The best romantic TV shows
James R | On 13, Feb 2022
Sometimes, you want a little more commitment from your romantic comedy than just two hours in a couple’s company. Luckily, in our box set age, there are plenty of fish in the TV sea that are worth hooking up with. We cast out eye over the best rom-com TV shows available to stream:
Be prepared to swoon over this saucy, sumptuous and seriously fun romantic romp.
“Why didn’t you tell me who you are?” “When did we eat cereal?” “Why are you wearing my coat?” That’s the sound of Jessie (Rose Matafeo) and Tom (Nikesh Patel) hooking up in Starstruck, BBC Three’s new romantic comedy, which tells the timeless tale of a slacker twenty-something striking up a fling with a movie star. If that sounds like a millennial Notting Hill, you wouldn’t be far off, and the script – by Matafeo and Alice Snedden – leans into the fairytale-like set-up with an uncynical charm. That’s matched by the cast, with Matafeo and Patel sparking off each other with wit and humour. Matafeo, whose pin-point comic timing has taken her from being a winning stand-up comedian to the winning star of recent rom-com Baby Done, does a great job of delivering a female lead who’s not bumbling or ditzy but talkative and confident in her own lack of confidence. Patel is wonderful as an actor who isn’t selfish or conceited. Together, they’re a delight.
A romantic comedy in which neither of the leads are likeable? That was the basis of Netflix’s Love, created by Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust. The result is a surprisingly different romantic comedy, one that wooes viewers with its unabashedly spiky humour and unflinching approach to its characters’ flaws – Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) is dealing with addiction, while Gus (Paul Rust) is a self-centred manchild. Season 2 saw some of the shine wear off, but Season 3 turns the show’s bulky, sluggish pacing into its strength, giving winning moments to best friend Bertie (the hysterical Claudio O’Doherty) and never losing sight of the central desire for two people to try and commit to each other.
Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen star in this hilarious, heartfelt study of love, commitment and change – a quietly profound triumph. Read our full review
Claire, a married nurse from WWII, accidentally travels back in time to 18th century Scotland, only to fall in love with another man, in this series based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling books. Adapted by Star Trek’s Ron D Moore, the result combines time travel, romance, historical drama and sci-fi to dizzyingly chameleonic effect; there genuinely is something in here for everyone. The fact that the Scottish bloke Claire falls in love is the strapping Jamie Heughan is a bonus.
Channel 4’s BAFTA award-winning show has seen Fred match hundreds of couples over its run, paving the way for seven engagements, three weddings and even a baby. It’s the place to ‘find the one’ for 18-year-olds right through to 101-year-olds, and the fact that it treats every one of them with the same sincere warmth and respect makes it genuinely lovely telly.
Love on the Spectrum
Finding love can be hard for anyone. For young adults on the autism spectrum, exploring the unpredictable world of dating is even more complicated. Netflix’s sensitive, respectful and open-hearted docuseries is a warm delight.
A reimagining of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel, High Fidelity centres on Rob, a female record store owner who revisits past relationships through music. Zoe Kravitz is remarkable in what emerges as a nuanced commentary not only on relationships and romantic expectations but also pop culture.
Netflix’s witty, racy and yet thoughtful coming-of-age comedy follows a teen boy at school (Asa Butterfield) and his sex therapist mother (Gillian Anderson) as they grapple with important issues of consent, communication and trust with transparency, honesty and maturity.
This smart and sensual adaptation is powered by its two impressive young stars. Read our full review.
How I Met Your Mother
Josh Radnor leads a wonderfully likeable cast in this smartly written comedy, which sees Ted tell his teen kids about his 30-something dating mishaps – all leading up to how he eventually met their mother. The witty structuring and balancing of perspectives make the journey of discovery a genuinely fun odyssey, while holding back the name of Ted’s wife until the very final episode means you stay engaged as well as entertained. And, underpinning it all, is a superbly realised group of friends, including Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan as Marshall and Lily, Cobie SMudlers as Robin, and Neil Patrick Harris, the show’s MVP, as playboy Barney, who loves women almost as much as he loves suits.
“Finding love. It’s all disappointment and heartbreak and misery. Until it isn’t.” Initially aired on Channel 4, this very British take on the rom-com is an enjoyably dark affair, following a hapless 20-something Dylan (Johnny Flynn), who, after receiving a troubling diagnosis, resolves to contact everyone he’s ever slept with to tell them the news. Each episode focuses on Dylan reaching out to a different girl from his past, which gives him the opportunity to look back on his neurotic mess of a love life and figure out where it all went wrong. With Joshua McGuire as Dylan’s scene-stealing friend, Angus, the result is a winning piece of romantic comedy – not least because the show was originally called “Scrotal Recall”.
