1. Mila Kunis, Two And A Half Men
Being on a long-running sitcom has plenty of benefits for an actor. The pay is good, and the hours are relatively consistent and short. But it can also become a drag to play the same character year after year, to deliver the same punchlines or catchphrases. Perhaps that’s why so many sitcoms try to liven things up by having the stars’ spouses or significant others drop by for an episode or two. Take, for instance, a recent episode of Two And A Half Men, in which Ashton Kutcher’s girlfriend (and possible fiancée and definite former co-star on That ’70s Show) Mila Kunis dropped by to play a new love interest for Kutcher’s character. The very weird, very self-referential episode seemed to double as a kooky defense of why Kutcher and Kunis are so intent on keeping their relationship private—a discussion held, naturally enough, in front of a TV audience that numbers in the millions.
2-3. David Arquette and Brad Pitt, Friends
The appearances by significant others on Friends perfectly encapsulate the two types of cameos these performances usually fall into: One plays a part that could conceivably go to any guest, while the other is a wink and a nod at the real world. In “The One With The Jam,” David Arquette, then-husband of Courteney Cox, plays a stalker obsessed with Phoebe’s twin and arch-nemesis, Ursula. Did Arquette bring anything singular to this role? Not really. Was he a serviceable guest star? Sure! But the role Brad Pitt played in “The One With The Rumor” is made all the better by his very high-profile marriage to then-wife Jennifer Aniston. Pitt plays a formerly fat acquaintance from the Geller/Green Long Island days who hated Rachel so intensely he started the “I Hate Rachel Green Club.” The only other member was Ross, and the club’s main action was starting a successful rumor that Rachel had a “teeny weeny.” Even prep-schooler Chandler knew about it: “Wait a minute, we heard that rumor in my high school! You were the hermaphrodite cheerleader from Long Island?”
4. Helen Hunt, The Simpsons
Hank Azaria and Helen Hunt’s off-screen relationship spawned a couple of onscreen ones, including Azaria’s Emmy-nominated guest appearances on Hunt’s Mad About You as her dog walker. But their only fictional pairing infused with real-life chemistry—their lobster stuffed with tacos, if you will—came on The Simpsons, when Hunt turned up as the one woman who finally found something to love about Azaria’s crude, cauliflower-faced Moe Szyslak. By the time they recorded “Dumbbell Indemnity,” Hunt and Azaria had been dating for a few years, and their palpable rapport eased the suspension of disbelief that a sweet flower vendor could fall for someone like Moe, even with the help of a Diners Club card. Hunt and Azaria wed not long after the episode aired, though their marriage lasted just slightly longer than their characters’ cartoon fling.
5. Amy Poehler, Arrested Development
Arrested Development was always fond of the joke that landed in more ways than one: “S.O.B.s” (“Save Our Bluths”) is both a send-up of the Bluth family and a bald-faced plea by the show’s writers where Jason Bateman’s sister Justine dropped by for an episode in which she may or may not have been Michael Bluth’s long-lost sibling. Amy Poehler guest-starred on the show as the wife of GOB Bluth (played by her then-husband, Will Arnett); they get hitched due to “a series of escalating dares.” GOB never learns her name, the pair only consummate their marriage minutes before they divorce, and she falls in love with his brother-in-law. She and GOB also both conspire (accidentally) to get his brother’s hand bitten off. Hopefully, the actors’ actual marriage had little in common with their romance on the show.
6-7. Megan Mullally and Will Arnett, Parks And Recreation
With its seemingly infinite base of townspeople and various government officials, Parks And Recreation is practically made for guest stars, particularly ones who are a bit of an in-joke to fans. That’s the case with Megan Mullally, who’s appeared a number of times on the show as “Tammy 2,” Ron Swanson’s second wife named Tammy. The hellcat of a librarian is Swanson’s Kryptonite, something that’s probably true to a lesser extent in Mullally and Nick Offerman’s real-life relationship. Amy Poehler’s then-husband, Will Arnett, also appeared on a season-two episode of Parks playing Chris, an MRI technician Poehler’s Leslie Knope goes on an absolutely abysmal date with.
