Friday, January 25, 2013

"It's called chemistry. I have it with EVERYBODY!"

My friends can attest to the fact that I loathed Chemistry when I had to take it in high school. Maybe this was because I hated both math and science or perhaps I can attribute my dislike for the subject to the time of day I had to learn about it (7 AM, five days a week). Regardless of WHY I disliked Chemistry, I did. But there’s another kind of chemistry, a kind that exists between people, which is what I want to discuss. This word – chemistry – can really be classified as the palpable relationship between actors and characters in a form of media (be it television, movies, books, etc.)

So what does great chemistry look like? What makes one couple have great chemistry, while another pair falls flat? I think that the key to romantic tension, to cohesion, and to a spark is two-fold: 1) excellent writing; 2) connections between actors. In order for characters to succeed, they need talented and devoted people writing for them. Conversely, in order for a writer’s vision to come to fruition, they need talented and devoted actors willing to portray those characters. There is no magic formula for what makes a show succeed or fail. I can’t tell you why some actors have palpable tension, but I CAN give you examples of some of the best television chemistry as chosen by… you all!

That’s right – you’ve spoken and I’ve pondered and now I present you with some categories featuring the best in television chemistry. If you’re ready, grab some popcorn and prepare to squeal: these are the pairings that make you coo one moment and want to pull your hair out the next. They’re the will-they-won’t-theys and the actors that cause you to throw objects at your television sets.

But they all have one thing in common.


Tier 1: The “JUST KISS ALREADY!” Couples

Nick and Jess – New Girl

If there was ever a couple used to epitomize the “NOW KISS” meme, I feel like Nick Miller and Jessica Day would definitely be in the running for it. These two characters have had subtle chemistry since the pilot episode of the series – truthfully, they’re the only couple I have ever shipped from the very first episode. And this is partly due to the fabulous writing of the characters, but also – perhaps more so – due to the insane chemistry between Jake Johnson and Zooey Deschanel.

During last year’s New Girl panel at Paleyfest, Liz Meriwether actually discussed the chemistry between these two. The writers are intentionally not jumping the gun and getting Nick and Jess together. And that, I think, is a good idea. Too many television shows notice a couple has chemistry and then try to fit those two characters together before we, the audience, get a chance to know them or before they get a chance to really know themselves. But Jake and Zooey noted in the panel that they’re often criticized on set for having too much chemistry… even when they’re just standing next to one another. And it’s true – Nick always looks at Jess like he wants to kiss her. Always. And the two have so much tension and chemistry that you physically FEEL the electricity whenever they stand within two feet of one another. It’s both wonderful and… frustrating.

Nick and Jess have been developed to the point where you sit on the edge of your seat, wait for them to have a scene together, cross your fingers and hope that maybe – just MAYBE – they’ll finally act on their feelings for one another. If next week’s promo is any indicator we might get a little resolution (but let’s be honest here: we know we won’t ACTUALLY get any resolution) in regards to my favorite “JUST KISS ALREADY!” couple.

Darcy and Lizzie – The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

My latest obsession is this YouTube web series, and my latest “JUST KISS ALREADY!” couple would have to be Darcy and Lizzie from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Pretty much everyone knows the story of Pride & Prejudice. It’s been told a million times, in a million ways, and in a million (or more) romantic comedies. But what really makes an adaptation special is the chemistry between actors. And LBD has some fantastic chemistry – the girls who play the Bennet sisters really DO seem like sisters. And the chemistry between Darcy and Lizzie is no exception.

The two began with angry, awkward tension that has slowly dissolved into… romantic chemistry and tension. The way that they look at one another now is so different from the way they did at the beginning – on Lizzie’s end, this is especially noticeable. And I have to give credit to both Daniel Vincent Gordh and Ashley Clements for subtly softening each of their characters’ expressions. Because these two have wonderful chemistry together. Even when they aren’t playing Darcy and Lizzie and are, for instance, on stage reading passages from The Fault in Our Stars as Augustus and Hazel… there’s no denying that there is something special between them as actors and people.

And it’s not like half of us sit there every week and yell “KISS!” at our computers whenever a video featuring Darcy and Lizzie emerges. … not at all.

