Oct 22 2011 3:30pm

Will They or Won’t They?: Top 10 Tempestuous TV Couples

Shawn and Juliet in PsychRecently in these pages, Natasha Carty gave us her Favorite 90’s TV Couples. At the same time, I was putting together this similar-but-not-actionable post, and I was somewhat surprised to discover that none of the star-crossed lovers on her list made mine. (Although, some of them do appear on this post’s little sister, My Top 10 Tempestuous TV Teenage Couples, coming soon. I mean, Dylan and Brenda!) My Favorite ’90s couples, it seems—at least, my grown up ones—run a little differently… Here they are, along with a bunch from almost every other decade of television:

Shawn and Juliet in Psych10. Shawn and Juliet Psych USA Network 2006 – Present

Played by James Roday and Maggie Lawson

Winsome, winning and whip-smart, Santa Barbara police detective Juliet O’Hara has long been among charming ne’er do well and “psychic consultant” Shawn Spencer’s strongest supporters. The two danced around their attraction to each other for almost five seasons, trading witty barbs and meaningful glances in between the comical crime solving, all the while staying determinedly platonic—even going so far as to become involved with the occasional other (Rachael Leigh Cook, Nestor Carbonell, etc.). But the most recent season of this ever-entertaining show finally brought fans some relief, with a series of fiery kisses cementing “Shawniet” as a real couple. But with the police department for which they both work against office romance, and considering Shawn’s continuing and false claim of otherworldly gifts (he’s not actually psychic, you know; just really, improbably perceptive), there is definite scope for a little more angst in the forthcoming Season 6. Along with, no doubt, more of Shawn’s signature verbal shenanigans.

Michael and Nikita in La Femme Nikita9. Michael and Nikita La Femme Nikita USA Network 1997 – 2001

Played by Roy Dupuis and Peta Wilson

The crazy chemistry of this covert ops pair was enough to heat up the screen from the very first frame. Both of them in indentured servitude to the nefarious Section One, Michael’s raspy French accent and sleek economy of movement made him utterly compelling, while Nikita’s statuesque beauty and feisty disposition became a virtual template for all other such kickass-takenames covert ops heroines. Their relationship was plagued by outside interference, internal politics, lies, betrayals, secret families and the occasional bout of brainwashing, but theirs was nevertheless a passion that would not be denied, and a love to conquer all. Except it, you know…didn’t. Or did it? We’ll probably never know. And I’m weirdly okay with that.

Luke and Lorelai in Gilmore Girls8. Luke and Lorelai Gilmore Girls WB/CW 2000 – 2007

Played by Scott Patterson and Lauren Graham

The ebullient Lorelai and the irascible Luke were ever a turbulent pair. First Luke married city lawyer Nicole (Tricia O’Kelley). It didn’t work out. Meanwhile, Lorelai dated a succession of photogenic, quick-witted men, and even eventually married her first love and baby daddy, the feckless but irresistible Christopher (David Sutcliffe). None of that worked out, either. Luke and Lorelai began the series as almost-friends of circumstance, became best friends, and then more, and then nothing, and then maybe more again, and all of it accomplished via some of the finest, funniest pop culture-savvy dialogue this side of Joss Whedon. With their idyllic little town of Stars Hollow as a backdrop, full to the brim with eccentric denizens and some kind of festival or other almost weekly, Luke and Lorelai’s attraction—nay, devotion—always simmered just below the surface, brought memorably to a head when a fictional self-help tape gave what I still consider to be one of the more cogent and revelatory monologues on TV, like, ever: TAPE: Whose phone calls or visits are never unwanted or too long? Do you see her face? Who would you most like to have in your life to ward off moments of loneliness? Do you see her face? When you travel, who would make your travels more enjoyable? Do you see her face? When you’re in pain, who would you most like to comfort you? Do you see her face? When something wonderful happens in your life, a promotion at work, a successful refinancing, who do you want to share the news with? Do you see her face? Whose face appears to you, my friend? Whose face? LUKE: Wow.

