In the words of Louisa May Alcott: “Love is a great beautifier.” Whether it’s platonic or romantic, the love we share with others plays a vast role in making us better humans. Some of the couples on this list were tragically set for an unhappy ending, but that doesn’t change the fact that what’s happened between them is still moving and magnanimous. The stories were healing, beautifully sincere, and some of the best written romantic arcs I’ve seen in a while.
1. Sidney Parker and Charlotte Heywood
The slow progression of this stunning relationship is the kind of romance dreams are made of, and with further progression, I’m almost certain they might become my favorite Austen couple. (No one tell Emma and Knightley.) There’s so much I could say about Sidney and Charlotte, and the unyielding, beautifully touching love they have for one another. There’s something so achingly immaculate about a man whose heart was shattered and darkened opening up to a woman whose innocence brought him back to life. Sidney wasn’t unkind out of malicious intent, but because the cruelty and rejection he faced stripped him bare and broke him at his core, it took the parts of him that felt entirely too much and instead awakened an anger in him. The past took no pity on him, and as a result, his instincts resulted in, attack first, explain later because that’s easier than to unveiling his heart and risking pain all over again. Then, in came a woman with an innocence that tore him to shreds not because she’d broken him further, but because she’d taken the parts of him that had been darkened and restored light into them. A restoration that took time because the severity of the damages done were viscous, and an awakening that opened up parts of him no other human had ever gotten close to. That’s why “I’ve never wanted to put myself in someone else’s before” is so profoundly poignant as a declaration because it bares him more than the afternoon at the coves ever did. It’s Sidney Parker at his most vulnerable, promising that in spite of what lies ahead, the all-consuming adoration Charlotte’s awakened in him will be the governing force behind his every act.
Charlotte doesn’t get to tell him just how much she adores him, but we know as viewers that his flawed, incomparably quiet tenderness is something she’s completely grateful for. He challenges her ideals, breaks down her walls, and most importantly, he listens to her. He respects and values her good opinion, and in the same way, she values his. When given the chance, she’d do anything in her power, go above and beyond just to adore him. If the events of the finale indicate one thing, it’s that both Charlotte and Sidney have never known pain greater than the parting they faced. She’d never be so selfish to tell him to stay and inspired by her scolding, he’s doing the very thing she once told him, too. (Look after his family.) They’re each other’s everything. (I think about Sidney’s inability to respond to Charlotte’s: “Is that all that I am to you? A source of amusement?” To which it’s so clear, he wants to say that she’s in fact, everything. It’s written all over his face and it’s heard in his breathless stutter.) Come what may they’ll find their way back to each other, anchored at sea is their unceasing love for one another that’s stronger and deeper than anything they’ll ever experience, and a love like that withstands all sorts of trials.
2. Elizabeth and Henry McCord
The man beside the woman. My goodness, where do I even begin with these two? I’ve said this every year but no couple on television has ever portrayed marriage in such a healthy way as the McCords do. They have and will always be goals and they do that by listening, admiring, and respecting. And that’s what I’d say is their greatest strength as a couple, the choice and decision to listen to each other. Where there’s solitude and simplicity in a couple’s life, there’s also great beauty. And this final season especially showed us just what it means to be in a healthy partnership with someone. It’s constant communication when things are both amazing and incredibly dark. It’s discussing PTSD with empathy and sincere adoration, and it’s supporting one another as though they put the stars in the sky. People often talk about how hard marriage is or how muted relationships become when the “honeymoon phase is over,” but two people who are right for each other will experience magic even in the silence. They’ll find joy in the small moments like casual intimacy when one person is in bed reading and another has fallen asleep. Simplicity is just as powerful and fulfilling. Henry as the First Man was just as I’d imagined he’d be: ceaselessly supportive and admirably cheerful — he’s stood by Elizabeth with such gallantry and ease showcasing to the world that it’s anything but hard to watch the woman you love flourish. Equals. Partners through and through defining that the odds are never against you when you’ve got the unwavering devotion of your partner as the shield that strengthens and conquers.
3. Harvey Specter and Donna Paulsen
I had to pinch myself a few times throughout the final season of Suits because I couldn’t believe that Harvey and Donna were actually together, that they’d finally acknowledged just how much they need the other, and that they’d been each other’s person from the moment they met. Donna’s known for a while now, but someone with a mindset as complex as Harvey’s needed to go through a few non-legal trials to realize that all this time, his heart’s been needing Donna to find true joy. And ultimately Harvey needed to find and complete himself in order to be the kind of partner to Donna deserved. That’s why when they finally got together, it was worth every angsty, sometimes frustrating obstacle they’d faced alone. Harvey and Donna understand one another in a way no two people in their lives ever could. They (Donna especially.) have been patient with one another, careful, and achingly compassionate towards one another, choosing to believe that the person in front of them is remarkably special. When Harvey finally realizes that Donna’s been his rock through everything, he exhibits that love beautifully by not only telling her how much she means to him, but by showing her his love every chance he gets. There are no risks they wouldn’t take for each other, no lines they wouldn’t cross, no burdens they wouldn’t carry.
