Today, on this, the most romantic day of the year, we have a special little Valentine’s Day treat in for you. We figured you might be getting a little tired of nauseatingly saccharine Hollywood love stories and ridiculous, over-the-top romantic gestures that always come around February 14, so we took it upon ourselves to filter through the cheese in search of TV’s real expressions of love. We opted to ignore the most spectacular proposals, passionate first kisses (we have the smooches covered elsewhere) and boom-box serenades and headed straight for the real deal—moments that may not be bathed in pink hues, couples that are no longer blinded by their heart-shaped pupils, situations that aren’t necessarily awe-inspiring, but send a clear message nonetheless: the language of love doesn’t always have to sound like the words on a Hallmark card. Some of the most genuine expressions of love aren’t always beautiful, but they are the ones we end up valuing the most.
This Is Us’ Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) may very well go down as history’s most perfect TV husband. Women around the world swoon over his love for Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and the kids, and men aspire to be him—his patience and strong sense of family really are among the driving forces behind the series. He is the type of man who will always put his family first, even if it means having to make painful sacrifices, such as selling his beloved car in order to put a down payment on a house spacious enough for his three kids. But what really sets him apart from other men is that, even when Rebecca is at her absolute, hormonal worst—even when she forgets his birthday and has nothing nice to say to him—he can’t think of any place he’d rather be than right there, at home with her. In fact, he respects that you need to honor both the good and the bad moments in a marriage, and he’s happy to capture them all on his video camera.
As Sharon (Sharon Horgan) once pointed out, her courtship with Rob (Rob Delaney) is less like a dance than “a heart attack or a seizure.” Their several-night stand turned instant relationship is chaotic and refreshingly unromantic, but that’s exactly what makes it work. Forced together over a practicality—Sharon considers doing the single-mother thing, but Rob wants her to be able to take a shit without having to bring the baby along—rather than an overwhelming love for each other, they still manage reasonably well and, eventually, their relationship does morph into something real. This isn’t to say that their courtship has finally turned into an elegant waltz—it’s still a ridiculous cha-cha, but at least they’re trying, especially Rob. He plans on finally bringing a bit of romance into their relationship by picking the perfect place to propose to her, when Sharon gets into one of her stroppy moods and insists on going home. He decides to improvise and drops to one knee when they’re out on the street and looking out on to the Thames, but just as he pulls out the ring, Sharon knocks it out of his hand to hail a cab. The ring lands under a drunk woman’s stream of urine and Rob is left with no choice but to fish it out of the pungent puddle. Fortunately, Sharon has an excellent sense of humor. It’s a catastrophically fitting proposal story for the pair, don’t you think?
Prior to joining the Cohen household, Ryan’s (Benjamin McKenzie) Christmases consisted of his mum getting drunk and him getting his ass kicked by her boyfriend. Not exactly what you would call good holiday vibes! Luckily, he has found a brother from another mother in Seth (Adam Brody), who also happens to have invented the über-super-holiday “Chrismukkah.” Seth’s excitement for the ultimate holiday knows no limits—he takes it upon himself to create the holiday-chore cart, converts the pool house into Santa’s secret workshop and makes it his mission to convert everyone around him to become a believer in the miracle that is Chrismukkah—but he’s having a hard time convincing Ryan. Having had his fair share of bad holiday experiences, Ryan is happy to retreat to his pool house and let the Cohens go about their Chrismukkah traditions on their own, but Seth isn’t having any of that nonsense. By making Ryan his very own stocking to hang above the chimney, Seth not only lets him know that the Atwood-style Christmas celebrations are a thing of the past, but that he’s been officially welcomed into the Cohen family and their Chrismukkah extravaganza.
We don’t necessarily have to know and love someone in order to be able to extend simple acts of kindness. In fact, sometimes it’s easier to offer comforting words or a small gesture to a complete stranger rather than someone who is close to us—we tend to let history and expectations cloud our own vulnerability. Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is not one to bother her family and friends with her woes and sorrows (unless she’s drunk, of course), but that doesn’t mean she’s not in desperate need for a shoulder to cry on, a compassionate ear to spill her soul into. Funnily enough, she finds these comforts in the most unlikely person: her chauvinist bank manager (Hugh Dennis). Sneaking out for a cigarette whilst on a silent retreat for women, she notices a group of woman-hating men screaming out their frustrations at the retreat next door, and among whom she spots her bank manager. It’s immediately evident that they’re both equally lost in life, and no words are needed to express the obvious—they share a quiet moment and go their separate ways. When he finds her standing by the side of the road looking mentally broken a few weeks later, he offers her a ride back to her guinea-pig themed café and awkwardly stands by as she bursts into tears wondering whether everyone feels as fucked up as she does, or if they’re just not talking about it. With few words and a kind gesture, he lets her know that she’s not alone.
