Valentine’s Day is a day to be with loved ones. For many of us, that means inviting the characters from our favourite TV shows back into our homes on Netflix or DVD to make us laugh or cry as we watch what true romance is supposed to be. Maybe we have someone beside us on that couch, or maybe we bought ourselves chocolates. Maybe we have someone beside us but we still bought ourselves chocolates because… get real. Like I’m sharing. Regardless, TV gives us a version of romance few of us will see in real life. Here are Billy and Michael’s Top 10 Romantic TV Episodes.
Doctor Who “Doomsday”
Billy: The decision to turn Doctor Who into a love story is definitely not one that was ever embraced by all fans. Many still prefer the Doctor to be wholly asexual like he was in the classic series, or at least to treat the companion as more of a friend. But Rose Tyler was different. She brought love into the equation. Rose was the girl who brought the Ninth Doctor out of his post Time War funk. He fell in love and softened for her, regenerating into the Tenth Doctor practically as a manifestation of his devotion. Having that incarnation, the one designed to love her, be the one to say goodbye, tragically, with neither of them wanting to leave the other? It’s perfect melodrama.
Michael: The power of an episode like “Doomsday” isn’t necessarily in the writing, but in the performances. This is the culmination of a relationship built up over only two seasons. Even more impressive, one half of the relationship has been played by two different actors. So of course it’s to David Tennant and Billie Piper’s credit that the ending of this episode hits as hard as it does. “Doomsday” is considered one of the best episodes of the Doctor Who revival for good reason. Even coming to it having only watched a handful of the early revival episodes like I did, it’s still very affecting.
Billy: I don’t agree with Michael entirely here. I would argue that the writing is everything for this scene. Because it’s not really the episode as whole, but that final scene in particular that gets “Doomsday” on the list. Lines like “I’m burning up a sun just to talk to you” are so wildly grandiose in scale that only the Doctor could truly pull them off, but it means so much to know those sentimental words aren’t just hyperbole. The tragedy of that scene, the unspoken “I love you” cutting back to Tennant’s tear-streaked face? It leaves you breathless. It was the first companion departure of the new series and it had to hurt like that. Because it was more than the Doctor’s two hearts breaking in that scene. It was all of ours.
Michael: While this wouldn’t ultimately be the final send-off for either character it was still a poignant culmination to both of their storylines thus far. Two characters who love each other separated indefinitely because they were saving the world. It’s a fitting end for them and their final scene, communicating through a hologram for a short period of time, contains one of the best romantic exchanges from any of these episodes:
“Can’t you come through properly?”
“The whole thing would fracture. Two universes would collapse.”
Friends “The One with the Prom Video”
Michael: Sam and Diane. Jim and Pam. Ross and Rachel. Those are the three “will they/won’t they” couples that all others are judged against. “The One with the Prom Video” is a culmination of two seasons’ worth of angst and unrequited pining. As such, it’s extremely satisfying. It also happens to be a pretty funny episode of television.
Billy: It’s been years since I’ve even seen an episode of Friends, but going back for “The One with the Prom Video” reminded me how easily we were made to care about these characters. Ross feels dated now, but at the time, the grown man pining after the girl he was in love with all through high school was a valid bit of heartache. Did I feel that way because I was in high school pining after the girl of my dreams while Friends was still airing? Maybe. And maybe it just felt good to see Ross actually get what he wanted, and to deserve it from being a pretty decent human being rather than simple entitlement.
Michael: This episode does what a lot of people look for in romantic TV episodes and movies. It has a big, epic, meant-to-be moment. Obviously this is a little hard to sustain over the course of a series, but as an individual episode it hits all the right buttons. It lets people know that Ross and Rachel are together, as they were supposed to be, and all will be well. Throughout the following seasons and episodes the couple went through their ups and downs (and breaks) and eventually Chandler and Monica sort of took over as the power couple on the show, but there’s a reason why the series started with their love story and ended with it. Because they’re each other’s lobsters.
