So much in TV history rests on the power of two.
I’m not talking about the workplace romances where the writers string us along with a will-they-or-won’t-they tension when we all pretty much know they will: Sam and Diane on “Cheers,” say, or Jim and Pam on “The Office,” or David and Maddie on “Moonlighting,” or Janine and Gregory on “Abbott Elementary.”
No, I’m talking about the friendships or platonic relationships that have served as the true dramatic motor of a remarkable number of TV series, starting with the medium’s early days.
Two prominent examples, of course, are Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance) on “I Love Lucy,” and Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and Ed Norton (Art Carney) on “The Honeymooners.”
Writers during television’s “Golden Age” seem to have quickly realized that friendships opened up a lot of adventurous possibilities and entertaining story lines. Think of the classic chocolate factory episode in “I Love Lucy.” Think of how amusing it was to watch the short-fused Ralph continually try, and continually fail, to not blow his stack at Norton’s inanity on “The Honeymooners.”
Now that we’re in what has been called TV’s Second Golden Age, friendships are still central to the core of many series. Think of “Insecure,” with Issa Rae as Issa and Yvonne Orji as Molly; or “Shrill,” with Aidy Bryant as Annie and Lolly Adefope as Fran; or “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” with Tituss Burgess as Titus and Ellie Kemper as Kimmy. Or, in the realm of sketch comedy, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele on “Key and Peele.”
Of course, there have also been plenty of shows built around larger groups of friends, such as “Friends,” “Sex and the City,” “The Golden Girls,” “Only Murders in the Building,” and “Girls.”
In recent years, the importance of friendships as we age has emerged as a central theme of series like “Grace and Frankie,” starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and “The Kominsky Method,” featuring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin.
Some of these TV friendships offer a deeper connection than romantic partners can supply. The message seems to be: Friendship is what endures.