8. Nick Offerman, Will & Grace
Parks And Recreation wasn’t the first time Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally have guest-starred on each other’s TV series. In the fourth-season Will & Grace episode “Moveable Feast,” Mullally’s Karen Walker learns her incarcerated husband Stan wants her to have a healthy sex life while he’s in prison, and gives her carte blanche to have an affair. She idly hopes for “a big, swarthy, hunky working-class kind of guy” to fulfill her fantasies, and gets it once Offerman shows up at Will’s mother’s house as Nick the plumber. Mullally’s own affection for her real-life husband clashes with her character’s conflicted feelings about adultery, leading to a hilariously awkward flirtation as she suggests he “talk dirty” to a bolt to loosen it, offers him lemonade that turns out to be gin, and alternately kisses and slaps him as she tries to decide what she wants. It’s a highlight of the main quartet’s rushed Thanksgiving extravaganza, particularly the sight gag of Karen rushing out the door with his tool belt still in her hands.
9. William H. Macy, Sports Night
Sports Night, an ensemble-cast series featuring Felicity Huffman as the executive producer of a SportsCenter-like news show, dates from the Golden Age of Aaron Sorkin, when it was still a bit of a shock to see actors on a TV show making long speeches and trading intricately crafted repartee. So a stage-trained actor like William H. Macy, with his extensive background in the plays of David Mamet, would fit right in even if he hadn’t happened to be married to Huffman. (The two first appeared together onscreen in a 1992 cable-TV movie of Mamet’s The Water Engine, and were married five years later.) Having reeled Macy in for a recurring role during the show’s second season, Sorkin also managed to include an inside joke: Sports Night was one of those critically beloved but perennially low-rated shows that inspire anguished think pieces devoted to the question of why they aren’t more popular, and Macy played a “ratings advisor” sent by the network to drive Huffman’s character crazy with his narrow focus on the bottom line.
10. Philip Ober, I Love Lucy
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz remain perhaps the most iconic on-and-off-screen couple in television history, but there was another married pair on I Love Lucy. Philip Ober, the husband of Vivian Vance (who played Lucy’s pal, Ethel Mertz), was a bald, square-jawed character actor who usually played generals and executives. He appeared on his wife’s show twice, in the first season’s “The Quiz Show” and later in an unbilled cameo as movie executive Dore Schary (after Schary opted not to play himself). But these actors weren’t cooing lovebirds on the set: Ober, envious of his wife’s success, hung around the studio, hoping to get work and confusing the live audiences used to seeing Vance with her TV husband, William Frawley. Lucille Ball thought Ober “wasn’t fun to be around,” and director William Asher said, “There were other parts Phil could have done but we used actors from the stock group we had instead.” Allegedly, Ober was physically abusive, and Vance divorced him in 1959.
11. Michael Ansara, I Dream Of Jeannie
Michael Ansara, who died in 2013 at 91, played multiple iconic roles in genre television across his six-decade career, including Cochise on the western Broken Arrow, the villainous Kane on Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, the tragic Mr. Freeze on Batman: The Animated Series, and, above all, the Klingon Commander Kang on Star Trek. Slightly less well-remembered are his three guest appearances on I Dream Of Jeannie, on which his then-wife Barbara Eden played the title character. Two of his guest spots played upon the pair’s off-screen romance, though not always in good ways. His first appearance was as the Blue Djinn, the evil being that had imprisoned the then-human Jeannie in a bottle when she refused to marry him some 2,000 years ago. By season five, Jeannie and Larry Hagman’s Tony were officially a couple, and Jeannie’s sister—also called Jeannie and played by Eden in a brunette wig—tries to break up the relationship by impersonating her sister and romancing another handsome officer (named Biff Jellico, no less) played by Ansara. He also shows up in the third season as King Kamehameha, the revered Hawaiian king who decides to reconquer his former kingdom.
12. Louis Malle, Murphy Brown
Candice Bergen and Louis Malle tied the knot in 1980 and remained married until the director’s death on Thanksgiving Day 1995, but the only time they worked together onscreen was on Bergen’s long-running CBS series, Murphy Brown. In the episode, Malle, playing himself, decides to film a political thriller a stone’s throw from the FYI offices and studio, but while newscasters Frank Fontana and Corky Sherwood giddily hope to score a cameo in hopes of meeting the film’s stars—the never-seen Julia Roberts and Armand Assante—Murphy and the ever-conservative Jim Dial are just annoyed by how such film appearances sully the credibility of journalism. Murphy’s mindset changes when she gets word that the producers have offered her “a small but pivotal role” in the movie. (“In fact, they said I’m a plot point,” Murphy adds. “I’m not sure what that means, but I think it means they can’t cut me out of the movie!”) After successfully surviving a battle with the president of the network about the part, however, Murphy ends up making the mistake of meeting with Malle to request some changes to the script, ultimately getting him so frustrated with her demands he fires her and strolls away muttering, “I pity the man who lives with her!”
