This was a great year to be a fan of smart, complex, and emotionally-engaging relationships on television. In terms of romantic relationships, there were plenty of engagements, weddings, and first kisses to keep even the most rabid “shippers” happy. And there were plenty of other meaningful relationships that blossomed on our TV screens this year, too—between parents and children, friends, coworkers, and traveling companions.
Today at NGN, it’s time to take a look at the 10 best relationships that graced our TV screens this year. From lovers to family members to mentors, here are my favorite TV relationships of 2013.
1. Leslie and Ben (Parks and Recreation)
In a year that featured the development of many strong romantic relationships, there was still no other duo who could come close to the hold these two have over my heart. Through successes and failures, good days and bad, these two are each other’s ultimate teammate—always having each other’s back and helping them be their best self. Their perfect wedding was my favorite TV moment of the year. Not only are they the best couple on television; they’re the most inspiring for all us Leslies (and Bens) out there looking for someone to love and to like.
2. Nick and Jess (New Girl)
The best television surprise in 2013 for me was how this relationship was handled at the end of New Girl’s second season. With a deft mixture of silliness and sincerity, Nick and Jess moved from roommates to roomfriends to romance in what was quite possibly the most satisfying string of episodes of any show to air this year. Has the progression of their relationship faltered a bit in Season Three? Yes. But that doesn’t take away from what this relationship is at its best—a surprisingly honest (and surprisingly hot) look at what happens when two messy, imperfect people fall in love. And let’s not forget about the kissing. (But really, how could anyone forget about the kissing?)
3. Jaime and Brienne (Game of Thrones)
On a show filled with backstabbing, power plays, and relationships built on deceit, Season Three of Game of Thrones gave us the dynamic duo of Jaime and Brienne, whose relationship is built instead on a slowly developing sense of mutual understanding and trust. Theirs is a story of learning to look beyond first impressions and reputations to see the real person. All Jaime wants is someone to see him as Jaime instead of the Kingslayer, and Brienne finally gave him that gift when she called him “Ser Jaime.” In a world where relationships between men and women are either outlets for lust or political power (or both), Jaime and Brienne represent something very rare: genuine respect.
4. Charming and Emma (Once Upon a Time)
Once Upon a Time began with the ultimate act of paternal love—a father willing to give up his own life to save his daughter. But for over two seasons after that brilliant moment, it felt like Charming and Emma’s relationship would never come close to that level of importance on the show again. Thankfully, Season Three has featured a growing number of moments between father and daughter, and it’s been enough for audiences to see just how special this relationship is. Charming’s concern for Emma’s happiness never feels forced or tied up with any emotions other than deep, unconditional love. From lame dad jokes to sweet forehead kisses, their relationship always feels genuine and uncomplicated, which is the kind of love Emma needs from her parents. Josh Dallas radiates a kind of warm, paternal energy, and he is often at his best when sharing a scene with Jennifer Morrison, including even the smallest background moments.
5. Castle and Beckett (Castle)
Confidence is a beautiful thing, and that’s been the key to Castle and Beckett’s relationship ever since Castle proposed at the end of Season Five. By moving the characters into this next stage of their relationship, the writers seem to have freed themselves of any unnecessary angst and are instead weaving this warm, supportive, and sexy relationship into the fabric of the show rather than leaving it in its own box. From a first “I love you” to wedding planning and talk of future babies, this couple has taken huge strides in the last year, and I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings for them and for us as fans.
6. Emma and Hook (Once Upon a Time)
There’s something really beautiful about the idea of someone finding a second chance at love after they thought such a chance was never theirs to have. Emma and Hook both represent that second chance for each other—a chance to find love that’s healing instead of destructive; love that brings hope instead of darkness. As an audience, we’ve watched Emma struggle for three seasons with the lingering pain of feeling abandoned and unwanted, and, with Hook, she’s finally found a man who wants her enough to fight for her and beside her and a man who makes her happiness his only priority. This relationship has given Emma a sense of agency and choice where she has so often been denied it. And it’s given us the hottest kiss this show has ever seen.