Ned and Chuck – Pushing Daisies

One of the most difficult relationships to watch play out on television was that of Ned and Chuck’s on Pushing Daisies. I loved the show immensely during its short stint on ABC. And there was a palpable, undeniable chemistry that existed between the two… which made the fact that they could never touch the absolute worst thing in the world.

The chemistry between the two was beautiful – Ned loved Chuck so much that he brought her back to life. Unfortunately, that meant that he was burdened with the curse of never being able to physically touch her again, lest she return to her previous state. But the two found their way in this quirky, short-lived series. They improvised and DID manage to kiss through a piece of plastic wrap. Nevertheless, I am sure a great percentage of Pushing Daisies’ viewing audience yelled “KISS, PLEASE!” at their television sets on a weekly basis.

Tier 2: The “Will They EVER Get Together?” Couples

Jeff and Annie – Community

There are some couples who have unintentional chemistry. I think one of the best cases of this is between Jeff Winger and Annie Edison on Community. When the show began, it was made clear to the audience that Britta was the woman Jeff would be seeking to woo – she is, after all, the reason he formed a study group in the first place. But then, a magical episode called “Debate 109” happened and everything exploded. In a good way, of course.

There is a heaping amount of chemistry between Joel and Alison which makes their characters so enjoyable to watch. The debate episode was the first real glimpse we got into this romantic tension, and you could cut it with a knife. (And perhaps you, too, were yelling “KISS ALREADY!” at your screens.) It was the way that Jeff looked at Annie when she took her hair down that really sealed the deal for me. Because it was in that moment that everything Jeff previously thought about Annie changed – she went from the “acquaintance box,” so to speak, to the “… wow box” in a matter of seconds.

And ever since then, the tension has been building and waning and then building again between these two characters. They look at one another with googly eyes (a fact noted by Shirley), admit that they care about one another, and get jealous when the other is interested in someone else romantically. So the lingering question as we move into season four, and our potentially final season is this:


I think (hope) we will find out.

Harvey and Donna – Suits

When will we find out what “that other time” was? What exactly do Harvey and Donna do with the can opener? As far as couples go, Harvey Specter and Donna Paulsen fall into my: “Will they EVER get together?” category without a doubt. When I began to marathon Suits (after so many of you tweeted incessantly about the show), I knew I would love Donna Paulsen. I knew I would love Mike Ross. And I knew I would love Harvey Specter.

I guess I just didn’t know, going into the show, how much chemistry would be between Harvey and Donna. It’s more than romantic chemistry and tension and a sense of will-they-won’t-they-have-they-already? Harvey and Donna are best friends. Donna is Harvey’s conscience, his voice of reason, and – as he said once – he can’t be himself without her. So for me, this Suits couple is chock full of both romantic tension and a sense of a deeper connection between them. A bond, if you will, that makes them more dimensional than a lot of couples.

Because let’s face it, I would LOVE if Harvey and Donna got together. Eventually.

Jane and Lisbon – The Mentalist

Sometimes I like to watch The Mentalist when there are re-runs airing on TNT (which is… a lot), and the tension between Jane and Lisbon really gets me every time I watch an episode. It’s more than me wanting to yell “KISS ALREADY!” at the screen, though. Watching their relationship develop over the seasons always leaves me wondering if they will EVER get together because they work so well as partners and best friends that it kind of kills me to know there’s this tension there that has yet to be resolved.

I think that’s the worst part of the couples in this category, though: all of the couples have openly acknowledged the romantic chemistry between them and yet… nothing has happened. Nothing has been fully resolved, which leaves us yelling at the television sets each week, crossing our fingers and hoping that these couples will FINALLY decide to take the plunge and get together.

Until then, the waiting is the hardest part.

Travis and Laurie – Cougar Town

Kudos to one of my blogging best friends (and best friends in general) Jaime for assisting me with the explanation of the chemistry that exists between these couples. Here is her take on Travis and Laurie from Cougar Town:

Okay, so Travis and Laurie. Travis is so upfront about his feelings for her, but they both still kind of keep each other at a distance. And you just want to smack them both upside the head and tell them to kiss already.

