NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Relationships

COLIN O'DONOGHUE, JENNIFER MORRISON

Source: ABC/Jack Rowand

The television landscape in 2015 was filled with incredibly compelling relationships. Whether you’re a fan of fairytale romances, supportive friendships, complex marriages, or loving families—there was something on television this year for you to be captivated by.

For today’s entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series, let’s take a look at the relationships that made us swoon, cry, and cheer this year. Don’t forget to share your thoughts and your own lists of dynamic duos (or groups!) in the comments! And if you’re in the mood for more “Best of 2015” lists, be sure to check out TVExamined and MGcircles for some NGN-approved fangirl fun!

1. Emma Swan and Killian Jones (Once Upon a Time)
I’m a sucker for a good fairytale, and there’s no better one right now than the epic romance between Emma and Killian on Once Upon a Time. This year, Emma and Killian faced beautiful highs (declarations of love, planning a future together in a new home…) and painful lows (a double dose of Dark One danger, a couple of almost-deaths before one that was all too real…). But if their story in 2015 proved anything, it’s that love is stronger than darkness. Whether they were reigniting a spark of connection in an alternate universe or kissing among the flowers of Camelot, they were a beautiful example of the power love has to help us be our best and strongest self. No couple on TV made me smile bigger or cry harder in 2015, and no couple had a more powerful ending to the year—with Emma ready to literally go to hell and back for the man she loves.

2. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
I always describe The Americans as a show that on the surface is about spies but is actually a fascinating study of a marriage and a family. In order for that premise to work, the marriage at the center of the show needs to be even more compelling than the espionage plots around it. Thankfully, this show has found a pair of actors in Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell who set the screen on fire when they’re together and are probably the best scene partners in the business right now. I find myself not wanting to blink when they’re together because I’m afraid to miss even the smallest look between them—because one look or one touch conveys so much emotional depth and honesty. In the middle of a life that asks these characters to constantly lie, it’s beautiful to see them develop a sense of truth and intimacy with each other, even when it’s imperfect and messy—because that’s what a real marriage is all about.

3. Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser and Jamie Fraser (Outlander)
Watching Claire and Jamie grow from a pair forced into marriage to a pair truly living out what it means to love someone “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” was one of my favorite things I did as a television viewer in 2015. I don’t use the word “swoon” lightly, but these two made me do that on more than one occasion this year. There is no duo on television with better chemistry than Caitriona Balfe and Sam Hueghan, and this show wisely uses that chemistry to its fullest potential, creating the best love scenes on television this year (many of which I will admit to watching more than once…purely for research purposes, of course).

4. Jane, Xiomara, and Alba Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)
There is no relationship on television that warms my heart quite like the one between all three Villanueva women. The depth of their love for each other and their devotion to their family unit is one of the purest and more beautiful things on television right now. Watching Xiomara and Alba help Jane through her pregnancy and the transition into motherhood has been incredible, and it’s also been so powerful to watch Jane and Xiomara be there for Alba as she decided to apply for her green card. Whether it was celebrating the arrival of that green card, speaking the same words to their children at their baptism, or simply sitting on a bed together with the baby boy who stole all their hearts—these women have made me laugh, made me sob, and made me feel proud to be from a family of strong, warm, and wonderful women.

5. Barry Allen and Joe West (The Flash)
While Jane, Xiomara, and Alba are a perfect example of the familial bonds formed by birth, Barry and Joe are the perfect example of the familial bonds formed by nothing more than love. The sincerity with which Joe and Barry love each other floors me more often than I should probably admit, leaving me a weeping mess on my couch (or sometimes at my desk at work when I watch The Flash on my lunch break). There’s something so powerful about the idea of choosing to love someone as your own family, and that’s what Barry and Joe have both done for each other. The way they both eschew traditional “masculine” stereotypes to be open and honest with each other about how much they care is something truly special, and I can’t wait to see how many more times these two make me cry in 2016.

6. Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt (Parks and Recreation)
This was the year we said goodbye to Parks and Rec, which meant saying goodbye to Leslie and Ben and their incredible marriage. But, like the show they were at the center of, these two went out on top. In 2015, we got to see this power couple become even more powerful, taking Washington by storm (maybe even all the way to the White House?), speaking out against sexism in politics, and helping each other live their dreams. There will never be another TV relationship that will inspire me the way these two have. I’ll love them and like them forever, and I already miss them.

