeCe have brought out both the best and the worst in each other over three seasons of this quirky, loveable show, and while they have most recently been mostly on the outs, it is to be hoped that they can work towards a reunion, if only so that they can someday produce—in Schmidt’s careless words—a “caramel miracle.”
SCHMIDT: You like me? You like my personality?
CECE: I was surprised, too.
— “Tomatoes” (01.22)
BONUS: Nick and Jess, of course.
8. SABRINA AND JIMMY
Raising Hope (2010 – 2014)
Played by Lucas Neff and Shannon Woodward
A “current” sitcom only in that the series finale (after an unlikely four seasons) airs April 4, Raising Hope tells the tale of slacker serial-killer-baby-daddy Jimmy, who fell for the sparky and eccentric Sabrina at her first sarcastic comment and spent the next season and a half trying to win her heart, all the while haphazardly caring for his infant daughter Hope and retrieving himself and his loving, working-poor family from a variety of improbable scrapes. Since their marriage last season, the couple is often to be found languishing in the B-plot while the delightful antics of Jimmy’s humorously simple, utterly devoted parents Virginia (Martha Plimpton) and Burt (Garret Dillahunt) take center stage, but nevertheless their Opposites Attract romance is really what got this show through much of its uneven run—well, that and copious My Name is Earl references. Meanwhile, if someone would like to actually start raising that child, it mightn’t be a bad idea.
MAW-MAW: Now that you guys are finally together, I thought we'd at least get some good stories out of it.
VIRGINIA: Yeah, I'm with Maw-Maw, this was way more interesting when you were chasing after her.
BURT: Maybe getting you two together was a mistake.
— Raising Hope gets meta in “Sheer Madness” (02.15)
BONUS: Virginia and Burt are awesome. See, teen marriages can work!
7. MEL AND JOE
Melissa and Joey (2010—Present)
Played by Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence
Shut up. This is a super-cute show. Sure, it’s all very Who’s the Boss?, but so what? Who’s the Boss? was great. This third and latest season has seen the constantly contentious Mel and Joe finally express their long-repressed feelings, just as Joe has renounced his role as Mel’s teenage charges’ manny to become a personal trainer working out of Mel’s garage. (That ridiculous torso of his has to be good for something, right?) Of course, there is still a lot of fighting between them, despite their dramatic, and drunken, consummation of long-held lust, and we daren’t hope that all will be smooth sailing for these two difficult people—or should that be, we hope that it won’t be? Either way, spending 22 minutes each week with Melissa Joan Hart’s sprightly acerbity and Joey Lawrence’s perfectly sculpted physique is actually a pretty fun way to pass the time, if for no other reason than to enjoy their undeniable chemistry and to see just how far they have come since their teen idol days.
JOE: Okay, here it is. I think we both know that it's kind of ridiculous that we're all still playing along with this whole, you know, “I need to be your nanny” story. I mean, you're almost in college and Ryder is in, what, 14th Grade now? I don't see why there's any reason that your aunt and I can't go for this thing.
LENNOX: Are you saying you like her?
JOE: Yes. I like her.
LENNOX: Aaaah! Finally!
BONUS: Lennox (Taylor Spreitler) and Zander (Sterling Knight... how great a name is Sterling Knight?!? It’s right up there with Boy Meets World’s Rider Strong for Tiger Beat readiness.)
6. GRAYSON AND JULES
Cougar Town (2009—Present)
Played by Josh Hopkins and Courtney Cox
When Cougar Town first kicked off, its premise was off-putting for many: older women dating younger guys in a salacious, even demeaning, manner played for maximum gender-stereotype laughs. Turned out that that wasn’t the show’s premise at all, or at least, not for long – instead, it’s about a Floridian cul de sac full of charmingly nutty characters who drink wine together, support each other in even their craziest of eccentricities, and occasionally redefine popular expressions. (“You know, it’s tricky to walk around holding a bunch of cakes. I think that cake walks should mean something really hard.”/“Change approved!”) At the core of this abrupt change of pace was the back-and-forth of forty-ish neighbors Jules and Grayson, both newly single and slowly growing dependant on one another—although Grayson’s revolving bedroom door of college-age hotties made the show’s title even more horrifyingly sexist, though the show at least had the grace to own it. (”When women get older, it's icky. When men get older, it's adorable. It's my favorite double standard”.) Now married, Jules and Grayson typify the new wave of still-interesting-even-after-wedlock TV couples, mostly made possible by Jules’s continued befuddlement by commonplace things, and by frequent guest appearances by Scrubs and Friends alums.
