A “bromance” is a relationship between two heterosexual men that shares many of the elements or indicators of a romantic relationship. Originally coined in the ‘90s, the term caught on in mainstream pop culture a few years ago and has since saturated the market. Clearly the topic is of interest to many, but upon investigation, while there is plenty of discussion of different couples or bromates, there isn’t much discussion of the bromance as a genre of TV all its own. There are plenty of great romances in television history, entire shows driven by a central romantic relationship and the comedy or drama derived therefrom, but what about shows based on a platonic male love affair?
The parameters: A show must be centered around a core relationship between two heterosexual male friends. The main drama or comedy must be derived from their interactions and the characters’ other relationships must be secondary to the bromance. It sounds simple, but these rules eliminate many fan favorites. Here are some honorable mentions-
Cheers: Norm and Cliff, while clearly bromates, are too periphery of characters to put Cheers on the list. (The same reasoning excludes Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.) More than any other relationship, Cheers is about Sam and Diane, regardless of the fact that Diane was off the show for more than half of its run.
Doctor Who: While the Second Doctor and Jamie make for a great double act, and have the longest Doctor-Companion run of the series, their relationship is too lacking in parity to put them on the list.
Scrubs: Turk and JD are possibly the most bromantic couple out there, but each has another relationship that is at least as significant if not more so. In fact, the friends realizing the need to choose their families over each other is a plot point that pops up a few times, including towards the end of the (second to) last season.
Sports Night: At first glance, Casey and Dan feel at home on this list, but though their friendship provides a strong core to the show, the two aren’t nearly co-dependent enough to qualify.
Star Trek: Kirk and Spock would make the team, and in fact they do pop up in many similar articles, but that isn’t an accurate analysis of the dynamic of the show. It’s the trio of Kirk, Spock, and Bones that really powers Star Trek, thus excluding it from this list.
Supernatural: Sorry, but no brothers. That’s a separate discussion. This takes Frasier out of contention as well.
With the honorable mentions out of the way, here are the top 6 in chronological order:
Dragnet: There is a long tradition of bromantic cop shows, procedurals grounded by a core relationship. Other examples include Starsky and Hutch, Miami Vice, and CHiPs, but the best are still Jack Friday and his partner, Frank Smith. Often forgotten is just how much of this show was spent with these two bantering about daily life, picking each other’s brains, and offering support or a laugh, as needed. The 60s color remake is good, but the original black and white Dragnet is still the best.
The Odd Couple: It’s perhaps the quintessential bromance- Oscar the slob and Felix the neat freak. These basic character types have been played off of each other in numerous shows, but it’s The Odd Couple that gets it the most right. Yes, the show can slip into caricature, but the characters care strongly for each other and it is their friendship that keeps them from slipping too far into neuroses or slovenliness. By the end of the series, it’s obvious that the two have grown and helped each other become, if not new men, slightly better versions of who they were before.
M*A*S*H: When Trapper John left M*A*S*H, many predicted the show wouldn’t recover, but instead it flourished and the cast change created one of the all time great TV bromances, Hunnicutt and Pierce. With its setting in the Korean War, the show could have easily become overwhelmingly bleak. Instead, it manages to strike a balance between humor and realism and the camaraderie and shenanigans of these two friends are a major reason that it’s successful. Many characters come and go during the tenure of the show, but Hunnicutt and Pierce are the true core of M*A*S*H.
Rome: Oh, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. Is there a better example of platonic love? Through all of the messy political scheming, it’s the relationship of these two that grounds Rome and keeps the viewer coming back. They rise and fall, support each other and square off, and in the end, it’s this relationship that defines and elevates a show that could easily have turned into just another history lesson.
Sherlock: Some might prefer House, but Holmes and Watson have a much more interesting and balanced relationship than their America counterparts. Both bring out the best in each other and keep one another from going over the edge. Holmes is a brilliant semi-sociopath and Watson is a hardened military doctor- the fact that these two seemingly disparate men are drawn together and find such value in each other is what elevates Sherlock above not only other mysteries, but the other Holmes adaptations as well.
Psych: Shawn and Gus are a newer twist on the Odd Couple. Make Oscar a bit cleaner, Felix a bit cooler, and give them a business to share instead of an apartment, and there you go. What distinguishes them, however, is the sense of utter glee these two share when they’re together. Psych deals in escapist silliness and the relationship between the two leads is what makes it work. They are so likable, and so enjoyable as a pair, that the audience will forgive almost any contrivance that allows them to go on adventures.
What’s your favorite bromance? Was it a mistake to write this column before watching Bosom Buddies? Sound off below.