Home TV TV Lists

50 Best TV Duos of All Time

From Arya and the Hound to Mulder and Scully, the greatest small-screen teams

50 Best TV Duos

(L-R) Everett Collection, HBO (2), Comedy Central

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.

Play video

18. Joe Friday and Bill Gannon, ‘Dragnet’

In a world of kids all hopped up on goofballs, two men stood against the dying of the light: Sgt. Joe Friday and Ofc. Bill Gannon. Jack Webb and Harry Morgan's plainclothes cops presided over the late-Sixties revival of Webb's seminal Los Angeles cop show like dual Nixons in miniature, and their embodiment of square values was so square it somehow traveled around 180 degrees to become camp. But their completely unironic partnership was weirdly endearing no matter what level of snark you operate on.

Play video

17. Ren and Stimpy, ‘Ren and Stimpy’

One was the keeper of the cheese. The other was the lemon merchant. Together, they were the weirdest thing children's television had ever seen. Created by mercurial animation genius John Kricfalusi, rageaholic chihuahua Ren Hoëk and simpleminded Stimpson J. Cat were far more than a "remember the Nineties" footnote — their show's blend of Fifties stock music, gross-out visuals, disturbingly adult humor, and a seemingly very thorough acquaintance with mental illness made it appointment viewing for weirdos of all ages.

Play video

16. Frasier and Niles Crane, ‘Frasier’

Move over, Noel and Liam Gallagher: The Crane boys were the Nineties greatest brother act. It took a stroke of mad brilliance to take the fuddy-duddy punchline of a thousand Cheers jokes and pair him with an even fussier, prissier culturati for his spinoff series. But that's the dynamic between the iconic Kelsey Grammer character and his baby bro, played by David Hyde Pierce. Whether trading barbs that required an Ivy League education to decipher or engaging in slapstick farce that put the Three Stooges to shame, Frasier and Niles were one of of Must-See TV's best double acts.

Play video

15. Taystee and Poussey, ‘Orange Is the New Black’

Piper and Alex, Schmiper and Schmalex: For our money, Taystee and Poussey are Litchfield Penitentiary's premiere power couple. Indeed, this former Army brat and her boisterous BFF drive many of OITNB's best (and most heartbreaking) scenes — and that's not even taking into account "Amanda" and "Mackenzie," their parodic white-people alter egos who offer up a critique of the show's presumably privileged politics from within. No matter form it takes, Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley sell every second of their friendship.

Play video

14. Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, ‘The Honeymooners’

How can a 60-year-old sitcom still feel so fresh and funny today? Age ain't nothin' but a number, especially if said sitcom is centered on the friendship between Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, the immortal creations of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. The combination of Gleason's wild-eyed, hot-tempered, bus-driving schemer and Carney's relatively dim-witted sanitation worker who could nonetheless give as good as he got defined buddy comedy for decades. Without them, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, another iconic TV duo, would never have left the Stone Age.

Play video

13. David Addison and Maddie Hayes, ‘Moonlighting’

With sexual chemistry so combustible it's a surprise TV screens didn’t explode, Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd took the Sam & Diane dynamic of Cheers to the next level in a 1980s comedy that gave both actors one of their most memorable turns in the spotlight. Inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, the screwball private-eye show helped launch Willis into superstardom and revived Shepherd's career years after The Last Picture Show kickstarted it. Watch this odd couple interact and their subsequent success is no secret.

Play video

12. Don Draper and Peggy Olson, ‘Mad Men’

At first, Matthew Weiner's instant-classic prestige-drama period piece seemed like the story of the tall, dark, and handsome mystery man whose silhouette appeared in the credits. As time passed, however, both Don Draper and his protégé Peggy Olson emerged as co-protagonists, with his downward spiral and her tortuous upward climb past the glass ceiling given more or less equal time. Their final phone call is the show's most moving moment; when you go back and watch the series' best episode "The Suitcase," you realize there was a great two-hander embedded in Mad Men just dying to get out.

Play video

11. Larry Sanders and Hank Kingsley, ‘The Larry Sanders Show’

Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. David Letterman and Paul Shaffer. Conan O'Brien and Andy Richter. These were the duos that defined late-night televison — but the late, great Garry Shandling's groundbreaking sitcom took them one step further. Played by Shandling and Jeffrey Tambor, the obnoxious talk-show host Larry Sanders and obsequious henchman Hank Kingsley at the heart of HBO's seminal showbiz parody sent up Hollywood narcissism, back-scratching, and ass-kissing better than any real-world equivalent could. At the same time, the duo served up a demented celebration of the showman-and-sidekick relationship around which the entire after-hours TV landscape is patterned. No flipping.

Play video

10. Troy Barnes and Abed Nadir, ‘Community’

"Troyandabedinthemorrrrrnin'!" At first glance, Danny Pudi's spectrumy cinephile and Donald "Childish Gambino" Glover's washed-up jock have little to nothing in common. But by the time their run together on this deconstructionist sitcom was over, their characters had formed a sui generis friendship. The relationship between these two young men was based entirely in the acceptance of one another's eccentricities — much like our own bonds with our favorite TV characters. Eventually Glover's career as a musician carried him away from the perpetually dysfunctional show, but by then it didn't matter: These two idiot savants (one more an idiot, the other more a savant) had already crafted a bromance for the ages.

