We are all friends here at The Golden Age of Television. We spend a fair amount of time outside of this space together. This week in a “take home” Email Roundtable we decided to discuss our favourite TV friendships.
Kerri: When I was formulating the question for this week I didn’t give an awful lot of thought to my answer. I knew that I wanted to select a friendship between two or more women but that proved really difficult. Sex and the City presents female friendship in a way that has nothing to do with my own. In fact, I think a lot of shows use friendship (and especially female friendship) improperly. Take Parks and Recreation, for instance. There is a lot to like about the friendship between Ann Perkins and Leslie Knope. They have a great deal of love and respect for each other and I like that their relationship is never quite 50/50, with Leslie pouring extra effort into making everything perfect all the time. But, unfortunately, the show has never really done a great job with Ann and that makes the friendship with Leslie a little flat. I love what Ann brings out in Leslie (this obsessive, excited quality that happens when you meet someone new that you really dig) but I can’t quite pinpoint what Leslie brings out in Ann. Ann is an underwritten, not fully formed character at the best of times. It is pretty sad that Ann has been replaced in so many ways by Ben (Leslie’s love interest and now husband) as if the writers couldn’t find a way to make her as interesting as him. The show keeps telling us that there is something in Ann that Leslie loves but it refuses to show us.
Friendships, all of them, are about learning from another person, discovering what and who they are and allowing them to learn you. I’d say that the best TV friendships are the ones where we see two characters teach each other something. If there is nothing to learn about a character (as in the case of Ann Perkins) there isn’t much of a point to put them in scenes together. I’m not saying I love or even like TV friendships to be in constant chaos, I’m just saying if there is nothing for the characters to discover about each other there isn’t much of a point.
The friendship between Angela Chase and Rayanne Graff on My So-Called Life (see also the similar friendship between Lindsay Weir and Kim Kelly from Freaks and Geeks) has always been one of my favourites. What I love about this friendship is that, like so many high school friendships, it borders on a love affair. Angela and Rayanne are drawn to each other partially because of how dissimilar they are. Angela is, by most respects, a good kid with loving parents and a distinctly upper, middle class lifestyle. Rayanne is a free spirit, flower child with a single mom and an alcohol problem. Angela loves that Rayanne does not give shit, doesn’t take any shit and seems to lack that very high school problem of shame. Rayanne is cool. Angela is a wallflower. And they both teach each other something about what it means to be their distinct brand of human.
When Angela first starts hanging out with Rayanne she describes it (in glorious “teen speak”) as necessary, almost a compulsion, maybe even an addiction: “So, I started hanging out with Rayanne Graff, just for fun. Just ’cause it seemed like if I didn’t, I would die, or something. …Things were getting to me. Just how people are — how they always expect you to be a certain way. Even your best friend. …Like, with boys, like they have it so easy. Like you have to pretend you don’t notice them noticing you. …Like cheerleaders. Can’t people just cheer on their own? Like to themselves? …School is a battlefield for your heart. So when Rayanne Graff told me my hair was holding me back, I had to listen. ‘Cause she wasn’t just talking about my hair. She was talking about my life.” Rayanne teaches Angela to be more free, to allow herself to find something inside herself that is more open, to not allow other people to dictate the rules of her life for her, because with Rayanne there are no rules. And what does Angela teach Rayanne? Well, maybe that she can trust people, at least a few of them. What I like about the relationship between Rayanne and Angela is that they don’t end up learning how similar they are despite their differences. They learn that they are very, very different people on such a fundamental level but they love each other because of these differences. It is a specific brand of love and admiration that I only think happens in high school.
When I was a kid first watching My So-Called Life, I liked the relationship because it seemed similar to the ones I had with friends who were early bloomers like Rayanne. Kids who had knowledge of the world beyond what I knew about it. I understood deeply when Angela said, “I couldn’t stop thinking about it — the like, fact of it. That people had sex. That they just had it. That sex was this thing people had. Like a rash, or a Rottweiler. Everything started to seem, like, pornographic or something. Like, Miss Krzyzanowski had sex. So does Mr. Katimski. They both have sex. They could have sex together, like right now. I am, like, the sickest person.” To be friends with a person who knew more about the world than you did, who had actual, real sex was like finding an oracle of sorts.
But, now as an adult, what strikes me most about the relationship between Angela and Rayanne is that their main interest on the show is each other. We learn that Rayanne has a cursory interest in music and, perhaps a passing interest in theatre. Angela, is pretty much a blank slate which makes sense (unlike with Ann, who should be a fully formed human being) in that she begins the show by reinventing herself. But, what really gets them both going, is to be in the almost constant presence of one another. When you are young you have all the time in the world to give to someone. You have the time to really learn someone and to have a platonic love affair. Surely, Angela and Rayanne would have gone their separate ways over time, as happens with so many friendships. There is something so clearly concentrated about their friendship, as if they know it won’t last, so they have to get everything out of it as quickly as possible. And that feels so real too: that one person can be yours for so many hours, days, years and then gone from your life in an instant.
Jane: One of my favorite TV friendships is between Alice Morgan and John Luther. They meet while Luther is investigating the death of Alice’s parents, whom she murdered. They have a lot in common. They are both sociopath-geniuses. This quality makes them both very lonely and very perfect for each other. Their differences make friendship impossible at first. Alice is proud of her murders and Luther is devastated by his (attempted murder). Pursuing Alice gives Luther a reprieve from his guilt because he can label Alice as the evil one. Alice is flattered and obsessed with this label and begins to stalk her new friend. She is also obsessed with Luther’s devotion to his ex. Alice doesn’t/can’t believe in love and is fascinated by Luther’s apparent ability to love. However, I’m not entirely convinced that Luther knows how to love either. Alice’s obsession with Luther’s love makes it real for him. This cat and mouse game of need, labels and obsession eventually leads to a delightfully twisted but meaningful friendship.
Katie: Friendship is my jam. I love watching two people learn to care about one another. I like underdogs (Landry and Matt Saracen on Friday Night Lights) and odd couples (Brienne of Tarth and Jamie Lannister on Game of Thrones) and groups of people mushed together and basically forced to be friends (New Girl, Parks and Recreation), but I had a hard time deciding which TV friendship was my favourite. So instead, I’m going discuss my two favourite friendship moments that I’ve watched lately.
The first is a small moment on Game of Thrones between Arya Stark and Hot Pie, the chubby boy she meets while on the road. If you’ve ever watched Game of Thrones, you know that there is no place for innocence on this show. When Arya first meets this little brute, he threatens to stomp her to death. She threatens him back and while they never quite become “friends” they certainly learn to travel peacefully with one another. Then one day Hot Pie gets taken on by a baker and they part ways. As she is leaving, Hot Pie gives Arya a little loaf of bread he baked. Arya looks at it slightly confused. It’s a nice gesture, but she isn’t used to nice gestures. As she rides off, Hot Pie watches her go. She realizes the small bit of kindness he gave her, so in return she calls back, “It’s really good!” On any other show this moment would be nothing, but there is Zero Kindness on Game of Thrones. This little moment where two people are being nice and friendly to one another is so rare that it really stuck out for me. Both children get a moment to be children together before heading off to the endless misery that inevitably awaits both of them.
The other moment is an oldie but a goodie. It is from Season 2 of the Office (US). Dwight sustains a head injury and as a result is really nice to Pam. That’s all. It’s a classic odd couple situation and it’s hilarious. Treat yourself and watch this episode (“The Injury”).