While I’m still waiting for Netflix to make a show based on “You’ve Got Mail” ― which I attest is the best rom-com ever ― I’ve found a few streaming options to suffice until that long-awaited dream comes true.
From longtime filmmakers like Spike Lee to relative newcomers such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Netflix has seriously invested in this genre, giving you a lot to love about love. Yes, these shows focus on love, but strong writing in each makes them great choices any day of the year. In any case, if you’re preparing for that Netflix date this week, think of these shows for your big, romantic night in.
Premise: Two flawed people are aging out of youth in Los Angeles. They both feel unlovable but find each other by happenstance and start a relationship. Trials and tribulations abound, especially because both of them have deep emotional issues to sort out. But they stick together through the rough patches and ultimately anchor a small community of friends in a fulfilling life.
Sum up: A comforting show on multiple levels. These characters are a good, fun hang for viewers, but it’s also nice to see these people mess up their lives over and over to a degree far greater than you would probably ever do. They’re the friends that you can judge and feel superior to because they can’t even handle day-to-day interactions. But beyond the schadenfreude, at its heart the show’s greatest feat is its skilled depiction of the mundane, everyday fun of a blooming relationship.
Heads up: The first two seasons had promise but were lackluster. In its third season, the series finally became great, which is unfortunate because that was also the final season. Until the last season, the plots meander, and in a lazy writing move, the characters act irrationally for the sake of action. It can be hard to stick with the show through the first two seasons, so you should consider just skipping to the third and reading a recap for what preceded it.
Premise: A sexually active young man learns he has chlamydia and goes on a journey to tell all the people he has slept with that they need to get checked. Or at least that’s where the show starts out. The original name of this show was “Scrotal Recall” and had much more of a sex-comedy focus. Over time, the show became more about a group of friends in which the two main figures in the group love each other but the timing never works out for a relationship.
Sum up: The show features dopey cool kids engaging in obnoxious activities while hanging out and making jokes. It doesn’t exactly have the rapid-fire jokes of a sitcom or a Tina Fey project but rather feels like a hybrid in which narrative moments feel grounded and slow but almost all dialogue still serves a joke. The pain of heartbreak and longing is well acted throughout, giving the laughs a sad undercurrent.
Heads up: As mentioned, the series had a name change from one of the most ridiculous show names of all time. From that wild, unambitious starting place, the show dived deeper into pain as it went along. So depending on what you want, you can start at the beginning or skip ahead a bit.
Premise: A virgin in young adulthood wants to get laid but isn’t sure how, given her religious upbringing. She stumbles through awkward sexual interactions but does so with a loving group of friends who comfort her before and after her failures.
Sum up: Michaela Coel created and stars in this. She anchors the show with immense talent, as her comedic acting abilities carry each scene. “Chewing Gum” seems to have been a little before its time, as critically acclaimed sex comedies about puberty now abound, with shows such as “Big Mouth” and “Sex Education” on Netflix and “PEN15” on Hulu.
Heads up: The show features an underage sex scene that deserves scrutiny. Comedy can tell stories of flawed people in questionable situations, and the show examines the moment. But during the culture’s current focus on these issues, the narrative choice still feels as if it’s from another world.
Premise: A New Yorker keeps dying and restarting her life. Over and over again, she has to return to the same moment she’s staring at a mirror in the bathroom of a large apartment party for her 36th birthday. After multiple deaths, she starts to piece together what’s happening to her and what she needs to do to set her life back on track.
Sum up: Perhaps the best-written and most detail-oriented show on this list, “Russian Doll” rewards both super-close viewers and casual watchers just looking for a fun, mystery-box-oriented show. Each character, even minor ones, feel fully realized and unique — a huge feat for a show that’s only eight 30-minute episodes.
Heads up: The series is the least love-centric of the list, but there are relationships and a central romance of sorts. If this hadn’t just debuted and wasn’t currently the show I’m most obsessed with, I probably wouldn’t have quite considered this for inclusion in a list of rom-com shows. But if you squint, it works, so please just do that and watch it.
‘She’s Gotta Have It’
Premise: This is a show about juggling people and emotions and jobs. A woman lives as an artist in a beautiful, spacious apartment in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. She has three lovers from different walks of life as she sorts out her changing place in New York City due to gentrification.
Sum up: Created and directed by Spike Lee, the project revisits his 1986 movie of the same name. Although the show focuses on sexual independence first and foremost, it tackles many contemporary issues, such as rising rents in New York, capitalism and Donald Trump. The characters range from self-serious to proudly screwball, which helps the show constantly adapt in tone as it veers through different subjects.
Heads up: The wide scope of the show also makes the season feel a bit all over the place. Especially after the more fun moments, the serious parts can drag.
Premise: An anthology series with slice-of-life stories that take place in the North Side of Chicago. Most stories focus on a central hookup, relationship or otherwise romantic encounter. Although each episode is self-contained, characters reappear, and the relationships occasionally develop over multiple episodes.
Sum up: Perfect for those who don’t want to commit the time to get through a whole season, these short stories have enough standalone value to be worth a quick, half-hour watch. The show also has a strong list of cool actors, including Zazie Beetz, Orlando Bloom, Dave Franco, Marc Maron and Aubrey Plaza.
Heads up: The series definitely has a few clunkier episodes, so if you’re going to pick and choose, make sure to read the episode descriptions to find one with appeal for you.
Premise: A group of young adults lives for nearly free in a former hospital as property guardians. Two longtime friends have a will-they/won’t-they situation going on, even though one of them has a fiancee who also lives in the hospital.
Sum up: This was Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s breakout project as a writer and television show creator. From here she has gone on to write and create the critically lauded “Fleabag” and “Killing Eve.” Although “Crashing” is not as good as those shows, the inventive screwballness of her later work is here and is as hilarious as ever. The ensemble cast and the romantic elements carry this enough between the strong jokes.
Heads up: The narrative is shaky, and the show has little to say, so you might be a bit underwhelmed if you have already seen Waller-Bridge’s stronger work.