Like most American girls, I grew up believing love was formulaic – boy meets girl, falls in love, dates, marries, has children, and holds hands into old age and death. Love, of course, has always been far more complicated than fairy tales could imagine. In some instances, it has been the Hollywood machine, rife with unrequited love, taboo pairings, and lust masquerading as love, which has offered some of the truest examples of love’s resilience. I came to this conclusion earlier than most, at around age 12, when sneaking peeks at Friday night Dallas episodes, I began to recognize patterns of vulnerability, insecurity, pain, and sexual relations driven by everything but love. Thirty years later, Dallas hardly scratches the surface of Hollywood’s take on romantic intricacies. I still get giddy watching Dustin Hoffman run like a late freight away from Anne Bancroft’s lecherous Mrs. Robinson, in The Graduate. In a world of sexual decadence, can romantic love still exist? And if it does, is it necessarily functioning against the grain of deviance or giving it the fuel to progress?
To answer these questions, the Acumen Magazine editorial staff analyzed the romantic relationships of some of the more popular relationships in recent television history. These relationships span a global terrain and encompass an array of racial, gender, and socioeconomic identities. Of the seven relationships chosen, all thrived in secrecy, the insecurities of one or both partners and the incredible desire of the couple to remain together against the wishes of others. We situated the backstories of these couples against the belief that love can be as the biblical Euroclydon, a levanter wind that is described in the Book of Acts as a tempestuous destroyer, wrecking ships (or in this case, relationships) by tossing them in all directions, from northeast round by east to southeast. We then determined whether the couples managed to survive the Euroclydon, or fall to peril.
Jesse and Angie Hubbard (All My Children) This is a traditional love story of star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the track. Affluent Angela Baxter falls for troubled youth, Jesse Hubbard against her father’s wishes. An unintended teen pregnancy, an elopement, and finally, a twenty-year separation as Jesse hid out from gangsters. The bad-boy turned police chief and his physician wife (along with their Iraqi-war veteran son, Frankie) epitomize an undying romantic love complicated by outside forces. Love as true from day one to the last… Survived
Carla and Peter Barlow (Coronation Street) Despite being a particularly handsome couple, Carla and Peter take turns living inside the bottle and attempting to save each other from alcohol-induced acts of violence, treachery, and general foolishness. Just when it appears they are heading into the happily ever after, with Carla pregnant and Peter’s ex-wife firmly out of their way, Peter sleeps with the babysitter (childminder), who he is subsequently accused of murdering. We gave a teary, "Poor Peter" sigh when Carla defiantly announced they were "never, ever getting back together," in 2014, held our breath in 2018 and 2019 as they flirted and reminisced over a game of snooker, but vowed to be friends only. We bit our nails through Carla begging Peter to reconsider their relationship and him telling her "No," because she was like the booze he was addicted to and equally as dangerous, only to then run to her rescue at the close of 2019. Finally, in 2021, the two remarried. Final tally: Passionate lovers with deep scars and a propensity for hijinx, but who seem to have grown into each other… Definite survivors.
J.R. and Sue Ellen Ewing (Dallas) No television couple has had as many outside affairs or damaged each other in the name of love as the Ewings. Ms. Texas, Sue Ellen Shepherd falls for one of the charming competition judges, oil tycoon, John Ross Ewing, Jr. Little does she know that her function is to be seen in public on his arm, bear his children, and keep quiet. Her husband customarily uses sex to seal his business deals and maintains a steady stream of lovers, including his wife’s friend Marilee Stone and Sue Ellen's sister, Kristin. The hopeless romantic, Sue Ellen, in turn, finds comfort in her husband’s arch-enemy Cliff Barnes (then a string of lovers including, the ranch foreman, Ray, an ex-college boyfriend Clint, and cowboy Dusty Farlow). Paternity tests, commitments to sanitariums, custody battles, attempts to murder each other, and decades of philandering could not tire their desire for one another… Survived until J.R.’s death.
Rachel “Nanny” Crosby and Bill Crosby (Lackawanna Blues) “Sometimes a man and woman have an understanding that no one else understands,” is the way this couple was introduced. Nanny, a soft-hearted boardinghouse owner meets and marries Bill, an engineer 17 years her junior in this story. Set in the 1920s, Nanny and Bill’s relationship is marred by Bill’s philandering and Nanny’s need to look after all of the tortured souls in the area. They have migrated from the South to New York and demonstrate the power of domestic intimacies in strengthening the larger, marginalized community around them. There is power and command in their dealings with one another, though playful and loving. Dead sexy and gentle in their interactions, Bill and Nanny are each other’s protectors, providers, and lovers. Survived.
Tig Trager and Venus Van Dam (Sons of Anarchy) With the voice of a Southern belle and the temperament that comes from rising from harsh and cruel challenges, Venus Van Dam entered Sons of Anarchy as a true delight. As the transgender Vincent-turned-Venus, she is the embodiment of gentility and a stark contrast to the ever-impetuous, out-of-control, Tig Trager. While Tig initially became mesmerized by her fused gender identity – massive boobs, staggering height, and a deep baritone decorated by feminine lilt – he came to love everything about her. The vile and murderous Tig and the Southern-belle transgender, Venus… a vulnerable stew of love at its best. Survived.
Sharon and Dennis Watts (Eastenders) What happens when a young girl is adopted by a loving couple, Den and Angie Watts, but adored to an almost incestuous level by the father? Den places Sharon on a pedestal and even nicknames her "Princess." He works tirelessly as she becomes a teenager to keep her out of the hands of all boys, which is complicated when a long-lost son, Dennis, surfaces and falls madly in love with Sharon. It is unclear whether Den rejects his son because they are so much alike, or if he counts him as a rival for his daughter's affections. While Sharon and Dennis Watts were not blood relations, their affair and later marriage were viewed by the father and their neighbors as incestuous. The Watts eventually gained the acceptance of their neighbors. Survived until Dennis’ death.
John Luther and Alice Morgan (Luther) The BBC’s series Luther introduced a criminal genius in Alice Morgan whose calculating nature is matched by the mental volleying of Detective Chief Inspector John Luther. Alice has killed her entire family including the family dog, John knows she’s done it, but cannot prove it. The cat-and-mouse game between the two is vicious, disturbing, and volatile, yet just beneath the surface of the game is intense sexual tension. [SPOILERS] Not until the fourth season do Alice and John consummate the relationship, though the murderous Alice makes it clear that she has every intention of pursuing John. For his part, Luther enjoys her wit, unhinged behavior, and the depraved attention she offers him. The verdict is still out on these two… If they survive the Euroclydon, one will ultimately kill the other.
Who are your favorite unrelenting television couples?