7. Leslie Knope and April Ludgate (Parks and Recreation)
If you thought I would only choose one relationship from Parks and Rec the last time I could write about them in one of these lists, you don’t know me very well. To represent the way this show has always made female friendship a priority, I chose the relationship that best showcased the ability women have to change one another for the better: the relationship between Leslie and April. This year, we saw April chase her career dreams and choose to have a baby with Andy, and I loved that we saw her lean on Leslie when dealing with both of those major life changes. In April and Leslie’s interactions this year, we saw the fullest extent of Leslie’s ability to help people find their passion, live their best life, and achieve great things; it was everything this show was about wrapped up in the relationship between two wonderfully written female characters.

8. Rosa Diaz and Raymond Holt (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
When Rosa started dating Captain Holt’s nephew last season, it allowed two of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s most hilariously stoic characters to share more scenes together—especially more scenes involving expressing emotions and talking about personal subjects. And we all reaped the benefits of that dynamic getting more screen time. Stephanie Beatriz and Andre Braugher are so good together, and they’re never better than when they’re making each other uncomfortable with emotional conversation topics—from pregnancy scares to breakups.

9. Maggie Caruso and Emma Crawford (Playing House)
I discovered Playing House this summer, and ever since, I have been completely captivated by Maggie and Emma and their wonderfully realistic friendship. You can’t fake their kind of love and also their natural comedic chemistry. It’s rare and special, and I hope more people watch this show in 2016 so they can discover this gem like I did. Female friendship is a powerful thing, and Playing House perfectly captures the idea that women will do incredible things for their friends—whether it’s dropping everything to move back home to help their friend take care of her baby, or getting Kenny Loggins to dedicate a song at his concert to thank their friend for all she’s done.

10. Rayna Jaymes and Deacon Claybourne (Nashville)
Rayna and Deacon have become the eye in the middle of the storm of soapy plot twists, hookups, and breakups on Nashville. Even when they were faced with a cancer diagnosis story line, Connie Britton and Charles Esten never let their performances cross into melodrama, instead giving this story line the gravitas, depth, and sincerity it needed to produce some of the show’s most moving moments in 2015. What I love most about Deacon and Rayna is the easy intimacy they’ve fallen into. All it takes is the smallest gesture—a little kiss, a causal “babe” in conversation, a moment of silence in each other’s arms on the couch—to make their relationship feel real and believable. And on a show that seems to get more depressing all the time, their believably stable romance has been a bright spot.

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17 thoughts on “NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Relationships

  1. Lovely job on this. I love that you’ve picked the gamut of relationships. TV seems to want to make everything about romance . . . and quick, sexy romance, so I love it when writers do family and friendship well.

    I can only comment intelligently about a couple of these pairings. (Of course, I could follow the lead of much of the internet and not let that stop me . . .) I realize I need to get caught up on Parks and Rec or I’m going to be put on probationary status here. 🙂

    My love for #1 and #5, I’ve realized, are grounded in personal experience. I can identify with Emma’s default setting of isolation. (I can throw up walls so fast it will make your head spin.) I’ve loved watching how careful Killian is in his pursuit of Emma. He’d go to the end of the world (and time) for her. I love that we see her willing to go to hell and back for him — especially after the way he lashed out at her as the Dark One. Love looks past that.

    Joe and Barry. First of all, kudos to Martin and Gustin on their portrayals and double kudos to the writers for the way they’ve written this relationship. Joe loves Barry as much as he loves Iris. Barry loves Joe as much as he loves Henry. Family love isn’t limited by biology. (Yes, based on personal experience.) I’d like to write something insightful about now, but my feelings about this are pretty much me flapping my hands yelling, “This is sooo AWESOME!”

    • Thanks, friend! (Thank you also for the lovely gift I found in my email this morning—you are such a gem and I’m so glad you’re a part of our NGN Family.)

      I loved reading your thoughts on Joe and Barry because you reminded me that I’m not alone in feeling unable to write articulate things about them beyond flapping my hands and writing in all caps. 😉 They’re just perfect, and very few TV dynamics warm my heart in the way theirs does.

