10 Best TV Romances of 2012
Maybe it was out of a fear from the potential apocalypse, or maybe there’s just something about even-numbered years, but 2012 was particularly amorous for TV couples.
Whether romance, bromance, or one night stand, there was a lot of “friendly” physicality this year, but also a lot of heartfelt sentiment underneath. Now, a bit of forewarning: This is only my own personal list. I haven’t seen every show on TV this year, nor do I watch every show on TV regularly, since that would be more or less impossible. But I do watch beyond just the shows I’m assigned, so I genuinely did try to make this list as comprehensive as possible. However, since I’m likely missing some big-time romances, I’m inviting (nay, imploring!) you to sound off in the comments with your own picks for favorite TV romances. I look forward to reading your thoughts!
The following is in no particular order (said the guy who looks nothing like Mario Lopez):
Barney and Robin, How I Met Your Mother
The Barney/Robin courtship was pretty hard to get behind for much of 2012, as both parties were embroiled in their own separate relationships that ultimately led nowhere. Okay, maybe just for Robin (Cobie Smulers). Barney’s relationship with Quinn (Becki Newton) ostensibly provided the last bit of development our inveterate horndog needed to come to the realization that maybe he’s the marryin’ kind after all. In fact, much of what makes the Barney/Robin pairing work is the sincerity of the performance by Neil Patrick Harris, who anchors the sentimental end of it by showing gradual cracks in his bro-centric, beauty-bedding facade. The winter finale of How I Met Your Mother culminated in a marriage proposal so elaborate, and relying upon so many external factors beyond Barney’s control that the willing suspension of disbelief is damn near impossible, as the entire plot nearly collapses under the simplest acts of scrutiny. And yet, dammit, it absolutely works – because even though the chemistry is occasionally iffy, it’s really quite the perfect pairing when you take into consideration everything we know about the characters: their shared history of daddy issues, their occasional tendency to use sex as a coping mechanism (though Barney does this far more often than Robin), and their constant fear of winding up alone, and never finding anyone to truly love them. This is to say nothing of their very similar senses of humor, to the point that it kind of surprised me that Robin didn’t see the genius in Barney’s marriage proposal, having been playing the long-con on her by coaxing out her buried feelings for him by making him think he had moved on. Maybe it was emotionally manipulative of him to not only utilize the last play in his fabled Playbook to win, but to literally turn her into that last play. But it’s perfectly in line with what we know about Barney for him to have tried it in the first place, and for Robin to have fallen for it. I’m not only continually surprised by the amount of off-again/on-again vitriol the pairing gets from fan communities, and also by how the show finds new ways for me to become invested in the romance itself, since I had grown pretty tepid on the idea of these two ending up together. But it works, to the point where it almost doesn’t matter that the storyline (in the first half of season eight) has been pretty rushed. There’s a certain resonance to seeing two self-admittedly damaged people finding acceptance in one another.
Phillip Phillips and Heejun Han, American Idol
If there was a finer bromance (and there’s a term that’s getting overused) on TV in 2012, I haven’t seen it. Phillip Phillips and Heejun Han were guilelessly unsubtle about their fondness for one another, whether from weekly onscreen antics:
Or showing genuine affection during results shows:
Or even sharing a touching little moment at the finale:
Maybe it’s that they share similar senses of humor, or maybe they’re opposites to such a degree that they make natural friends. Or maybe, deep down, they’re secretly the same person, and split into separate personalities by some strange government experiment gone horribly right. Either way, it’s resulted in reality TV’s finest pairing in ages, full of all the whimsy and fun of the best TV romances, but with none of the miserablist, trainwreck drama of the worst.
Mary and Matthew Crawley, Downton Abbey
Even though an average season of Downton Abbey is between six and eight episodes, it feels like it’s taken the better part of forever for Mary and Matthew Crawley to get together. Maybe that’s because Downton Abbey has been so cavalier about time (I’m sure the narrative will have leapt forward half a decade), or maybe it’s because writer Julian Fellowes was finding a more delicate way to acclimate modern audiences to the idea of cousins marrying. Okay, it’s probably not that. But while it’s true that Mary and Matthew are cousins, it doesn’t necessarily dull the impact of their romance. Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens have wonderful chemistry, as they volley barbs off of one another with terrific wit and verve. But beyond that, there’s a simpler dynamic at play that works even better, as Matthew’s code of ethics is as much an obstacle to his relationship with Mary as World War I, or the pesky presence of a super cute fiance. Matthew cannot be with Mary unless his conscience is clear, while Mary can only be with Matthew if she feels wholly accepted, even if she doesn’t exactly have the most sterling past. It’s a romance between two individuals unwilling to compromise, and 2012 saw the relationship come full circle (well, for US audiences anyway, and that’s how I’m doing this list), as Matthew proposed and Mary accepted. American fans will find out whether they actually tie the knot when series three premieres on January 6th on PBS. But please, dearest UK readers, let’s keep any and all Downton discussion spoiler-free in the comments!