Ah, yes. This is one of the few television couples I like to say I ship purely through osmosis – meaning that I have never really watched Cougar Town consistently enough to make a decision, but ship it because of the fact that many of YOU all do (I also feel this way about Dan/Blair).

Tier 3: The “THANK GOODNESS They Got Together” Couples

Booth and Brennan – Bones

Via the always lovely and insightful Kim Rogers of Head Over Feels comes this gem about Booth/Brennan from Bones:

Seeley Booth even acknowledges in the pilot episode of Bones that he and Brennan could be Mulder and Scully (you'll learn soon that everything goes back to them). But you know what? That's okay.  The dynamic works. And is very flail worthy.

The main difference between Booth/Brennan and Mulder/Scully is that B/B's chemistry was more overtly sexual right from the start, and as the seasons progressed they were both more vocal (especially Booth) about their attraction and their feelings on love. The problem was that Brennan claimed to not believe in love, so Booth spent (too many) seasons showing her that love DOES exist and there CAN be one person out there meant for you.

Mulder/Scully was more of a slow build, but I was ready for Booth/Brennan to be doing it within the first few episodes. What is it about David Boreanaz and his female leads? He seems to have chemistry with all of them. And they way he plays Booth pining over Brennan is flail-worthy. There were many scenes before they finally got together (OFF SCREEN. I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU HART HANSON) that I would scream: "Oh just kiss her, you idiot." or "OMG YOU GUYS ARE IN LOVE, JUST SAY IT."

Totally normal behavior right?

Barney and Robin – How I Met Your Mother

In between fluctuations in the Ted/Robin romantic mishaps, most of us were sitting, fingers crossed, that Barney and Robin would finally get together. That Barney would set aside his womanizing ways, that he and Robin would take the plunge and just get together. And then they did. And we cheered!

And then they broke up and… well, we were broken-hearted. When Barney broke up with Nora for Robin, and Robin stayed with Kevin, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of us just cried on the inside (or outside. I don’t know your life!). It’s painful to watch two characters who have such great chemistry together, who are obviously connected on more than just a physical level, to not work out. And a lot of us hoped – nay, prayed – that when it came time to find out who Barney married in the future, we would see Robin standing there in a dress.

And when we did, we all freaked out.

Barney and Robin have had their ups, their downs, and their “what the heck happened?” moments as a couple, which I think is something that is necessary for them. Barney and Robin would have never made sense if their journey of getting together had been easy. That’s just not who they are as individual characters, and it wouldn’t have made any sense translated into a relationship. But now, we can breathe a little easier (she says, knocking on wood) because Barney and Robin finally made it.

Maxwell and Fran – The Nanny

I’m taking it old school with one of the biggest will-they-won’t-they-PLEASE-get-together-already couples from my childhood: Maxwell and Fran from The Nanny. I grew up watching this and Full House with my family. And I love watching the show as an adult because I can really pick up on all of the meta references that are made to Maxwell and Fran’s relationship.

These two were the biggest “they HAVE to get together” couples I can remember. Charles and Fran had such great comedic chemistry as actors and also fabulous romantic chemistry. It was a long waiting game for these two, but not without payoff: the couple eventually got married and had children of their own toward the end of the series.

(To that end, we were always waiting to see if the antagonistic tension between Niles and C.C. would amount to anything. Spoiler alert: it did!)

Danny and Lindsay – CSI:NY

It was the moment that Sid told Lindsay about the real reason behind Danny’s nickname for her where I really fell for this couple. They had always been less of a will-they-might-they couple and more of an I-really-hope-this-ends-well couple. They’ve had their ups and downs, too, but one of the things I love most about this tier of couples with chemistry is that there is a perfect balance between each of their personalities, and that causes the relationship to survive. Danny is headstrong and Lindsay is determined, but patient. She’s the other half of Danny.

