In honor of the return of “Breaking Bad” tonight, I thought I’d take a look at some of TV’s top pairings. Whether it’s a love affair, family bond, friendship or two people on opposite sides of the law, these couples provide the foundations of their shows. Without them, the shows would be much less entertaining, and possibly fizzle entirely. The list isn’t all-inclusive – I’ve limited it to six of my favorites, and I’ve only considered shows currently airing. (Sorry, Coach and Tami Taylor.) There are a few pairings that almost made the list, including Elizabeth and Philip of “The Americans” (too new); and Don and Peggy of “Mad Men” (I’m not a huge follower of the show). So … who else did I leave off that I shouldn’t have?
6. Mike and Harvey, “Suits” (USA)
Who they are: Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) used to make his money taking the LSAT for aspiring lawyers. Now he’s an associate at one of New York’s top firms, being mentored by super-lawyer Harvey Spector (Gabriel Macht).
How they met: Mike was running from a drug deal gone wrong, crashed a job interview, and impressed Harvey with his raw potential. Mike doesn’t have a law degree, which you would think would be a hindrance to practicing law. Not so. His photographic memory impressed Harvey.
Memorable moments: Though Harvey is plotting the demise of his own mentor, Jessica, Mike’s betrayal of him last season sent Harvey reeling. (Never mind that Mike was blackmailed into it.) At the beginning of this season, it looked like Mike and Harvey might be over for good. (Yeah, right.) Their feud and subsequent reunion reminded fans why we watch the show… even if it was a little heart-breaking to see Louis Litt toss that cake in the trash.
Why they work: Of all the great couplings on the network (Annie and Auggie on “Covert Affairs”; Michael and Fiona on “Burn Notice”; Shawn and Gus on “Psych”), this USA show is the most dependent on the relationship of its two main characters. Without it, it might evolve into just another legal drama. In his quest to win, Harvey can step into some ethical gray areas. Not that Mike hasn’t crossed a line or two himself, but his sense of right and wrong helps ground Harvey. And because of Harvey, Mike gets to practice law, even without going to Harvard. It’s a win-win…unless they ever get caught.
5. Sam and Dean, “Supernatural” (the CW)
Who they are: Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) and his brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) are hunters. That means they go after the supernatural baddies most regular folk don’t even know exist, like werewolves, vampires and angels. (Yes, angels.)
How they met: When Sam was born, obviously.
Memorable moments: The brothers are at their best when they are battling to save each other, like when Sam lost his conscience after his trip to hell. It took a long time for Dean to trust Sam, which brings us to something else they do well: battling each other. Fans want these two together, but what siblings don’t fight once in a while? (Especially ones this stubborn.) Granted, with most sibling dustups, the world’s fate doesn’t hang in the balance.
Why they work: Sam and Dean have both made attempts at living regular lives, but no woman could compete with their bromance.
4. Olivia and Fitz, “Scandal” (ABC)
Who they are: Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is a Washington fixer who can fix anything but her personal life. Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant (Tony Goldwyn) is the married president of the United States and her sometimes lover.
How they met: Olivia and Fitz met while he was running for president. She worked on his campaign. One of her strategies was to revive the candidate’s long-since-gone-cold marriage. In public anyway. Behind the scenes, however, Olivia and Fitz began an affair… with his wife’s blessing.
Memorable moments: These two generate serious heat, so any time they are in a room together, it’s hard not to pull for them. Probably the most romantic moment was when they shared one last quiet minute on the couch. But it’s equally entertaining when Olivia tells Fitz off, so maybe this couple is doomed. Equally memorable: When Olivia realized it was her, and not another mistress, on that tape, and when Fitz and Olivia counted down the minutes to Mellie’s interview in Olivia’s living room.
Why they work: It’s a challenge to get viewers to root for an extramarital affair to work out, but the show accomplishes this through a combination of chemistry and excellent acting (especially by Washington). It doesn’t hurt that the president’s wife, Mellie, could give lessons in manipulation to Svengali.
