I have always loved sitcoms (“situation comedies”).
There’s something about these 22 minute comedic explorations of life in a particular place that charmed me from the get-go of my TV viewing life.
While there were usually multiple characters living out their online-filled lives, all the truly great sitcoms, and yes even some of the ones of dubious quality, usually had at their core a much-loved couple around whom everyone else orbited.
And I grew to love a great many of them , almost to the point where they felt like living, breathing people to me, which is a tribute to the writing and acting brought to bear in them.
So here are 5 of my favourite couples from sitcoms new and old …
MAD ABOUT YOU – Paul and Jamie Buchman (1992-1999)
Documentary filmmaker Paul and PR specialist Jamie Buchman (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt), a newly married New York-based couple when the series began in 1992, were very easy to love.
They were unflinchingly honest, down-to-earth and most importantly funny, and their relationship traded in the minutiae of everyday life, much like Seinfeld.
They were also the best of friends, which kept them together even during the dark days of their separation in season 4 (1995-1996), unafraid to admit to the best and worst in each other.
They could also be goofy, overly analytical, intense, light-hearted, and amorous as hell.
All of which made you feel as if you were watching a real couple in action, albeit one with access to killer one liners, and the sort of insights we all wish we could summon in an instant.
I honestly felt like I was with friends – no, not those ones! – when I was watching Mad About You, and while like true friends, they sometimes drove me crazy, I never stopped being madly, crazily in love with them.
DHARMA and GREG (1997-2002)
Dharma Finkelstein (Jenna Elfman), child of anti-establishment hippies, and Greg Montgomery (Thomas Gibson), as blue-blood as they come, were as different as any two people could be.
Marrying on the same day they met (again), largely due to Dharma’s joie de vivre and willingness to leap into the abyss with minimal peering over the edge – an approach to life that stood in stark contrast to Greg’s overly-cautious, analytical approach to, well, just about everything – Dharma and Greg focused on their not-always-successful attempts to forge a strong and lasting union.
Much of the humour initially came from exploiting these differences but as time moved on, and they grew to understand and appreciate the differences between them, it drew from these evolving shared bonds and the us-against-the-world mentality that marks true couples.
They didn’t always manage to merge their shared world views but it was always fun watching them trying.
Watching them organically grow close together throughout the series was a delight, as were Dharma’s ever-present attempts to suck the marrow out of life on a 24/7 basis, regardless of what the consequences might be.
While the premise of the show might have been pure sitcom confection, the forging of a relationship between two people of wildly divergent backgrounds was as real as it comes, and I had a ball watching Dharma and Greg struggle and succeed to make it work, with frequent laughs punctuating their journey, much like many of the couples watching them week by week.
FRASIER – Frasier and Niles (1993-2004)
Wait a second!
You’re probably wondering at this point why I have included siblings Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce) in what, at first blush, appears to be a post about sitcom couples.
Well, while they aren’t necessarily a romantic couple – at least I hope not; that would have given the show a whole other redneck complexion – I would maintain they are one of the most enduring and celebrated couples in sitcom-land and have more than earned their place in this list.
The bond between the brothers, though shaken at times, was never less than heartwarmingly strong and I would argue was the central relationship around which all the other relationships in the show revolved.
Forced together by the early death of their mother, a father who clearly loved them but didn’t get them, and a world that saw their differences as an all-too-easy object of ridicule, they were intensely supportive of each other and each other’s best friend.
While the world around them made life difficult for them on numerous occasions – and to be fair they often didn’t help their cause with world views that didn’t allow for any other view than their own; that however was largely a result of having to so fiercely defend themselves against their innumerable detractors – they always had each other’s backs.
No doubt they were the envy of many people who, though they may have their snobbish condescension grating at times, nonetheless envied such a tight, affirming bond and wish they had one of their own with a sibling or close friend.
NEWHART – Dick and Joanna Loudon (1982-1990)
Newhart, set in a small town in rural Vermont populated by the most eccentric people you could imagine, was your archetypal fish-out-of-water sitcom.
The only sane people were the protagonists, how-to book author Dick (Bob Newhart) and Joanna Loudon (Mary Frann), who did their best to deal with the rampant eccentricities of people who didn’t behave even remotely like anyone they had known back in their old stomping grounds of New York City.
And it took some getting used to as Dick was wont to remind anyone who would listen.
While they may have rolled their eyes on occasion at the inanities dished out to them on a regular basis, they never belittled the townsfolk, many of whom became, despite Dick’s best attempts to keep them at bay, close friends.
It was this willingness to go along with the craziness around them, and their own close mutually-supportive relationship, that was romantic without being sickly sweet, that endeared them to me.
And clearly lots of other people given the sitcom’s long, successful run.
NEW GIRL – Nick and Jess
Thank god the writers of New Girl resisted the urge to paint Jess (Zooey Deschanel) as a total kook!
While it might have made for a few funny episodes, she would have eventually worn out her welcome, and it’s unlikely the sitcom, which continues to rate well, would have made it to its current second season.
And also doubtful that she would have proved even remotely attractive to fellow housemate Nick (Jake Johnson), one of the three strapping young lads she moved in with at the start of the series when she found her then-boyfriend cheating on her.
Rather cleverly, while Jess is painted as an endearingly goofy eccentric woman, she is not rendered as a clueless buffoon possessing the street smarts and intelligence needed to hold her own as a teacher (well in season 1 at least before she was laid off) and a girlfriend.
And while Nick and Jess are only beginning to explore the URST (Unresolved Sexual Tension) between them – the episode where they go on their first date, rather appropriately titled “First Date” only aired on 4 April this year in the US – they have already established a sweet, believable friendship that I suspect will only grow in the seasons to come.
I can’t wait to see where they go next.