And really, that’s what couples with chemistry really necessitate – a wholeness. A completeness. Could these characters survive without one another? Well, yes. Lindsay was introduced later on in the series, so Danny functioned before he met her. But can Danny function at his BEST without Lindsay in his life? I don’t think so (and vice versa, for that matter). These two were always endearing because of how real they were. They had and have flaws, but they’ve made it work. Because they NEED each other. Because they WANT each other.

And that’s what is important.

Gordo and Lizzie – Lizzie McGuire

I shipped Gordo and Lizzie before I even knew what shipping was. And it’s kind of a childhood sitcom staple to have the two best friends have crushes on one another at some point in the show. Gordo and Lizzie were something special, though. He was ALWAYS there for her, regardless of if she was in a relationship or not. He was her best friend, first and foremost. And that’s why he never really could tell her his feelings.

Lizzie, on the other hand, was pretty much clueless the entire series that Gordo liked her. She, too, valued their friendship and was supportive of him. They had, after all, known each other their entire lives. But it wasn’t until later on where Lizzie discovered that the reason Gordo was competing against her to win at a murder mystery dinner party that SHE truly began to contemplate her feelings. She had always seen him as her best friend but… that moment (much like the moment Annie lets her hair down in “Debate 109”) REALLY caused her to think.

(And then, gratifyingly, we got a kiss in The Lizzie McGuire Movie.)

Ben and Leslie – Parks and Recreation

I, once again, turned to my trusty and insightful BFF Jaime for an explanation on why Ben and Leslie have such great chemistry:

Oh God, where do I begin? Ben and Leslie began as adversaries. But the show was smart enough to realize that the two characters would respect each other, and made t hem friends. Who clearly wanted more. Their growth was so realistic and their eventual struggles (the biggest obstacle that kept them apart was the fact that he was technically her boss) were things that made sense. 

And THEN, just when the audience couldn’t stand it anymore, they FINALLY kissed and it was perfect. They’re both huge dorks, but they embrace it in each other and make each other (and me) so happy.

So there you have it, folks. Ben and Leslie!

Tier 4: … And Then There Are THESE Couples

Jim and Pam – The Office

There are couples with chemistry and then there are penultimate couples with chemistry.

(I think you all know, by the title, where this is headed.)

Jim and Pam were the most voted in my informal Twitter poll for the couple with great chemistry, and I’d be absurd to disagree. I love Jim and Pam, both as individual characters and as a single functioning Halpert duo. Jim Halpert, in the beginning of the series, was always represented as “the guy” – he was the character female viewers of the show always wanted to be involved with. Was he insanely attractive? I’d argue that Jim is physically cute, but what makes him so attractive to so many people is his HEART. If nothing else, I feel that Jim and Pam are an excellent example of a couple that is based on friendship and devotion and utter love, not just attraction.

Jim WAITS for Pam. That’s the most important aspect of their relationship – he was patient. He waited around for her because, as he says later on in the series, he “knew he was waiting for [his] wife.” Truthfully, that is one of the most beautiful things and one of the best examples of a relationship I can think of. He (unless you include “Casino Night”) never openly expressed how much he loved her when she was with Roy. But he did, all the same. He was her best friend and she was his.

The waiting game – that terribly long period of time viewers had to endure before they saw Jim and Pam get together, become engaged, and then tie the knot – seemed so long. But I believe the payoff was worth the waiting. And perhaps that’s the strongest lesson to take away from this couple – sometimes you have to wait a long time for the right person. But it will ALWAYS be worth it.

Mulder and Scully – X-Files

I know you all are utterly shocked by this fact but… I have not watched EVERY television show in existence. (I know, right?) So I’ve recruited some of my special blogger friends throughout this post to help explain why they love certain couples. Thanks to Kim, I got a little insight into the iconic couple of Mulder and Scully:

Let's just get this out of the way.

Mulder and Scully are the ULTIMATE couple with chemistry. Everybody else can go home.  

Booth and Brennan. Castle and Beckett. Peter and Olivia. These couples and most of the couples being highlighted on this blog owe EVERYTHING to the simmering unresolved sexual tension between Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. 