13. Nancy Carell, The Office
The relationship between Steve and Nancy Carell (née Walls) is rooted in comedy: The couple met at The Second City in Chicago, where Steve was an instructor and Nancy was a student. (His first move, according to a 2013 Details interview: “If I were to ever ask someone out, it would be someone like you.” Her response: “If somebody like you were to ask me out, I would definitely go out with him.”) From there, the Carells served simultaneously as correspondents for The Daily Show, setting the course for future married fake newspeople Samantha Bee and Jason Jones. Fortunately, their real-life connection is stronger than the fictional one they later forged on the American version of The Office: As real-estate agent Carol Stills, Nancy factored into the first of Michael Scott’s many ill-fated love affairs. It was destined to be a short-lived fling, with Carol arriving in Michael’s life before the character was mature or self-aware enough not to Photoshop himself into a ski-trip snapshot with another man’s children. It’s a classic TV example of a married couple inverting their natural rapport to play characters whose attraction merely repels—though most of that has to do with Steve Carell’s paper-selling manager being clueless about such dating customs as the appropriate time to propose to your girlfriend (not on the fourth date).
14. Amber Tamblyn, The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret
For the role of David Cross’ non-girlfriend on his vastly underrated The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret, Cross cast his actual girlfriend—now wife—Amber Tamblyn. In a funny twist, Tamblyn is introduced via a scene in which Cross is basically trying to dump her, only to have her turn the tables and explain the situation: She slept with him a couple of weeks prior, and she’s regretted it ever since—it doesn’t make them a couple. Tamblyn also shows up briefly later on the show as a disembodied voice on a TV news report. (Tamblyn’s father, Russ appears in the series as well.)
15. Brett Somers, The Odd Couple
Brett Somers, an actress best known as a regular Match Game panelist, married Jack Klugman in 1953. Between 1971 and 1973, she made five guest appearances on The Odd Couple as Blanche, the wisecracking ex-wife of Klugman’s character, Oscar Madison. Blanche bounced insults off her ex’s head but remained fond enough of him to pretend that they were still married when his mother came to visit. After Klugman and Somers separated in 1974, Blanche was not seen again for the last two years of the series. The couple never divorced, however, and they were still technically husband and wife when Somers died in 2007.
16. Hal Holbrook, Designing Women
“He is serious, and I am perceived as giddy,” said Dixie Carter of her husband, Hal Holbrook. It was an odd couple of sorts: Carter became famous in sitcoms, whereas Holbrook (best known for his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight!) was one of the most acclaimed dramatic actors of his generation. The pair met on a TV-movie set in 1980 and married four years later, just before Carter began her signature role as sharp-tongued Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women. Although his appearances were sparing (only nine in four years), Holbrook played Julia’s acerbic attorney boyfriend Reese Watson, trading barbs with her in a way that mimicked their real-life chemistry. Holbrook became a member of the Designing Women family in another way: “Whenever I write for Hal, I think of my father,” said Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who cast him in a larger role in her next series, Evening Shade. With the actor no longer available for Designing Women, Bloodworth-Thomason killed off Reese via an off-screen heart attack. In real life, Holbrook (seen recently on Rectify) outlived Carter, who died of cancer in 2010.
17. Ron Leibman, Archer
Acclaimed stage actor and writer Ron Leibman has worked with his wife Jessica Walter on several occasions, including in the Neil Simon play Rumors and in the 2002 film Dummy. Yet for many TV fans, his most enduring work with the woman he’s been married to for more than 3o years will be as Ron Cadillac, Cadillac King of New York City and husband of Walter’s Archer character, Malory Archer. Introduced in season four as a character whose sole joke was to be sort of lame (except when he was unexpectedly awesome), Ron Cadillac has been a divisive character for Archer fans, but it’s clear when hearing Leibman toss his lines into Archer’s mix that he’s getting a kick out of playing the husband who’s increasingly been a thorn in the side of both Malory and her son Sterling. The chemistry between Leibman and Walters’ animated versions is weirdly endearing.
