Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for…well, a lot of things. But mainly for “Abbott Elementary” Season 2.
Is there anything as satisfying as the inevitable kiss in a slow-burn TV romance? It’s a tough feeling to beat, based on the trope’s popularity from the days of Sam and Diane on “Cheers” up until more recent television comedies (spoilers ahead). Watching two characters kiss after episodes or years of romantic and sexual tension feels like cause for celebration — even if their storylines are so tangled that they may not find that coveted happy ending just yet.
“Abbott Elementary” joined the list this week (finally) with “Teacher Conference,” the 16th episode of Season 2, written by Quinta Brunson. The episode features a much-anticipated kiss between Janine and Gregory that delighted viewers and will undoubtedly complicate its characters’ lives, like all great TV kisses do.
To celebrate this latest will-they/won’t-they to join the ranks of epic TV kisses (again: spoilers), here are 10 of the best from 21st century comedies.
One can’t talk pivotal TV kisses without the show that has them baked (pun intended) right into the premise. After reviving his dead childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel) from the dead, Ned (Lee Pace) can’t ever touch her again without killing her permanently. That’s a pretty tortuous situation for two people who almost immediately fall in love, but “Pushing Daisies” found countless ways to sustain the sweetness between Ned and Chuck without cutting that sexual tension. The first and arguably best? Plastic wrap. It’s only a temporary solution, but it’s pretty dang cute, and one that Ned and Chuck return to once they realize it’s both safe and fun.
Another workplace romance for the ages saw its resident endgame couple thrown together under duress. Jonah (Ben Feldman) and Amy (America Ferrera) are trapped at Cloud Nine Superstore during a tornado with many of their coworkers, and take cover together when their safety is threatened. Afraid for their lives and unable to deny the sparks between them, they kiss under a shaking counter while the wind swirls threateningly around them. It’s the beginning of a tortuous year before they get together — a pain shared by many on this list.
There are kisses that are shy, private, chaste — and then there are kisses that you share in full-on wrestling costumes in front of a live (and televised!) audience. Arthie (Sunita Mani) and Yolanda (Shakira Berrera) always had chemistry on “GLOW,” hence their racially-charged pairing in the ring, but Season 2 saw that connection move into romantic territory. After countless hours bonding, fighting, and getting to know each other, they share a kiss mid-fight in the ring, and go right back to wrestling right after. “GLOW” was canceled before fans got to see more of their future, but we like to think it was a bright one.
Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) was in way over his head when he first developed a crush on the effortlessly cool older girl Maeve (Emma Mackey), but love (and sex!) can be weird. By the end of Season 1, that crush had flipped, and by the end of Season 2 Otis finally told her about it, only to have his voicemail deleted by a jealous boyfriend. But Season 3 gave these horny, crazy kids a chance when they finally sort through their poor communication and kiss while stranded at a gas station during a school trip (naturally, the bus arrives at this exact moment). Otis and Maeve making being together look easy compared to some of the couples on this list, but they face their own challenges before the season’s end.
A kiss in the season finale and the coveted fake-dating trope? “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” did it all with Jake (Andy Samberg) and Amy (Melissa Fumero), who spend a lot of the Season 2 finale kissing while pretending to be a couple. When they find out that Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) will be leaving the precinct, they steal a moment alone to decompress and process the news. Confused, distracted, and still heady from all that prior kissing, they kiss for real — as Jake and Amy — but before they can unpack that, they’re called out to meet the new captain. After years of teasing and tension, this one episode and kiss were all it took for these two to realize they want to be together (even if fans knew it way sooner).
It’s safe to say that “Abbott Elementary” draws on a lot of what worked on “The Office,” from its mockumentary format to slow-burn workplace romance to director Randall Einhorn working his magic behind the camera. That extends to its epic first kiss, which shares key similarities with Jim and Pam’s: A work event, a little booze, and a stolen moment alone in a place where they find comfort. Jim and Pam first kissed in the Season 2 (another similarity!) finale “Casino Night,” but things were always tricky with Pam engaged to Roy. Jim tells her out on the street that he’s in love with her, and a shocked Pam says that she cherishes their friendship — but Jim shakes his head. “I don’t want to do that,” he says. “I want to be more than that.” They part ways, heartbroken, with Pam seeking refuge inside the office itself. A few minutes later, while she’s on the phone, Jim walks in, kisses her, and leaves without a word.
If you had told TV fans in 2022 that one of the year’s ride-or-die couples would include the pirate Blackbeard and another man, they’d have some questions. But Taika Waititi’s comedy about gentleman pirates won over millions with its softness, nothing moreso than the unexpected love that blooms between Stede (Rhys Darby) and Blackbeard (Waititi) — or as he’d rather be known, Ed. In one of their stirring bonding moments, Stede and Ed share what makes them happy, which it turns out is each other. “I reckon what makes Ed happy is you,” Ed says. Stede smiles, and that’s all he needs; before he can reply, Ed is kissing him. “You make Stede happy,” Stede whispers afterward. What’s real life compared to a pirate’s life — but what’s a pirate’s life compared to sailing off into the sunset with the love of your life?
It’s no simple feat to mount a TV will they/won’t they. It takes precision from the writers, directors, and actors — not to mention pure alchemy when it comes to all of that working together in front of an audience. But “Abbott” had viewers swooning over Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams) right from the premiere, when he’s charmed by her quirky optimism and can’t help but stay at the school. As always, things were complicated; Janine had a boyfriend, Gregory dated their colleague’s daughter and a student’s mother (that we know of), and eventually Janine ended up dating his best friend Maurice. That’s where things stand as of Season 2’s “Teacher’s Conference,” when a freshly dumped Gregory joins Janine at an off-site for Pennsylvania teachers and they share a few drinks (a “gin and phonics” and a “daqui-read”) and end up in a classroom made entirely of flowers. Janine exhibits the same joy and wonder that always drew Gregory to her, and he finds himself getting emotional at the convergence of his past and present: Gardening and teaching. There was truly no way they wouldn’t kiss when they ducked down on the floor to hide from security and smell the flowers, but that didn’t make it any less satisfying — and immediately stressful.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Andrew Scott had no right to create this explosive sexual chemistry between a Catholic priest and the woman inexplicably drawn to him. From early friendly banter to conversations about why they can’t be together to the priest’s crumbling resolve in later episodes, this romance redefined forbidden every step of the way. That includes Fleabag and the Priest’s first kiss, which takes place after she confesses to him in church. Fleabag is lost and the priest is a little drunk, but she talks and he listens, and then he says one word to inspire goosebumps: “Kneel.” She does, and he opens the curtain; towering over her in his imposing uniform, but gentle as he caresses her face and pulls it up toward him. They kiss like people who have been waiting, who have imagined this moment ever since they met — but before things escalate too far (Fleabag can’t get the garment off him), a painting falls elsewhere in the church, shocking both of them back to reality and the priest back to his purpose.
The first kiss heard ’round the sitcom and television world belongs to Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess (Zoeey Deschanel), whose opposites-attract energy invigorated “New Girl” right from the pilot. Trapped together during a night of increasingly unhinged drinking games, the duo end up locked behind a door and told they won’t be freed until they kiss. They try to be adults (a feat for these two) but fail, leading to Nick’s “Not like this!” and him eventually exiting through the window and walking along the apartment ledge. Later on, with everyone in bed (and Jess with her boyfriend) they meet in the hallway when Jess thinks she hears a sound. It’s nothing, but before she heads back to bed Nick grabs her and kisses her — a kiss Jess would later describe by saying “I saw through space and time.” Viewers could see why.