Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: What’s the best depiction of friendship you’ve seen on TV? (Past and current shows are fair game).
Tim Surette (@timsurette), TV.com
Good friends are hard to find, especially on television where character relationships require non-stop drama to keep things interesting. But you know what’s more interesting? TV friends who don’t have much drama at all! That immediately rules out the so-called “friends” from college on Netflix’s “Friends from College,” and though the “Friends” friends were pretty good friends, I’ll look at a different NBC comedy for my favorite friendship: “Community’s” Troy and Abed. These two dorks overcame huge barriers — Abed’s place on the spectrum and Troy’s jockishness and good looks — to form a friendship based on their common weirdness, and they were famously teamed up on just about everything that didn’t involve pillows and blankets. Their heartfelt goodbye when Troy left to become a Grammy nominee and Lando Calrissian remains one of broadcast comedy’s most perfect moments, and you know that even though the show is long gone, they’re still keeping in touch on Discord. In a show that actually tried to make an older handsome lawyer and a young sexy coed a real thing, it was Troy and Abed’s friendship that formed Community’s most believable relationship.
Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine
Ok, let’s see, there’s all of the girls titles — “Gilmore Girls,” “Girls,” “New Girl,” “Golden Girls” (hell, their theme song is the friendship anthem), and of course we have “Friends,” “Supernatural,” and “Will & Grace.” The list really does go on. I’d even say “The O.C.’s” Ryan and Seth were the ultimate Juvies & Jewfro’s goals, although that never rang entirely real to me. Probably because I went to an all-boys Catholic high school, so the only ruffians in wifebeaters I knew were bullying me, and Jewish kids were basically mythological.
But the one depiction of friendship that has stuck with me for decades has been the gang from “thirtysomething.” Not only did its Philadelphia setting speak to me as City of Brotherly Love local, it also served as an aspirational ideal to the teenage me —these were adults who could maintain important connections with longtime friends amid career woes, family issues, health setbacks, tragedy and crippling Yuppie-ism. Yes they were selfish and sooooo chatty, but there was something so solid about their relationships, like they loved each other despite or maybe even because of their many flaws. They were also the first time I remember seeing characters with a history that informed their present experiences. And now that I am 1,000 years older, I see that to be real and fabulous. The oldest friends I have now are the friends I had when the “thritysomething”-ers began their relationships and we are just as messy, selfish, chatty, connected and invested in each other as they were. But we laugh a LOT more.
The best friends I have seen on TV, if we’re allowing double-dipping, would be the “Happy Endings” team. Not only because they clearly enjoyed one another more than anyone else in their lives, but they also were a blast to hang with during their three seasons. We should all be so lucky as to have a Dave, Penny, Brad, Jane, Alex, and Max in our corners.
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
I think everyone always wanted a friendship like Ann and Leslie on “Parks and Recreation,” but also knew it was maybe a bit unrealistic, given its perfection (well, not complete perfection, but even in its flaws its perfection was revealed). Still, let me shout out a high school friendship I understood all too well as a teen girl: The bond between Jane and Daria on MTV’s “Daria,” which didn’t lack for complications, but did feel so familiar to me as a weirdo young woman looking for companionship with other weirdos. Those sorts of bonds remain so dear to me, after all these years, and when I rewatch “Daria” I still remember the beautiful thrill of finding a like mind in a sea of those who just don’t get it. It still exists, to this day, but when it first began happening? Pure miracle. And that was something “Daria” captioned in a too-real way.
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
I’m assuming everybody is just going to give the most obvious correct answer, which is that the show that best captures the magic of friendship is, of course, “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.” So where to go from there? It’s interesting, because you think, “Well isn’t every great show really about friendship to some degree?” It turns out that the answer is actually, “Nah.” Plenty of great shows are about the friendship embedded in a romantic relationship or the friendship embedded in a workplace or the friendship embedded in a family, but those don’t feel like the correct answers here even if you think that “The Simpsons” or “West Wing” have plenty to say about friendship. Let’s get to the listing. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is a great show about friendship and how it can help you fight real and metaphorical demons. “Gilmore Girls” is a great show about how mothers and daughters can be friends. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is a spectacular depiction of hilariously toxic friendship. The Donna-Cameron relationship turned out to be the heart of “Halt and Catch Fire” and was probably the best treatment I’ve ever seen of a particular blending of female friendship and professional interaction.
