When it comes to good TV, it takes two to make a thing go right. Whether you're talking about great comedy teams, hot romantic couples, unbreakable crimefighting partnerships, or unforgettable hero-villain rivalries, two is the magic number of countless television classics. With that in mind, we've compiled the following list of the 50 greatest duos ever to grace the small screen. Husbands and wives, cops and robbers, best friends forever — they're all here, and they all demonstrate the power of the most elemental equation of all: one on one.
Sure, their partnership began with a kidnapping, ended with one of them leaving the other for dead, and only lasted for 10 episodes. So what? For the duration of Game of Thrones' fourth season, the unlikely team-up of feral Arya Stark and her much older mentor in murder Sandor "The Hound" Clegane made them the Bonnie and Clyde of Westeros — both ultraviolently badass and a challenge to the very concept of ultraviolent badasses in the first place.
He's a graduate of Saturday Night Live. She's an alum of … Sleater-Kinney? It looks odd on paper, but this chameleonic combination of a musician/sketch comedian and a punk-rock icon is somehow the perfect weapon when it comes to skewering the pretensions of Pacific Northwest hipsterdom. Their portrayal of Toni and Candace — the quarreling couple who maintain the probelmatically unproblematic feminist bookstore in the show's most famous recurring sketch — is enough to assure them immortality on its own.
The Ninties' answer to Abbot and Costello, Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell rode their combination of good-natured and dim-witted to the peak of preadolescent comedy superstardom — first on the Nickelodeon sketch show All That, then in its spinoff film Good Burger, and their two-man showcase Kenan and Kel. Thompson has gone on to a long, respected run on SNL, but his comedic chemistry with Mitchell’s mania helped get him there.
A shout-out, of course, to the titular duo played by a tough-talking Penny Marshall and a perpetually perky Cindy Williams — but Laverne & Shirley is one of many sitcoms in which the obnoxious neighbors stole the show. That would be Leonard Kosnowksi and Andrew Squiggman — known for their diminutive nicknames, trademark "Hello!" entrance, greaser aesthetic, and unrelenting idiocy. (Watching Michael McKean and David Lander inhabit these proto-Dumb & Dumber roles is a particular trip today if you've seen McKean kill it as a dramatic actor in Better Call Saul.)
As Kelly Robinson and Alexander "Scotty" Scott, globe-trotting espionage agents traveling undercover as louche tennis pros, Robert Culp and Bill Cosby embodied laconic late-Sixties cool. That Cosby squandered his pioneering work here — he was the first African-American man to win an Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama — with his loathsome behavior off screen is criminal in more ways than one. But for a while, these two were the hippest cats on TV.
A prime example of how a married couple can feel more like partners in crime, Marshall Eriksen and Lily Aldrin were the bawdy beating heart of the smash-hit sitcom. Played by Judd Apatow repertory member Jason Segel and Buffy/American Pie alumna Alyson Hannigan, the pair were a model of romantic stability among the chaos of their friends — Lily’s barely sublimated lesbian lust for her best friend Robin notwithstanding.
Every Doctor in the history of Who has had a companion to give his far-out saga an earth-bound anchor, but none were as indispensable to the venerable British sci-fi franchise as Billie Piper's scene-stealing Rose Tyler. Whether paired with Christopher Eccleston's prickly Ninth Doctor or David Tennant's tweedy Tenth, Rose's enthusiasm for adventure helped showrunner Russel T. Davies' relaunch of the series hit the pop-culture stratosphere.
The gents already achieved stardom in the classic Britcom Blackadder as well their own sketch-comedy showcases; they'd eventually go on to second careers as an outspoken observer of culture and the lead of House, MD respectively. But in between, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie absolutely nailed the title roles in a hilarious adaptation of writer P.G. Wodehouse's comedic misadventures. It may have been set in the waning days of the British aristocracy, but Laurie's oblivious fop and Fry's unflappable valet are a class-system send-up for the ages.
A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll — and a whole lot corny — the talents of Donny and Marie should nevertheless not be underestimated. As the most famous members of the Osmond entertainment empire, they anchored their own TV variety show when they were just 18 and 16 years old. They were, in effect, the Mormon Kardashians — though the closest they’d come to Kim K Superstar would be the infamous SNL sketch in which Gary Kroeger and Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Hawaiian Punch-drunk brother-sister duo made out on camera.
The archetypal TV buddy cops, Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) was the street-smart Brooklyn hothead, while Hutchinson (David Soul) was the cool, reserved midwestern blond. Together they cruised the streets of "Bay City" in Starsky's Gran Torino, keeping its very, very 1970s streets safe with the unstoppable power of bromance.
Now imagine Starsky and Hutch as a faded high-school football star and alcoholic philosophy grad student — that'd be leading men of Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga's zeitgeisty, occult-tinged murder mystery. The first season of HBO's art-pulpy anthology show stretched the TV-cop mold to the breaking point and gave Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey what's arguably the roles of their career. Though both were insanely macho (as was the show), Marty's he-man sarcasm was a perfect release valve for Rust's pitch-black nihilism.
If Gollum and the One Ring were somehow transformed into the managers of a regional paper manufacturers' office, the resulting relationship might be a lot like that of Steve Carrell and Rainn Wilson's starmaking characters here: To paraphrase Gandalf, they hate and love each other, as they hate and love themselves. Few shows, even Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's British original, have captured the peculiar dynamic between a white-collar blowhard and his obsequious underling in all its cartoonish complexity.