18. Tracy Pollan, The Michael J. Fox Show
The Michael J. Fox Show was one of several attempts made by NBC last season to lure viewers back with familiar faces. So why not double down on the formula by bringing in familiar guest stars? From one week to the next, Fox was joined by fellow ’80s sitcom stars Candice Bergen and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Back To The Future co-star Christopher Lloyd, and a parade of “as himself” cameos that included Sting and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. But the most familiar guest star (at least to Fox himself) was his wife, Tracy Pollan, whom viewers may remember as Alex P. Keaton’s girlfriend from Family Ties. (The two married shortly after that show went off the air). Pollan dropped by as a woman in Fox’s building whom he developed a crush on, only to be forced to set her up with his friend, because Fox’s character was married. Aw, shucks.
19-20. Suzanne Rhatigan and Judy Pascoe, Red Dwarf
The premise of this British sci-fi sitcom, which involves its four central characters—the human Lister, the hologram Rimmer, the android Kryten, and the (somewhat) intelligent cat Cat—being stranded three million years in the future and in deep space, offers limited opportunities for guest appearances by the cast’s significant others. So when the 1991 episode “Camille” featured a pleasure GELF (Genetically Engineered Life Form) who would appear to people as whoever they desired most, Red Dwarf made the most of the opportunity. Craig Charles’ then-girlfriend, Irish singer-songwriter Suzanne Rhatigan, played the version of Camille seen by his character Lister, while Judy Pascoe, the future wife of Kryten actor Robert Llewellyn, put on an incredible amount of prosthetic makeup to appear as another android, specifically one with luxury extras like realistic toes and a slide-back sunroof head. Kryten and Camille’s romance drives the episode, even after Camille reveals her true blob-like form, for as Kryten explains: “It’s the old, old story. Droid meets droid. Droid becomes chameleon. Droid loses chameleon, chameleon becomes blob, droid gets blob back again. It’s a classic tale.” Also, there’s a Casablanca parody. Red Dwarf was just that sort of show.
21. Paul Scheer, Burning Love
At this point, it’s less surprising to encounter June Diane Raphael and Paul Scheer doing comedy together than it is to realize that they’re married. The pair host the popular podcast How Did This Get Made?, and co-star on both Scheer’s Adult Swim spoof NTSF:SD:SUV and the upcoming Hulu series, The Hotwives Of Orlando. Lumping the two together, though, does a disservice to the fact that both Scheer and Raphael are each masters of their own distinctive brands of comedy. So while it’s fun to experience the Scheer-Raphaels together every week on How Did This Get Made? and NTSF, it’s even more interesting when they pop up on each other’s separate projects. Raphael’s season of Burning Love featured her husband as party-starter Robby Z, who demonstrated what it would look like if people actually liked Scheer’s character on The League. Later, in an inspired and completely weird turn, Raphael guest-starred on Scheer’s reenactment of The Arsenio Hall Show (The ArScheerio Paul Show) as a defiant Andrew Dice Clay.
22. Bradley Whitford, Malcolm In The Middle
Bradley Whitford was not the only marquee name featured in the post-Super Bowl episode of Malcolm In The Middle, his then-wife Jane Kaczmarek’s regular gig. In the tradition of post-Super Bowl ratings gambits, the two-part “Company Picnic” also hosted Heidi Klum, Magic Johnson, Terry Bradshaw, Christina Ricci, Tom Green, and Susan Sarandon, who was nominated for an Emmy for her role (but lost out to regular Malcolm guest star Cloris Leachman). Whitford and Sarandon play husband and wife, a crazy couple weirding out the always-harried Lois (Kaczmarek), who is already dealing with a sugar-rushed Dewey at Hal’s company picnic. While Whitford holds his own in the packed episode, Sarandon is clearly the focus of their scenes together, a storyline that culminates in a mud-wrestling match between Whitford’s real-life wife and his and onscreen one.
23. Rhea Perlman, Taxi
Like her fellow co-stars Ted Danson and George Wendt, Rhea Perlman came to the attention of Cheers co-creators Glen and Les Charles thanks to a guest-starring role on Taxi. Introduced in season two’s “Louie And The Nice Girl,” kind-hearted candy machine operator Zena Sherman was the tonal opposite of Cheers waitress Carla Tortelli—and the tonal opposite of Louie DePalma, played by Perlman’s real-life boyfriend of several years, Danny DeVito. Zena became Louie’s first serious girlfriend, and the real-life affection between the two managed to coax rare bits of vulnerability out of the surly dispatcher in each of her five episodes. When Zena was involved, Louie’s tears were real, and his thoughts on relationships were far less crass, even though she couldn’t smooth out all of his rough edges. Those edges eventually became too much for even Zena’s forgiving nature, though the relationship ended on an oddly beautiful note: Louie ambushed her honeymoon cruise, and after trying to strangle her new husband, he finally managed to get the right words out: “You were the best thing that ever happened to me… and I let you go.” Despite talk of a 2012 breakup, DeVito and Perlman remain together to this day.