The Hecks aren’t exactly well off. For as long as they can remember, they have had to plug in the hairdryer at full blast in order to get the microwave to operate. Their house is falling apart, bills keep piling up and with their two eldest kids, Sue (Eden Sher) and Axel (Charlie McDermott), in college, there’s not a penny to spare. Add to that the fact that Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and Mike (Neil Flynn) aren’t the most organized of parents and you can see why things get a little messy sometimes. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise when Sue enters her third year of college, only to find her tuition hasn’t been paid. Frankie and Mike don’t have a pot to piss in, and there’s truly nothing worse for a parent than not being able to provide for their kids—especially such a positive, motivated and low-maintenance kid like Sue. Mike, who rarely shows emotion and walks through life stoically, has a tough time swallowing the news. But he does what any good father would do: He sells his part of the diaper business he runs with his brother, even though it was the one thing he had outside of work and family life, following the Hecks’ motto: You do for family.
Nothing about Alan (Mark Heap) and Joanna’s (Pippa Haywood) relationship was ever normal, so why would their ending be nothing short of extravagant? After serenading her with loopy songs and dances performed in saggy briefs for two entire seasons, Joanna has finally given in to Alan’s attempts to romance her. He’s obviously not the hunk she always envisioned herself with, but he seems to love her more than life itself and that’ll have to do. This does not stop her from trying to make him miserable whenever he’s in an unbearably good mood, though. Unfortunately, she goes a step too far when she tries to scare him with her dwarf cousin (Big Mick). Panicked, Alan proceeds to beat him to death with an iron rod. Having gotten rid of the body, Joanna and Alan now believe they’re being chased down by the law and take off on a murderous tour through England in an attempt to escape before they can be convicted. As luck would have it, everything goes terribly wrong and they find themselves with exactly three options: turn themselves in, swim the English Channel to Spain, or commit suicide. Opting for the latter, their eccentric romance comes to an emotional end when they walk into the sea bare-assed and holding hands. We can only hope Joanna finally realized she found true love in Alan.
When you’ve known each other as long as Brett (Mark Duplass) and Alex (Steve Zissis), you get to a point at which you can read one another like the pages of an open book. At this stage in their friendship, they understand each other wordlessly and know how to begin and end petty arguments in under sixty seconds—there’s simply nothing they can pull on one another that could change this, the most beautiful of bromances. Their friendship has survived their awkward teen years, during which boobs took up at least 85% of their brain space—boobs they wouldn’t get to see until much later in life because cool teen girls just weren’t into nerdy boys obsessed with Dune—and stayed strong even as they went their separate ways when Brett started his family and Steve pursued his career. You wouldn’t think it possible, but their bond deepens even further when Brett finds his marriage slowly falling apart. Alex steps in to take over, giving Brett exactly what he needs before he himself realizes he needs it. Togetherness’ most memorable episode, “Advanced Pretend,” offers a picture-book example of what constitutes a BFF: These guys trust one another with their lives and understand one another’s language better than anyone else ever could or ever will. Alex takes Brett back to the past by digging up a time capsule they buried as teens and, in doing so, opens the door to a Dune inspired future—exactly what Brett needs to no longer feel like a ghost in chains.
No other series has managed to examine the complexities of mother-daughter relationships quite as well as Gilmore Girls, and we’re obviously not talking about Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) here. Lorelai has spent her entire life avoiding her parents, Richard (Edward Herrmann) and Emily (Kelly Bishop), and fighting against everything they stand for. But when her daughter’s future is at stake, she has no choice but to turn to them for help. And from that moment on, she can no longer escape her mother’s controlling and conniving ways. We rarely get to see a warm, fuzzy moment between Emily and Lorelai, but on the few occasions we do, it’s clear that beneath all their baggage, the resentment and bitterness that has accumulated over the years, love truly does rule. Emily may have a strange way of showing it, but if ever there was proof of her maternal instinct, it can be found in her culinary skills (or lack thereof). When she finds Lorelai immobile due to a back spasm, she insists on taking care of her, much to Lorelai’s annoyance. Her concern and determination to do something good for her daughter is absolutely endearing, even if it’s is presented in the form of a soggy piece of mashed banana on toast.
Prior to their father’s death, the Fisher kids were never particularly close. It’s not that they don’t get along; they’re just very different people with very different lives. While Nate (Peter Krause) moved as far away from the family as he possibly could, David (Michael C. Hall) stayed behind to take over their father’s business. David has always envied the fact that Nate made his own way and resents him for it. Their little sister, Claire (Lauren Ambrose), tends to be forgotten, but she finds solace in her artwork, her wacky relationships and her occasional drug use. It’s not until Nate hits an extremely rough patch after being diagnosed with AVM that the Fisher children establish an unusual, unbreakable bond with one another. When Nate’s wife, Lisa (Lili Taylor), is reported missing a year after he undergoes brain surgery, he loses it. He is consumed with worry and drives up to where Lisa was last seen in an attempt to find her. Worried about their brother, David and Claire follow him and show up at his motel room, where he falls into their arms weeping, “I love you guys.” It’s the beginning of a new chapter in the Fisher family saga, one that brings the siblings closer together than ever before. Tell me you didn’t cry—I dare you!