3. Leslie and Ron, “Parks and Recreation” (NBC):
Who they are: Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is a mid-level bureaucrat who realizes her dream of joining the Pawnee City Council. Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is the meat-loving, woodworking director of the Parks and Rec department.
How they met: Ron was Leslie’s boss when she worked in the parks department, which is still her soft spot.
Memorable moments: When Ben and Leslie got married, it was Ron who walked her down the aisle. (Before he does, he tells her, “You are a wonderful person. Your friendship means a lot to me. And you look very beautiful.” Quite a declaration by Swanson standards.) On her special day, Ron also punches out a councilman who crashes the ceremony. Because he cares.
Why they work: Ann may be Leslie’s best friend, but the relationship that’s really the heart of the show is the one between Ron and Leslie. As much as Leslie loves government, Ron hates it. Ron is as taciturn as Leslie is effusive. Even though they shouldn’t be able to stand each other, they’ve developed a bond of affection and mutual respect. It’s been entertaining to watch their friendship grow.
2. Raylan and Boyd, “Justified” (FX)
Who they are: Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) is a federal marshal in Kentucky; Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) is a drug kingpin.
How they met: Raylan and Boyd both grew up in Harlan County, Ky. They also worked together in the coal mines.
Memorable moments: In “Fire in the Hole,” the story that inspired “Justified,” Boyd dies. Thankfully, Boyd lingers in the series. In the pilot, Raylan shoots Boyd, but Boyd survives. (Probably because Raylan couldn’t bring himself to shoot Boyd through the heart.) In the season one closer, Raylan lets Boyd escape in one of the pair’s most memorable scenes, after Boyd makes a comment about Raylan being one of the last friends he has left. Friend or foe? With these two, it’s hard to tell, which is what makes their relationship so interesting.
Why they work: They both have daddy issues: Raylan’s dad, Arlo, himself a small-time criminal, was part of Boyd’s gang; Boyd pulled a gun on his own dad, Bo, and would’ve killed him if someone else hadn’t finished the job first. Boyd’s current fiancée, Ava, was first Raylan’s love interest, and the woman Raylan shot Boyd to protect. They’re entangled, for better or worse. And they’re both loyal to a fault.
1.Walt and Jessie, “Breaking Bad” (AMC)
Who they are: Former chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) turned to cooking meth to provide for his family after he was diagnosed with cancer. He beat the cancer (at least for now) but realized he likes being a drug kingpin. Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) is Walt’s former student turned drug-business partner.
How they met: As mentioned, Jesse was Walt’s student. They crossed paths again when Walt was with his brother-in-law, Hank, a DEA agent. Walt, who had just discovered he had cancer, watched from the car as small-time dealer Jesse scrambled out the window during the DEA bust. Walt recognized him, and, shortly after, a questionable business venture and great TV relationship was formed.
Memorable moments: For one of the major turning points in Walt and Jesse’s relationship, and Walt’s evolution as a character, Jesse wasn’t even awake. It involved Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane. (Fans will know what I’m talking about, and I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t seen it.) Their fistfight was also epic, as was their time stranded in the desert while cooking meth. Some of my favorite scenes with these two, however, are the simpler (often pivotal) moments punctuated by humor: Skyler and Walt’s awkward dinner with Jesse (he couldn’t shovel those green beans in his mouth fast enough); when they were trapped inside the RV with Hank waiting just outside (Walt coaching Jesse what to say was priceless); or when they were trying to dispose of their first body (turns out, bathtubs aren’t the way to go).
Why they work: In the beginning, Walt is a stand-up family man and teacher, and Jesse is a drug user/dealer who has messed up his life so badly that even his parents want nothing more to do with him. Walt becomes a surrogate father to Jesse. What makes this relationship interesting is the way their moral compasses evolve over the course of the series. They are complicated, flawed and completely riveting to watch.
– Heather Chavez