For the next three weeks, Vulture is holding a TV Couple Scuffle to determine the greatest couple on television in the past 30 years. Below, we ask: Which TV couples have you anti-shipped?
Shipping — fervently hoping that two fictional characters will get together — has been an integral part of TV fandom since time immemorial. But what about anti-shipping? The act of rooting against a fictional couple has been the subject of less academic analysis than its counterpart, but its history is a rich and varied one. Sometimes we cheer for an established couple to break up, sometimes we hope that a will-they-or-won’t-they romance will won’t, and sometimes, we just want two characters to stop making moony eyes at each other. Below, find nine exceptions to our usual rule that all TV characters should kiss.
Nancy and Jonathan, Stranger Things
Halfway through Stranger Things’ first season, I was beset by a curious sense of dread. No, not because of the drooling monster that was snatching up local teens, and not because of the shadowy government conspiracy led by the star of Cutthroat Island. Instead, it started the first time I saw Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers strolling through the trees, T-A-L-K-I-N-G. (Spoilers follow.) She was a perfectly coiffed high-achiever slowly making inroads with the popular crowd; he was a sensitive loner who’d been taking pictures of her without her knowledge. As they bonded over their shared losses one afternoon, my eyes started to roll skyward: Did we really need another story of a pretty girl slowly realizing that she should ditch her douchebag boyfriend to date a misunderstood artist, especially one she just found out was stalking her? Something can get lost when a show boils down a complicated, ambiguous relationship to a romance, and besides, I thought Nancy had a good thing going with Steve Harrington. Imagine my surprise, then, when the show didn’t get them together in the end. Instead, Stranger Things found a way to honor Nancy and Jonathan’s bond without suggesting they necessarily had to be together. In the world of TV, that might be the strangest thing of all. —Nate Jones (@kn8)
Alicia and Peter, The Good Wife
I can always appreciate a good power couple, but when the love is gone and the pressure becomes too great, it’s inevitably time to move on. Which is exactly what I did after watching Alicia and Peter Florrick’s train wreck of a relationship on The Good Wife. I understand that Alicia felt it was her duty to stand by her husband and support him, but did she have to do it for so long? Peter slept with so many characters on the show that, had the show continued for a few more years, there simply wouldn’t have been any more female characters left for him. It is also common knowledge that Alicia is the perfect woman. She is strong-willed, fiercely independent, and somehow manages to look incredible in a pantsuit. More importantly, she deserves to be happy. And then there’s Will Gardner. Sweet, innocent, who-still-leaves-voicemails-anymore Will, rest his soul. If Alicia had a chance to truly be with Will, everyone would have been infinitely better off. She could have left Peter after a few divorce-settlement episodes, and then probably wouldn’t have such a bad drinking problem. Hey, maybe she could have run against Peter for governor, and won! The possibilities, and pantsuit options, are endless. —Julia Edelman (@_juliaedelman)
Veronica and Duncan, Veronica Mars
The thing about a good ship is that, however much we might feign concern for the well-being of those involved, the only real factor is chemistry. There is, after all, little purpose in watching two warm-blooded characters interact onscreen if you don’t want to see ‘em kiss. Veronica Mars and Duncan Kane, high-school sweethearts broken up before the show even starts and possible if not probable siblings, do not have good chemistry. They do not have any chemistry. What they have is the muted befuddlement of polite acquaintances who somehow ended up staring at each other, though both would be hard-pressed to explain how. And it’s not just that Duncan and Veronica are boring together. It’s that Duncan — as interesting as a box of Wheaties — infects Veronica. Our Veronica! She of the weaponized bon mot; with Duncan, a dud. In flashbacks, the couple is exactly the nice, idle dullards whom Veronica later grows to disdain, and every romantic scene Veronica and Duncan share thereafter threatens to revert our girl back to bland. Duncan may be nice enough, but even when he’s not flat-out catatonic, the boy just can’t keep up. —Karen Brill (@okbrill)
Carrie and Brody, Homeland
Before I completely gave up on it, Homeland provoked a passionate bout of anti-shipping within my heart. Carrie Mathison and Nicholas Brody were utterly fascinating characters way back in the golden days of season one, and when they had that charged encounter in the group-therapy parking lot, I felt confident that the creators would steer things in an interesting direction. Obviously the hypercompetent Carrie was just manipulating Brody with some light honeypotting, n’est-ce pas? But as the tale wore on, it became clear that, no, they were really going for this romance thing. What a lazy narrative choice! I saw no chemistry between Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, but that wasn’t as irritating as the fact that a real relationship was a lot less fun to watch than two dueling faux-romances would have been. However, this particular grievance tumbled down the list of my complaints about Homeland around the time the show hacked the vice-president’s pacemaker. —Abraham Riesman (@abrahamjoseph)