I’m not going to belabor this answer and I’m also not going to cheat, though. Because series longevity is no obstacle, the clear and easy answer for me is “Freaks and Geeks,” which gave a version of friendship closest to the one I recognize from my own life. It’s a show entirely about how your friends become your family and how those relationships can occasionally be fractious or toxic, but they’re ultimately nourishing and the the connections that can keep you going when everything else in your life is trying to keep you down, trying to paint you into a corner, trying to limit you. In the immortal words of “My Little Pony,” “Freaks and Geeks” is a constant reminder that friendship is, indeed, magic.
Kaitlin Thomas (@thekaitling), TVGuide.com
While some people watch TV for the romance or drama or just to relax, I watch it for the deep friendships that are built over the course of episodes and seasons, so it is incredibly difficult for me to choose just one. Is the correct answer Scott and Stiles on “Teen Wolf”? Is it Shawn and Cory on “Boy Meets World”? What about Scott and Stonebridge, two brothers in arms, on “Strike Back”? I love bromances so much I even sometimes try to shove them in where they don’t really exist, like in the space between U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens and criminal outlaw Boyd Crowder on “Justified” (they dug coal together, guys!). But if I limit this to just bromances, I’m missing two relationships that are often given far less screen time than their male counterparts: female friendships and male/female platonic relationships.
In the context of female friendship, Rebecca and Paula on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” immediately come to mind. Jules and Ophelia on “Sweet/Vicious” and Leslie and Ann on “Parks and Recreation” are also excellent examples of how two people who are very different can come together and find deep friendship. I could also wax poetic about platonic friendships Veronica and Wallace on “Veronica Mars,” Liv and Ravi on “iZombie,” or Leslie and Ron on “Parks and Recreation,” because far too often people think men and women can’t be friends without sexual tension and that’s just not true. However, after much consideration, I’ve narrowed it down to two relationships that I feel are two of the best depictions of friendship on TV, and oddly enough, both come from the USA Network: Shawn and Gus on “Psych” and Maggie and Emma on “Playing House.”
When you think about it, Shawn and Gus are not wholly unlike Maggie and Emma. Both friendships were born during childhood and endured through adulthood because the love between the two pairs of friends extended beyond the scope of traditional friendship and allowed them to become each others’ family. Shawn may have been selfish and may have often dragged Gus into his scheming adventures without regard for Gus or his feelings, but Gus was frequently just as guilty of wanting to jump headfirst into the insane situations they often found themselves while solving cases. Maggie and Emma followed a similar path, but because of the nature of “Playing House,” their love was displayed on a much more emotional level. While their relationship included plenty of comedy and hijinks (Bosephus!), the two were there for each other when they needed it most. Emma gave up her job and moved home to raise a child with Maggie after the latter left her husband, while Maggie later supported Emma during her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. At the end of the day, all you really want from a friendship is someone who is willing to walk through the fire with you — even if you started the fire — and both of these friendships exemplified these characters’ willingness to do just that.
Also, just look at how much fun Shawn and Gus had and tell me you don’t wish you had that in your life:
Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider
It can be pretty rare to see male friendship done well on television. There can be other, very potent dynamics related to themes of brotherhood or partnership, but to have two men who are in a non-sexual relationship be vulnerable with one another often leads to unexpected and delightful storytelling. Two recent examples are Hap and Leonard (James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams) of, well, “Hap and Leonard,” who are polar opposites (one man is a black, gay, conservative war veteran, and the other a white, hippie, hopeless romantic) but whose shared history binds them together in an extraordinary way. In “Detroiters,” the two leads (Sam and Tim, played by Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson) have an fantastic rapport that often leads to great goofy comedy, but it’s balanced with a lot of genuine affection between them. (Richardson and Robinson also co-created that series as friends in real life, which makes it just that much better).
