One of the most popular television tropes of all time is the “will they or won’t they” relationship. This is when two characters seem to be singled out from all the other characters in the show to have the kind of relationship where nearly everyone tuning into the show thinks the two characters should absolutely get together. Instead of putting the two characters together right away, the writers plot several episodes (and sometimes a number of seasons!) so sexual tension is built up over time as the two characters dance around an actual romantic relationship.
If you were to name a show at random there is probably a “will they or won’t they” used to some extent at some point in the program. The thing is, not every instance of the “will they or won’t they” relationship becomes legendary in the world of pop culture. The “forbidden” relationship that blossomed between the characters of Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt on Parks and Recreation was definitely entertaining, but it wasn’t really the talk of the show. It also doesn’t seem to have the significance that the Ross and Rachel story from Friends had during its run on NBC.
Since some of these television relationships grab our attention a little more than others, let’s take a look at some of the “will they or won’t they” relationships that struck a chord with just about anyone tuning in to their respective programs. Some of these television relationships have become such a big part of popular culture that you might even know who some of the couples are even if you’ve never seen the show.
WARNING!!! CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!
14. Brennan and Booth – Bones
There may not be another relationship of the “will they or won’t they” variety in television history that went so long without any real pay-off for fans of the show. The writers of Bones really let the sexual tension build up between Dr. Temperance Brennan and Seeley Booth. Several seasons went by before the two characters began to have some semblance of a romantic relationship, though Booth always appeared to be a little protective over Brennan in a way that seemed to go beyond a professional relationship. It wouldn’t be until the 9th season of the show before the two characters tied the knot.
13. Eric and Donna – That ’70s Show
The Eric and Donna relationship on That ’70s Show was handled like any other “will they or won’t they” on a television sit-com. The couple started out as neighbors and childhood friends who ventured into a light romantic relationship once the show started to pick up steam in the first season. By the second season the relationship had escalated and when/if the couple would sleep together became a source for many of the shows laughs and story-lines. As the show progressed, the state of their relationship was always in flux as the characters grew into adulthood and started forging their lives outside of their parent’s homes. You always had to wonder if they’d make it for the long the haul.
12. Rory and Jess – Gilmore Girls
Almost as soon as we came into this CW series that ran for an impressive seven seasons, Rory Gilmore was always with her loyal boyfriend Dean. There never seemed to be any question if Rory and Dean would be together forever. It seemed so obvious that they would.
Eventually the show would introduce Jess, the nephew of Luke. Luke (more on him later) was a close friend of Rory and her mother Lorelei (more on her later). Not only did the writers not pull out any stops building up tension between Rory and Jess, but the writers would eventually bring the two together and destroy what may have been the most functional relationship in the history of televised teen drama.
Rory and Jess were also polar opposites and the question of the relationship lasting was always in the air. When Jess finally ran off, no other character that was paired with Rory ever seemed to click in the same way.
11. The Doctor and Rose – Doctor Who
Through almost the entire series of Doctor Who (which has run off and on for 50 years), the idea of The Doctor having a romantic relationship with one of his companions was just plain silly. Generally The Doctor was always played by a much older man, and the main companion by a much younger girl. The show also established that romantic love was something The Doctor just wasn’t really interested in…until Rose Tyler came along.
For the first time, fans of the show really started asking the “will they or won’t they” question. The answer was “definitely”, but it didn’t happen in quite the way one might think. Rose eventually became stuck in an alternate reality and fell in love with a copy of The Doctor that shared many of the same memories and personality traits as the original. While we never actually saw Rose and the actual Doctor get together, everyone could be certain that his feelings for Rose were definitely real.
10. Winnie and Kevin – The Wonder Years
The story of Winnie and Kevin in the popular Wonder Years series is the textbook version of “the girl next door” story. As the Wonder Years aired, Kevin and Winnie went from friends to lovers to friends to lovers a few times. The couple seemed so perfect that the only question left once the show started to wrap up was “would they get married?”
Unfortunately we didn’t actually see the fate of the couple, but in his narration during the sixth season’s series finale, an adult Kevin explains that he met Winnie, her husband, and their kids at a later point in his life. America was absolutely devastated.
9. Elliot and J.D. – Scrubs
Scrubs never seemed to know what they wanted to do with Elliot and J.D. The couple started out as your typical will they or won’t they, but the two ended up hurting each other pretty bad and you thought they were done for good. Well, the show lasted for nine seasons, so as you can imagine that the writers danced around the “will they or won’t they” relationship between Elliot and J.D. again. They would see a bit more on again/off again behavior before the show’s writers finally decided to just keep them together for good.