      And you know I’m going to tell you to catch up on Parks and Rec ASAP. But I’m one to talk—my list of to-watch shows is pretty much a mile long at this point.

  2. Great list Katie!!! I can cosign on #1,2,5,6 and 7, and if I watched the other shows on your list, I would probably agree with those too! Here are a few other TV relationships I particularly enjoyed over the past year.

    Emma and Killian (Once Upon a Time). Ok, I had to talk about them at least a little, because they are my favs. I am always blown away with how great these two are together. While a small part of me misses all the tension from season 3, I have enjoyed watching Emma grow in 2015 from being firmly in a relationship. As a woman that took over a year (yes, this is true) to tell her now partner of 7+ years that she loved him, Emma’s slow journey towards being comfortable in a relationship is something I can relate to all too well. And Killian’s patience and ability to tell Emma hard truths in exactly the right way never ceases to amaze me (or make me swoon). It was hard to see things go so badly at the end of 5A, but I am looking forward to seeing how they put things back together moving forward.

    Liv and Ravi (iZombie). Sometimes its hard to do a platonic male/female relationship well, but this show nails it (I also love Liv’s other platonic relationship with Clive). Whether they are dissecting a body, cracking jokes about current pop-culture, or trying to find a zombie cure, these two make a great pair, and are the reason why I keep coming back to this show despite its other weaker elements.

    Kimmy Schmidt and Life (The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). Ok here is where I stop following the rules a little, but I just love Kimmy and her relationship with everyone. She is a person that has every right to be mad and pissed off at the world, but she isnt. She is still trusting and kind to everyone she meets, wether they deserve it or not, and she finds wonder and joy in everything around her. I think we could all learn a thing or two from Kimmy.

    Rosa/Amy/Gina (Brooklyn nine-nine). A threesome! I could pretty much pick any character combo on this show and its a great one, but this one wins because of the fact that its three VERY different ladies that support each other despite their differences. Sure there is teasing, but its never mean spirited, and these ladies all know how to take a joke. There is no cattiness or jealousy between them and I love that they constantly find themselves doing things they dont want to be doing just because they want to help each other out. They might complain a little, but they show up and genuinely want the best for each other, and thats friendship in my book.

    Korra and Asami (Legend of Korra). Ok I am cheating again cause this series ended in Dec of 2014, but I didnt watch it until this year so I am including it. I love that somehow within the space of 4 short seasons, these two start the series as romanic rivals, and end the series as a romantic pair. They had many moments that tested their friendship, but when they were honest about their feelings, they were always able to overcome them. The show in general had many great relationships (the dynamic between Korra and her teacher Tenzin was also a great one) and I really enjoyed watching the show it this year. Its really unique to find an serialized animated series with adult political themes and a huge focus on character development. I am looking forward to the continuation of this one in comic form (the fact that its being drawn by one of my favorite female artists, Brittney Williams, is just icing on the cake!)

    • You know I’m with you on Emma and Killian. Preach, girl.

      Yes! to Liv and Ravi. I love seeing platonic relationships done well and their dynamic is just such fun. (Killjoys was my summer guilty pleasure. I love the relationship between Johnny and Dutch. These are two that have created their own, very tight family. They’ll fight, kill, and die for each other.) I love how supportive (and funny) Ravi has been from day one.

    • YES to those three B99 ladies! They were my second choice for that show after Rosa and Captain Holt. I love them in any combination, but especially all three together.

      I also really loved what you said about Kimmy and life, and I actually said something very similar in the TV Show post I just finished. Great minds think alike. 😉

      Finally, your thoughts on iZombie are making me want to start it ASAP! It’s been on my list for months now, so maybe I should actually start it on Netflix instead of just talking about it. 😉

    • I need to continue watching iZombie someday, but of the few episodes I’ve seen Liv and Ravi were probably my favorite relationship! And Ravi in general was great.

  3. My favorite relationships of 2015 match some of yours: Emma and Killian, Philip and Elizabeth, Claire and Jamie, and Barry and Joe.

