The history of TV is littered with dramatic and comedy duos: Felix and Oscar, Mulder and Scully, Jerry and George.
As audiences have grown more sophisticated in their tastes, it’s not enough for partnerships to be straightforward; they need to be strange, totally unlikely and filled with ambiguity and tension.
Some of the most complicated, and somewhat unusual, pairs in recent history have included Breaking Bad’s Walter and Jesse, Tony Soprano and Dr Melfi from The Sopranos, and The Wire’s Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell.
The couples don’t have to be married, friends or even like one another to be effective. And unlike comedy duos, dramatic pairings don’t have to have a straight man and a funny guy, they can be as idiosyncratic as they are similar.
Looking to TV right now, here are five of the best current TV partnerships, each distinctive for their unlikeliness or their novel twist on an old dynamic.
(SPOILER ALERT: When we say that we mean it. If you have plans to watch Game of Thrones season four or House of Cards season two proceed with caution.)
Martin Hart & Rustin Cohle – True Detective
Actors: Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson
Where: Quickflix, Google Play, iTunes
The mismatched buddy cop partnership is perhaps the oldest cliché of all, but True Detective rises above these limitations with two magnificent performers sparring in the best roles of their careers (truly). First there is Rustin Cohle (McConaughey), an intense loner who immerses himself in his macabre line of work and preaches his bleak views on the nature of humanity. His bewildered partner is Martin Hart (Harrelson), a seemingly conventional everyman, whose perfect life is crumbling before him. As the men set out to solve a ritualistic murder in the woods, their bond becomes deeper and more fraught. Once the investigation subsides both men eventually capitulate to their own inner demons, giving over to alcoholism and loneliness. In the fullness of time the pair reunite and seek to find redemption for their broken lives by finishing their forgotten investigation.
Arya Stark and The Hound – Game of Thrones
Actors: Maisie Williams and Rory McCann
Where: Foxtel, iTunes, Quickflix, Google Play
(Spoiler Alert) In a show peppered with unlikely character partnerships (Littlefinger and Sansa, Jaime and Brienne) one of the stranger unions is the princess cum wandering orphan/assassin Arya Stark and the deformed giant/mercenary/bodyguard/killer Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane. When these two came together at the beginning of season three it was so The Hound could collect a sizeable reward from Arya’s wealthy relatives. But over time circumstances interfered (ahem, “The Red Wedding”) and the two became a surrogate father/daughter duo. The Hound becomes increasingly protective of Arya and schools her in his cut throat personal philosophy, but when he meets his demise in the finale of season four, Arya is now free – and seemingly ready and trained for combat as a ruthless child warrior.
Bill Masters & Virginia Johnson – Masters of Sex
Actors: Martin Sheen and Lizzie Caplan
Where: Season two is currently screening on SBS ONE
Masters of Sex dramatises the early working relationship of the now legendary Masters & Johnson sexual research team. In a series obsessed with all things sex, the central partnership is improbably driven by a shared commitment to work. Michael Sheen is the clinical, detached Bill Masters, a successful but remote obstetrician desperate to break out from his seemingly perfect life. Lizzy Caplan plays Virginia Johnson, a vivacious, tenacious single mother, who refuses to be intimidated by the conservative society of 1950’s America. In spite of their very different social positions, the pair share an unwavering single-mindedness and a commitment to pioneer their landmark scientific study whatever the personal cost.
Sonya Cross & Marco Ruiz – The Bridge
Actors: Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir
Where: Season two of the US series is currently screening on Foxtel.
A partnership so good it has spanned three different television series. In the beginning there was Saga Noren and Martin Rohde, the lead Swedish/Danish duo in the original Scandinavian series Broen/Bron (Translation: The Bridge). Next there was Sonya Cross and Marco Ruis in the US adaptation The Bridge (played by the much more famous Diane Kruger and Mexican actor Demian Bichir), and finally audiences were introduced to Karl Roebuck and Elise Wasserman in the BBC adaptation The Tunnel. In each series the drama remains roughly the same: an older, grizzled male detective, and a young, beautiful female detective (who appears to have undiagnosed Asperger syndrome) come together from different cultures to investigate a politically motivated murder on a bridge (or tunnel) that will have far reaching social and personal implications.
Frank & Claire Underwood – House of Cards
Actors: Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright
Where: Quickflix, iTunes, Google Play (Spoiler Alert)
In one of the creepiest marriages since the Macbeth’s, there is the twisted, diabolical union of Frank and Claire Underwood. As Senate Majority Whip, Frank (Spacey) is spurned for the position of Secretary of State, so he and his all-too perfect wife Claire (Wright) plot to ruthlessly destroy all of their opponents (and many friends) and claw their way to power. As season two drew to a close we saw Frank being sworn in as President with Clare as his First Lady. Only time will tell if all of their scheming will come back to haunt them.