Longtime Muppeteer Eric Jacobson, who has played Bert since 1997, has gone on record as saying he believes The Odd Couple was the inspiration for Bert and Ernie. He used this as a reason to dispute their implied queerness, saying, “If you know the genesis of the characters, it’s an absurd idea.”
You know what’s actually an absurd idea? Thinking there’s anything heterosexual about two men living together while locked in a relationship of co-dependence and dysfunction from which neither can escape. The Odd Couple, in fact, began a long, beautiful, and frustrating tradition in television history: Toxic Masculine Male Best Friends Who Are Sometimes Roommates Pretend To Despise Each Other But Because No One Else Will Be Friends With Them They Are Stuck Together And Also Sometimes The Show Acknowledges Their Latent Homosexuality (TMMBFWASRPTDEOBBNOEWBFWTTASTAASTSATLH). No, I don’t think the acronym is too long. Here’s my ranking of gay roommates throughout television history.
11. Kip and Henry, Bosom Buddies
Mostly remembered for starring a pre-Big Tom Hanks. When Kip and Henry’s old apartment is literally demolished, their only option is an apartment building exclusively for women. So, like any great young, enterprising duo, they adopt the feminine alter-egos Buffy and Hildegarde to get a place.
I mean, come on. Male roommates AND cross-dressing?!?! I’m shocked Jesse Helms didn’t call it poison for America’s youth.
10. Chandler and Joey, Friends
I have never watched Friends. I will never watch Friends. But this is meant to be a historical documentation, and I cannot deny the pathos of this clip. So I must include them.
9. Alan and Walden, Two and A Half Men
Look, I don’t know how to break it to you but Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher got married in the final season of Two and A Half Men. Like, Ashton Kutcher proposed to Jon Cryer so that he could adopt a child, since it’s easier to do as a couple.
The whole thing is played for laughs, where the only joke is, “What if these two ‘straight’ men got married?” But if you don’t find that inherently hilarious then it just comes across as a cute story where two best friends realize their best option for companionship is… each other. Needless to say, I got my jush.
8. Troy and Abed, Community
I only watched five episodes of Community and never enjoyed it, but a friend mentioned them and they are, in fact, a prime example of the trope. Wow, just looking at this video makes me want to scream-sing the lyrics to “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us!” by Sufjan Stevens.
7. Hawkeye and Trapper, M*A*S*H
I haven’t seen much of M*A*S*H, but I know they were best friends and roommates. Plus, Alan Alda is one half of the duo, and since he is one of the best men to have ever lived, I’m moving it up the list.
6. Schmidt and Nick, New Girl
Somehow, I watched every episode of New Girl, and I need to say that this show was a gay hate crime. Somehow existing in a world where everybody is straight but all their parents are gay, New Girl contained some of the most agonizing queerbaiting I have ever experienced. There was so potential homosexuality in a majority male cast where they were all roommates, but the creator Liz Meriwether was too much a straight coward to delve into any of that.
Schmidt was a flamboyant neat freak who constantly told his friends that he loved them and would do anything for them, and the show had the audacity to not only make him heterosexual but a Paul Ryan fanboy. He demands to see his best friend’s penis, kisses his best friend multiple times, and requests confirmation that they will be best friends forever. Sure, if this was the 1970s or 1990s, when gay people were just a whisper in my mother’s ears, instead of the 2010s, where she has a full blown dyke daughter, I could understand it. But we were living in a post-Glee world when New Girl debuted! Kurt Hummel didn’t do the Single Ladies dance so this could happen!
Watch that video and tell me afterwards you don’t want to go up to a straight person and start yelling at them about how they have blood on their hands.
5. Bret and Jemaine, Flight of the Conchords
Perhaps the most lovingly I have ever been queerbaited.
4. Jez and Mark, Peep Show
If The Odd Couple was a fun hang-out sitcom looking at two different people forced to co-habitate, Peep Show was its purgatorial offspring. Mark and Jez are trapped in a sexless marriage and they remain together because no one else will have them. (Jez is actually canonically bisexual, getting a male love interest in Season 9, much to Mark’s discomfort.) Anyway, Jez is obviously in love with Mark, even though Mark is the worst person in the world. Mark is incapable of loving another human being, but he dislikes Jez the least, and no women could ever get between them. Jez admits to himself that Mark is in fact “my other half, my better half, ‘er indoors.” They are fated to be trapped in a life of destructive and dysfunctional codependency forever. That’s love, babey.
3. Felix and Oscar, The Odd Couple
The dudes who started it all. The Odd Couple’s executive producer, Garry Marshall, remembers that Midwestern focus groups were turned off by The Odd Couple because “they thought it was about homosexuals.”
As Dana Stevens once wrote for Slate, “Oscar and Felix are spiritually married, locked together in an almost Beckettian struggle between dependence and autonomy: ‘It’s your life,’ Felix shrugs at one point, when Oscar makes yet another ill-considered decision. ‘When did you give it back to me?’ Oscar parries.”
They have existed in some form or another since 1965. That’s almost 53 years of unbearable sexual tension. Let them fuck.
2. Mac and Dennis, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Besides Peep Show, Mac and Dennis are the only couple on this list whose homosexuality has been confirmed in the show. Always Sunny has long been acknowledged as a subversion of network sitcoms, but for some reason, Mac and Dennis’s relationship has gone largely unacknowledged outside of LGBTQ fan circles. It’s quite obviously a response to the no-homo’d roommate relationships of sitcoms past, like Chandler and Joey in Friends.
In the episode Mac and Dennis Break Up, the gay undertones of the relationship are finally made explicit. After Mac and Dennis are accused of being “an old married couple,” they realize they’re codependent on each other, and they attempt to spend some time apart. They can’t make it through one day without completely self-destructing, and they’re reunited at a candlelight dinner at the end of the episode. In the DVD commentary for the episode — start around the 4:52 mark, above — the creators of the show talk at length about how, “Oh, they’re gay, they’re gay, there’s no denying that they’re closeted homosexuals.”
Mac finally came out as gay in Season 12 and bought Dennis a Valentine’s Day gift in a scene that was scored to romantic music and played completely straight for reasons that HAUNT ME TO THIS DAY.
I am an Irish Catholic homosexual who has been watching Always Sunny for nearly a decade. Do you know the toll this show has taken on my mental health?!? If they don’t at least kiss before the show ends, I will literally get on the phone with Rob McElhenney’s lesbian moms — all lesbians know each other– and tell them that their son is financially responsible for any mental duress I encounter for the rest of my life.
If not for me, then for that gay The Odd Couple fan who watched the show in 1970 and thought, “Man it sure would be sexy if they could fuck.” He deserves validation.
1. Bert and Ernie, Sesame Street
The kindest and most loving couple on this list. Clearly modeled off The Odd Couple, which was popular when Sesame Street debuted. Bert and Ernie do not hide behind insults and takedowns to reinforce their supposed heterosexuality, because:
a) they are intended for an audience of children, and
b) they clearly consummated their love decades ago.
Please watch this Gift of the Magi-inspired Sesame Street clip, in which Bert and Ernie buy each other what the other most wants for Christmas, sacrificing their most prized possession in the process, only to realize that their deep love for each other is the real gift. It will help you believe gay love is the most powerful force in the universe.
BONUS LESBIAN VERSIONS:
Laverne and Shirley, Sam and Cat, Facts of Life, Grace and Frankie, Broad City.