Hollywood Reporter TV Critics: 12 Swoon-Worthy Small-Screen Couples for the Romance-Starved Viewer

6:45 AM 5/5/2020

by Daniel Fienberg and Inkoo Kang

Spies navigating an arranged marriage, one of English lit’s most-beloved unions, a reality-TV match made in heaven and more — these indelible pairings may provide just the sweetness and/or heat confined viewers are craving these days.

'Schitt's Creek,' 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Pose'
'Schitt's Creek,' 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Pose'
PopTV; Photofest; FX

Whether you’re quarantining alone, alongside a long-time love or a partner you’re unaccustomed to spending 24/7 with, there’s a chance you’re on the lookout for a show that’s sweet, steamy or grandly romantic. 

Perhaps you’ve already been watching the erotic historical hijinks on Outlander, the con-loving pairing of Jimmy and Kim on Better Call Saul, the sexy shenanigans on Vida, whatever is happening with Issa (with or without Lawrence) on Insecure or the Irish-accented pleasures of Hulu’s Normal People

But here are a few carefully curated options for great romantic television — some sentimental and some sardonic, some hopeful and some pessimistic, some family-friendly and some more appropriate for when the kids are asleep. Some of these couplings are, in fact, platonic, while others are doomed from the start. All make for first-rate TV.

  • Philip and Elizabeth, 'The Americans'

    FX

    FX

    Television has never told a deeper — or more moving — story of an arranged marriage than on The Americans. Assigned to pose as an ordinary married couple in America (while also seducing countless targets), Soviet spies Philip and Elizabeth (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, who’d become a real-life item) initially struggled to stay together, especially as his commitment to their mission faltered while hers hardened. But Elizabeth and Philip began to appreciate one another as partners anew when forced to work together to recruit their teenage daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) into the espionage world. The Americans never got its proper due — not least for its observations of how a couple’s love could evolve and mature over the course of many years. — INKOO KANG

     

  • Sharon and Rob, 'Catastrophe'

    Amazon

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios

    Sure, you could watch Catastrophe simply to enjoy Carrie Fisher’s wonderful final TV performance or for the simple joys of multiple characters talking about a guy named "Fergal." But the real reason is to witness the all-too-realistic bantering and bickering between Sharon and Rob, played to perfection by co-creators Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney. Maybe they didn’t meet under the most idyllic of circumstances — she got pregnant after a one-night stand when he was in London on business — but no matter how ill-suited they seem at times, there’s no question that the two are made for each other (even if that isn’t necessarily a compliment). The entire series, 24 binge-ready half-hour episodes, is available on Amazon (where it’s also never a bad idea to re-watch the second season of Fleabag — hello, Hot Priest). — DANIEL FIENBERG

  • Kate and Emaline, 'Everything Sucks!'

    Netflix

    Netflix

    Netflix’s ‘90s-set coming-of-age comedy, abruptly canceled back when it seemed like a novelty for Netflix to cancel things prematurely, is structured as a love story between Jahi Di’Allo Winston’s Luke and Peyton Kennedy’s Kate. The complication is that we know from the beginning that Kate is beginning to wonder about her sexuality, leading to a very tentative flirtation with Sydney Sweeney’s more popular Emaline. With Kennedy giving one of the great, unsung juvenile performances in recent TV, Everything Sucks! is sweet, sad and thoroughly recognizable, plus it’s accompanied by a great soundtrack. (Oh, and check out Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World if you haven’t seen it.) — D.F.

  • Diane and Kurt, 'The Good Wife'/'The Good Fight'

    CBS/CBS All Access

    CBS

    Forget Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Will (Josh Charles). The most compelling couple on The Good Wife — and later on its spinoff, The Good Fight — was the cross-party romance between bleeding-heart Diane (Christine Baranski) and firearms advocate Kurt (Gary Cole). The middle-aged pair’s stubborn convictions sometimes tore them apart — but also left them persuaded that the only person they wanted was each other, partisanship be damned. And ultimately, Kurt and Diane respected each other enough to open themselves up to new points of view without sacrificing who they are. — I.K.

  • Cameron and Donna, 'Halt and Catch Fire'

    AMC

    Photofest

    "Love" doesn’t need to involve sex or romance or anything so conventional. It can just be about two people who you know belong together in some higher capacity. Especially once it gets to the third and fourth seasons, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire is less about the creation of technology or the interesting Cameron/Joe and Donna/Gordon couplings than about the hope that friends and business partners Cameron and Donna will find a way to collaborate, whatever “collaboration” means to you. As Halt and Catch Fire progressed from solid and intriguing to one of the decade’s great dramas, Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishe became its emotional anchors, bringing me to tears more than a couple times. — D.F.

