Best of 2021: Romantic Relationships features spoilers for various shows. Please be advised if there’s something you don’t want to know.
Romance isn’t going anywhere—not now, not ever. Year after year, the romantic relationships within a series always make it more special, intriguing, and utterly compelling. To deny the need for romance in television is a silly thing to do. If we want the fiction we consume to match the likes of the real world, denying love as a necessity no longer works. Most of us need it. Most of us crave it. It’s a part of life, and these relationships are part a large part of the beauty within a show.
For more end-of-the-year coverage, be sure to check out our Best of 2021: Ted Lasso Season 2 Special, as the shining example of what excellent TV looks like in its entirety. There’s also the Best of 2021: Scene-Stealers who made this year a joy ride through and through. The Best of 2021: Performances, the Best of 2021: Characters, and the Best of 2021: Found Families.
Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghafa
Shadow and Bone
As the only couple on this list who’s never even shared a single touch, Shadow and Bone‘s Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghafa (Kanej) have had some of the most breathtaking and intimate moments I’ve ever seen on TV. (Where most of this Best of 2021 romantic relationships list is somewhat out of order, it’s no accident we placed them first.) A large majority of the reason I got so attached to the series is due to the maturity present in their exchanges. A maturity that’s hard to master as it relies on actors establishing a language that’s essentially transcendent on-screen. And though they’re in the earlier stages of their partnership, nothing is more apparent than the fact that they each understand the other’s value in a way no other person has before. This undeniable magnetic pull crystallizes the detail that there’s something profoundly substantial between the two—something indescribable and moving that relies heavily on silent conversations.
Kaz and Inej are intricately tethered through their darknesses, their individual needs, and the unyielding trust that strengthens them. Their belief in the other is never misplaced, even when there’s still much to be uncovered. Kaz Brekker is the only person Inej Ghafa could trust with her knives, and she’d sacrifice whatever need be to keep him safe. Today, they’re each other’s safe space—the place where they learn the most about themselves and what it truly means to rely on someone in a world that’s brought them colossal pain. Like magnets, orbiting with precision and care around the other, the trust (and growing adoration) between them is a treasure of greater depth than all the kruge in the world.
Jim Holden and Naomi Nagata
Only The Expanse‘s Jim Holden and Naomi Nagata could spend an entire season apart and somehow continue to be one of the strongest couples on television. The decision to keep them apart for the majority of last season isn’t one I was personally fond of, but knowing they’re a couple whose devotion to one another is unmatched is undoubtedly the kind of anchor to hold on to. Where viewers can often doubt couples and their loyalty to one another, it is never the case with Jim and Naomi. Whether physically apart or in the same room, their thoughts continuously circulate to the well-being of the other. They’re with each other, connected in a way neither ever thought they could be to another person, and that’s especially the case with Season 5.
On another note, what has always stood out through every season since the moment the two got together has been their ability to listen to one another. Whatever the situation has been, whether the conversation is immediate or not, Jim and Naomi are going to talk about it. Every dark path, tragic outcome, and even the loneliest moments have always been made better due to the love they know the other has for them. Where there’s so much they could doubt, this relationship isn’t one of them. They aren’t just one of the best romantic relationships of 2021, but the forever kind, especially in the science fiction genre.
Ashley Jones and Miles and Turner
Blindspotting is a love story, and Ashley Jones and Miles Turner are one of the more surprising couples on our Best of 2021 romantic relationships list. (Mainly because I had no idea this show would come out this year.) But everything that we saw with them throughout the season, but especially in “Ghost Dad” and “Bride or Die” made it clear that rock-solid as a term was created for the two and their love story.
Ashley and Miles are each other’s person. We said plenty about their love story in “Ghost Dad,” but it almost requires repeating. “Jasmine Cephas Jones and Rafael Casal have such exquisite chemistry that their vulnerability through intricate circumstances such as this conversation is incredibly palpable. It was easy to lose yourself in the idea that Miles and Ashley were really in the same place because their adoration has been cemented as the forever kind so keenly, you felt every ounce of their emotions. Miles’ as well because we know just how profoundly Ashley understands him. […] It’s a moment of vulnerability that allows Ashley to grasp just how compelling their love is because it’s something worth missing. Miles is worth missing—this battle is worth fighting through it. Their love has always been worthy, but to see it sealed in the sunset through an enigmatic moment with colossally lasting impact was utterly breathtaking.”