Hilary Gayle/Sundance Film Holdings LLC
In both cases, the friends are portrayed as having a well-worn shorthand with one another, which deepens the sense of a long history. Even when they bicker and fallout, there’s never a chance that it will last — they rely on each and love each other too much to let it keep them apart long. But often the connection is even more important when they are on the same wavelength, as they succeed (or fail) together. Ultimately, it’s aspirational; it’s the idea of a true best friend, one who might shake their head and call you an idiot, but who will always have your back.
Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx
In the real world, Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson probably wouldn’t have anything to do with one another outside of the minimal interaction necessary to be, as Ron likes to put it, workplace proximity associates. But one of the great things about fiction is that you can craft the world as you want it to be, rather than the way it is, which means that macho, paranoid libertarian Ron and feminist big government crusader Leslie can become not only great allies, but genuine friends. “Parks and Rec” had plenty of great romances, and plenty of other excellent friendships, but the most important relationship on that show — and one of the funniest and most poignant friendships I’ve seen depicted anywhere — was the unlikely but ultimately unbreakable bond between those two opposites.
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
Of yore, I vote “The Golden Girls” for the humor, wit and (for the times it was broadcast) brave take on certain subjects and embracing of alternative lifestyles as “nothing new to see here, move along” acceptance. Through a lifetime of raising families and then the peeling away of loved ones through death and divorce, these women became an ersatz family. Let’s face it, Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty – these women were astounding actors and comedic geniuses.
I see so many of my friends who are childless and inevitably the subject of “who will take care of us when…” comes up in conversation. I have several Golden Girls’ inspired standing pacts with a few close friends who also loved that TV series and what it represented. Except the GG dealbreaker for me is living in God’s waiting room, aka Florida. No dice.
Of recent, I would nominate Sundance TV’s “Hap and Leonard” for the excellent casting of great actors Michael K. Williams and James Purefoy, the two are chalk and cheese, Leonard a gay African American veteran and Hap, a down on his luck, undereducated straight Caucasian, yet their scenes are seamless, believable and a great modern-day male friendship represented on TV. It’s unsung and an overlooked series that should be on more people’s radar because of their friendship.
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
For me, so much of my love of TV comes back to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and so much of what made that show work were the friendships at its center. Mary and Lou had the kind of gruffly platonic male-female friendship that served as a model for so much of TV. Mary and Murray had something very similar — and amazingly similar names. But, really, the real true friendship of the show was between, of course, Mary and Rhoda, who lived in the same building, met in the show’s pilot, and realized they would be a TV pairing for the ages about two minutes later. Mary and Rhoda had each other’s backs in a way that made even the weirdo follow-up TV movie about them from 2000 feel like a natural extension of what they had built all the way back in 1970, when the series debuted. “Mary Tyler Moore” was a show about the power of women’s self-discovery, about the thing where television abruptly realized women could have goals separate from the men in their lives. But I don’t know if the show would have been as successful in that regard if Mary hadn’t had such a good (female!) friend to turn to when she got home from the office. Without Rhoda Morganstern, Mary Richards might have fallen flat. And vice versa.
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
Currently, it’s “Grace and Frankie.” Few shows depict a no-holds-barred version of friendship that’s never manipulated by malice or insincerity for the sake of extending or dramatizing the plot. Grace and Frankie love each other. They face their fears together, and they support each other no matter what. They can talk about anything, but know each other’s limitations. Perhaps most importantly, they’re still their unique selves, rather than an exaggerated blend of each other or of what audiences expect from friendships in comedy shows.
As far as an all-time pick goes, it’s impossible not to stick to the Marta Kauffman-family and choose Joey and Chandler on “Friends.” The two of them represent the jubilant connection one seeks in their platonic soulmates: They’re excited to see each other every time; they don’t have to do anything to have a fantastic night; and they’re both there for each other when the hard stuff hits, be it money, love, or illness. You can call it unrealistic. I call it friendship goals.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “The Good Place” (five votes)
Other contenders: “The Alienist,” “Baskets,” “Blue Planet II,” “Counterpart,” “The Magicians” (one vote each)
*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.