Amy Pond and Rory Williams, Doctor Who
Well, I guess, technically, she became “Amy Williams” after the wedding, but I’m more in line with The Doctor’s humorous implication that, even in name, Rory is second banana to Amy, to where he’d probably be better served taking her last name (in keeping with this observation, The Doctor occasionally took to referring to them as “the Ponds”). Of course, this was merely a jest from The Doctor, as he recognized better than anybody just how even their love grew to be. What started as a seemingly one-sided relationship quickly turned into something more substantial over the course of Amy and Rory’s time as The Doctor’s companions: a period which saw Rory die (multiple times), Amy encased in a cubical monolith (called the Pandorica) for 2000 years, and their only biological child abducted and raised by psychos. And 2012 wasn’t much kinder to them, what with how things ultimately turned out for the pair in the midseason finale “The Angels Take Manhattan”, in which Amy and Rory are sent back in time, where they will remain for the rest of their lives, never to see The Doctor, their daughter, or their family and friends again. It would be a far more tragic end if not for the episode’s coda, in which Amy relays a final farewell to The Doctor, exonerating him of all blame, and reiterating that she and Rory would always be able to make a life for themselves as long as they were together. Because, really, that was all that mattered for them. Sure, it’s not ideal to be stuck living life from the 1930s-on, but they were still able to adopt a child of their own, and live out their days in happiness and peace. Together. In a way, it’s a fitting end to a couple that’s been through so much.
Glenn and Maggie, The Walking Dead
Of all the new pairings of the year in TV, the romance between fan favorite Glenn and farmer’s daughter Maggie has to be among the sweetest. Which is a hell of a thing, considering it developed in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. In a sense, it’s a perfect match: shy, reserved Glenn and outspoken, yet sheltered Maggie. In the struggle to simply keep surviving, it didn’t seem like any of The Walking Dead’s group of survivors was considering the possibility of a love connection, in any way whatsoever. Yet romance not only falls into Glenn/Maggie’s laps (courtesy of an impromptu hook-up in an abandoned pharmacy), but also develops thanks to their mutual nurturing of what could have been a one-off hook-up. Glenn starts to realize just how badly he wants to live, now that he has Maggie to fight for, and Maggie is gradually shaken by just how much she relies on Glenn for emotional support, and how much she fears for his safety (which is reflected in Glenn’s concerns about Maggie’s well-being). They trade declarations of love as they become official, but their relationship becomes an even stronger pairing in the third season, as the couple is abducted by the dictatorial Governor. We see the pain in Glenn at not being able to protect Maggie from The Governor and his sexual mindgames, while we also see how deeply invested Maggie has become in not losing Glenn, choosing to give up the location of their group to spare Glenn a bullet to the head. Though the duo eventually escapes thanks to the actions of Rick and co., it’s hard to know where the show is going to go with the pairing, and looking to the graphic novels likely won’t give much of an indication, given how frequently the show strays from its source material. Regardless, Glenn and Maggie make for one of TV’s strongest pairings, if for no other reason than because, in the show’s weaker moments, they were the only worthwhile attachment for the viewer to make. The Walking Dead is terrific in its third season, but 2012 also featured the back-half of its second, which was pretty rough, but for the bright spots of Glenn and Maggie’s burgeoning relationship. In many ways, they anchor the series (Glenn, in particular), giving the audience a fully-formed, three-dimensional set of characters to invest in. And their romance is the natural progression of the series, illustrating the show’s much tighter focus on character, and on developing those characters’ relationships to one another in an engaging, rewarding fashion.
Prince Charming and Snow White, Once Upon A Time
It’s TV’s most wholesome romantic pairing, yet the romance between Prince Charming and Snow White drives Once Upon A Time in a far more substantive way than Glenn and Maggie’s love motivates The Walking Dead. The first season narrative took a lot of turns in keeping Snow White (in her Storybrooke persona of Mary Margaret Blanchard) from Prince Charming (as Storybrooke resident David Nolan), with everything from a coma, to a wife, to an intricate murder mystery that threatened to send Mary Margaret to prison. Yet much of what made the romance work as well as it did were the flashbacks to their courtship in the fairy tale world. Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin don’t have the scorching hot chemistry of some of the other entries into this list, instead having a more chaste chemistry, but almost from their first meeting, they felt like a real couple, presenting an honest, lived-in relationship full of playful banter, cutting rejoinders, and heartfelt sincerity. In brief, it felt like a classic fairy tale relationship. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A G-rated romance never killed anyone. Yet as we saw season one come to an end in the first half of 2012, and return for season two in the waning months of the year, the romance seemed to go back to square one, with Mary Margaret and David remembering their personas as Prince Charming and Snow White, only to then be separated by a magic hat (and I don’t mean the beer). It was such a hackneyed plot device that I pretty much wrote off the relationship altogether, until the winter finale came back around to remind the audience that while Snow and Charming may have other, separate storylines going on, their narrative will always, invariably, come back to one another.
