The most toxic TV couples, and why they’re so wrong for each other
- Just like in real-life, television relationships run the gamut from good to bad, with some veering into serious toxicity.
- Studying unhealthy relationships in media can help us to understand the red flags that are easier to ignore in real life, and teach us lessons about the kinds of dynamics we really should be avoiding.
- Here are some of the most mismatched couples in television history, along with why exactly they just don’t work.
Jan Levinson and Michael Scott (The Office)
Thousands of articles have been written about how to navigate a workplace romance and, for the most part, they tend to conclude that they’re often more hassle than they’re worth. Not every relationship can end up as picture-perfect as Jim and Pam’s, not even within the same workplace and the same TV show.
Jan Levinson dating Michael Scott might have resulted in good comedy, but in the end, they only proved that dating your work superior (or dating your employee) is always a bad idea. Even if most relationships between bosses and employees don’t result in one making the other sleep at the foot of the bed, the power imbalance almost always ruins things, as seen in the way Jan repeatedly controls Michael’s money, his love life, and even his ability to have children. Yikes.
Ross and Rachel (Friends)
The question of whether Ross and Rachel should have ended up together is one of the most debated issues in TV history, with people discussing it almost as much as whether the “we were on a break” excuse really holds up. However, even if Ross was totally blameless for sleeping with another woman after pressing pause on his time with Rachel, it doesn’t excuse the countless other examples of toxicity in their relationship.
It’s so easy to root for these two, given how endearingly both characters are played by their respective actors, but the truth is that Ross and Rachel bring out the worst in each other. Apart, they are able to progress with their careers, act with emotional maturity and be better parents to their children. Together, and both are impulsive, insecure and spiteful. Not only that, but Ross hit on both Rachel’s sister and his own cousin, so maybe he should be kept away from relationships completely.
Tom and Mona-Lisa (Parks and Recreation)
For many fans, Jean-Ralphio Saperstein and his sister Mona-Lisa are like marmite. Some find their offbeat charm funny and sweet, while others struggle to tolerate them. No matter which side of the fence you land on, however, you probably agree that Tom and Mona-Lisa represent one of the worst relationships in Parks and Recreation’s history.
We’ve already discussed the hazards of a workplace romance, and those problems are on full display again here. Mona-Lisa naps on the job while working for Tom, constantly leaves early, and solves all of their clearly evident relationship issues with seduction. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mona-Lisa knowingly pursued the best friend of her brother, which breaks every relationship code out there.
Ted and Zoey (How I Met Your Mother)
How I Met Your Mother is another television show that seems totally bereft of healthy relationships, at least when it comes to the ones that begin during the show’s runtime. Marshall and Lily are held up as as close to perfect as it gets, but even they constantly lie to each other and sometimes act in bizarrely immature and passive-aggressive ways. As for Ted’s relationships throughout the show, fans differ in their opinions on which is the best, but most agree that Zoey is one of the worst.
Dating someone with different opinions to you can often add spice to a relationship, forcing you to confront your biases and maybe even grow as a person. With that said, there are definitely limits, and dating someone whose goals are directly at odds with your own is a recipe for disaster. While love-hate relationships seem quippy and filled with chemistry on screen, the reality is far more exhausting, and Ted and Zoey make a great case for avoiding such tumultuous dynamics altogether.
Aside from the obvious problem of Zoey wanting to save the building that Ted wants to tear down, Zoey also acts in irrational and frustrating ways, and begins her flirtation with Ted while she is still married. No wonder she was voted Ted’s worst girlfriend in a 2011 poll.
Rory and Dean (Gilmore Girls)
As beloved as Gilmore Girls is, it is another show that features dozens of relationships, with most of them being deeply unhealthy in some way. While Sookie and Jackson seem made for each other for the most part, both Lorelai and Rory have a litany of boyfriends over the course of the show, and very few of them result in a sustainable and non-toxic match. Fans have argued for years over which of Rory’s boyfriends is technically the worst for her, which is a testament to every relationship she’s been in having its flaws.
Though a case could be made for either Jess or Logan resulting in the most toxic match, there’s no doubt that Rory is at her worst with Dean. For his part, Dean seems to slowly begin to resent everything that made him like Rory in the first place, from her bookishness and ambition to her closeness with her mum. Not only that, but he pressures her to say “I love you” before she’s ready, and tries to guilt-trip her by whining that he built her a car. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he lies about having finalised his break-up with his wife in order to sleep with Rory.
Rory is not much better either, stringing Dean along and running back to him for comfort whenever she needs it. She agrees to sleep with him even while knowing he is still technically married, and refuses to see herself as the other woman, even calling him “my Dean”. Rory has her problems while dating both Jess and Logan, but it is only with Dean that she tries to continue the relationship long after its expiry date.
Rose Tyler and Mickey Smith (Doctor Who)
Unlike many of the shows featured on this list, Doctor Who does not revolve around interpersonal relationships. We don’t actually see that many romantic entanglements play out on the show, with the exception of the Doctor’s own affairs with various historical figures. That said, one relationship we do see play out is between Rose Tyler and Mickey Smith.
Mickey and Rose’s relationship is a cautionary tale about knowing when to finally let things go. For much of her early time with the Doctor, Rose constantly leaves Mickey in limbo, uncertain of when she is coming back and even of whether they are still together.
Attempting to have it both ways, Rose hardly thinks of Mickey when she is away, but is furious when she returns home and discovers that he is dating other people. As for Mickey, he constantly attempts to make himself useful and necessary in the hopes that he won’t be abandoned, at the same time undermining Rose and gloating when her relationship with the Doctor goes sour.
Even when Rose agrees to bring him along, it is clear that he has entered a world he doesn’t totally understand, and he eventually makes the correct decision to leave and find his destiny in a parallel universe. That’s… kind of a happy ending I suppose?