     

  • Jane and Michael, 'Jane the Virgin'

    The CW

    Photofest

    Jane (Gina Rodriguez) and Michael (Brett Dier) weren’t Jane the Virgin’s romantic end game, and in retrospect, it seems clear they never were going to be. But on a show gushy with all kinds of love, no union was dreamier — or more heartbreaking. Much of the credit goes to Rodriguez and Dier’s series-making chemistry, which kept Dier on the show for far longer than originally planned and even brought him back for an extended storyline after his character’s "death." No wonder Jane’s first book was about their sweeping romance. — I.K.

  • Peggy and Stan, 'Mad Men'

    AMC

    Photofest

    Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Stan’s (Jay R. Ferguson) relationship didn’t get much screen time on Mad Men, with the co-workers only getting together in the series’ final moments. But even if they weren’t on a show filled with curdled romances, their contentious, slow-burn coupling would’ve stood out for Stan’s ability to recognize what so many other men of his era could not: Peggy is the best. No other character on Mad Men deserved a happy ending more than Peggy, and Stan proved himself the one guy who wasn’t threatened by her brilliance or independence. — I.K.

  • Leslie and Ben, 'Parks and Recreation'

    NBC

    Photofest

    Like Mad Men’s Peggy and Stan, Parks and Recreation’s Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott) feel like a relatively new kind of couple in pop culture — one where the guy doesn’t just support his female partner’s ambitions, but is willing to occasionally take a backseat to them. Leslie and Ben also have going for them a flawlessly executed rom-com storyline in the sitcom’s third season, in which the nerdy government administrators meet as formidable opponents and end up realizing that they’ll never encounter anyone they’ll admire more. Season three was a hard act to follow, but Parks and Rec kept coming up with new ways over the next few seasons to keep their relationship fresh — and us teary. — I.K.

  • Angel and Lil Papi, 'Pose'

    FX

    FX

    Indya Moore’s Angel spent the first season of FX’s boundary-breaking Pose in a dead-ended pairing — calling it a "romance" would be a wild overstatement — with Evan Peters’ Stan, a character who mostly seemed to exist to reassure viewers perhaps hesitant to embrace a show without recognizable actors. In the second season, though, Angel was given a bittersweet relationship with Angel Bismark Curiel’s Lil Papi. The union hasn’t been smooth, nor has it always been healthy, but I still root for these two to find a way to be together. My heart needs that. — D.F.

  • Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, 'Pride and Prejudice'

    BBC/A&E

    Photofest

    For many fans, the 1995 BBC version of this oft-filmed classic is the definitive Jane Austen adaptation — and possibly the definitive TV romance. Currently available via the Anglophiles at BritBox, this six-episode Pride and Prejudice boasts a literate script by Andrew Davies and chemistry between Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth that is as stately as it is combustible. It’s a romance that will make you swoon and also feel smarter in the process. In the love-with-a-British-accent category, it’s also always a good time to check out The Hour, The Tudors or Downton Abbey. — D.F.

     

  • David and Patrick, 'Schitt's Creek'

    PopTV

    PopTV

    When Schitt’s Creek began, spendthrift David (Dan Levy) boasted all the worldliness — and out-of-touch flakiness — money could buy. While all the members of the riches-to-rags Rose family rediscover life unbuffered by wealth, arguably none do so more than David, who stumbles into his first real relationship with the then-still-closeted Patrick (Noah Reid). Though Patrick has his feet planted on the ground in a way that we’d never want David’s to be, their mutual growing-up makes their romance winsomely wholesome — even when David can’t help wincing, early and often, at Patrick’s puppy-dog earnestness. — I.K.

  • Rob and Amber, 'Survivor: All-Stars'

    CBS

    Getty Images

    You can keep all of your allegedly romantic reality shows with pathetic, drunk people giving each other roses or marrying people they only met 90 days ago. When it comes to experiencing the prick of Cupid’s arrow on an unscripted TV series, I’m all-in on Boston Rob and Amber from the eighth season of Survivor. Even if they hadn’t subsequently gotten married, become one of the best non-winning teams on The Amazing Race and had four children, Rob and Amber would have been the greatest two-person alliance in Survivor history: a union that progressed from objectification to true love before our eyes. The entire season, one of Survivor’s best, is on CBS All-Access. — D.F.