GRAYSON: Jules. What I was going to say before you poisoned me is that I am so lucky to have found you.
— “When the Time Comes” (02.09)
BONUS: Travis (Dan Byrd) and Laurie (Busy Phillips); Andy (Ian Gomez) and Ellie (Christa Miller).
5. JAKE AND AMY
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013—Present)
Played by Andy Samberg and Melissa Fumero
Rarely has news of a renewal been so joyously received, or so richly deserved, as when FOX gave the freshman under-performing but critically-acclaimed Brooklyn Nine-Nine a second go around, no doubt buoyed by two Golden Globes, including one for Andy Samberg’s role as the raffish and irrepressible Detective Jake Peralta. His long-suffering partner, Detective Amy Santiago, is picture book pretty and a classic Type A, desperate for their Captain’s approval and ultra-competitive with her amusing, infuriating colleague. As the season wore on, it became clear that Jake’s constant teasing of Amy was his attempt to hide just how much he like-liked her, kindergarten-style, and the March 25 finale had him finally declare his feelings, just as she had a new boyfriend and he set off for a six-month undercover assignment. What the new season will bring we can only speculate, but hey, at least we’re getting one.
PERALTA: The truth is, our job isn't always great, I mean sometimes, it sucks. But it sucks a little less when I get to do it with you.
BONUS: Charles (Joe Lo Truglio) and Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz).
4. LESLIE AND BEN
Parks and Recreation (2009—Present)
Played by Amy Poehler and Adam Scott
It took Parks and Rec 'til its second season to really hit its stride, which happened to coincide with the arrival of city auditors Ben Wyatt and Chris Treager (Rob Lowe). Enthusiastic public servant Leslie Knope caught Ben’s interest early, and the two almost immediately fell into an easy, flirty camaraderie, though pursuing their connection romantically was forbidden by some hastily thrown up anti co-worker dating rules. However, true love would not long be denied, and eventually these two huge dorks (Leslie reads policy documents for fun and crushes on obscure political figures; Ben has framed accounting ledgers on his wall and owns both a Batman costume and a replica Iron Throne) got married in a private ceremony attended by only their dearest, wackiest friends and colleagues, since which time they have continued to delight us with their unqualified support of each other, as well as Leslie’s continued fascination with Ben’s butt.
LESLIE: We could just say screw it and do this thing for real. I miss you like crazy. I think about you all the time. I want to be with you. So let’s just say screw it. I know how I feel and I want to be with you.
— “Smallest Parks” (04.08)
BONUS: April (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy (Chris Pratt); Anne (Rashida Jones) and Chris; Ron (Nick Offerman) and Diane (Lucy Lawless).
3. BARNEY AND ROBIN
How I Met Your Mother (2005—2014)
Played by Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders
Rarely on TV has a couple been so curiously, bizarrely right for each other as are the very complicated Barney and his, in order, best-friend’s girlfriend, friend, crush, girlfriend, friend, crush, fiancé and now wife, Robin. For all his outward affect as a ruthless, shallow, deceitful player of the first water, Barney has actually proven himself to be insecure, sensitive and incredibly thoughtful (in addition to being a catchphrase generating machine). The gorgeous and multi-talented Robin, meanwhile, is the product of a rigorously mannish childhood in Canada, and her occasional hardness wonderfully counterbalances Barney’s hidden fragility. The show’s 2-part series finale airs Monday, March 31, but we’ve already been treated to the couple’s long-awaited wedding—around which this entire ninth season has been based—and it was a moment that was, perhaps fittingly, best captured by Ted: “Love is the best thing we do.”