Cersei and Jaime, Game of Thrones
They’re brother and sister. Is that not sufficient reason to anti-ship their longstanding incestuous love affair? Sigh. Okay, fine, here are some more reasons to root against their pairing: They bring out the worst in each other (ask Bran); every child their union has produced has died, which seems like a bad omen; one of those children was Joffrey, which is an even worse omen. I’d much prefer to see Jaime hook up with Brienne, and Cersei hook up with … pretty much anyone other than Jaime. Oh, and here’s one final reason: They’re freaking brother and sister! —Jen Chaney (@chaneyj)
Spencer and Toby, Pretty Little Liars
The worst couple on TV is the couple with the worst portmanteau: “Spoby.” These two could not have less chemistry, and their seasons-long co-dependency is the least fun part of a show that traffics in naked absurdity. While circumstances have kept the two apart in the show’s current (and final) season, there is still time for tragedy to reunite them before Pretty Little Liars ends for good. The strongest undercurrent of anxiety in every PLL episode doesn’t stem from the thought of what fresh hell the lying liars will endure, it comes from the weekly threat that Spencer will awkwardly fall back into Toby’s wooden embrace, thereby further undermining her credibility as ostensibly the most intelligent and mentally tough member of TV’s favorite pack of Nancy Drews. Let’s hope that love does not conquer all. —Jordan Crucchiola (@JorCru)
Tyra and Landry, Friday Night Lights
If you want to make any Friday Night Lights fan’s eyes twitch, mention the show’s second season, specifically the plot thread in which Landry Clarke kills the man stalking his crush, Tyra Collette. It was the type of cookie-cutter melodrama the show had steadily avoided in its first season, all for the sake of forcing the pair together, reducing Tyra’s character for the sake of Landry’s icky wish fulfillment. Miraculously, the show pulled out of its nosedive by season three, downgrading their relationship from romantic partners to two friends who can see through each other’s defenses. Within that new dynamic, Tyra emerges as one of the series best characters, especially when she gets to deliver a college essay that smartly references not Landry, but Jason Street, whose devastating football injury shocked her into empathy. This was never an isolated love story, but a community, a tangle of people who push and pull on each other — even as some try to escape. When Tyra goes off to college, realistically, she doesn’t have time for Landry at all. —Jackson McHenry (@McHenryJD)
Daphne and Fred, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!
A couple years before Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. canonized the Daphne Blake–Fred Jones romance in the Scooby-Doo movie, the long-running fan theory made an appearance in my third-grade classroom, and I was appalled. To be clear, I was the one peddling the rumor — my college-aged sister told me Fred had a crush on Daphne while we were watching Scooby-Doo reruns — but I expected everyone else in Ms. Hubbard’s class to find this idea as disgusting as I did. Besides a shared affinity for fashionable neckwear, why would Daphne ever give Fred the time of day? It was that helmet-haired dullard’s insistence on splitting up that always led to Daphne’s eventual capture by a ghost/mummy/shark-man, and when she ended up dangling in a net everyone called her “danger prone.” As far as I could tell, Daphne would have been better off packing up her wardrobe of fabulous purple dresses and using her feisty, go-getter attitude to start her own detective agency with just the help of a hilarious stoner and his goofy dog, which, by the way, is exactly what happened in The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries. —Tolly Wright (@TollyW)
Rachel and Joey, Friends
Let’s be clear about something: Rachel Green and Joey Tribbiani absolutely should have had sex at some point in Friends’ ten-year run. In season one, perhaps. Like, instead of a Paolo, maybe there was a Joey. Sure, why not, who cares? But instead of that palatable scenario, Friends embarked on a multi-season Joey-Rachel story line by having Joey fall in love with Rachel while she was pregnant with Ross’s baby. Not only was this dead-ended setup a lazy way to give serial bachelor Joey some of his first real plot mileage, but it also betrayed one of the best surprises of the later seasons of Friends: Rachel and Joey’s delightfully daffy friendship. The duo’s romance, inasmuch as it is that, properly kicks off after Rachel has a dream about kissing Joey, and that’s exactly how their relationship plays out, with a sex dream’s surreal, slightly porny detachment from actual reality. There’s a reason these two kids (and that’s what they are together, big kids) didn’t make it to that Friends bracket matchup. —K.B.