Mulder and Scully were my gateway into shipping when I didn't even know what shipping WAS. All I knew was that when Mulder would gaze at Scully (which he even claimed NOT to do in one episode.  He was in denial.), my heart would melt. And I would want them to kiss and get married and have lots of Alien chasing babies. And then I would scream at the TV when there was no kiss but instead it was just left at a lingering glance. Maybe a touch of hands. A hug if we were lucky. A kiss on the forehead if we were VERY lucky. But really, as this video exemplifies, it was really all said in the way they looked at each other. Their looks said SO MUCH. They said "I'm here for you", "I hate you", "You drive me NUTS," "You fascinate me," and "I trust you and no one else." But most of all, their looks said: "I love you."

(And they were doing it during commercial breaks. Head Canon Accepted.)

Logan and Veronica – Veronica Mars

Finally, Jaime offered some insight into Logan and Veronica from Veronica Mars for me too:

The reason these two work so well is because they understand each other. They became friends when they were fourteen, then started hating each other after Lily (Veronica's best friend and Logan's girlfriend) died, but never lost that connection. And, moreover, they have the same sense of humor, so a lot of the show would just be them snarking at each other, and it was WONDERFUL. 

They eventually got together (secretly, of course, for maximum hotness) in the first season, when finally all their hatred and anger towards each other came out as, you know, the urge to bone. And after they first started dating, even when they broke up before season two, they were always connected to each other, and could never fully cut the other one out of their lives. BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, THEY'RE PERFECT AND STUFF.

Ross and Rachel – Friends

It’s not a couples-with-chemistry list until I include the forever iconic Ross and Rachel. So why exactly are these two characters always near the top of the “favorite television couples” list year after year? It’s a question I like to ponder, considering how rocky the relationship between Ross and Rachel was throughout the entirety of Friends. And I think a part of the reason stems back to what I mentioned earlier with Jim and Pam – Ross ALWAYS had feelings for Rachel, even when she didn’t reciprocate. “The One With the Prom Video,” of course, is the prime example of just how much Ross loved her.

But I think that in order for there to be chemistry between characters, there also has to be what Ross and Rachel have – tension and fighting. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But Jenn,” you’ll argue, “are you insinuating that you cannot be a couple with great chemistry unless you fight a lot and yell at each other?”

Well, no. Of course I am not insinuating that. Part of the reason, though, that Ross and Rachel are iconic is because of their on-again off-again relationship and Ross’ insistence of being on a break (“Oh my God, if you say that one more time I’M going to break up with you!”) is actually evidence of flaws and a flawed relationship. What I hate more than anything is watching a relationship play out on-screen that is just TOO good – too happy, too romantic, too full of fluff. When couples fight in television shows, when they disagree on something, and when they don’t always see eye-to-eye is when they are the most realistic. No one is happy 24/7. Even the most well-meaning and wonderful people disagree.

The chemistry – that genuine pull toward another person, though – between Ross and Rachel is what drives them toward one another time and time again. The fact that, when the dust settles and everything is laid bare, RACHEL is always the one Ross goes back to and vice versa. They’re not perfect. They mess up. But their love is built on more than the idea of romance and happiness and bliss.

And THAT is why they are iconic.

Extra-Special Tier: The Honorable Mentions

Chandler and Monica – Friends

Castle and Beckett – Castle

Luke and Lorelai – Gilmore Girls

The Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler – Doctor Who

Matthew and Mary – Downton Abbey

And, for the ultimate couple…

Ellis and NOT EXISTING – Smash

(... Yes, that one was a joke.)

Drop a comment below and let me know who YOU choose for your television couple with the most chemistry. And, most importantly, don’t forget to tell us all WHY you chose them!


Stay tuned to the blog (Bookmark me! Follow @notajenny on Twitter! Stalk this blog!) because beginning next Thursday – January 31st – I will be kicking off a special week-long countdown to the return of Community. :)


  1. I was expecting to see Amy and Rory from Doctor Who on this list. I openly shipped them during Series 5 and 6. They got under my skin, in the best ways.

  2. "And perhaps that’s the strongest lesson to take away from this couple – sometimes you have to wait a long time for the right person. But it will ALWAYS be worth it."

    Good advice for all us single girls still waiting for our Jim!

    Great post, as always, Jenn!