Michael and Nikita in Burn Notice7. Michael and Fiona Burn Notice USA Network 2007 – Present

Played by Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar

Former spy Michael Westen landed back home in Miami after some shadowy, sinister forces had his CIA record suddenly replaced with that of a genocidal lunatic. “When you’re burned,” he says in his opening voiceover, “you’ve got nothing: no cash, no credit, no job history. You’re stuck in whatever city they decide to dump you in,” where you “rely on anyone who’s still talking to you.” Luckily for him, Michael happens to have “a trigger-happy ex-girlfriend”, and she just happens to be the beauteous, charming and expertly deadly ex-IRA terrorist/current small arms dealer, Fiona Glenanne. Despite her resume, however, Fi has a very strong sense of justice, and between the two of them and their friends Sam (Bruce Campbell) and Jesse (Coby Bell), they have managed to thwart all kinds of shady plots afoot in sunny Florida… and in the meantime, have also managed to carry on a hot, dangerous, tauntingly uncertain relationship vibe—yes, even now that they’re shacking up in an approximation of domestic harmony. Must be all the guns close at hand. It’s just sometimes hard to know if Fiona is going to be reaching for Michael or for her favorite revolver.

Brian and Justin in Queer as Folk6. Brian and Justin Queer as Folk Showtime 2000 – 2005

Played by Gale Harold and Randy Harrison

Vain, selfish, arrogant, and shamelessly decadent, Brian Kinney was Pittsburgh’s hottest guy, picking up and discarding sexual partners as casually as others might Kleenex, caring about nothing more than his best friend Michael (Hal Sparks), his career in advertising, and his designer wardrobe. But then he met the seventeen-year-old Justin, and spent the next five years being successively wooed, spurned, teased, tormented and loved beyond all reason by this young blonde Adonis, wise beyond his years, but foolish with his untried heart. Through commitment phobia, multiple sex partners, insecurities, career shifts, political upheaval, friends, enemies, frenemies, illnesses, and the constant threat posed by the oft-reviled “straight people” and their abhorrent anti-gay agenda, Brian and Justin were always a dream given form (delightful, delectable form)— even though it was a dream that was crushed with increasing frequency... and in the end, with something approaching finality. Still, the dream lives on.

John and Aeryn in Farscape5. Crichton and Aeryn Farscape 1999 – 2003 Sci-Fi Channel

Played by Ben Browder and Claudia Black

When human astronaut John Crichton found himself adrift on the other side of the galaxy, at the mercy of sundry aliens (not to mention Muppets), one of his first encounters was with the fierce black-clad warrior, Officer Aeryn Sun. Dedicated but exiled through no fault of her own, Aeryn was forced to throw in her lot with Crichton and his fugitive cohorts about the living ship, Moya, and between eluding capture and battling pirates and provisioning themselves and meeting new and interesting aliens— and even vacationing on Earth for a bit—the two unlikely friends became somewhat less unlikely lovers… except, hey! That was involving an identical clone version of Crichton which meant, oh no! When he died they had to start the whole romance practically all over again. (It may sound frustrating, but you gotta admire the stroke of genius that came up with that.) In the end, proud parents John and Aeryn were delivered of a boy, D’Argo, at the end of the series-concluding 2004 mini-series, The Peacekeeper Wars, and their adventures continue in print form with the truly excellent Farscape comics from BOOM! Studios, but in the main they will always be remembered for not only being one of the hottest and most tempestuous couples to ever grace sci-fi, but also for being the TV couple to collectively look best in leather, bar none. (And yes, I’m including you in this, Buffy and Angel.)

Josh and Donna4. Josh and Donna The West Wing 1999 – 2006 NBC

Played by Bradley Whitford and Janel Maloney

Donna: the sassy and optimistic helpmeet without whom Josh, as Assistant Chief of Staff to the President of the United freakin’ States, would not have been able to function for a large part of his career. Josh: the harried and endearing political savant with the caustic wit of a born kingmaker, and the emotional maturity of a juvenile gnat. In rapid-fire dialogue and to the staccato beat of click-clacking heels, these two would flirt, berate, comfort, share, inform, tease, and cajole with screwball comedy-esque ease, jumping between topics without pause, barely even touching, but always so very there in each others’s lives. And then finally, toward the end of the show’s final season, at last: a kiss. The real thing. He, the new Chief of Staff to the new President; she, the new Chief of Staff to the new First Lady. Josh and Donna: Washington’s newest power couple. If only real politics were this romantic.