7. Leslie and April (Parks and Recreation)
I know that Leslie and Ann are the great friendship of Parks and Recreation, but this year saw huge strides in another important relationship in Leslie’s life—her friendship/mentorship with April. Leslie’s passion has had a huge impact on April’s sense of responsibility within the parks department, but their relationship now extends far beyond merely professional boundaries. April has become a huge source of support for Andy, and her enthusiasm for her husband chasing his dreams is very Leslie-esque. Also, her letter describing Leslie’s many values (which ended this season’s premiere) was one of the most heartwarming displays of friendship I’ve seen this year on a show built around heartwarming displays of friendship.
8. Snow and Charming (Once Upon a Time)
If you asked me to describe what “happily ever after” looks like, I would show you a clip of these two. From taking on Medusa to struggling through Neverland and dealing with the hope and heartbreak of their unusual little family, Snow and Charming have stood as Once Upon a Time’s ultimate symbol of true love. The great thing about this relationship, though, is that I believe it. I believe that they truly love each other because they believe so strongly in one another; I’m shown more than I’m told that they have a healthy, strong marriage, and that goes a long way towards making a relationship that could come across as too-good-to-be-true feel real. And it helps that Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin have their own real-life love story playing out alongside their fairytale one. No couple on TV have the kind of joyful, beautiful chemistry that they have.
9. Mindy and Danny (The Mindy Project)
Boy and girl work together. Boy and girl fight. Boy and girl soften to each other. Boy and girl become unlikely friends. Boy and girl slowly awaken to the fact that somewhere along the way they fell in love. It’s a classic romantic comedy plot, and it’s one The Mindy Project is selling so well right now. Thanks to Chris Messina’s range and gift for subtlety, Danny Castellano has become one of the most romantic men on television, and when the writers embraced this, it instantly became a better show. In a television landscape filled with couples making the leap from “Will they or won’t they?” to “They will” more quickly than ever, Danny and Mindy are there every Tuesday night to fulfill your need to scream “Just kiss already!” at the television every time they share a scene.
10. Louis and Rachel (Suits)
In a season of Suits where characters betrayed each other more often than not, Louis and Rachel were an example of a healthy relationship that made both parties better people. Rachel gave Louis a real friend, but she also gave him someone who was unafraid to call him out when he was being a jerk. And Louis gave Rachel the kind of support and belief she craved as she waited to hear from the law schools she applied to. Louis telling Rachel she got into Columbia was one of the happiest Suits moments of 2013.
What were your favorite TV relationships this year? Be sure to check out Heather’s list for her top TV relationships, too!
My fave and the one i am rooting for, its been a beautiful build up and as you said it all and why is Emma/Hook… this is the kind of love and devotion Emma deserves and Hook is unconditionally there for her and giving it to her, that hope he gets and inspiration
Snow/Charming – well who can compete with that, they are IT!!! and i do like the Charming/Emma moments, he is there as a father but also a friend and the way he hugs and touches her head.
Danny/Mindy are sweet!
Thank you so much for the comment—and I hope you have a very Happy New Year!
First off can I say how glad I am that you included friendships and family relationships, not just romantic relationships? Fandom tends to focus solely on the romance, but things like Leslie-April and Charming-Emma are also extremely important and interesting.
Leslie/Ben was wonderful and kudos to Parks and Rec for having two great, strong couples that are happily married yet continue to be interesting. We have seen with many others shows – counterpart The Office comes to mind – how hard that balance is to achieve. But the ensemble cast and camaraderie of P&R is so genuine. It just…works!
I feel as if I was less impressed with the Nick/Jess storyline than most. I did love the episode with Nick’s father’s funeral, and yes, the first kiss was a hot one, but otherwise I haven’t been as gaga for the pair as most. That being said, I don’t think they’ve gone as downhill in season three as everyone believes either. But to each their own.
