We invite them into our homes, become deeply invested in their personal and romantic lives, and follow their stories as if our own destinies are at stake. We understand, of course, that they are the mere figments of writers' imaginations, and yet we expect the relationships between our favorite TV characters to strike an elusive balance between too real and not real enough. Too real is boring. We might as well turn off the television and talk to our own spouses. But too unrealistic can be a problem, also, interrupting our suspension of disbelief long enough for us to realize that the characters and their relationships would never fly in real life.
Some TV relationships are simply too good to be true. Sometimes the show's circumstances -- or the characters' reaction to them -- come across as wildly unbelievable. Sometimes two opposites just never seem to attract, or for reasons unknown, have a chemistry that never seems to click.
Whatever it is that makes many well-known TV relationships seem improbable, we can't help but tune in, week after week, rerun after rerun. Here are 10 completely unrealistic TV relationships that we still love to watch, despite -- or perhaps because of -- their consistent departure from reality.
Its six-year run ended nearly 50 years ago, but thanks to reruns and cable TV, generations of kids have watched Ward and June Cleaver of "Leave it to Beaver" raise their children Wally and Theodore (more commonly known as the Beaver) with just the right blend of kindness and gentle guidance. As parents, we can only dream of maintaining the calm, unflappable competence and good humor that June (played by Barbara Billingsley) and Ward (Hugh Beaumont) exhibit as they help the boys find their way out of scrapes, including one involving a pet alligator the boys have hidden in the basement [source: TV Land].
But the show also placed an utmost importance on the perfect relationship between husband and wife. We never saw June and Ward have a really serious argument. And even though both Ward and June were defined primarily by their roles as parents, June was responsible for identifying problems and bringing them to Ward's attention so he could administer the advice or discipline needed to resolve the situation [source: Lillico].
For many children of the 1960s and 1970s, "The Brady Bunch" offered the first televised glimpse into a "blended" family consisting of step-parents, stepchildren and step-siblings. And what a glimpse it was! Father and stepfather Mike Brady (Robert Reed) was always there with a "homily that would explain to the children the lessons they had learned," while mother and stepmother Carol (Florence Henderson) reacted to the weekly antics of the six children with a knowing smile and a shake of her head [Griffin]. The children, ranging in age from grade school to high school, came to accept the wisdom in their parents' advice by the end of each show and resolved their sibling rivalries within the course of an episode.
The original five-year run of the series began in September 1969 with the wedding of widower Mike Brady to single mother Carol Ann Tyler Martin. While Carol's single status is never explained on the show, series creator Sherwood Schwartz later said that he considered her a divorcee, but the network rejected the idea as too controversial [source: ABC News].
When "Happy Days" first launched in 1974, Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) was a tough-guy biker from a lower-class background, originally conceived as a minor character on the show [source: Lewis]. But as his popularity with viewers grew and his role evolved, his delinquent behavior was increasingly toned down and played more for humor than for conflict, so much so that by 1975 it seemed perfectly reasonable that he would move into the apartment above Howard (Tom Bosley) and Marion (Marion Ross) Cunningham's garage [source: YouTube].
While "Mr. C." tolerated Fonzie's presence only reluctantly at first, the Fonz was soon treated as a trusted member of the family who frequently dispensed his own brand of fatherly wisdom to the squeaky-clean Cunningham kids.
Sam Malone (Ted Danson) was a bar owner and former Red Sox pitcher (as well as an all-around "player") who flirted with every attractive customer and adored nothing more than his own reflection. Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) was an underemployed and incompetent cocktail waitress who couldn't pass up an opportunity to demonstrate her superior intellect and whose every interaction reminded patrons and coworkers alike that she considered herself too good for Cheers. The combination should have been doomed from the start, but somehow the writers of "Cheers" created a chemistry between this unlikely pair that kept viewers' attention from the series pilot in 1982 until Diane's departure in 1987 [source: Bird].
Of course, our instincts turned out to be correct, as Diane ultimately rejected Sam's repeated marriage proposals and left both him and the bar behind to fulfill her dream of writing a book. The 1993 series finale teased us with the possibility that Sam and Diane might end up together after all, but the two characters thought better of it at the last minute, ultimately parting as friends [TV Guide].