Jack and Sam in Stargate SG-13. Jack and Sam Stargate SG-1 1997 – 2007 Showtime/Sci-Fi Channel (Syfy)

Played by Richard Dean Anderson and Amanda Tapping

Attraction flared immediately between Colonel Jack O’Neill and Captain Samantha Carter of the United States Airforce and Stargate Command. By episode 5, the two had kissed passionately (it was because of an alien virus, though, so it didn’t really count). (Except fans of the paring know that it really did.) Of course, within the US military “fraternization” between personnel in the same chain of command is an official no-no, and so these two upright, intergalactic explorers and honorable warriors of Earth could never allow their feelings to overcome their duty, so despite a plethora of “we’re about to die!” adrenaline and more than one moment fraught with electricity and promise, they only ever kissed four other times over the course of the Stargate franchise’s proceeding years (once was with an alternate reality version of Sam; once was when locked in a timeloop, only ever to be recalled by Jack; once was a hallucination brought on by Sam’s concussion; and once was in yet another alternate reality). However, the end of SG-1’s eighth season did give us reason to believe that things were going to develop very nicely off-screen, and while the Powers that Be have made it clear that they will never make it clear that Carter and her “Sir” have finally found a way to reconcile love and honor… well, isn’t that what fanfic is for?

Booth and Brennan in Bones2. Booth and Brennan Bones 2005 – Present Fox

Played by David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel

According to flashback, these two felt an initial spark flare between them while working their first case together, but it quickly turned to loathing after one evening of tequila-fuelled promise. In the six seasons we have so far been monitoring these two for the least little sign of more-than-friends-iness—Booth, the heartfelt FBI superagent; Bones, the rational, internationally-renowned forensic anthropologist—their relationship has often teetered on the brink of something more; now, following the season-ending cliffhanger that had Brennan announcing her pregnancy, and Booth’s role in that, speculation is rife as to what this may mean going forward. Was this the unforeseen result of a night of mutual comfort-seeking, or perhaps a planned IVF baby, brought about by Booth’s selfless donation of his superior genetic material? We’ll have to wait until November to find out, but in the meantime—at least we’ll always have 4:47.

Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in The X-Files1. Mulder and Scully The X-Files 1993 – 2002 Fox 

Played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson

Special Agent Fox “Spooky” Mulder had long been on a quest to prove that even the most outlandish of conspiracy theories and monster sightings has some basis in truth. Consigned to the FBI’s DC basement to work on his “X-Files” (cases too wacky ever to be solved by less impassioned agents), he is joined in his exile by one Special Agent Dana Scully, a medical doctor and determined skeptic sent in to debunk some of Mulder’s more surreal conclusions. However, even Scully could not deny the evidence of her own eyes, and while she never became her charismatic partner’s yes-woman, she did come to see the worth in his work—and in him as a man. The poster children for Unresolved Sexual Tension, Mulder and Scully spent years building a rocky, rollercoaster of a relationship that resulted in the two mysteriously producing a son in Season 8 (he was maybe the Messiah, or an alien hybrid baby, and was swiftly adopted out for his own safety), and the 2008 movie I Want to Believe, while in all other ways utterly, almost aggressively dreadful, at least had the kindness to confirm them as a functioning, if not necessarily angst-free, couple. I want to believe, indeed. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Max (Don Adams) and 99 (Barbara Feldon), Get Smart; Major Nelson (Larry Hagman) and Jeannie (Barbara Eden), I Dream of Jeannie; Mork (Robin Williams) and Mindy (Pam Dawber); Remington (Pierce Brosnan) and Laura (Stephanie Zimbalist), Remington Steele; David (Bruce Willis) and Maddie (Cybill Shepherd), Moonlighting; Dicky (Mark Harmon) and Tess (Marlee Matlin), Reasonable Doubts; Lee (Bruce Boxleitner) and Amanda (Kate Jackson), Scarecrow and Mrs. King; Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Delenn (Mira Furlan), Babylon 5; Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis), Star Trek: The Next Generation; Mark (Anthony Edwards) and Susan (Sherry Stringfield), E. R.; Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Friends; Ned (Thomas Haden Church) and Stacey (Debra Messing), Ned and Stacey; Max (Jessica Alba) and Logan (Michael Weatherly), Dark Angel; House (Hugh Laurie) and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), House; Jack (Colin Ferguson) and Allison (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), Eureka; Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Olivia (Anna Torv), Fringe; Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders), How I Met Your Mother; Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Elena (Nina Dobrev), The Vampire Diaries; Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco), The Big Bang Theory; Jeff (Joel McHale) and Annie (Alison Brie), Community; and, of course, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, The Muppet Show. And, man, I watch a lot of TV.


Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.

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1. Brie
Looking back at The X-Files I can honestly say that it was pure torture, and we never got any payout IMO, only disappointment and crazy crappy endings and movies. But after all these years I’m still obsessed, they were the poster children of unresolved sexual tension, but they were also the poster children for chemistry. My consolation prize is all the fan fiction filled with hot Mulder/Scully sex (and sometimes with Mulder/Skinner/alien sex as well…)
Funny, I was just thinking about some of these characters and storylines the other day. But, poor Kate and Castle didn't make the list! They are knee deep in all the titillating methods of denial: bad timing, near death experience, feigning amnesia. They have such great chemistry but a large part of that is the will they/won't they aspect :)
3. Lacy
I totally agree with seolmara. Kate and Castle need to be on the list!
Kate Nagy
4. Kate Nagy
Yay Crichton and Aeryn, and wasn't West Wing-era Whitford a cutie? One could drown in those dimples. But no Desmond and Penny from Lost? Or Sawyer and Juliet? It's telling that it took someone as badass as Elizabeth Mitchell to make the terminally obnoxious Sawyer tolerable...but she even made him likable, because she was Just. That. Awesome. But the Pesmond remains the Standard Against Which All Others Are Measured (and largely found wanting).
5. Nikita Samuelle
I agree with everything in this article except that La Femme Nikita should be #1....this show-unlike all the others mentioned is as riviting/moving/sexy/addictive today as it was back in the day.Even the look & sounds of the show still stands head & shouders above the rest.After all these years there is nothing to compare the incredible chemistry/artistry of Roy Dupuis and Peta Wilson playing Michael & Nikita. Maggie Q & Shane West....really?...are you kidding me ...what a joke.
6. Darlynne
David and Maddie in Moonlighting: Has there been, before or since, a couple that went so spectacularly off the rails? The attraction between these two was electrifying, but the writers couldn't figure out how to handle Ms. Shepherd's real-life pregnancy and it all went kaboom, at least for this viewer. What a waste.
7. BrooklynShoeBabe
I also watched a lot of TV. A WHOLE LOT OF TV.

I was a big QAF fan and Brian & Justin's relationship constantly tore my heart to shreds. Talk about a woman who was yelling at the television a lot! As much as I liked those two, I did secretly hold out for Michael and Brian to get it on at least once.

I also watched the show Reasonable Doubts! I can't believe it made a list. :-) One of my favorite TV couples that weren't was Jackie and her factory supervisor (played by George Clooney) on Roseanne. How about Starbuck and Apollo on the new Battlestar Galacttca?
8. hasna
you didin't mention Dyson & Bo from Lost Girl, they fit also.
9. Bn fan
Yeah for Michael Fi, they are only for each other, it has been so since pilot.
10. Spaghetti Bolognese
No Matthew and Mary? :'(
What is this world coming to?
11. Guest
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny probably did have some of the best chemistry in tv history. Maybe because tehy practiced a lot off-set :P
12. Xena movie fans
And Xena & Gabrielle in Xena Warrior Princess. Oh the subtext!

LA Femme Nikita, ahhhhh, Peta & Roy were both so dreamy. They could teach a clinic on dialog thru eye contact.
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