Ah, television! Whether you're a cynic, a die-hard romantic, or a musical theater fan, there's a romantic TV show out there for you. As we suffer the slings and arrows of real-life romantic relationships, it can be truly validating and comforting to see ourselves reflected on screen. Below, in no particular order, are some of the best relationship-oriented shows that offer escapism while exploring issues anyone who has ever had a crush will relate to.
Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights is, ostensibly, a show about football. But as its many fans know, this acclaimed series about high school football in the dead-end town of Dillon, Texas is just as much about romance as it is about running backs. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.
Never Have I Ever
Mindy Kaling’s smash-hit series on Netflix is a teen rom-com that is pretty much perfect. As Devi navigates high school and a couple of crushing losses (it’s not depressing for long, we promise), she decides to do anything it takes to become popular and start dating the hottest guy in school.
California! Caaaliffooorrrnnnia! It's hard to believe The O.C.’s series finale aired 11 years ago. In the years since, many of the show’s most romantic moments have become iconic. The turbulent dating lives of Marissa, Seth, Summer, Ryan and various attractive tertiary players are the perfect antidote for when you’re stuck somewhere on the East Coast feeling cold and distinctly unglamorous.
If you haven’t yet met McDreamy or McSteamy, we have no idea what you’re waiting for. Romance meets drama meets scalpels in this stunningly successful show from Shonda Rhimes—it’s on its 16th season, so you know they’re doing something right.
This excellent HBO series follows the dating and professional lives of best friends Issa and Molly. When the series opens, Issa is turning 29, and frustrated with her live-in longterm boyfriend Lawrence, who has become stagnant after numerous professional setbacks. Molly has been single for years, and increasingly believes she'll never find a partner who will meet her standards and appreciate her accomplishments. As the two fall in and out and in love again with men in the L.A. dating scene, their friendship will sustain them throughout.
The L Word
When The L Word debuted in 2004, it gave women-loving-women an unprecedented opportunity to see themselves represented on screen. That representation might not have always been positive (the series’ depiction of trans men is particularly horrible), but it was still revolutionary. If you want a sexy, romantic show about LGBTQ+ women who—as the series' infuriatingly catchy theme song says—are laughing, living, and loving, check out this landmark show.
This reimagined history of Catherine the Great is irreverent, hilarious, tragic, and at times, hopelessly romantic. Originally determined to make her new husband Peter fall in love with her, Catherine soon realizes she could never love a man like him. Luckily, Peter is just fine with gifting Catherine with her own paramour, Leo—and before she knows it, she’s choosing between her love for Leo and her determination to save Russia from her husband.
Hart of Dixie
When Manhattanite Zoe Hart is denied a cardiothoracic surgery fellowship, she makes the drastic decision to take a job as a general practitioner in rural Bluebell, Alabama. Zoe only intends to stay a year, but stunning revelations about her family may change her plans ... especially when she gets to know two of the town's most handsome representatives: her bad boy neighbor Wade, and George Tucker, a surprisingly cosmopolitan lawyer engaged to marry his high school sweetheart.
You might know this sweet British Netflix series by its original title of 'Scrotal Recall.' Thankfully Netflix realized that few people feel comfortable recommending a show with the world ‘scrotal' in the title, and gave the series a slightly less ballsy name.
Dylan is a hopeless romantic who shares a flat with his college friends in Glasgow, and has a pattern of moving quickly from romantic relationship to romantic relationship. When he learns he has chlamydia, he must visit each of his previous sexual partners to warn them they might have it as well.
Lovesick's premise may sound like a recipe for juvenile humor, and the show does have some of that. But as the series progresses, it becomes an increasingly sweet, smart look at the different expectations we all have for love, and the ways young adults grow as members of a partnership and as individuals. As Dylan and his best friend Evie try to ignore their increasingly intense feelings for each other, you'll become increasingly enamored with Lovesick.
She's Gotta Have It
Spike Lee has remade his own hit 80s movie in this Netflix series about Nola Darling, a woman who’s balancing relationships with three different paramours. The show is fun, feminist, and features not one but three attractive male leads—sign us up!
One Tree Hill
In the small North Carolina town of One Tree Hill, half-brothers Lucas and Nathan must put aside the grudges they’ve inherited from their parents when the two talented teens are put on the same basketball team. The series follows Lucas and Nathan's tumultuous friendships and romantic relationships from high school through adulthood.
This Netflix original from Judd Apatow often feels uncomfortably true to life. Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) is an addict fresh out of a volatile relationship. Gus (Paul Rust) is an aspiring TV writer and definite dweeb who was recently kicked out by his live-in girlfriend. After an eccentric meet cute, the two quickly get together. But are they ready for a romantic relationship? Are they right for each other? Is there such a thing as 'right' where romance is concerned? Love explores the joys and despair of a new relationship in a way that will make you laugh and cry with recognition.