Billy: I know you think Chandler and Monica were the power couple of later seasons but let’s be realistic. It was all about the chick and the duck as soon as they were introduced. They were the Joanie Loves Chachie of our generation and the fact that Joey got a spin-off and they didn’t is ridiculous.
Orange is the New Black “You Also Have a Pizza”
Billy: I love how Orange is the New Black tricked so many people into watching a show centred around stories about queer women of colour. We came for Piper, but by the time season two rolled around she was absolutely the least interesting character on the show. As we delved deeper and deeper into these stories, we often found ourselves shocked by what we found. Not because of the depravity of criminals, but because of the humanity we saw. “You Also Have a Pizza” is all about Poussey. She was always a huge ball of positivity in the series, but this episode saw some of the darker aspects of her past. Why is it that it made us love her even more?
Michael: It’s strange to watch a show about a prison and come away from it with a warm, fuzzy feeling. As much as Orange is the New Black is billed as a comedy, and it can be ridiculously funny at times, prison is a heavy topic that the show doesn’t pull any punches with. I think it’s due to the oppressive nature of the subject matter that moments of pure joy shine through even brighter.
Billy: Poussey was a character I wondered about all through the first season and was disappointed when she didn’t get a flashback episode. Waiting for “You Also Have a Pizza” was worth it though because we got a fantastic look at both bigotry and acceptance. I can’t say enough good words about Poussey’s father in the flashbacks. He’s so incredibly supportive of his daughter. Even as she’s about to turn a gun on another man, he de-escalates the situation calmly and is so protective of her throughout.
Michael: “You Also Have a Pizza” is a true Valentine’s Day episode, with the series breaking it’s format a bit by having talking head segments with various inmates describing what love is to them. Each character that describes their idea of love does so in a way that’s true to the character and, better yet, true to life. The best description comes from Samira Wiley’s character Poussey. It’s a little goofy, a little cheesy, puts a big smile on your face while also having that edge of sorrow that life always seems to bring. The few seconds she spends talking to the camera is a perfect encapsulation of the strengths of the series as a whole, and a perfect encapsulation of love.
The Office “The Job”
Michael: Jim and Pam became the Sam and Diane for millennials. Anyone watching The Office had at least some interest in seeing these two characters get together. The entire premise of the show, before they went full-Homer Simpson with Steve Carell’s character Michael Scott, was taking all-too real situations and showing how unbearably awkward yet familiar they are. This probably made it easier for audiences to connect to Jim and Pam as strongly as they did. It also helps that Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski had an easy, understated chemistry.
Billy: The difference between Jim and Pam and Sam and Diane is like fire and ice. Sam and Diane were at each other’s throats, finally coming together in heated passion against all odds. Jim and Pam were made for each other and we could all see it from day one. Life found ways of getting in between them. Excuses were constantly made. Pam almost got married. When “The Job” happened and Jim chose Pam over everything else, it wasn’t a fiery culmination, it was a release. Jim and Pam were never a will they or won’t they, but a when. “The Job” was the time.
Michael: Prior to this episode there had already been a few “awwwwww”-inducing incidents in the relationship. Pam falling asleep on Jim’s shoulder. Their iPod listening session. Jim admitting his feelings for Pam. But “The Job” is the true culmination of everything prior, leading up to an interrupted talking head interview and a simple request for a date. It was exactly as understated as it needed to be. This was the third season finale and afterwards the show would fluctuate pretty wildly in quality. I wouldn’t at all blame it on Jim and Pam finally getting together but if you wanted to you could consider this episode the series finale and still go home happy.
Billy: My jaw dropped in this episode. The way the final moments are shot is amazing, taking full advantage of the documentary aesthetic and surprising the audience by Jim’s appearance. What follows is an off-camera moment, as it should be. It’s quiet and personal, owned only by them, but Pam’s face says everything. It’s the face of every viewer who wanted them to get together and I agree it could have been the perfect series finale.