And then there are, of course, their wedding vows—every poetic word and every deeply intimate look they shared served as promises that solidify the fact that their relationship is one of for the books.
Helen Sharpe and Max Goodwin
Have you ever loved a ship so much you only watch their scenes on a show? No? Okay. That’s fine. (And for those who don’t know, I would happily watch New Amsterdam if I wasn’t a hypochondriac, so don’t at me.) But the thing is, from the moment I saw gifs of the shower scene in 3×12 “Things Fall Apart” circulating, I knew it was just the kind of hurt/comfort I wanted in on—the faces of two people who clearly had a surplus of adoration for one another and who’d do anything to ensure they come back from this. (Whatever this was, as I thought at that moment.) Few couples can emote such a powerful reaction through gifs, which is a tremendous testament to the performances Freema Agyeman and Ryan Eggold bring to the table every time.
And then there’s everything following. The first real kiss, the first night spent together, the vulnerability behind every word that acts as a promise, every look which infectiously spreads the immense adoration within, and more importantly, the decision to do everything together—the decision to choose each other every single time. New Amsterdam supposedly isn’t a romance, but that’s untrue because theirs is one of the best love stories ever told on Network Television. Their scenes are the kind you replay over and over again because the raw intimacy, the poignant openness, and every little moment sparks the kind of fire only the most beautiful kind of fictional love can.
Stella Kidd and Kelly Severide
Excluding the nonsense from the last few episodes of Chicago Fire, Stella Kidd and Kelly Severide (Stellaride) are one of the most effortless romantic relationships to adore. They are, in fact, the ship for me in the entire One Chicago universe, doing something really fascinating all throughout the course of their journey, but especially in 2021.
Who doesn’t love a spur-of-the-moment proposal because you can no longer help it—because being together is better and more beautiful than anything else in the world? Stella and Kelly have come so far it’s precisely what makes everything that’s currently happening feel off. They’ve been through enough drama. They’ve dealt with enough uncertainties. And this year proved that they were ready to take the next, big step into something permanent—something neither of them ever thought was in the cards for them, but the other came in as a pleasant surprise to heal even the corners they didn’t know needed another’s touch. A proposal, embracing whatever is to come, and supporting each other’s dreams is the Stellaride way—not ignoring calls.
Wanda Maximoff and Vision
In every way, WandaVision is a love story. It’s the story of two people who merely wanted a little more time and a happy ending together. It’s the story of two people who refused to let their story end with the tragic mark they were given. And though Wanda fabricates it, it doesn’t make it any less real because every version of Vision would love her with everything that he is and in all ways that he is capable of.
The short amount of time they got together was magic in every way. We’ve got a whole relationship deep dive for these two, but what matters is: “I just feel you.” It starts slowly, and it starts with a quiet look. One glance, one exchange. It’s opposing teams and it’s mutual pining, but more than anything, it’s two people (souls?) who find themselves connected in a way that is everlasting, healing, and lovely. A synthezoid and a witch—one with an indescribable form of experience and one with darkness tied to her growth. And yet, all it took was conversations, listening to each other, and allowing them to feel every ounce of the emotions that burned through them.”
There will never be a true goodbye tied to them because Wanda Maximoff could never fully let go of how much Vision meant to her. How much he healed her, and how desperately she was always willing to hold on to the familiarity and warmth he brought back into her life when the world had already taken far too much.
Amy Santiago and Jake Peralta
Throughout the majority of NBC’s close to perfect comedy series, Amy Santiago and Jake Peralta have been the most solid pair to grace our screens in a way that’s continued to surprise us. You expect a couple like Ben Wyatt and Leslie Knope to make it, but if you’re jaded from the treatment of certain TV shows, especially procedurals, you almost expect Amy and Jake to instead deal with too much. You wait for the moments they’ll likely be pulled through the wringer.