You know the drill—one highly eligible man (or woman) goes on a reality dating show to meet the person of their dreams. While many viewers watch the show purely for the drama, us die-hard romantics believe you can meet your soulmate anywhere. And as of writing this post, who met on The Bachelor or one of its spin-offs are still together. That’s a better success rate than we would have guessed!
There’s nothing we love more in a romantic TV show than a sexy love triangle, and The Vampire Diaries really delivers. Sixteen-year-old Elena is dreading the start of a new school year in Mystic Falls, Virginia. After the recent death of her parents, she’s unprepared to put on a brave face at school. When she meets handsome, sensitive, and mysterious Stefan, thing start looking up. But Elena has no idea the chaos Stefan is about to introduce into her world. He’s an ancient vampire, one of many in Mystic Falls. And his devilish brother Damon has designs on Elena too.
You're the Worst
When author Jimmy and publicist Gretchen meet at the wedding of Jimmy’s ex, their mutual disgust with the married couple leads them to spend a surprisingly great night together. Both of them are cynical, selfish, and ostensibly disinterested in any sort of monogamous or mutually loving relationship with another human. But as Jimmy and Gretchen bicker, they find themselves falling into a relationship they’re both embarrassed and delighted by. You’re the Worst is consistently hilarious while thoughtfully representing complex issues like depression and PTSD. In other words, it's the best.
This Korean romance series is based on a webtoon created by Kye Young Chon. The plot is centered around a new (hopefully impossible) dating app, where an alarm is set off whenever someone within 10 meters has feelings for you.
The Mindy Project
Doctor Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) is a career-oriented but romance-obsessed OBGYN. The Mindy Project follows her life in New York as she falls in and out of love while growing as a doctor, friend, and mother. The Mindy Project does a great job of looking at the ways we compromise (or don’t) in relationships, and features a stream of Extreme Dreamboats (hello, Timothy Olyphant!) as Mindy's suitors.
After Jess (Zooey Deschanel) finds her live-in boyfriend cheating on her in their home, she moves into a loft with three male strangers. At first Jess’ persistent friendliness grates on her three roommates, but over time, they all warm to her—particularly Nick, a curmudgeonly bartender still nursing his wounds from a breakup with his college girlfriend. Jess and Nick have ridiculous chemistry—they made our list of top TV kisses for a reason! Their 'will they, won't they' story will suck you in.
On the surface, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) is the picture of success: she graduated from Harvard Law, and just made partner in her New York law firm. But despite her achievements, Rebecca is achingly unhappy. When she runs into her former boyfriend Josh, whom she fell in love with as a teenager at musical theater camp, she takes it as a sign. Believing she’s in love, Rebecca abruptly moves to West Covina, California to pursue Josh.
This musical comedy is, for my money, one of the most charming and meaningful romantic shows on TV. Songs on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend have tackled everything from sex-induced UTIs, to borderline personality disorder, to mistakenly sent texts, to bisexuality. It’s a beautiful and hilarious show that will have you singing along at one moment and nodding your head in recognition the next.
If you want a gorgeous escape, let Outlander sweep you away. Based on the beloved novels by Diana Gabaldon, the story follows the romance between Claire, a nurse from the 1940s, and Jamie Fraser, a landowner and soldier from Scotland in the 1700s. Their steamy relationship spans time and the globe.
Jane the Virgin
Featuring touches of magical realism, this campy telenovela follows Jane, a young woman who’s decided to save herself for marriage. She has a boyfriend who she’s hopelessly in love with, but when a mix up at her gynecologist’s office leaves her accidentally impregnated with another man’s child, the love triangle of the century ensues.
This imaginative, inclusive sci-fi drama from the Wachowski sisters follows a group of strangers who abruptly become emotionally and mentally linked sensates. As each of them grows increasingly connected to members of their sensate cluster, we see them all evolve as friends and romantic partners.
Based on the great Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris, True Blood follows Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress in Bon Temps, Louisiana. When Sookie meets Civil War-era vampire Bill Compton, she's instantly drawn to him, in part because he's the first person she's ever met whose mind she can't read. But the course of true love never runs smooth, particularly between a vampire and a human.
Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce
After decades of marriage, self-help author and mom Abby has to adjust to a new life of dating. Luckily, she has a group of fellow divorced women ready to help her navigate the perils of getting closure on her marriage and coming into her own as an individual again.
Though the heart of this show is the mother-daughter relationship between Lorelai and Rory, we still get butterflies whenever we see Luke looking longingly at Lorelai—and we’re always up for a debate about which one of Rory’s boyfriends she was really meant to be with. If you’ve never seen this fast-talking romantic drama, then you should pour yourself a cup of coffee and be prepared to binge-watch.
Featured still from "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" via The CW