The fall TV season is just kicking off and it’s time to begin crafting a weekly TV-viewing schedule that fits your needs, genre preferences, and tastes, and that hopefully includes something old, something new, and something that’s been around for a while that you’ve been meaning to check out. To pair with Sound on Sight’s coverage of the fall’s new network series, contributor Claire Hellar will be recommending her top choices, by genre, of the networks’ returning shows.
These are relatively dark times for romance, particularly since sitcoms—traditionally a destination for romance on TV—have fallen out of favor in the 21st century. Gone are the days of 10-season hits like Frasier and Friends; a sitcom now is lucky to make it past its third season. That’s not to say there aren’t some thoroughly enjoyable romance-focused series. Here are my top picks:
The Mindy Project
Airs Tuesdays at 9:30pm ET on FOX
Mindy Lahiri, the doctor with a retort for everything, returns, and this time she’s in a relationship with gruff, good-hearted co-worker Danny Castellano. Can the bickering, chemistry-laden couple make it work? Fox highlighting funny bits and gags in its Mindy Project promo reels and clips has always been a misstep, because while The Mindy Project is funny, it is the romance that is the show’s standout aspect and what sets it apart from other shows. There are plenty of comedies on the air right now, but there are very few that deliver, or even attempt, an epic love story. Nick and Jess in New Girl are halfway there, but that show is more realistic than The Mindy Project and has consistently refused, to its credit, to force its characters to be compatible.
The Mindy Project, on the other hand, is half fantasy and half reality, and gladly traipses into romantic comedy land, wherein fantasy thrives. Mindy and Danny dislike each other when they first meet, become reluctant friends, then fast friends, then best friends, and each other’s support network — and at long last, at the end of season two, the show took them into a committed, long-simmering relationship, capped with a run up the stairs of the Empire State Building. The Mindy Project has always been uneven, and probably always will be, but its wit, emotional vulnerability, and movie-style romantic elements make this a couple to remember.
Airs Tuesdays at 9pm ET on FOX
Conveniently airing right before The Mindy Project as part of Fox’s Tuesday lineup, New Girl features several romances wrapped up in a giant buddy comedy. Nick & Jess and Schmidt & Cece are the two staple on-and-off romances, but both hit dead ends at the end of last season, so this fourth season will open up the playing field and hopefully inject a blast of new energy into the show. Guest stars and episodic romantic potentials abound: Jessica Biel appears delightfully in the premiere as a rival to Jess and Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.) has been promoted to a series regular. Four seasons in, the show is comfortable in its tone, so if you’re not already watching it, it may not be your cup of tea. It can be uneven, but is strongly written on the whole, and there’s a lot of delight to be found in watching the misadventures of five good-looking people trying really hard to date successfully.
Once Upon a Time
Airs Sundays at 8pm ET on ABC
If you’re not already watching Once Upon a Time, you’re missing out on what has gradually become one of the best destinations for romance on TV. The plot may occasionally strain credulity, but the show has advanced far beyond its problematic pilot and ably balances a large cast of fairy-tale characters (good and evil) and their plans, dreams, and relationships. The Snow White/Prince Charming romance has been a long-term staple of the show, but it’s really the slow-burning-to-recently-ignited relationship between champion-of-good Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) and bad boy Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) that has fans excited. There are at least five romantic relationships at various stages at any given point in this series, so if any one doesn’t float your boat, chances are one of the others will. Check in for some old-fashioned sword-fights, magic-casting, and heroines and pirates igniting sparks — just leave your snark firmly at the door in order to enjoy.
Make no mistake, this is a pure, unadulterated soap opera in all its glory, buoyed by the firecracker chemistry between leads Adelaide Kane and Tony Regbo and the fierce performance delivered by Kane as Mary, Queen of Scots. Set in a 16th-century French court, the series is a highly fictionalized account of Mary’s engagement and eventual marriage to Francis, heir to the French throne, and the political struggles that occur both internally at court and externally between their two countries. The cast is stocked with an entertaining international ensemble and tracks a variety of young people falling in and out of love in very difficult circumstances. Unlike fellow CW show The Vampire Diaries however, the show isn’t overly focused on a single love triangle: one is an element in part of the first season, but the internal complexities of Mary and Francis’ relationship gradually takes firm center stage and the show doesn’t shy away from depicting the toll that royal responsibility takes on even the most passionate union. There’s also plenty of surprisingly deft and clever political machinations to balance out all the romantic entanglements. Reign is very much a melodrama, but fans of the genre looking for sparks to shoot off their screen will find it has a lot to offer.
Honorary mentions: Hart of Dixie, The 100, and Scandal, which will be featured in another category