8. Ted and Robin – How I Met Your Mother
Well it seemed like the entire series was all really resting on the idea of Ted and Robin getting together. The writers gave viewers a Ted and Robin “will they or won’t they” very early in the show’s impressive nine season run. Eventually the show toyed with Robin and another character, but it seemed obvious that it was always about Ted and Robin. The show always started with Ted telling the story of “how he met their mother” to his two children. Most viewers presumed/hoped these would be Ted and Robin’s children. We eventually find out that Robin is not their mother. Their mother has died (a little dark for a sit-com). At the end of the series, Ted’s kids tell him to go after Robin, and the roller coaster ride starts anew.
7. Sam and Diane – Cheers
There was always a “will they or won’t they” going on with bar owner Sam Malone and his female co-workers. The biggest one was easily Sam and Diane. During the very early portion of the eleven season run of Cheers, everyone constantly wondered if Sam and Diane would finally just get together. It was pretty much the only thing TV Guide could ever talk about. Unfortunately, the answer was “they won’t” once Shelley Long left the series. Kirstie Alley replaced her as a new character named Rebecca. The writers attempted a similar relationship between Sam and Rebecca, but it just didn’t have the same spark.
6. Nick and Jess – New Girl
The relationship between Nick and Jess on the still running sit-com New Girl is another text book example of a “will they or won’t they”. The show toyed around with the idea for quite some time and finally brought the two together in the second and third seasons. Unfortunately, the quality of the show took a bit of a dive as the focus moved to Nick and Jess and away from the original plot of a newly single girl living with three male roommates. The relationship was awkwardly ended but the show has definitely gotten back to form as a result. Regardless of how uninteresting the relationship was when it finally happened, you couldn’t avoid being very invested in the journey prior to their relationship.
5. Lorelei and Luke – The Gilmore Girls
This one was absolutely aggravating. First off, it was so obvious these two should be together just by watching the first handful of episodes. Things became more and more aggravating as the two did things like cuddle and share rooms and yet still seemed to have a perfectly platonic friendship. Eventually the show gives the viewers what they wanted – Luke and Lorelei not only fall in love, but even become engaged. The engagement lasts for a year until Luke finds out he has a daughter. The couple split up, Lorelei marries her daughter Rory’s father, and you think all hope is lost. In the series finale, Luke and Lorelei get back together at Rory’s college graduation party and all is right again with the world.
4. Inara and Mal – Firefly
It’s sad that a show as great as Firefly was only able to last for fourteen episodes before FOX pulled the plug. Despite its short run, Firefly went on to gain a huge cult following that made it become one of the most talked about shows of all time. In the show’s future setting, Inara pays Captain Mal Reynolds for transport aboard his ship Serenity. We find out that Inara is a government regulated Companion (a sort of legal prostitute, but so much more). Mal benefits from her presence because it makes it easier for his ship to get clearance to land on other planets. Almost immediately the series builds a secret history (and a deep love) between Mal and Inara. It’s such a shame we weren’t able to see how it all turned out.
3. Scully and Mulder – The X-Files
Even after the series ended, we could never be totally sure if anything really did happen between Agent Dana Scully and Fox Mulder from the extremely popular X-Files series. There was always sexual tension between the two, very similar to Booth and Brennan from Bones. While the show was airing, FOX would air ads for an upcoming episode that would show Mulder and Scully getting together, only so you could watch the episode and find out that it wasn’t really them, but some science-fiction element in the series that could make the scene. In the second X-Files movie that was released long after its cancellation, it was revealed that Mulder and Scully did indeed have a serious relationship. We’ll have to see if that picks back up when the series returns.
2. Jim and Pam – The Office
This doesn’t seem like a “will they or won’t they” because it feels like Jim and Pam were married for the bulk of the series since they were so perfect for each other. You have to remember, Pam was engaged to Roy for three seasons and turns Jim down after he reveals his feelings at the end of the second season. When Jim returns and Pam is finally single, Jim is with a woman named Karen that he met when he transferred to a different branch. Jim doesn’t propose to Pam until the fifth season, and even then the couple isn’t married until well into the sixth season. Considering the show ran for nine seasons and Jim mentions in the very first episode that he’s in love with Pam, this made for one heck of a long “will they or won’t they.” To add more to the drama, as the show entered into its “farewell” season, the writers added new elements to the series that made you think Jim and Pam might not stay married.
1. Ross and Rachel – Friends
Here it is. The single most talked about “will they or won’t they” in any series ever. Period. Friends was the kind of show that had people going to their barbers and stylists and asking for a haircut like Chandler or Rachel. People even started to dress like the characters in the show and “how you doin’?” is still often referenced as a funny pick up line to this day, almost eleven years after the show stopped making new episodes. You can almost be certain that somewhere in the world a Friends rerun is airing at any given moment. The show was a national phenomenon and it’s no surprise that viewers became obsessed with the first love story the series offered up. Even until the very end you had to keep asking the question of Ross and Rachel getting together. Heck, they even had a kid while the question was still up in the air!