25. Brooke Adams, Wings
Tony Shalhoub and Brooke Adams first met when they co-starred on Broadway in the 1988 play The Heidi Chronicles. They married in 1992, and subsequently worked together on several episodes of Shalhoub’s series, Monk. Their initial joint on-camera appearance, however, came while they were still dating, during the final season of NBC’s Wings. Adams guest-starred in the sitcom’s Christmas episode as Sister Mary, a nun who catches a ride from cab driver Antonio Scarpacci (Shalhoub), with the initial gag being that Antonio doesn’t realize that she’s a nun. Thus, he offers to take her to the hottest singles bar in Nantucket, but she soon admits that she’s on a mission to save someone… except that she doesn’t know who it is or where they are, because her mission is based something she saw in a dream. After far more driving around than any cabbie would want to do on Christmas Eve, Antonio reaches a point of frustration where he demands that Mary answer a quiz to prove that she actually is a nun. The big twist is that he’s the one she’s come to save, which—in the best sitcom Christmas-episode tradition—she does by reminding him to always have faith in himself.
26-28. Alexis Denisof, Taran Killam, and David Burtka, How I Met Your Mother
Fittingly for a series that was all about a man’s quest for matrimony, How I Met Your Mother was only too happy to have the spouses of its cast members pop up for small recurring parts. The first to appear was the husband of Alyson Hannigan (Lily), Alexis Denisof, who played an oily anchorman working with female lead Robin at her TV news job. (Denisof and Hannigan actually met and fallen in love on the set of her earlier show, Buffy The Vampire Slayer.) After that, Cobie Smulders, who played Robin, saw her boyfriend (now husband) Taran Killam drop by as the ever-irritating Gary Blauman. Finally, Neil Patrick Harris’ boyfriend (now husband) David Burtka completed the series’ spousal trifecta by popping up as Lily’s high school boyfriend Scooter. All three men returned a handful of times throughout the series, upping the show’s romantic cred.
29-30. Jill Latiano and Morena Baccarin, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
This show has seen every permutation of the cast romance. Stars Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson began dating soon after the series began and married in 2008, while Charlie Day’s wife, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, is the show’s most frequent recurring player as the Waitress, a deeply unwilling object of Charlie’s affection. But as the focus of this list is guest stars, consider Glenn Howerton, whose wife, Jill Latiano, appears in “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System” as an innocent pharmacist Dennis romantically terrorizes with the titular system. It’s just the kind of story one would expect It’s Always Sunny to tell to toast a newly married couple, as Dennis takes Latiano’s Caylee on intentionally awful dates, makes threatening phone calls as some mystery assailant, and abandons her the second he has achieved maximum romantic dependence. Incidentally, this isn’t the only time one of Howerton’s significant others has had a role in the show; his college girlfriend, Firefly and Homeland star Morena Baccarin, appeared in the original, unaired pilot as a trans woman Mac falls for, though the part was recast when the show went to series. (Their former relationship is also why Howerton has a 10-second cameo in Serenity.)
31-32. Tom Arnold, Roseanne, and Roseanne Barr, The Jackie Thomas Show
The relationship between TV writer Tom Arnold and TV’s biggest star, Roseanne, briefly fascinated the American public in the mid-’90s, to the degree that ABC thought it would be a good idea for Arnold, who had no prior acting experience, to turn up on Roseanne. According to his Random Roles interview, Arnold says it was Roseanne who saved his acting career by telling him to proceed with a swagger he hadn’t precisely earned. It worked, and Arnold was soon recurring frequently and a popular enough presence to earn a series of his own, The Jackie Thomas Show, which aired after Roseanne and starred, among others, Martin Mull and Paul Feig. Roseanne herself dropped by the show a couple of times—once as her Roseanne character and once as someone else—but it wasn’t enough to save Jackie Thomas, whose ratings eventually tanked once interest in the couple inevitably faded. The relationship didn’t last either.