Play video

9. Norm and Cliff, ‘Cheers’

"Norm!" "It's a little-known fact …" Played by George Wendt, Norm Peterson was an alcohol-soaked accountant perpetually avoiding his unseen wife Vera; actor John Ratzenberger's Cliff Clavin was a know-it-all mama's-boy postal worker. But even as Sam and Diane stole the spotlight, these two served as a sort of Greek chorus at the corner of Cheers' titular bar, dispensing demented wisdom from half-drained mugs of beer. They proved that deeply flawed people deserved a seat at the Must-See-TV table.

Play video

8. Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, ‘Breaking Bad’

Among all the pairings on this list, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman embodied the widest variety of archetypes. Student and teacher, master and servant, father and son, hero and villain — over the course of Breaking Bad's five-plus seasons, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul were tasked with playing all these relationships and more. Not bad, considering that Jesse wasn't intended to last longer than the first season. Instead, his increasingly warped connection to mild-mannered chemistry teacher turned mass-murdering meth kingpin called "Heisenberg" drove one of the greatest drams of all time, from start to finish.

Play video

7. Benson and Stabler, ‘Law & Order: SVU’

We're not entirely sure it's possible to capture the partnership at the center of the venerable Law & Order spin-off on paper unless you watched it unfold in real time. In that case, you saw Christopher Meloni's bullet-headed Irish-Catholic detective lock horns, and hearts, with Mariska Hargitay's sensitive but street-tough counterpart, until their antagonistic professional dynamic slowly gave way to something way deeper (and sexier). Suffice it to say, the ability to turn a show with a subject matter this disturbing into a vehicle for forbidden, unspoken romance is magic of the darkest sort.

Play video

6. Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, ‘The Odd Couple’

Ideally, the Odd Couple theme song is playing in your head the entire time you were reading this article. Regardless, it's hard to imagine very many of the entries on this list without first establishing Tony Randall's fastidious Felix Unger and Jack Klugman's slovenly Oscar Madison as the basis for the format. Springing from the equally iconic duo of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in playwright Neil Simon's Broadway original, Randall and Klugman parlayed their clashing sensibilities into comedy gold, giving rise to a phrase used to described mismatched yet utterly perfect pairings to this day.

Play video

5. Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, ‘Star Trek’

The hot-headed, hot-blooded human, the cold, emotionless Vulcan — it was the brotherhood that transcended personalities, cultures, even species. Captain James Tiberius Kirk and Mister Spock (son of Sarek) embodied the dueling tendencies of the Cold War liberalism that informed Gene Roddenberry's seminal sci-fi series: One was impulsive and emotional, the other scientific and logical. The roles launched actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy into immortality, and the contours of their relationship can be seen everywhere from Obi-Wan and Anakin to Iron Man and Captain America today.

Play video

4. Bert and Ernie, ‘Sesame Street’

These two characters taught generations of children what friendship was. Such was the singular genius of Muppets creator Jim Henson that the personalities of Sesame Street's BFFs could be determined through phrenology alone: Round-headed Ernie was exuberant and humorous, while pointy-noggined Bert was buttoned-up and serious. Henson's TV creations did not suffer from a shortage of memorable duos — Kermit and Piggy, Statler and Waldorf, Big Bird and Mister Snuffleupagus — but the orange and yellow roommates at the center of his long-running show were his yin and yang par excellence.

Play video

3. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, ‘Saturday Night Live’

Today "Weekend Update," tomorrow the world. These women paired with future late-night titans Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers on either side of their fake-newscaster reign together — and with all due respect to Jane Curtain and Dan Aykroyd, Colin Jost and Michael Che, etc., no duo has occupied that desk better. (Their recent joint return as dual SNL hosts has been the highlight of this season; see that "Meet Your Second Wife" sketch.) Fey and Poehler parlayed their time on Saturday Night Live into careers as comedy moguls, movie stars and Golden Globe co-hosts, but they're the most powerful power couple in TV history, full stop.

Play video

2. Lucy and Ethel, ‘I Love Lucy’

A great comedy duo is like a well-oiled machine, even when the machine is spinning out of control. So look no further for evidence of Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance's factory-precision teamwork than the legendary I Love Lucy episode where they become workers on chocolate-factory assembly line, keeping the candy moving by any means necessary. That was the secret to Lucy and Ethel's relationship: No matter what hijinks they got into, they truly felt like friends who'd do whatever it took to get each other out of it again.

Play video

1. Mulder and Scully, ‘The X-Files’

Can professional ethics, intellectual antagonism, unyielding loyalty, platonic friendship, and raw sexual tension all get along? I want to believe. Put simply, Dana Scully and Fox "Spooky" Mulder were, and are, the most complex and compelling male-female partnership ever to be put on the small screen. Mulder's fanaticism and Scully's skepticism, her cool and his heat, David Duchovny's irresistible sex appeal and, uh, Gillian Anderson's irresistible sex appeal — X-Files creator Chris Carter could not have created a better pair of FBI agents to embody his series' pre-millennium paranoia, nor cast two better actors to play them. Friends, rivals, partners, lovers — they're every great TV duo all at once, which makes them the greatest of all.

Show Comments