Rick Simon (Gerald McRaney) and A.J. Simon (Jameson Parker), Simon & Simon
Simon & Simon was the first show I was allowed to stay up late and watch. I was very taken with it, especially Gerald McRaney’s character, because he skirted the rulebook and operated outside the typical bounds of the law. He wasn’t afraid to take matters into his own hands. I still am probably subconsciously, shamelessly stealing from him, from watching that show. I was so taken with the characters that—and I’m really risking embarrassing myself here—they were my imaginary friends for a little while. It was a brief period of time, but when I woke up in the morning, I had a case to solve, and Simon and Simon were going to help me out! When I’d get in trouble from my mom, I remember being really annoyed because I’d gotten in trouble in front of Simon and Simon.
Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), Law & Order: SVU
That relationship for me was about two people whose entire lives are their jobs. Their dedication to law enforcement is such that they really don’t have much of a life outside of their job and thusly all they have is each other. So it’s a partnership that’s deepened by that. I love that there was a great deal of sexual tension going on between them, but it was never explored, certainly not in any kind of tangible fashion. Since Chris Meloni left [in 2011], we get to always wonder what if…or could have…or should have. All those things are left to our own imaginations, which I always think is a more potent tool than if everything is spelled out for us. Which leads us to Moonlighting…
Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and David Addison (Bruce Willis), Moonlighting
The roles were played so beautifully and the partnership was so great. I was quite young at the time but I remember understanding that that relationship was taking sexual tension to a whole new level. I didn’t get to see the episode as a child where they consummated their desire for each other, but I remember there being a great hullabaloo about it and it being the tipping point of the show: “I guess they consummated what I tuned in every week for, so I don’t really need to watch it anymore.” Much in the way Peter Burke and Neal Caffrey can never really trust each other, and if they do, the show is kind of over, we learned that lesson from Moonlighting.
Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), The X-Files
The X-Files is quite possibly my favorite television series of all time, and that relationship is one of my favorites as well. Not only were both actors great, and the sexual tension was great, but it was also a doubter versus a believer, a pragmatist versus an idealist. What was so smart about that show was that inevitably, the subject matter is going to lend itself to the audience questioning, “Oh, is that really possible?” Or, “That’s silly, that could never happen!” And you got to identify with one character or the other, in terms of that, on a week-to-week basis. They also did such a great job on that show of using that Hitchcockian element of just leaving so much to the imagination and realizing that it was a television budget, so rather than show things, we get little glimpses of things. Much was left to our imagination, which I think made things a lot scarier than if it had all been spelled out for us.
Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), 30 Rock
They just complemented each other so well because the mess that she was, was different than the mess that he was, and the practical aspects of his character were different from the practical aspects of hers. As much of a mess as both of them were, together they made a lot of sense. So it was so fun to get to watch him chastise her for being such a mess, but also be such a complete trainwreck in his own personal life. There were times when he was her parent, there were times when he was her boss, there were times when he was almost her suitor, and they all worked because those actors brought so much to that. And the writers gave them a lot to complement each other with.
Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) and Barney Fife (Don Knotts), The Andy Griffith Show
That was probably the first relationship I encountered of the hero and the fool. And there’s a down-hominess to that show that appealed to everyone. It was like having a piece of apple pie every week. But that relationship for me was about the hero, the leading man, having to reign in the tomfoolery of Barney Fife, but also learning from him sometimes and realizing that his antics can actually teach him some things about himself.
Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John Watson (Martin Freeman), Sherlock
They did a great job with Watson’s backstory and finding new ways for him to appreciate Holmes. Both those actors are just wonderful in their roles and the writing is incredibly creative. They did a great job of reimagining a pretty timeless relationship. Going back to the novels, this is one of the older examples we have of this unlikely partnership that works out really well, with Watson being more of the pragmatist and Sherlock obviously being more of the loose cannon.
Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) and Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), Chuck
This is obviously very personal to me because I was involved in the first three seasons of the show [as CIA Agent Bryce Larkin], but I love that they flipped the script in so many ways on the typical male/female relationship in those types of shows. She being the tougher of the two, the more physically-skilled and he being the bumbling savant who is more the cerebral aspect of things. I’m of course thinking about the first few seasons before he became a badass James Bond. But I love the way they played out the romance.
SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star, SpongeBob SquarePants
Every parent knows SpongeBob and Patrick. I just love that it’s two fools who operate and succeed in the world through pure enthusiasm, joy, and best intentions. Regardless of how terrifying and real the world around them becomes, they tend to win out with sheer enthusiasm. And I don’t think that’s the worst message for kids to have. The writing is brilliant. I watch a lot of shows with my kids and there aren’t many that I actually enjoy sitting down to watch, but I can sit and take in an episode of SpongeBob with them.
Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, The Flintstones
As a child, that was the very first unlikely duo I ever witnessed working together to succeed in the world using their very different skill sets to complement each other and help each other out. Fred is clearly the more alpha, whereas Barney is the beta male who is a bit of bumbling oaf, who at times because of that helps Fred to see the error of his own ways, or to get him out of a predicament, so you realize that it takes both kinds to succeed in the world. Also, I just really liked having their vitamins as a kid! Fred and Barney are still in my bloodstream.
As told to Jason Lynch