Take the rapid-fire dry-humor patter of an old-school screwball comedy, transfer it to the mouths of a single mom and her teenage kid, and you're on your way to conjuring the magic of the parent-child partnership that made Gilmore Girls run. Lorelai and Rory showed that when it comes to mother-daughter dynamics, learning from and leaning on each other need not be mutually exclusive. We can't wait for the Netflix reboot.
Despite being partners, Baltimore Detectives Jimmy McNulty and William "The Bunk" Moreland spent more time apart than together over the course of The Wire's five seasons, thanks to the Irish wildman's time in the special investigative detail (and the harbor unit). But their near-telepathic connection was unforgettably depicted in what’s colloquially known as "the fuck scene," in which the duo travels to a murder scene and cracks a homicide while communicating with nothing but variations of the f-bomb. Genius.
Name-dropping, pill-popping, coke-snorting, booze-swilling, chain-smoking, status-obsessing, high-spending, child-neglecting, personal-assistant-insulting nightmares? Yes, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Spinning out of their sketch-comedy show, Jennfier Saunders and Dawn French's failure-prone fashionistas Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone brutalized English bohemian excess in the early Nineties even as Britpop made it cool again. A reunion movie is on the way this year, to which we can only say cheers, thanks a lot.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's deductive detectives got a compellingly contemporary makeover in the BBC/PBS series co-created by Doctor Who veteran Steven Moffat and League of Gentlemen member Mark Gatiss. Set in the modern day (with the exception of one Victorian Era special) and featuring freshly minted Hollywood stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the show updates the eccentric crime-solver as an anti-social, OCD misanthrope and his loyal chronicler as an ex-soldier/enabler. The chemistry, however, is as old-fashioned as it comes.
The all-time great sitcom is best known for its four-person ensemble of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer, a comedy quadrilateral that may never be topped. But Seinfeld and his still-inseparable childhood friend, played by Jason Alexander, are where the show's observational obsessions and New York neuroses can be found in their purest form — perhaps because the pair are based on the star stand-up comedian and his series co-creator Larry David.
Everyone knows misery loves company; misery's lust for company, however, receives comparatively little airtime. That's where the deep-cover KGB agents who pose as the couple next door in this riveting Cold War thriller come in: Their job of lying, killing, and potentially dying for their secret Soviet backers is made bearable only by their intense sexual connection. Actors Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, who kindled an IRL relationship while playing the roles, have given TV one of its saddest and sexiest couples of all time.
Where would the combustible counterterrorist Jack Bauer be without the cool-headed computer genius who's his closest ally and best friend? Dead, that's where. Actor Mary Lynn Rajskub's background as a comedian made her the perfect foil for Kiefer Sutherland's dead-serious man of action, ensuring that the emblematic War on Terror–era thriller always had a surprising and entertaining platonic partnership at its heart.
When merry prankster Trapper John McIntyre left the 4077th behind due to creative differences — sorry, a transfer back to the States — his longtime partner Hawkeye Pierce needed a new foil. Along came B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell), a laid-back Californian who made an even better partner for Alan Alda's iconic Army surgeon. Their friendship formed the backbone of eight of the long-running Korean War comedy's 11 seasons, and their comedic and dramatic interplay was unmatched on the show.
The platonic ideal of a committed, happily married couple right in the middle of a complex and nuanced New Golden Age drama? How the hell did that happen? Don't second-guess it — just treasure every minute of shared screentime with Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton's incredible couple, who proved that "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose" was a life-changing mantra both on and off the football field.
Remember the endlessly quotable interplay of Monty Python's John Cleese and Michael Palin? Now mix it with the biting sociopolitical satire of Chapelle's Show. Boom: You have Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the greatest sketch-comedy duo since Bob Odenkirk met David Cross. Whether they're playing dozens of different ridiculous college athletes in their sketch-comedy show's highly viral East-West Bowl bits or celebrating the cinematic achievements of "Liam Neesons" and "the Batmans" as excitable hotel valets, the duo are just mercilessly funny to watch.
Okay, so perhaps the idea of lawmen as upstanding and self-sacrificing as Twin Peaks' central pair is as much of a fantasy as backward-speaking dwarves and demonic owls. But that's what made Kyle MacLachlan's zen FBI agent and Michael Ontkean's soft-spoken small-town sheriff so important. Both dogged and decent, their characters loved and respected one another and the people of the town they patrolled, providing David Lynch and Mark Frost's frequently frightening, occasionally devastating supernatural soap with a much-needed sliver of optimism.
He's lived in a pineapple under the sea for 17 years and counting, during which time he became Nickelodeon's highest-rated, most licensed (and lucrative) longest-running franchise. But the success of the squeaky-voiced, eternally optimistic sea sponge known as Spongebob Squarepants would be unimaginable without the support of his good-hearted, dim-witted starfish neighbor and best friend Patrick. Voiced by comedian Tom Kenny —a key player in cartoons from Powerpuff Girls to Adventure Time — and Coach's Bill Fagerbakke respectively, their (mostly) kid-friendly comedic chemistry proves you don't necessarily need brains to be brilliant.