Scrubs “My Soul on Fire (Part 2)”
Billy: There’s one line in this episode that made it an instant choice for me. “I love you more than Turk”. To me, nothing more needs to be said. Over the course of nine years on Scrubs, JD and Turk were the “it” couple. Best friends. Guy love between two guys. To have JD honestly admit that Elliott meant more to him? It’s unfathomable. But he said it. And Zach Braff played it so well that we believed he meant it too.
Michael: If there’s one thing Scrubs loved to do besides cartoonish gags it was getting dramatic and sentimental. Hit up YouTube and you’ll find a million “Saddest Scrubs Moments” videos. The show loved turning into a tearjerker at the drop of a hat. Which is why “My Soul on Fire (Part 2)” stands out from a number of other possible Scrubs romantic episodes.
Billy: Sometimes I’ll put on Scrubs for a laugh and end up crying. Those are the episodes I remember most. Usually Dr. Cox was the one who brought the truly raw emotions to it, because John C. McGinley was always the powerhouse actor of the series, and episodes like the one where he quits being a doctor because his patient died make me weep. I don’t think this episode hit those depths, but man was it sweet. Everybody’s given something to do. It really feels like a celebration of all those little side characters that made the series work.
Michael: This episode still has the show’s goofy humour, but it takes a fairly down-to-earth approach to the relationships on the show. The Janitor is marrying Lady and the main characters are all having relatable, human issues in their relationships. Turk and Carla are dealing with being parents and what that means for their romantic lives, Dr. Cox and Jordan are dealing with their dynamic changing as they get older and more comfortable, and JD and Elliot deal with the importance of romantic gestures. All of these storylines have nice, satisfying conclusions, but it’s the ending with JD and Elliot that remains the best. JD expresses his love in the best way he could, surprising viewers and Elliot alike by telling her that he loves her more than he loves Turk. That’s true commitment, folks.
Frasier “Something Borrowed, Someone Blue”
Michael: It’s fitting that the spinoff the Cheers, which had one of the most famous “will they/won’t they” couples with Sam and Diane, would have one of the longest running “will they/won’t they” couples with Niles and Daphne. Most shows pull the trigger and get the couple together early, break them up, create new tensions. Frasier went 7 seasons without bringing their couple together, or even letting the parties involved know that hey had feelings for each other. Now that’s commitment.
Billy: This is the third time Michael’s brought up Sam and Diane on this list and I’m beginning to think we should have just put on an episode of Cheers. I always admired Niles. He loved Daphne since the very beginning, but he was also a married man who did everything he could to make his marriage to Maris work. Season seven was built around torturing viewers with the idea that Niles and Daphne finally be together without hurting anybody, but then Daphne found herself in a relationship with Donnie. She found herself engaged to him. She found herself wearing a wedding dress. Niles gave up. The moment when Daphne unexpectedly showed up in the passenger’s seat, saying “Niles” instead of “Dr. Crane” was a moment of catharsis.
Michael: By the time season seven rolled around Frasier had reached the level where its witty stage-play aesthetic had devolved into plots with Three’s Company-like misunderstandings. Luckily they still had a stellar cast and could knock out a hell of an episode when they wanted to. “Something Borrowed, Someone Blue” is one of those episodes. With Daphne on the eve of her wedding and Niles having gotten married on a whim the two characters finally confront their feelings and their history with each other. The episode also includes a surprising, heart-warming ending that still takes me back to the heyday of NBC’s must-see-TV.
Billy: The only thing that undercuts this episode, in my opinion, is the awkward beginning to the relationship in season eight. Jane Leeves was pregnant at the time, and the creators decided to put her in a fat suit, claiming that the stress and guilt of her relationship with Niles drove her to need therapy somewhere far far away. Not exactly the most tactful of ways to write around the issue (compare it to how multiple pregnancies were handled on the latest season of Brooklyn Nine Nine) but in “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” it seemed to be all laid out. And later, it was in small, sweet moments like the date on the roof of Frasier’s building that made the relationship really feel like it could work.