My favourite pair right now is Mindy/Danny. I eagerly await their deliciously tempting UST each week. And yes, Chris Messina sells it so well, it’s unbelievable! If they play their cards right, they could be the next big couple on TV. 🙂
Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment, and I’m so happy you also think it’s important to focus on relationships other than just the romantic ones. That’s why I love shows like Parks and Rec and Once Upon a Time so much; they remind us that there are so many different kinds of love that should be celebrated in both the media and real life.
And “deliciously tempting UST” is the PERFECT way to describe Mindy and Danny right now!
Love your list!
If I had to pick two shows that I think have the best relationships, I would easily pick ‘Parks and Rec’ and ‘Once Upon a Time’, and it seems like you agree seeing as how those two shows make up half your list, haha.
My favorite relationship pair you mentioned is definitely Leslie/April (with Emma/Charming a close second). Both are amazingly unique relationships for television, but at the same time they feel 100% authentic. When you see an unconventional relationship on TV, too often they just go for “quirky” instead of realistic, and its a shame. Another reason I put Leslie/April on top is because of the fact that this is a show based in the “real world”. Its not fantasy, nobody has special powers, nobody is a savoir or a vampire or a warewolf or someone with a secret superhero identity, and they still managed to have an unconventional relationship that works. I balled like a baby when April read her nomination letter to Leslie. I dont cry easily when watching TV or movies, but there is one thing that will make me cry every time, and that is when someone is recognized and appreciated for their hard work (see: When the King bows down to the hobbits in Return of the King, Buffy Prom Episode- tears for days). Every year that goes by where Parks & Rec doesn’t win an Emmy is another year I lose respect for the award.
I forgot to add, that while I have finally broken up with ‘Glee’ in the past couple months, I still have always loved the relationship between Kurt and his dad. Its another relationship that always comes off as 100% sincere, and I think its important to have such a honest and loving relationship between a parent and a gay teen on television. Mike O’Malley just blows me away with every scene he is in. They are another pair that always brings this usually stoic cynic to tears.
Kurt’s relationship with his dad has always been my favorite thing about Glee. It always feels like it’s coming from an honest place, and it’s such an important relationship to see reflected on television.
You are definitely not the only one who bawled like a baby when April read Leslie her letter. I just watched that episode again this week, and I found myself crying all over again.
“Every year that goes by where Parks & Rec doesn’t win an Emmy is another year I lose respect for the award.” – #Truth
I love love love the Louis and Rachel pick. For as great as Donna and Harvey are, Louis and Rachel’s friendship was such a surprise and the show really built it up in a way that felt organic and as a result Louis being the one to tell her she got into Columbia was significant and heartwarming. I have nothing to add to the Once Upon a Time picks save for the fact that what I most love about Hook and Emma is their sarcastic irreverence. It’s refreshing balanced against the weight of the real emotions that sit for the most part unspoken. It makes their every interaction interesting and intriguing. Was there a better response in December to a declaration of steadfast love and loyalty than Emma’s “Good”? I think not.
That said, I will share my top 10 with a pardon for my repetitiveness from Heather’s blog:
10. Hook and Emma (Once Upon a Time) – as stated above.
9. Frances and Claire Underwood (House of Cards) —It’s funny, I didn’t like House of Cards as a series. I thought a lot of the characters were poorly drawn and some of the stories meandering. Yet every time I thought I was going to stop, Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey’s power couple compelled me to keep with it. Their cold and calculated marriage of convenience and necessity was so much more layered and complex that these two people could be ruthless and sympathetic within the same scene. They were amazing.
8. Ellie Miller and Alec Hardy (Broadchurch) – Talk about the odd couple of crimesolving. Here are two people who could not be more different in approach, outlook and demeanor. Their journey as partners (never friends) is one of the many relationships to evolve in this tightly woven murder mystery. It is one of great humor, blunt reality checks and overwhelming compassion. In a series that had few to no holes this duo held my heart through all 10 episodes.