Samantha (Kim Catrall) is definitely the strongest and most independent woman in the Sex and the City clan. She doesn’t believe in true love and has made a sport of having sex like a man. When she first meets Smith Jerold (Jason Lewis), who is much younger than she is, she treats him like a boy toy and a PR project she can mold to her own specifications. But Smith wants more than that from her and does everything in his power to show her he plans on sticking around. His first attempts fail miserably—when he tries to hold Samantha’s hand in public for the first time, she completely panics and ends up falling into a ditch and breaking her leg. It’s only after she’s diagnosed with breast cancer that Samantha realizes she has so much more in Smith than a good lay. She doesn’t trust him to be able to handle her hardships, but he proves her wrong when he shaves his head in support of her. And when she starts to lose her sex drive, Smith likens it to a flower he gifts her before leaving to shoot a film for several months. He promises her that her sexuality will blossom once again and that he will stick around until it does so. Needless to say, Smith is a man of his word.
Last year’s holidays shenanigans were memorable for one reason in particular: the Sense8 Christmas special. After months of tuning in to nothing but vile politicians spewing hatred and xenophobia, this darkly magical two-hour episode offered light at the end of a particularly trying year, and Lito (Miguel Silvestre) and Hernando (Alfonso Herrera) were at the very center of it. Their deeply passionate relationship has survived many a hurdle, but nothing quite compares to their being crudely outed when an intimate photograph of the pair becomes public. However, this invasion of privacy ends up becoming a blessing in disguise, in that it helps Lito understand what Nomi (Jamie Clayton) is trying to say when she tells him: “The real violence is the violence we do to ourselves, when we’re too afraid to be who we really are.” And when Lito listens to Hernando liken their love to art, he realizes that he has found a masterpiece in the man who’s stood by him through everything.
Sid (Mike Bailey) and Tony (Nicholas Hoult) have little in common—other than their mutual affection for Michelle (April Pearson)—but that has never stopped them from being close friends. The thing is, Tony can be a bit of a manipulative twat, even when it’s at Sid’s expense. After another horrible situation brought on by Tony, Sid punches him in the face and the two go their separate ways for a while, with Sid clearly siding with Michelle. Realizing the error of his ways a little too late, Tony tries to make amends with Michelle and his friends when he’s hit by bus and left in a coma. It takes a long time for Tony to regain his strength and ability to speak, read and write, and to piece together the fragments of his former personality. Though his friends—even Sid and Michelle—support him throughout, the nature of their relationship has changed, and Tony finds himself wandering around lost and alone. The night Sid finds his father dead in his living room, he wanders into the “Secret Party” in a haze. Standing in the middle of the crowd, pained and confused, he locks eyes with Tony. For a moment they just stare at each other, wordlessly understanding their shared agony before falling into a deep embrace, letting the tears flow freely. It’s one of the most powerful scenes in the series’ run, calling to mind the lyrics of one of The Beatles’ most popular songs: “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
There’s a reason the series is called You’re the Worst: Protagonists Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) really are the worst. They’re self-absorbed, crass and totally oblivious to the people around them—and naturally, they’ve found the perfect fit in one another. But while Jimmy is relatively good at hiding his emotional baggage from everyone around him, Gretchen’s struggle with clinical depression is too apparent to be ignored. Though she does her utmost to push everyone close to her away while she spends her day in the fetal position, she can’t rid herself of her stubborn circle of friends. They try everything they can think of to pull her out of the deep hole she’s fallen into, but to no avail. At the end of his rope, Jimmy becomes interested in their local bartender—an affair Gretchen approves of, hoping it will stop him from being all up in her business. But just as he’s about to embark on a road trip with his meaningless fling, he has a change of heart. Finding Gretchen laying in the middle of their living room, he builds a fort out of pillows and blankets around her and lies down beside her. When she finally wakes up from another dreamless slumber, she bursts into tears, snuggles up against him and cries, “You stayed.” Yes, even the very worst people have their good days.
The relationship between Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Adam (Adam Driver) has been a twisted one from the get-go. Seemingly unemotional and thriving on kinky filth, one would never have imagined their relationship to be built on anything profound, and yet they keep on finding their way back to one another. They make no secret of their warped fantasies and complex personalities, and while the outside world might not be ready to fully embrace their respective darkness, in each other’s company they feel comfortable enough to be themselves. As is often the case with two headstrong people embarking on a relationship, things quickly come to an explosive halt, not helped at all by the fact that Adam is left injured as a direct result of their tumultuous break-up. Eventually, they both move on with their lives, but their silent bond, their mutual understanding of one another’s emotional journeys, remains. So, when Hannah finds herself in the midst of an OCD relapse, it comes as no surprise she turns to Adam—not for support, necessarily, but for a comforting voice to soothe her spinning mind. Not having spoken to her in a while, he’s taken aback by her call; when he realizes what’s going on, he literally drops everything and runs through the city bare-chested to be with her. He stays on the phone the entire time, assuring her, letting her know that she is not alone and that he will be with her in a matter of minutes. Once he arrives, he kicks down the door that she’s too ashamed to open, wraps her up in his arms and cradles her gently. Yes, Adam might be a bit of a weirdo, but he’s the kind of man you want in your life when shit hits the fan.
Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.