Widely considered the first soap opera super couple, Luke (Anthony Geary) and Laura (Genie Francis) of "General Hospital" began their relationship in 1979 with a controversial storyline, when Laura fell in love with Luke despite his having raped her in a violent drunken encounter. The characters' wedding in 1981 was the most-watched ever in soap opera history, and their divorce 20 years later did little to dissuade their fans from believing that the two were meant to be [source: West].
Throughout the course of their story, their love has weathered storms that only a soap opera could serve up with a straight face: Laura died, was brought back to life, gave birth to a son as the result of an adulterous affair with Stavros Cassadine, and much later tragically ended up in a catatonic state after being unable to cope with the fact that she had killed her stepfather. With Laura incapacitated, Luke married the conniving Tracy Quartermaine, but only to stake claim to the woman's substantial fortune [source: Associated Press].
When his true love awoke from her catatonic state (as we knew she must), they remarried, 25 years to the day after their first wedding, despite Luke's still being married to Tracy [source: Wolf]. Laura briefly slipped back into her helpless state, then revived enough to leave town, supposedly so she could receive medical treatments to prevent her catatonic episodes. Their fate remains unsettled, but our money's on at least one more go-round before this story runs its course.
Between Ross's Ph.D. in paleontology and Rachel's unapologetically shallow interest in appearances and fashion, this on-again, off-again pairing reads like the inspiration for the short-lived reality show "Beauty and the Geek." We learn early in the series that the somewhat awkward Ross (David Schwimmer) has always pined for the popular, attractive Rachel (Jennifer Aniston). He eventually won her over with his kindness, and their long-awaited first kiss was satisfying for viewers. But their frequent breakups and misunderstandings proved to be more fun to watch than their so-so chemistry as a couple.
Throughout the course of their several-year relationship, Ross and Rachel get together, break up, accidentally get married, just as quickly get divorced, accidentally videotape a secret tryst during which their child is conceived, live together as friends to raise their daughter, live apart as friends to raise their daughter, and are apparently on track to live happily-ever-after in the final episode, when Rachel gives up her shot at a dream job in Paris working for Louis Vuitton so that she can stay in New York with Ross.
Doug Heffernan (Kevin James), the funny and likable but somewhat bumbling deliveryman at the center of "King of Queens," would likely consider himself the luckiest man in America for landing Carrie (Leah Remini), his patient, beautiful wife, who admittedly has some mildly controlling tendencies of her own. Instead, Doug fills the role of clueless husband, obsessed with food and sports, skilled at putting his foot in his mouth, and sure to get caught (or nearly caught) in whatever elaborate scheme he has fabricated to avoid doing something else.
Like the "Seinfeld" crew (represented on "King of Queens" by Jerry Stiller, who plays Carrie's widowed father), Doug and Carrie regularly find themselves in unlikely but entertaining situations in which their earlier actions come full circle to complicate their lives.
When "Grey's Anatomy" debuted in March 2005, the series wasted no time jumping into the complicated relationship between its two central characters [source: ABC.com]. The first episode opens on the morning-after of new surgical intern Meredith Grey's (Ellen Pompeo) presumed one-night stand with a handsome, seemingly random stranger whose name she can't remember. He's late for work; she's late for the first day of her internship, and surprise! The handsome hookup turns out to be none other than Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), who we now learn is the hospital's attending neurosurgeon and, yes, Meredith's boss. He's eager to continue their relationship; she's got major commitment issues, but apparently very little willpower, and they continue to meet in secret throughout the first season…until the final episode, when Meredith learns (along with the viewers) that Derek has a wife.
Over the next two seasons, Meredith and Derek embark on a storyline to rival a daytime soap: He reconciles with his wife, only to find that he can't stay away from Meredith. He divorces his wife, Meredith dates someone else. Meredith nearly drowns, Derek saves her. Fast forward through two more seasons, lots of second guessing, a little bit of therapy, and several personal crises, to find the perpetually indecisive couple finally committing to one another by exchanging vows written on sticky notes [source: ABC.com]. Now in their seventh season, Derek and Meredith seem to be comfortable in their relationship with one another, but then again, the marriage has never been legitimized, so their future is anyone's guess.
In the very first episode of "True Blood," we learn that the good folks of Bon Temps, La., will tolerate vampires (so long as there's a plentiful supply of synthetic Tru Blood around to feed them), yet they remain uneasy about the telepathic capabilities of waitress Sookie Stackhouse, who can't help but read their thoughts. Sookie and the 167-year-old vampire Bill (who doesn't look a day over 25) become fast allies when she saves him from two lowlifes who plan to drain his blood and sell it on the black market, where it is valued for its narcotic effect [source: HBO.com].
