One of our favorite sitcom tropes is a heated rivalry between two characters, especially when one is more likable than the other. The verbal jabs and escalating pranks are the source of plenty of laughs throughout the history of the medium. Today, we celebrate the best of those rivalries on the small screen.
15. Will & Grace – Karen and Beverly Leslie
Though often relegated to the B and C plots of a number of Will & Grace episodes, the rivalry scenes with Karen and her “friend” Beverly Leslie often steal the show. They trade insults about his height and her alcoholism. They duel over who gets Rosario as a maid. They even engage in epic fist-fights, in which their respective hair pieces get ripped off. Their rivalry is a beautiful mix of absurd, physical and insult comedy.
14. South Park – Kyle and Cartman
Cartman is the psychopathic opposite of Kyle. And Kyle, while not always kind and considerate, is still the voice of reason to Cartman’s insanity. Cartman hates Kyle mainly because of his fat jokes and his fairly consistent and successful efforts to thwart Cartman’s schemes. Kyle hates Cartman simply because he is Cartman: a terrible, selfish and mean-spirited child. It’s the classic good vs. evil trope, except they’re the only ones who can bring out either quality from each other. Plus, their slap-fights are pretty hilarious.
13. Married With Children – Al Bundy and Marcy D’arcy
While many of the barbs traded by the two warring neighbors often focus on the, ahem, diminutive sizes of their respective primary and secondary sexual characteristics, Al and Marcy also manage to thoroughly insult each others marriages, kids (or lack thereof) and jobs. Another notable point: Though Marcy prides herself on being a politically correct advocate for the disenfranchised (and therefore “better” than Al), Marcy and Al are actually equally sexist; they just happen to be prejudiced against different genders.
12. Living Single – Kyle and Maxine
Kyle and Maxine’s relationship starts out extremely antagonistic as the two characters could always be counted on to trade insults, but then it turns weirdly sexual and competitive and as a viewer you’re kind of hoping that their sick frenemies with benefits relationship would just end. One of the best moments of this latter stage is a hilarious and delightful musical performance by the actor who plays Kyle, T.C. Carson. You can watch that scene in the video above.
11. The Nanny – CC and Niles
CC and Niles are very similar to Kyle and Maxine of Living Single in that for most of their series they hate each other and then the relationship unexpectedly turns sexual and suddenly they’re in the healthiest relationship either of them has been in a long time. While the transition is weird and abrupt, their jokes about each other are always delightfully mean and there’s the nice sentiment that you get the sense that Niles kind of insults CC so much as a way to protect his friend Fran.
10. Martin – Martin and Pam
As Gina’s boyfriend and best friend respectively, Martin and Pam hate each other about as much as they love Gina. Martin loves to compare her to various animals, and insult her breath and general appearance. Pam often uses her barbs to go after Martin’s height and ears.
9. The Big Bang Theory – Sheldon Cooper and Wil Wheaton
Yes, revenge is a dish best served cold. And apparently deep-seated resentment is most desirable after its been aged for 14 years. That’s approximately how long Sheldon Cooper has been mad at Star Trek star Wil Wheaton. It’s surprising that a celebrity like Wheaton would even care to entertain, much less fully indulge in such petty battles with Sheldon, but at least it’s funny. Their rivalry has featured odd battles such as Twitter wars, ruined movie premieres and an epic card game showdown.
8. Parks and Recreation – Pawnee and Eagleton
It’s easy to think that, as passionate about her hometown as Leslie Knope is about Pawnee, that it’s possible the rivalry between Pawnee and the neighboring town of Eagleton is just all in her head. But then you watch a scene with an Eagletonian in it and you realize that they are just as hateful and condescending as Leslie makes them out to be.
7. 30 Rock – Jack Donaghy and Devon Banks
“Oh that’s all I’ll need Banks, you watch me. I’ll make this company profitable so fast, the only headline will be: Donaghy Saves GE, Marries Your Mom.” The relationship between Jack Donaghy and Devon Banks is a perfect mix of cartoonish absurdity, childish insults and political intrigue. They’re two sides of the same scheming, corporate-ladder-scrambling coin and as such are really the only ones capable of truly taking each other down.
6. The Simpsons – Homer and Ned Flanders
For the most part, the rivalry is one-sided, as it starts because Homer simply just doesn’t like Ned’s goody-two-shoes lifestyle. But there are moments when Ned can’t maintain his compassion for Homer, finally exploding in anger at the irresponsible, inconsiderate neighbor he’s been cursed with. So why doesn’t he just move his family away? Because sometimes even the worst rivals have a moment of sincere compassion for each other. But even then, the backhanded compliments still fly:
5. Sanford and Son – Fred and Aunt Esther
Brother and sister-in-law Fred and Aunt Esther, have a contempt for each other that probably not only spans Fred’s decades long marriage to his late wife Elizabeth, but continues long after his wife dies. Their relationship is riddled with nothing but verbal jabs at each other and Esther’s numerous attempts to knock out Fred with her purse. It’s a classic rivalry filled with inventive insults. Even when Fred’s drunk.
4. The Drew Carey Show – Drew and Mimi
For many sitcom rivalries, prank wars are often the heart of these characters’ mutual hatred of each other. After all, in these twisted relationships, how else do you show your eternal disgust for each other? In addition to insults, Drew and Mimi definitely liked to keep their rivalry interesting with various schemes.
3. Scrubs – J.D. and the Janitor
This rivalry began with a penny in a door and J.D.’s unwillingness to admit to the Janitor that he put it there. As a result, J.D. is often the helpless victim of the Janitor’s pranks and the butt of his jokes. It’s rare that J.D. is able to successfully to get back at the Janitor for the mean-spirited things he does, as he does with the riddle in the video below. But don’t worry, the Janitor eventually won that battle too. The Janitor always wins.
2. Seinfeld – Jerry and Newman
“Hello, Newman.” Is there another phrase that could evoke the same profound sense of disgust and contempt in just two words? Probably not. But how those words drip with such anger and derision is the result of a mutual hatred between Jerry and Newman that is so uniquely theirs because the rivalry itself is a reflection of their very different approaches to life. Newman is over-dramatic, feels every emotion deeply and is theatrically vengeful. Jerry is the opposite, as a comedian by trade, he often opts for comic detachment from bad situations, and especially from Newman. When it comes to the suffering of others, Jerry is often either too self-absorbed to react appropriately or too apathetic to care. This sharp difference between the two characters is best seen in the clip below.
1. The Office – Jim and Dwight
And here we have the ever-dueling duo that inspired this list: Jim and Dwight. Jim’s pranks on Dwight are the stuff of legend and Tumblr GIFs and are only rivaled by Dwight’s extremely angry and/or gullible reactions to them. As Dwight is often the uptight, domineering bad guy of the office, it’s hard to sympathize with him even though he’s the intended target for most of Jim’s pranks. Dwight’s the guy you love to hate, and Jim’s the charming and creative prankster who puts the guy you hate in his place. The combination of the two is an unstoppable force of comic relief.