Pair of aces: Ranking television’s best on-screen duos

James Hill /
Sep 14, 2017 / Film & TV

The truth is out there. Somewhere.

With The X-Files now celebrating the 24th anniversary of their pilot (and David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson sharing the love with each other on Twitter), we decided it was high-time to look at some of the greatest and most iconic partnerships that modern TV has provided us with. From feuding coworkers to meth-cooking maniacs, here are our favourite on-screen duos – starting with the obvious.

 

Fox Mulder and Dana Scully – The X Files

Undeniably, Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) are typically regarded as one of the greatest partnerships in television history. Not only do the two possess undeniable chemistry and a fantastic sense of style (shoulder pads, anyone?), but their compelling portrayal of a tangible human relationship in the depths of the paranormal enraptured fans and viewers. Arguably, the writing of the X-Files can focus on the need for Scully to be saved by Mulder on a weekly basis, yet in Gillian Anderson’s nuanced portrayal, there is no doubt of the stronger of the two. Agent Mulder, conveying all of Duchovny’s smug charm, is the believer. The man willing to go to the furthest reaches of the earth to discover the truth about the existence of extra-terrestrials. However, Agent Dana Scully manages to keep him grounded – in the words of Mulder himself: “she kept me honest”. Whilst later iterations of their partnership mined a romantic vein, the loveable banter between the two has not faded. Truly iconic, not to mention the excellent fashion sense.

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman – Breaking Bad

In the opinion of this humble writer, a partnership forged in mutual need and mutual annoyance built the entirety of Breaking Bad. Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jessie’s (Aaron Paul) turbulent relationship is as volatile as the chemicals they brew together; the pulsing undercurrent of their relationship keeps other characters at bay. Indeed, in seasons 4-5, their evolving father-son relationship is the narrative arc which underpins the development of their characters. It is Jessie who refuses to work for Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) if he does away with Mr. White, echoing Walt’s determination to keep Jessie alive. Their partnership, both in the meth business and the personal business are forever entwined – Jessie may despair of the increasing volatility and ease of violence that Mr. White displays, but none can deny White’s love for his protegee, as well as his overt manipulation of Jessie’s innate goodness. This partnership is easily one of the most complex and vengeful in TV history. To do it justice would require more space than this article allows. Respect the partnership, respect the chemistry.

 

Arya Stark and ‘The Hound’ – Game of Thrones

Now, as a Game of Thrones fan – both in its literary incarnation and TV version – contrary to popular opinion, I am no fan of Arya Stark’s (Maisie Williams) character arc. I appreciate her transition into would-be faceless man and assassin as much as the next consumer of all things Westeros, yet Williams’ acting ability is nicely complemented by Rory Mccann’s gruff turn as Sandor Clegane. Their partnership, initially a kidnapping, is a combination of acerbic back and forth and the slow assimilation of the hound’s pragmatic, yet brutal take on the world into Arya’s development as a character. A thrilling element of this duo’s balance is that both actors relish their screen time with the other. A duo, maybe not as immediately likeable as that of Tyrion and Bronn, but still intensely watchable.

Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute – The Office

Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute’s relationship evolves hilariously and consistently during the seven-season run in which they were both regulars together. They hate and love each other, as they hate and love themselves. The cartoonish and buffoonish complexity of their duo is not based upon mutual respect, but rather a constant need to see the other torn down or built up paradoxically. Just watch and prepare to be bemused.

 

Jimmy McNulty and ‘Bunk’ Moreland – The Wire

Despite rarely spending more than 10 minutes in each other’s company throughout the five seasons of The Wire, these two characters, played by Dominic West and Wendell Pierce with such verve, served as the narrative core of David Simon’s Baltimore epic. Indeed, the scene where they communicate the progression of a homicide with only variations of the word ‘Fuck’ is up there with Aristotle and Aristophanes for sheer brilliance. The Wire is rightly hailed as one of the five pillars of American Television, along with Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and Seinfeld. These two characters are the lens through which the audience interprets the seedy underbelly of drugs, scandal and harbour police in modern day America; their chemistry is astute, their banter fulfilling. Dominic West’s accent? Maybe a touch unbelievable. But it’s the only point of scepticism in an otherwise flawless partnership.

 

Special Mention: Don Draper and Roger Sterling – Mad Men

Special mention must be made towards these stalwarts of god-awful misogyny and heinous day-drinking. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) may be the handsome, charismatic but fundamentally empty Advertising Mandarin, but it is the teasing – and often dramatic partnership – with Roger Sterling (John Slattery) as the silver fox account man that cements the gorgeous visuals of this show. Both dance in tandem around clients with ease. Roger getting them in the room, Don getting them to stay. Not to mention the excellent wardrobe of both men. Minus the sexism.

Words by James Hill

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