Black Mirror “San Junipero”
Billy: This may not be a series you were expecting on this list, but if you know it, you know exactly why this episode is here. The way this relationship between Yorkie and Kelly is established in “San Junipero” is incredibly sweet, pulling you in on the romantic angle before anything of the sci-fi elements of Black Mirror creep through. You could have cut this episode off at the halfway point and just have an incredibly sweet short film of two women falling in love. But I knew because of the series that there would be a little bit more going on than what the first half let on.
Michael: When the third season of Black Mirror finally premiered on Netflix there was one episode which was immediately hailed as a standout. Not only was it one of the greatest episodes this anthology series ever produced, it was also basically a happy ending. That alone is pretty unheard of when it comes to Black Mirror, which usually produces episodes of the bleak, soul-crushing sadness kind. “San Junipero” was different though. It took a sci-fi setting and a new type of technology and, for a change, showed how the goodness in humanity could be amplified by it.
Billy: As soon as the sci-fi elements come into this episode, they come hard and fast, but none are without their emotional resonance. It’s seriously just so good. You have to consider love, eternity, and choice in this episode. That last one is probably the most impactful. Sorry if I’m rambling, but this was actually just my first Black Mirror episode I’ve ever watched after Michael suggested it be on this list. GOOD CHOICE.
Michael: The love story of Mackenzie Davis’s Yorkie and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Kelly is beautifully built up over the course of the hour-long episode, thanks in no small part to the actresses. Davis and Mbatha-Raw are at the top of their game and work through all the emotions of their relationship in a fairly quick timeline without it feeling rushed at all. What helps the episode stand out even more are the questions it asks by the end. The philosophical and emotional implications of death, the afterlife and love itself. The episode makes you think about those questions yourself while ultimately rooting on Kelly and Yorkie. It’s just overall a beautiful episode of television.
The Simpsons “The Way We Was”
Michael: Throughout the seasons there have been a lot of love stories on The Simpsons. Bart, Lisa, Moe, Grampa, Mr. Burns and a number of others have loved and been loved back. The true heart of the series, however, is the love between Homer and Marge Simpson. It’s always the crux of the most emotionally affecting episodes, and for good reason. When “The Way We Was” aired the series was only in its second season and was still creating what its characters would become. This episode was a major building block and arguably one of the most important. It sets up who Homer is, who Marge is, and why the two are so perfect for each other.
Billy: This is the episode that established the canon of Homer and Marge and allowed them to actually push Homer into such a dumb place so many times throughout the later seasons. The act of two teenagers falling in love over the course of this episode is monumental. The final scene makes you see all the good in Homer Simpson and Dan Castellaneta does an amazing job of making that emotion shine through.
Michael: Obviously Dan Castellaneta is a genius, there’s no question about that. But Julie Kavner is an integral and underrated aspect of the series (her performance in The Simpsons Movie is also one of the only standouts of the film) and both of them shine in “The Way We Was”. The beginning of the love story that is Homer and Marge is fittingly silly, with Homer being an idiot and Marge being a well-meaning sweetheart. But it’s Castellaneta’s delivery of one of Homer’s last lines that still sticks with me and still gives me goosebumps when I watch the episode.
“I got a problem. Once you stop this car I’m gonna hug you, and kiss you, and then I’ll never be able to let you go.”
“And I never have.”
Billy: There are a few episodes of The Simpsons that I’ll always remember, and not just because I literally watch the series box set after box set on repeat. This episode made you believe Marge had reason to love Homer. It made you believe Homer would always do right by Marge. It’s the beginning of an endless love. The way FOX treats this series, Homer and Marge will stay together until long after we all die.