Him & Her
If you liked BBC comedy Mum, then you should hook up with Him & Her, the BBC Three sitcom that creator Stefan Golaszewski gave us earlier in his career – and which also deftly juggles sentiment with a spiky edge. Starring Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani, the sitcom follows a couple in their flat and… that’s about it. They don’t do much each episode, but their chemistry is a hilarious, adorable joy – they’re one of the most natural screen partnerships in modern TV.
If you like your romance with a side order of music, this is the show for you. Co-created by and starring the absurdly talented Rachel Bloom, the show follows Rebecca Bunch, a lovesick lawyer who abandons a choice job at a legal firm and her life in New York in an attempt to find happiness in the unlikely locale of West Covina, California. It’s an unhealthy decision and the series grows darker and more complex as it continues to explore the label contained in its title in greater depth – while still tackling love and attraction in all its forms. Even its decision to recast Greg (part of a Season 1 love triangle) for his return in the final season fits in with the series’ smart portrayal of how people grow and change over time. Oh, and each episode is a mini-musical in its own right and contains at least one banger.
Less like a TV show and more like serial eavesdropping, Joe Swanberg’s wonderfully intimate anthology follows a string of Chicagoans stumbling through life and relationships. He makes the leap to TV with natural ease, finding the right balance between lengthy conversations and loose narrative structures, giving us amusing, awkward and raw stories that exploring everything from online dating and ageing to identity and rekindling a faded spark. And did we mention the cast? It includes everyone from Elizabeth Reaser, Orlando Bloom and Malin Akerman to Marc Maron, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jake Johnson.
Zooey Deschanel fans, this is the date you’ve been waiting for. She gets a deserved chance to shine in the lead role of this sitcom, which follow Jess who, after a bad break-up, moves into an apartment loft with three single men – the heartbroken, on-off love interest Nick (Jake Johnson), the would-be playboy Schmidt (Max Greenfield), and the eccentric and sensitive Winston (Lamorne Morris). They find Jess’ behaviour odd, but rally round to support her, resulting in a show that celebrates friendship above all, even as it navigates each character’s romantic escapades.
Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson are hugely entertaining to watch in this wonderful comedy, which starts out with an electrifying train ride full of barely managed restraint and sizzling chemistry – and twists and turns into a thriller full of tension of a completely different kind. Riveting telly.
“Ok, enough’s enough. This isn’t La La Land. This is real life.” That’s Anne Hathaway in the best episode of Modern Love, Amazon’s new anthology series, which explores the ups and downs of love with a knowing sentimentality – and is at its best when avoiding the temptation of Hollywood sweetness. Based on a New York Times column, it’s created by the Once and Sing Star director John Carney, and his warm compilation of stories skews more saccharine than sad, but that’s sometimes just what you need. A stellar cast includes Catherine Keener, Tina Fey and John Slattery, while the writing team includes Sharon Horgan.
You’re the Worst
Nothing says “love is in the air” like a wedding – unless you’re Jimmy (Chris Geere), in which case you’re busy ruining your ex’s big day, or you’re Gretchen (Aya Cash), in which case you’re stealing a blender from the gift pile. Waterloo Road’s own Chris Geere is despicable as the self-centred, womanising Jimmy, who finds himself in bed with Aya Cash’s equally nasty piece of work. “I don’t even find you attractive,” she sighs, as they bonk, half-heartedly. But, of course, a genuine romance starts to blossom – one that, by all rights, we shouldn’t give two hoots about. But Cash and Geere make sure the giggles keep coming, spiting each other by tricking their potential partner into doing nice things, while simultaneously out-boasting each other about how cruel they’ve been to people. What makes it are their hidden smiles as they make each other laugh – and their wide-eyed surprise that someone else on this planet might be as horrible as they are.
Written by and starring Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, this remarkable series follows Rob and Sharon, an American guy and a British woman, who get together after she falls pregnant during a brief fling while he was in the UK on business. Since then, it’s been up and down for the couple, often at the same time – a balance maintained by the show’s juggling of sweet sincerity with scathing, foul-mouthed dialogue.
Gavin and Stacey
Created and written by Ruth Jones and James Corden, this beloved BBC Three sitcom follows Gavin (Mathew Horne), an ordinary boy from Essex in England, and Stacey (Joanna Page), an ordinary girl from Barry in Wales. After speaking on the phone to each other every day at work, they finally met, fell in love and ultimately got married. The series went onto explore the simple love story of these two young people from different parts of the UK, and the impact their relationship had on their friends and family – and that focus on their people around them proves the show’s strength, with an immediately convincing ensemble cast that includes a hilarious Ruth Jones and a winning Rob Brydon.