And that's the believable part. But through every season's twists and turns, just when we find ourselves scratching our heads at Sookie's loyalty and attraction to Bill, he'll find a way to redeem himself, at least temporarily. We can't pretend to know where their story is headed, but this supernatural super couple (played by real-life married couple Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin) will be fun to watch along the way.
Even more "Beauty and the Geek" than Rachel and Ross, Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) of The Big Bang Theory test the very limits of the old adage that opposites attract. It's not that we're opposed to the pretty girl falling for the geek, or the nerd being smitten by the beauty; it's just that we don't buy it with these two. We love the characters interactions as friends, but as a couple, we're not convinced that there's anywhere interesting for them to go.
Like Rachel and Ross before them, Penny and Leonard have been in a "will they or won't they" holding pattern for a season or so, with the main tension between the characters arising from their jealousy over one another's interest in other people. With three years remaining in the show's contract, another attempt at romance seems like a safe bet, but only time will tell whether this couple is more believable the next time around.
A savvy communications strategist created a media pyramid focusing on how people should consume their media. HowStuffWorks talked to him about it.
- 10 TV Shows That Have Gained a Global Audience
- 10 TV Moms We Secretly Want to Be
- 11 Longest Running Daytime Soap Operas
- How Writing a TV Show Works
- Everything I Need to Know About Parenting I Learned From TV
- How did the advent of television impact politics?
- How do TV commercials influence American culture?
- Has TV changed people's relationship expectations?
- Do courtroom dramas change people's understanding of the law?
- ABC.com. Grey's Anatomy Episode Guide. (April 10, 2011) http://abc.go.com/shows/greys-anatomy/episode-guide
- ABC News. "Downtown: The Real Mike Brady." Nov. 6, 2010.http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=132724&page=1
- Associated Press. "Luke, Laura wed again on 'General Hospital.'" Nov. 21, 2006. (April 9, 2011)http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/15690543/ns/today-entertainment/
- Bird, J.B. "Cheers." The Museum of Broadcast Communications. (April 8, 2011)http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=cheers
- CBS.com. The Big Bang Theory Episode Guide. (April 10, 2011)http://www.cbs.com/primetime/big_bang_theory/recaps/
- The Editors of Publications International, Ltd. "11 Longest-running Daytime Soap Operas." Sept. 15, 2007. (April 10, 2011)https://electronics.howstuffworks.com/11-longest-running-daytime-soap-operas.htm
- Griffin, Sean. "The Brady Bunch." The Museum of Broadcast Communications. (April 5, 2011)http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=bradybunch
- HBO.com. True Blood Episode Guide. (April 10, 2011)http://www.hbo.com/true-blood/index.html#/true-blood/episodes/index.html
- Lewis, Lisa Ann. "Happy Days." The Museum of Broadcast Communications. (April 5, 2011)http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=happydays
- Lillico, Neil B. "Television as Popular Culture: An attempt to influence North American Society? An Ideological analysis of Leave it to Beaver (1957-1961)." 1993. (April 8, 2011).http://www.leaveittobeaver.org/thesis/thesis_relationships.htm
- TV Guide. "Cheers Episode: Last Call and One for the Road." (April 8, 2011).http://www.tvguide.com/tvshows/cheers-1993/episode-25-season-11/road/100083
- TV Land. "Leave it to Beaver Episode Guide." (April 8, 2011)http://www.tvland.com/shows/leave-it-to-beaver/episode-guide
- Orlick, Peter. "Leave it to Beaver." The Museum of Broadcast Communications. (April 3, 2011)http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=leaveittob
- Pollak, Michael. "Barbara Billingsley, TV's June Cleaver, Dies at 94." New York Times. Oct. 17, 2010. April 8, 2011.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/arts/television/17billingsley.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=barbara%20billingsley&st=cse
- West, Abby. "17 Great Soap Supercouples." Entertainment Weekly. Jan. 29, 2008. (April 12, 2011)http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20174499,00.html#20399158
- Wolf, Buck. "Luke and Laura: Still the Ultimate TV Wedding." Nov. 14, 2006. (April 9, 2011)http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/WolfFiles/story?id=236498&page=1
- YouTube. "Happy Days Fonzie Moves In Part 3."http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtF--xB4QIk&feature=related