However, that was thankfully never the case, and instead, the series continued to give them the chances and opportunities to grow in its final season. It allowed them to chance to take on parenthood together. It allowed them to juggle the changes in both their lives while making mature decisions about what’s next together. And in the end, through everything Jake and Amy did, they proved that they’re in this for the long haul. Theirs is never a relationship that will end—this is a relationship with two people who’ll always grow.
Olivia Benson and Eliot Stabler
Law and Order: SVU and Organized Crime
As someone who used to watch Law & Order: SVU sporadically, I always thought Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler (Bensler/EO) were married partners calling the shots together. If you had told me back then that they weren’t, I wouldn’t have believed you—there’s no way. There’s no way two people with that much chemistry and such imperative closeness aren’t together. (And then, of course, adulthood and reality made it clear along with Stabler’s exit.) Fast-forward to 10-years-later, and he’s back with Organized Crime. He’s back in a moment where everything changes, and the only way now is to look ahead. 50+-year-olds seldom get second chances as beautiful as this on TV, but beyond that, every procedural partnership pales in comparison to Benson and Stabler’s. They’re legends—and you don’t even have to watch the series in its entirety to understand the weight of that truth.
In short, everything they’ve been through in the last year alone has only proven how much they need each other—how much they’re willing to do for each other, and the small, gorgeous detail that there’s something burning deep that they’ll channel into an already strong friendship—a new beginning. While much is unclear, the magnetic draw that tethers them is undeniable. The shared vulnerability, the way Olivia can speak her mind, the way he’ll now stop at nothing to truly listen to her, and the quiet moments of comfort in car rides are all greatly telling of the fact that this friendship can lead to the best kind of romantic relationship. It’s so much more than this too. It’s all the little things throughout that have made them stronger.
Bradley Jackson and Laura Peterson
The Morning Show
Bradley Jackson and Laura Peterson are the unexpected romance we didn’t know we needed, one we all thought we’d probably never even get, and yet, The Morning Show delivered. The two women could not be more different from each other apart from their positions in the industry, and that’s a large part of the reason why they work so well together.
We’ll sound like a broken record, but it’s a universal truth—the best relationships beautifully challenge each person to strive towards something bigger and better. And Laura Peterson is the kind of partner whose compassion serves to be a beacon of light in Bradley Jackson’s dark, dreary road that’ll probably get worse before it gets better. Bradley and Laura are precious—their budding relationship is infectiously riveting, and on a show where healthy couples are basically non-existent and can’t be trusted, it’s lovely to get something we could root for that’s truly stunning in the way it’s framed around compassionate motives, and the decision to see and appreciate all parts of each other.
Geralt of Rivia and Yennefer of Vengerberg
Though they aren’t where we wish they’d be by the end of The Witcher’s Season 2, nothing is more evident than the fact that Yennefer of Vengerberg and Geralt of Rivia are destined for each other. Nothing is more true than the detail that what’s always been missing is what’ll be found and earned in the family they’ll now both be with Ciri. They’ve both grown tremendously from where we left them in the first season, and the versions that stand before us today won’t give up after another chance. It’ll be yet another long and winding road, but when we get there, the beauty we’re surely to find will be indescribable.
Learning to trust again, learning to understand each other even better than they did before and working through the perils of this complicated world together will be the balm that strengthens them. The longing, the regret, the fears, the hope, and everything in between that burns stronger than any force in this world will prove to be the very force that authenticates that their importance to one another is a perpetual vessel nothing and no one can cross.
Chloe Decker and Lucifer Morningstar
So much of Lucifer Season 6 is about Chloe Decker and Lucifer Morningstar proving that nothing, not even time, could stand in the way of their love for one another. You knew it was forever from the moment they met, but sometimes, forever looks a little different on people. Sometimes, forever is a long and winding round with uncertainties framed around the power of choice. And in the end, despite anything else, the detail that they’ll always choose each other is poignantly clear. So much of the final episode is about Rory and the family’s heart, but more importantly, it’s about crystalizing the fact that if fate didn’t intervene, Lucifer and Chloe wouldi always choose each other.