BARNEY: For a long time, deep down I felt sort of... broken? But I don't feel that way anymore. Robin, along with the idea that vengeance will soon be mine, has made me 100% awesome.
— “Unpause” (09.15)
BONUS: Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel); Ted and Robin; Ted and Victoria (Ashley Williams); Ted and The Mother (Cristin Millioti).
2. MINDY AND DANNY
The Mindy Project (2012—Present)
Played by Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina
Rarely has a 'ship started off so shakily, not to mention hatefully, as has that of OBGYN colleagues Dr. Mindy Lahiri and Dr. Danny Castellano. In the very first episode, he steals her patients and tells her she needs to lose fifteen pounds; she sides with a handsome fellow doctor and pointedly brings up the painful subject of his ex-wife. But from the outset, you can tell that Danny is interested in Mindy, almost in spite of himself, and while Mindy may not be as quick to realize the feeling is mutual (several of her ex-boyfriends pick up on their chemistry before she even has a clue), her every action always seems to bring her back to him. Different in so many ways, they share a similar outlook on life —they both own a certain endearing misanthropy, for example, and boy do they love the drama—but for Danny, the realization that Mindy is the one he wants at his side when things get rough is what brought them to the mid-season crossroads airplane kiss which has fans of the show, and this couple, more than anxious to see what will happen next...especially given that Mindy has just begged her most recent ex, Cliff (Glenn Howerton), to take her back, and with Danny’s help no less. It has been a long two months.
DANNY: You know that guy you were telling me about, the one you work with? I think you should know, he’s not out of your league. You’re great.
— “A Castellano Sleepover” (02.08)
BONUS: Betsy (Zoe Jarman) and Jeremy (Ed Weeks) – let’s get these two some screen time!
1. JEFF AND ANNIE
Community (2009 – Present)
Played by Joel McHale and Alison Brie
May-December romances can be a contentious subject, especially when they deal with a desperate-for-approval barely-legal and a thirty-something narcissist (Dean Pelton: “Let me be the fiftieth person at this school to ask: What is this, huh? What is this creepy business? I think you two like to partner up on cutesy capers so you can hold hands in the dark and address your urges in semi-acceptable circumstances.”). In the case of Annie and Jeff, however, what is so very wrong about them is also what is so completely right, and it is notable that almost all of Jeff’s rousing speeches and sudden passion for even the most ridiculous of campus causes have come as a result of not wanting to disappoint Annie’s high expectations of him, or herself. Now in their fifth season of meaningful glances, spirited disagreements and flirtatious co-conspiracy (the Dean’s not wrong), it seems unlikely that we will ever see a HEA here—if anything, Jeff seems ashamed of his special affection for Annie, whenever the subject comes up—but that is actually okay. This is not a couple we necessarily want to see together, especially now that Jeff is a professor at Greendale while Annie is still, and quite perplexingly, a student. But as a bittersweet, might-have-been possibility, they are a treat to watch, even if it does mean that one of current TV’s most enjoyable romances is also most liable to be its least satisfactory, for which the writers of Community are to be simultaneously commended and cursed.
ANNIE: How much effort do I rate?
JEFF: For you, I'd break a light sweat.
ANNIE: Good. I need a favor. Help Pierce with his step daughter?
JEFF: You're becoming dangerous, Annie. It's those doe eyes.
— “Basic Genealogy” (01.18)
BONUS: Abed (Danny Pudi) and new love Rachel (Brie Larson); Troy (Donald Glover) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs); and, of course, Abed and Troy. (Dean Pelton would love to have himself and Jeff added to this list, but no. Sorry, Dean!)
HONORABLE MENTIONS: George (Jeremy Sisto) and Dallas (Cheryl Hines), Suburgatory; Beverley (Tamsin Greig) and Sean (Stephen Mangan), Episodes; Amber (Clara Mamet) and Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo), The Neighbors; Mike (Billy Gardell) and Molly (Melissa McCarthy), Mike and Molly; Max (Kat Dennings) and Deke (Eric André), 2 Broke Girls.
(Mindy/Danny gif via Huffington Post)
Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.