7. Eli and Alicia – These two have found common ground, mutual respect and in the latter part of last season a kinship as they worked to get Peter re-elected in their own ways and through their own methods. Only Alicia can stop Eli in his determined, bulldozer tracks. It’s a great relationship and one that has grown into a kinship. There are few things Eli cares about more than his ambition for Peter. Oddly and wonderfully enough, Alicia is one of them.
5. Rick and Kate (Castle) — I love this couple for so many reasons. But mostly I love them because they are so marvelously flawed. They are fiercely independent and grown adults with a significant amount of life behind them and between them in the 5 years we watched leading up to their wedding proposal. This season has put them into a confidant place that is a joy to watch. And the dance that Kate was so concerned about last season has become a dance of navigating who they will be together.
4. Will and Alicia – Together, not together, pining for each other, potentially finding their way back to each other, separated, on opposing sides, betrayed. This duo has run quite a course over the last 12 months. To go from a point where we possibly believed Alicia was going to follow her heart to watching her shattered Will’s and her own in the process was astounding. It has brought out the very best in Julianna Margulies and Josh Charles and made Will and Alicia one of the most interesting duos on TV. The battle they are currently embroiled in has brilliantly been offset by moments like their phone exchange in the midst of “Hitting the Fan” about Grace. They are a duo whose emotions cross many parameters, friends, lovers, co-workers, kindred spirits and neither know how to navigate it. It has also made The Good Wife appointment television.
3. Rick and Martha (Castle) — I might possibly be able to come of with 10 duos just on Castle alone. However after 5 seasons, pound for pound my favorite remains the duo that is Rick and Martha. Susan Sullivan and her ability to make 3 lines feel layered in meaning and significance makes every scene she’s in better. Her work with Fillion gives Rick a vulnerability and depth we rarely see. Whether it was during the kidnapping or offering a dose of reality to Rick about Kate in season 5 or Alexis in the early going this season Martha is Castle’s truest anchor. They are a wonderfully broad relationship ranging from wacky to deep sincerity. The candor these two characters share is unique and one of the best secret ingredients to the chemistry that permeates this show.
2. Allison and Felix (Orphan Black)– Of all the clones and for as much as I love Sarah nothing surprised me on Orphan Black more than my great love of the friendship and trust that Allison and Felix found in the back five episodes. It was honest, hilarious and fantastic. It was also, like so much of this show, unexpected.
1. Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder (Justified) — When I started watching Justified I never imagined that the strongest relationship that would emerge would be that of US Marshall Givens and his childhood friend, the insane and criminally minded Boyd Crowder. But headed into season 5 that is exactly what has emerged. These men are two roads diverged from the same start point. And what season 4 gave us is a portrait of these two individuals who understand each other and maintain their own personal code of ethics at the same time. It is one of the best dances on television. Period. I often think Justified has been overshadowed by the flashier (albeit great) Breaking Bad, but the work being done by these two is masterful.
I somehow deleted #6 — which was a complete exact couldn’t have said it better agreement with you about Jamie and Brienne – Game of Thrones. There is no other relationship on TV like theirs.
Alec and Ellie! YESSSS.
I LOVE your list. Your inclusion of Martha and Rick (one of Castle’s most underrated relationships) just proves what great taste you have. And your thoughts on both Will and Alicia and Eli and Alicia are so well stated and true. Every scene between Will and Alicia this year has made me hold my breath because I never know what’s going to happen to shift their dynamic once again, and that’s what makes The Good Wife such great television.
And I’m so happy someone else loves Louis and Rachel’s relationship as much as I did—it came about so honestly, and I always love male/female relationships on TV that never feel the need to cross over into the romantic realm. I wish there were more of them.
I just finished Orphan Black yesterday, and I have to echo your choice of Allison/Felix. I absolutely love their dynamic and the much needed comedy they bring to what could easily be an overwhelmingly dark show. By the end of the season I actually found myself being more invested in Allison as a character than Sara.
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