Forever is theirs. A temporary goodbye is nothing, and it could never be an obstacle when they pack so much of their unceasing, immense adoration for one another into every kiss, every embrace, every dance, every look, and every move. In the end, though they spend time apart, Lucifer and Chloe make it still. They hold onto each other in a way that’s as selfless as love can be while being constant reminders of the fact that they are stronger because of how fervently they’ve loved one another. Ultimately, Lucifer and Chloe have had some of the most beautiful, unforgettably poignant scenes throughout the year, and there’s just no way to sum all of it up without pages and pages of analysis.
Jessie and Tom
If there’s any trope I strongly avoid like the “childhood best friends to lovers” or the “love triangle,” it’s the “celebrity falls for a normal girl” trope. It’s unrealistic, and I seldom jive with any of the storylines we’ve had in the past about it.
But Starstruck hooks you right from the start, and Jessie and Tom are impossible not to root for. The chemistry between Rose Matafeo and Nikesh Patel is everything and more than enough. And there is the delightful way their story is unfolding—the will they/won’t they, the indescribable pull to something more, and most importantly, the friendship that’s proving to be the solid foundation between the two in a way that’s gripping, beautiful, and organic. Starstruck is six episodes too short, but it’s simultaneously too good, and I can’t wait to see where else their relationship goes next year.
Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont
A Discovery of Witches
Matthew Clairmont and Diana Bishop (Bishmont) were perfect in A Discovery of Witches’ first season, and yet, unsurprisingly, even better in the second. Where a few of the season’s choices are questionable, their love is not one of those things, and it could never be.
Fighting through the hurdles of time travel, their own demons, the pangs of grief, second chance meetings with fathers, and all that was buried deep within coming to the surface only made them a stronger couple. The season spoke highly on the fact that the depth of which their understanding transcends is a treasure in a way, so few TV shows have established. But more importantly, and perhaps, most admirably, Matthew has proven that his patriarchal ways are no match for his wife’s power or strength. She is his world, she is the one that matters most, and if need be, whatever he thought he knew, she’s capable of inspiring his growth in a way no one else could.
Zoey Clarke and Max Richman
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
Zoey Clarke and Max Richman were fantastic before, but Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas and specifically the “Time After Time” number did something utterly remarkable for the two. It authenticated the detail that no matter where they go and what they do, they’ll be connected in a way that’s changed the trajectory of their relationship forever.
Max’s powers may have been temporary, but his newfound understanding of the weight Zoey carries and the pain she’s lived through is enough for him to know how to be a better partner in every way. So much of the love triangle in Season 2 truthfully ruined a lot for me, but within an instant, the “Time After Time” made it clear that it’s okay—it’s all part of their journey. The people who stand before each other today are a couple who’d do anything to ensure the other is always happier than they were just mere moments ago.
Hailey Upton and Jay Halstead
Chicago P.D. continues to be the show that has no idea what character development or proper repercussions are, but at the same time, it understands the importance of heart and vulnerability through Hailey Upton and Jay Halstead’s relationship. Between episodes like “In the Dark,” “Fractures,” and “No Way Out” the two continue to prove that in a world where nothing and no one could be trusted, their love is a constant that’s only bound to grow.
There is nothing Jay wouldn’t do for Hailey—to see all that she is, to hear her fully, and to be there for her in the all-consuming darkness of the guilt she was trapped in. As someone who once thought there was no way he could find something better, he did—he found the greatest love there is because Hailey Upton is the kind of woman worthy of so much more than the world allows, and she’s found it through a partner who’s trying his hardest to work through his own demons to be better for her. In every way that matters, together, it’s all about growth and happiness. At the very least, this marriage shows that the two of them will continue to choose each other, and they’ll continue to rise to every challenge together. It’s proof that unveils the fact that where their partner is concerned, Jay and Hailey will always choose the path that ensures the other’s safety.
Honorable Mentions: Amy Sosa and Jonah Simms (Superstore), Raymond Holt and Kevin Cozner (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar (Shadow and Bone), Amos Burton and Clarissa Mao (The Expanse), Sylvie Brett and Matt Casey (Chicago Fire)
Who are your Best of 2021 Romantic Relationships? Let us know in the comments below.