Ben and Leslie, Parks and Recreation
If the only thing that happened on Parks and Recreation this season was Ben’s marriage proposal to Leslie (in the aptly titled “Halloween Surprise”), Ben and Leslie would still likely be among TV’s most beloved pairings. It’s exceedingly rare, in this day and age, for a half-hour comedy to really nail a romance the way Parks and Recreation has zeroed in on this pairing, giving them fitting conflict over the length of their romance (from breaking up for fear that their relationship could create a scandal that would harm Leslie’s City Council campaign, to a job in Washington D.C. that would take Ben away from Pawnee for months on end). The last TV sitcom romance I can think of that was done this well was Jim and Pam’s saga over on spiritual predecessor The Office. Or maybe Ted and Robin’s original courtship on How I Met Your Mother. Or maybe Barney and Robin’s recent try at a new start, but even then, Barney’s overly elaborate marriage proposal doesn’t hold a candle to the sweet simplicity of Ben’s. Ben and Leslie have been on-again/off-again for multiple seasons now, but with the first batch of season five episodes in 2012, they’ve truly cemented themselves as one of TV’s most beloved couples (as evidenced by not only the rabid cult fanbase, but also the critical praise for the deftness and honest of the couple’s romance plots. This is to say nothing of the occasionally-unsettling amount of fanfiction dedicated to the pair in the fan community). Even without proper context, the proposal scene is still engaging, moving TV:
The relationship is rich with sincerity and the kind of honest, heartfelt emotion that necessitates arming yourself with a box of tissues. I can’t even say how rarely that happens on a sitcom in this day and age.
Kurt and Blaine, Glee
As a series, Glee seems to be a bit of a different show than it was when it started out four years ago. Yet “Klaine”, as they’ve come to be known online, have been one of the show’s constants. It’s strange, in a way, as the pairing is the anti-“Finchel” (Rachel/Finn), if you think about it. Check out enough polls online, and you’ll find far more people consistently on-board with Kurt and Blaine as the show-anchoring couple, whereas fan communities remain quite divided on Rachel/Finn, with some saying that the pairing is stale and both sides should have moved past each other by now, while others insist that this pairing is very much part of what makes Glee what it is. Yet you don’t get nearly that level of debate about Kurt and Blaine’s relationship. I chalk it up to the more natural chemistry that Chris Colfer and Darren Criss have, in their best moments onscreen. In many ways, it’s the kind of chemistry that can carry a show through its weaker moments. There’s an affability to the duo, the feeling that these are people we know. And there’s always the desire to see people you know find happiness. Amid all the drama is a genuinely sweet relationship, with occasional touches of aching sincerity, befitting the best of TV romances.
Elena and Damon, The Vampire Diaries
Maybe it’s a bit unfair to put real-life couple Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder on a list together, since their chemistry comes easier than most, but this is one of the more nakedly, unabashedly sexual romances on TV. It’s full of all the torrid, passionate, salacious excess that’s missing from TV’s more chaste offerings. “My Brother’s Keeper” was stuffed with more sex than a cathouse in the Red Light District, yet the show presents a complexity that is often missing from romances like this, namely the question of just how much of their bond is built on an honest emotional foundation, and how much is a byproduct of Elena having been sired by Damon. True Blood did something like this last season with Pam and Tara, but I don’t feel like they pulled it off anywhere near as well, as that pairing came largely out of nowhere. Here, Damon (at the very least) has wanted this for a long-ass time, so the consummation of their romantic pairing felt like the culmination of a long-simmering dynamic. In a very real sense, it felt right (even if it’s a pairing that one half of the fanbase is probably going to hate). There’s a feeling of magnetism there that makes the pairing something that you might find yourself looking forward to, even if you’re not necessarily a fan of the relationship.
Carrie and Brody, Homeland
In what is probably the least traditional romance on the list, Carrie and Brody’s passionate relationship drives Homeland every bit as much as the politics, terror, and intrigue. Their hook-up in the cabin was among TV’s most erotic yet uncomfortable moments, and season two hasn’t relented in portraying a relationship of increasingly skewed power dynamics. Season two sees Carrie and Brody’s relationship only get more complicated, as their loyalties are tested like no other relationship on television. It’s both a personal and professional dynamic that gives the show much of its momentum. It’s sort of funny when you consider that Brody was supposed to die at the end of season one, but was spared from being written off the show once everyone saw the wicked chemistry Damian Lewis and Claire Danes had onscreen together. Thus, the stories were reworked to keep Brody around, resulting in the explosive second season that the show has received (in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been tip-toeing around actually spoiling anything, in the event that readers are watching on delay – you’d be surprised how many people wait until an entire season of TV is over before deciding to burn through every episode in one or two sittings. Or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised. What am I, the arbiter of surprise?). It’s pretty impressive when a couple has enough chemistry to keep one side of the pair alive when they’d been penciled in for an early exit. It’s another thing altogether when the chemistry is so intense that it requires reworking the entire narrative of the show to accommodate it. If you need any more proof for the success of the pairing, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis have matching His and Her Emmys for their performances! It’s rare that the Academy gives out awards for that kind of thing…unless the Academy in question is based in Las Vegas. In which case, I can almost guarantee that the award isn’t going to be shaped like an angel.
And that’s a wrap for 2012! Let me know what you think about the list, and what pairings you think are the best of 2012.