LOST “The Constant”
Billy: I know Michael and I have controversial opinions about LOST here on Rogues Portal, in that we think it’s one of the greatest shows ever made. But this episode? This episode. Seriously, I don’t think you can fault us. Desmond loves Penny in a way that’s just so earnestly pure. We see them go through the most difficult period of their relationship, really proving how much they mean to one another. It’s the best episode of season four, and one of the best romantic moments. I love you, Penny. Plus, Michael’s already included it in two of his lists, so why not go for one more?
Michael: This is one of my all-time favourite TV episodes so, as Billy pointed out to me, it shows up on a lot of my lists. With good cause too! “The Constant” made its way onto this list in particular due to the relationship between Henry Ian Cusick’s castaway Desmond and his love back home, Sonya Walger’s Penny. The power of their performances sells a character reunion that is shown completely over the phone. Everything comes together perfectly for that moment though, not just the performances, also the direction by Jack Bender, the writing by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and the score by Michael Giacchino. It’s like a perfect storm of story payoff.
Billy: I had other episodes of LOST in consideration for this list. It was so chocked full of romance (and the Jack/Kate/Sawyer one was honestly the least interesting) that I have to mention some of them. “…In Translation” totally turned around my opinion of Jin, seeing him as a man who had sacrificed his soul, opposing his own morality for how much he loved his wife. “Everybody Hates Hugo” for that one moment when Bernard asks if Sawyer and Michael know a woman named Rose. When we realize that it’s that Bernard, that Rose was right to believe he was alive all this time… that moment seriously meant so much. I’ll even throw in the reunion of Sawyer and Juliet in the finale. It’s a much smaller moment, crammed between many others, but for some reason it hit me right in the heart.
Michael: LOST is in no short supply of romantic reunions. Any episode focusing on Sun and Jin or Rose and Bernard could be on this list. Hell, the entire finale is full of tear-jerking scenes of couples finding each other again. What truly sets “The Constant” apart is the way it so expertly combines the two major sides of the series: the deeply personal and the cosmic sci-fi. “The Constant” puts forth the idea that you need to find the one person in the universe who will keep you from dying when a magnetic anomaly makes your consciousness start time-traveling and it boils that all down to two lost loves reconnecting on a phone call on Christmas Day. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Hannibal “The Wrath of the Lamb”
Michael: When Hannibal first premiered there wasn’t really a way for anyone to guess how the series, and the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, would end up. Hannibal and Will seemed like a cat and an injured mouse. Hannibal was definitely interested and intrigued by Will, but only enough to keep batting him around instead of killing him. As the first two seasons progressed new dimensions to their relationship appeared. They basically had a surrogate daughter. Their sexual relationships were thematic stand-ins for each other. They became Murder Husbands.
Billy: The writing of this relationship worked so well because Hannibal was essentially structured as a will they or won’t they relationship between Hannibal and Will. The finale of the second season was also a legitimate contender for this list, but it was more like watching the power couple of the show break up. Vengefully. It was heartbreaking. You were mad and them for it. It was perfect. The third season brought our couple back together stronger than ever. For this moment at the finale… it was worth it.
Michael: The culmination of this relationship, and the wonderful work done by Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy, is in the series finale, “The Wrath of the Lamb”. After three seasons of Will and Hannibal dancing around each other, restraining each other, trying to murder each other, they kill the Tooth Fairy, a notorious serial killer, side-by-side. It’s a beautifully shot sequence, set to what is basically a twisted love song made specifically for the show by Siouxie Sioux. When that’s finished Will makes the decision to take Hannibal off a cliff’s ledge and plunge to their likely death. The love between Will and Hannibal is a sick, twisted, unhealthy and complicated love, but a love nonetheless.
Billy: Everything about the series was always so beautifully shot and darkly sexual. It started with food porn, or suit porn, or even just aural porn every time Mads Mikkelsen spoke. I don’t even know if I would call the relationship between Hannibal and WIll romantic, but it was certainly passionate. It had me invested probably more than any of the other relationships on this list, and I think that means it automatically gets top spot.