4. Fleabag and The Priest
There’s a difference between romanticizing a tragedy and finding beauty in profound pain. Fleabag and the Priest were doomed from the start — I feel it’s safe to assume we all imagined how this would end given the circumstances. But in the brief moments they had together, it was magic, pure chaos, and the strongest TV chemistry of the year. There’s a reason the most tragic love stories end in an almost, but that doesn’t change that the fact that they’re indescribably profound, endearing, and sometimes, the most memorable. Fleabag and the Priest might have been exquisite together or they might have been a complete disaster, but their inability to really try in spite of how deeply they adored one another is something that I imagine will haunt us viewers for quite some time. I’ll be old and grey while still discussing how phenomenal and electric the chemistry between Andrew Scott and Phoebe Waller-Bridge was on the night they parted at the bus stop. It’s hard to think that God would look down on two people like Fleabag and the Priest and not root for them, too. Their chemistry was magnetic, thrilling, and resulted in some of the most emotional moments ever written in a comedy. It was dark and enticing, but never stopped being tender and genuine. In all its enigmatic, profoundly captivating run, Fleabag and the Priest changed one another exponentially. They might have chosen to move on with their lives without each other, but the bond they shared is a love that’ll stay with them until the end of their lives.
5. David Rose and Patrick Brewer
David Rose and Patrick Brewer were at the forefront of one of the most important episodes on television. (“Meet the Parents” 5×11.) This isn’t just a story of love and acceptance, but it’s a story of faith and healing. It’s a story of understanding and a story of little miracles. David and Patrick took their relationship to new heights, literally, but those risks came with solidifying that they’re each other’s greatest adventure. David has feared love and attachment with a fire in his soul because he’s spent a long time, waiting. Whether that’s waiting for his next big opportunity or waiting for love not to betray him. And Patrick needed to love himself to be able to love as fiercely as he does. David needed to grow and appreciate the life in front of them. The two couldn’t be more opposite, but it works beautifully for both their relationship and the business, allowing their creative differences to challenge one another in ways that help them grow and evolve. I think it’s safe to assume we all bawled our eyes out during Patrick’s proposal, because that wasn’t just a moment that’d promise forever, but it was a moment that truly showcased how happy both of them were for the first time in their lives. They’ve each been through so much in their pasts, and perhaps in the beginning this was a relationship that wouldn’t have worked out, but their choice to continue loving each other, choosing each other, forgiving each other, and most importantly, accepting each other just as they are, for all that they are is the very reason why they did work out and in such a gorgeous way, too.
6. Eliot Waugh and Quentin Coldwater
A lifetime together and the choice to never give up on each other is the very force that’s led Quentin and Eliot to their greatest adventure. There’s a lot that’s happened this season that could’ve resulted in a much lovelier outcome, but what we’ve seen has been beautiful nevertheless. The Magicians has often been a show that’s handled mental illness admirably, and when it came to showing us Eliot inside the monster, it came with the painful reminders of the unkindness he’s endured in life. But those reminders did an incredible job of showcasing that Quentin’s love and goodness has healed that darkness effortlessly. And in the same way, Eliot’s accepting nature has givenQuentin the chance to see that he’s irreplaceable in this world, he’s desired, he’s special, and he’s never alone. Eliot might’ve feared love and vulnerability with Quentin, but he’s always been his strength, for when the time came to brave, it was Quentin’s unwavering devotion and inability to give up that inspired Eliot to continue fighting the monster. Peaches and plums indeed.
7. Chidi Anagonye and Eleanor Shellstrop
The Good Place
Eleanor and Chidi might have had the greatest angsty moment all year with their separation/memory wipe situation. I’m apparently an absolute sucker for the one person loses their memory and it’s up to the other to help bring it back inadvertently making them fall in love all over again trope. There have been a lot of great moments between the two this year, and while the two of them watching their love story’s slideshow in “Pandemonium” is on top of my list, Chidi telling us that Eleanor’s the answer in the finale is what I want to talk about most. In every reboot, they’ve found each other and on every obstacle they’ll continue finding each other because they’ve always been each other’s answer. The idea of soulmates was once created entirely to mess with the humans, but Michael says it best this season when he reminds Chidi that if soulmates exist, they’re not found, they’re made. Chidi and Eleanor might not have found each other the way “normal” people do, but in every reboot, they chose to love one another again, they chose to look out for each other, root for each other, and upon meeting, they chose to make themselves better in order to somehow help the other person in their endeavors. It took her own growth and understanding for Eleanor to be able to help Chidi understand that as a child, he shouldn’t have been responsible for his parents reconciling. And I can’t wait to see these two figure out how to take the good place back all while finding new ways to fall in love with each other and thus, making themselves stronger as soulmates.
8. Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper
We all might joke about these two already being married, and unsurprisingly, this season made me want them together more than I ever did before. It’s taken a long time for them to realize that sharing their cigarettes should’ve carried on for longer than just outside of fifth period, but coming to this realization is what’s bound to make them a stronger couple in the future. (The future that better be a thing because I refuse to accept that Jim Hopper is actually dead. Lol, what a concept. I reject it.) I’m here for a lot of things, but mainly for the fact that Hopper realizes it before Joyce, for a woman who’s constantly sidelined by the town, she deserves to be fought for. She deserves persistence. She deserves proof that she won’t be abandoned again. She deserves to know that in a town where people doubt her, Hopper will never stop believing her. And that’s finally where we’re at, the place where there’s unwavering faith in each other even in the midst of incessant, ridiculous bickering. There’s a great deal that the two of them need to work at and learn when they’re finally together, but trusting each other completely isn’t on that list. And since that’s the key to any successful relationship, the two of them have a pretty strong chance at making it to the very end.
9. Amy Santiago and Jake Peralta
Newlywed angels on a quest to making their lives better is all that I’d imagined it’d be and then some. Jake and Amy continue to be the rock on my list of favorite romantic relationships because they’re the two I never have to worry about — the solid, impeccable beautiful duo that’ll be there through and through. And now that Madam Secretary is over, they’re on top of the healthy marriage list. Jake and Amy get it right. They’re working through life together, handling everything together, and communicating in an honest, heartfelt fashion. They’re defending each other’s honor though 100% unnecessary, but a task done because they can and want to do simply because they love the other so damn much. There’s a lot more I want to say about their marriage when we get into the episodes portion of these reviews, but simply put, the way Jake listened to and heard every word Amy spoke when mentioning her sexual assault broke me. It shouldn’t have, but it did because so few men are given the opportunity to really see what it’s like for women out there, and when Jake heard it, he did everything in his power to ensure that Amy understood the hard work she’s put in is seen, every bit of it is valid, and as opposed to just telling her, he showed her that he’s there to fight alongside her. He believed her, loved her, rooted for, and tried his hardest to be the rock that she needed, which worked beautifully because his sincerity in a moment like that is the greatest help he can give.
10. Penelope Alvarez and Pat Schneider
One Day at a Time
I genuinely didn’t expect to ship this as fiercely as I do, but I guess I’m an absolute sucker for the “they’re just friends but everyone around them knows and ships but no one’s saying anything” trope, too. Is that a thing? Because it should be. If it isn’t, it is now. Penelope and Schneider are such a strange duo, even their friendship is an unconventional one, but the comfort they’ve found with each other as neighbors is what does the trick. There’s an unspoken promise between the two to do everything in their power to be the other’s anchor in times of need. (Sometimes unwanted, but that’s okay, too.) And this season especially showcased that part of their relationship most naturally when Penelope learned about Schneider’s relapse. The choice to be there for him and continue believing in him in spite of his momentary weakness is bound to be the guiding light that helps Schneider remember the victories he’s had in the past. And in return, we got the chance to learn that Schneider’s been the calm amidst Penelope’s anxious storms — he’s been there for her, he’s listened to her, and most importantly he’s given her a safe space to understand that with him, there’s no abandonment, there’s no judgement. He isn’t going anywhere, literally, not until he’s kicked out. He’d be there for her through everything because whatever this becomes or doesn’t, it’s the story of two people who’ll ensure the other doesn’t ever walk through fire alone.
Honorable Mentions: Blake Moran and Stevie McCord (Madam Secretary), Alexis Rose and Ted Mullens (Schitt’s Creek), Jonah Simms and Amy Sosa (Superstore), Esther Denham and Lord Babington (Sanditon), Abe and Rose Weissman (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Brienne of Tarth and Jamie Lannister (Game of Thrones)
This time of year is my favorite for a number of reasons, but sharing these categories with remarkable writers like Heather over at TV Examined and Katie over at Nerdy Girl Notes is on top of the list. Be sure to check out their Best of the Year reviews, too!
Which romantic relationships were your favorite of the year?