    The others on my list are Jake and Amy from Brooklyn Nine-Nine who go well together as a couple, Hannibal and Will whose twisted friendship came to a fitting climax in the show’s finale, and Hank and Lou from Fargo who share a bond as cops, soldiers, and family.

    • Thanks for sharing your list with us, Justin!

      I totally agree with you about Jake and Amy. They work so well together, and I love the way the show has simply let them be a couple and not take over the show with any kind of relationship dramatics.

  4. I love this list! A lot of these shows are ones that I’m really looking forward to watching, hopefully in the near-ish future if my current shows allow me to have the time lol.

    I haven’t watched The Americans or Outlander yet but I loved reading what you had to say about those relationships, and those two shows are near the top of my to-watch list for 2016. From the bit I’ve seen of Jane the Virgin, the Villanueva women were my favorite relationship, and hopefully I will get to watch more of that in the new year. And of course Barry and Joe are one of the best things about The Flash, and my number one source of tears on that show.

    A few of my favorite relationships (besides Barry and Joe) from my year of 2015 TV are Paige and Walter (Scorpion), Rebecca and Brian (Limitless), Sherlock and Joan (Elementary), Kirsten and Cameron (Stitchers), and Barry and Patty (The Flash). Also from what I’ve seen of The 100 so far, Clarke and Raven & Octavia and Bellamy are some great dynamics.

    • Yay Barry and Patty! I swear nobody on Tumblr likes Patty, but I really love them together, and I feel like the NGN crew lives in our own little pro Patty bubble and I love it. Maybe its just because she makes him happy, and he deserves a little happiness!

      • I don’t understand how someone could not love Patty, she’s awesome! She’s fierce and nerdy and I love how smart she is, and her backstory is heartbreaking but also interesting. And to be completely honest, I prefer Barry with Patty over Iris. I just got sick of the back-and-forth of the Barry & Iris arc last season, and Barry and Patty just seem to fit together so well. They’re adorable nerds in love, what’s not to like about that? I haven’t been around The Flash fandom on Tumblr much so I don’t know if the reason no one likes Patty is ship war related, but if that’s why then that’s a shame because both Patty and Iris are amazing.

    • Thanks, Leah!

      YES to Barry and Patty! They are adorable together. I love when characters are allowed to be genuinely happy in their relationships, and that’s what this relationship is: two cute little nerds making each other happy. 🙂

      • Me too! I appreciate that at least for now, the writers are letting the Barry and Patty relationship play out without the usual drama couples go through on TV. They’re adorable and making each other happy, and they both could use some happiness in their lives. I love those two nerds, their scenes are always so cute.

  5. This is an awesome list. And of course 90% I agree with you. And the 10% is only because I have no clue who they are. But I love the way you talk about Phillip and Elizabeth so I sincerely can’t wait to catch up and then read your s3 reviews. Bless the fact that Captain Swan is #1 on all of our lists. They’ve just had such an epic and gorgeous year I love how much people are talking about them. And I love the way you talk about Joe and Barry as well. I keep saying it, but they’re the reason I fell in love with Flash!

    • Thanks, sweetie! Barry and Joe are what made me fall in love with The Flash, too. And of course Captain Swan was #1—we all love a beautiful fairytale, and these two have given us that and more!

  6. I of course wholeheartedly agree with 2 and 4 of this list. I have to add for the final time my all time favorite chess match – Boyd and Raylan from Justified. The series had its ups and downs – seasons 1-3 are vast stronger than 4-5 with a return to greatness in 6. But what is undeniable is that through it all the dance of Tim Olyphant and Walter Goggins was unmatched. I will miss these two on my screen sparring.

    This show just missed my list of TV shows for 2015, but this space gives me a great space to highlight them. I was a big fan of Grace and Frankie with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. The relationship forged by these two women in the aftermath of their marriages was funny, honest, and unforced. It made for one of the best forged friendships on TV and one of my favorite duos to watch all year.

    Riley and Mya from Girl Meets World also makes my list. The show is letting them grow up and the emotional conflict that comes with becoming a teen, especially as a girl is being explored with candor, commitment and pain. I appreciate the show’s willingness to do this and not gloss over the complexity of the myriad of emotional upheavals that comes along with being a girl coming of age.

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