4 Weddings and a Funeral
Richard Curtis’ 4 Weddings and a Funeral is one of the definitive rom-coms from the genre’s 1990s heyday, but looking back at it now, it’s hard not to consider it dated. This unexpected US update addresses that issue and then some, introducing us to a wonderfully diverse ensemble of characters who weather a tumultuous year of romance and heartbreak, all kicked off by a London wedding – and including, inevitably, a funeral. John Reynolds is, in some ways, the lead character as Duffy, a Latin teacher who is in love with Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel), a speechwriter from the US who moves to London, but the focus widens to include Rebecca Rittenhouse as a well-off interior designer, Ainsley, the ex of Kash (Nikesh Patel), an unhappy investment banker who is being pushed into arranged dates by his parents. Guz Khan as Kash’s friend steals the whole show, and while much of it comes across like a glossy magazine detailing the lives of London’s wealthy, the mix of self-aware parody and unthinkingly cheesy homage makes it a surprisingly enjoyable page-turner.
She’s Gotta Have It
Lyrical, perfectly performed and bitingly relevant, Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It series is all Spike Lee and it’s glorious.
Dash & Lily
Based on the young adult novels, this romantic comedy follows a whirlwind holiday affair that builds as cynical Dash and optimistic Lily trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations all across New York City, finding they have more in common with each other than they would have expected. A warm, charming box set.
Poldark and handsome, does the Beeb’s costume drama give us much beyond that pun? Aidan Turner is certainly a good fit as the Cornish tin mine heir, who returns home after years in the army to find his estate in ruins, his father deceased and his sweetheart engaged to someone else. But beneath the surface – thanks to a cast that includes an excellent Eleanor Tomlinson as Poldark’s bolshy maid – lies a genuinely engaging drama that that will more than satisfy costume drama fans.
This accomplished drama, which follows husband and wife Joy and Alan as they start to look elsewhere to get a boost for their flatlining marriage, is adult TV in every sense of the word.
Joshua McGuire and Susan Wokoma have quietly stolen entire shows from under the feet of co-stars in recent years. Now, they get a welcome chance to take centre stage in this fast-paced rom-com. The series begins with a sweet meet-cute in Finland, where Josh (McGuire) and Fola (Wokoma) are stranded when their flight is delayed – and after some crossed words at the airport and a hotel bar, they end up spending the night together. When they return home, they’re shocked to discover that they actually live opposite each other – with their respective partners. Said partners are less well drawn, but the guilt and awkward tension between our two leads is superbly captured by McGuire and Wokoma, who are funny, vulnerable, spiky and surprisingly sympathetic given how the show begins. It all unfolds in 10-episode chunks, which doesn’t necessarily do much to change the rhythm of the storytelling, but it does make it easy to drop into casually between other programmes – and that, unlike the protagonists on screen, isn’t something to feel bad about. Watch the whole thing on BBC iPlayer until January 2023.
If it’s messiness you want, look no further than Love Life, HBO Max’s wonderfully observed romantic comedy, which takes the form of an anthology – each season follows a new protagonist’s romantic entanglements, while each episode introduces another flame that is either kindled or expunged. In this first season, it’s Anna Kendrick’s Darby, who is trying to make her way through life in New York. Along the way, there are some wonderful guest stars, including Scoot McNairy as her mature, divorced boss, with his own emotional baggage, Jin Ha as college fling Augie, who has an insufferable partner who wants to take him away on a road trip, and Gus Halper as “Danny Two-Phones”. whose perspective on relationships is even more naive than Darby’s. The result shuffles along at a pace driven by character and circumstance, with Sam Boyd’s dialogue nailing the awkward conversations, even more awkward unsaid feelings and the thrilling moments of connection that shape bonds between people. Most of all, it’s a joy to see Anna Kendrick get the kind of leading role that gives her a chance to explore her range and versatility. If things risk falling into lightweight or cliched territory, Kendrick’s charming performance is more than enough to keep you emotionally invested.
Desiree Akhavan (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) co-writes (with long-term collaborator Cecilia Frugiuele), directs and stars in this fantastic comedy drama, which offers a raw, funny and unapologetic take on bisexuality – and the prejudices, shame and comic misconceptions that surround it.
Mae Martin’s raw study of dependency and love is funny, honest, moving and thoughtful telly. Read our full review
Suranne Jones is electric in this whip-smart, playful period drama about Anne Lister, a lesbian in the 1800s – a society that regards her with suspicion and disapproval – but doesn’t for one second stop her narrative from being exactly what she wants it to be. Jones swaggers through this true story with style. Read our full review