In 5 To Watch, writers from The A.V. Club look at the latest streaming TV arrivals, each making the case for a favored episode. Alternately, they can offer up recommendations inspired by a theme. In this installment: For our annual Love Week, The A.V. Club is courting supernatural TV romances.
Call it a Horrors Week hangover, but as Valentine’s Day approaches, the TV romances we want to watch or revisit all have a supernatural (if not downright terrifying) bent. Give us star-crossed lovers facing obstacles like a council of demons, witches, and vampires who all oppose their relationship, or the tortured paramours of John Logan’s pulpy take on Victorian London. Or, if there has to be a meet-cute, pull the rug out from under us by revealing that one of these sweethearts is traveling across planes of existence to flirt. In that spirit, here are five TV shows that cast a spell with relationships ranging from heartwarming to torrid.
A Discovery Of Witches, “Episode Four” (season one, episode four)
A Discovery Of Witches is the TV show equivalent of a hot toddy: comforting and familiar, but still capable of making your head spin. That’s thanks to the radiant chemistry of the series’ two leads, Matthew Goode (as an erudite vampire also named Matthew) and Teresa Palmer (a witch whose powers grow by the season/book). This SundanceNow adaptation of Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy is a bookworm’s dream, full of history-tinged melodrama and tense confrontations among the stacks at the Bodleian Libraries. But it’s the swooning romance at the center of this genre-skirting tale that will make you turn the page (or hit “play” on the next episode). The setup’s pretty basic: immortal and immensely wealthy boy (Matthew) meets brilliant girl/historian (Diana) on the sidelines of a cold war among supernatural beings. Their love is forbidden, of course, but things really get complicated when a mysterious book that could hold the keys to existence keeps popping in and out of Diana’s life. As the different factions try to track down the book, Diana and Matthew find time to flirt, spar, and look at each other meaningfully. But it isn’t until the fourth episode of season one that they address their growing attraction. Actually, Diana is the one who confesses while Matthew does what handsome, brooding men do when faced with such feelings: He runs away. The scene in which Diana’s tears over her seemingly lost love brings on an actual torrent walks the fine line between giddy and overwrought, much like the rest of the season. [Danette Chavez]
The premise behind Guardian: The Lonely And Great God (also known as Goblin), one of Korea’s most top-rated dramas of all time, is involved, to say the least. A military general from the Goryeo Dynasty named Kim Shin (Gong Yoo) is framed as a traitor and cursed with immortality, sentenced to a life where he must watch his loved ones die for the rest of his days, with an invisible sword protruding from his chest. His only salvation comes at the actual hands of the Goblin’s bride, his destined soulmate and the only person who can physically remove the sword keeping him from eternal rest. He eventually finds said bride in a young clairvoyant named Ji Eun-tak (Kim Go-eun), but his mission to, well, die becomes increasingly more complicated as the two fall deeper and deeper in love. Their burgeoning relationship was both powerful and the entire crux of the series, so when Kim’s centuries-old past comes back to literally haunt him and his little chosen family—requiring him to remove the sword in order to protect Ji—his forced departure landed like a sharp punch to the gut. Our heartbreak didn’t stem from any belief that Kim was actually gone forever (there were still a few episodes left in the series, after all), but from the knowledge that his torturous exit meant that every trace of him would disappear, including Ji’s memories of him. “Episode 15” reunites the pair nine years later, when Kim returns at the mystical (and unintentional) beck and call of Ji in her late 20s. Though she doesn’t remember Kim, it only takes a sweet catalyst—a fallen maple leaf—to bring her memories of their time together back in full force. She desperately calls for him and in the blink of an eye, he is once again eagerly back at her side. Their abiding love proves to be stronger than time and any plane of existence, and the tearful moment is a heartfelt, satisfying marker in a shared timeline more than 900 years in the making. [Shannon Miller]
Penny Dreadful, “Little Scorpion” (season two, episode seven)
Penny Dreadful’s pulpy reimagining of Victorian-era monsters started off as a The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen riff, but come on—you can’t put immortal libertines, arrogant mad scientists, hunky Wild West werewolves, and diabolically alluring witches into the same series of echoing chambers without a few sparks flying. Much of the Showtime drama’s decadence came courtesy of the character of Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), whose hedonistic worldview from Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel receives a premium-cable upgrade as a parade of lovers pass through Gray’s silk-and-charmeuse bed. The most dangerous of them all is Lily (Billie Piper), a creation of Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) whose knowledge of her own undead status gives her a nihilistic streak that pairs with Gray’s to depraved and sadistic effect. Lily’s unnatural sibling Caliban (Rory Kinnear), meanwhile, hides in the shadows, pining for Grand Guignol ingenue Maud Gunneson (Hannah Tointon). But all these characters are but mere planets orbiting the show’s blazing sun: the incomparable Eva Green as the tortured, smoldering Miss Vanessa Ives. A disgraced aristocrat and talented medium with uncanny powers in the dark arts, Vanessa is courted by a handful of suitors over Penny Dreadful’s three-season run. But the only one to truly capture her heart—as well as the only one with good intentions toward our heroine—is Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett). Outcasts with pasts they’d rather forget and powers they aren’t sure they want, Ethan and Vanessa truly understand each other, which makes for a passionate but doomed romance once the two finally acknowledge their mutual attraction in the season-two episode “Little Scorpion.” The fact that their first kiss takes place in a witch’s cottage during a thunderstorm after Ethan runs outside to rip a sheep apart with his bare hands and before Vanessa calls on the Devil to murder the witchfinder who hanged her mentor? That’s where the “doomed” part comes in. [Katie Rife]
True Blood, “Escape From Dragon House” (season one, episode four)
Over its seven seasons, True Blood had its share of love triangles (once Joe Manganiello joined the scene, more like a love rhombus), which gave the supernatural proceedings a decidedly soapy twist. And while these lusty and lovelorn arrangements eventually grew tiresome, early on, they brought some titillating tension to life in Bon Temps. The show’s longest-standing triangle, made up of two vampires and one faerie, was erected in season one. The series premiere saw Sookie Waterhouse (Anna Paquin) meet Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), a vampire with whom she has an unshakeable connection (which is tested time and again). But in “Escape From Dragon House,” while trying to solve the murder of a friend and clear her brother Jason’s (Ryan Kwanten) name, Sookie wanders into the ken of Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård), a thousand-year-old vampire riddled with ennui. Eric’s charms are only partially hidden under a bad wig; he might not have the same connection to Sookie as Bill, but he knows there’s more to her than a pulse. Sookie isn’t terribly impressed at first (it is a really bad wig), but her curiosity is piqued as she watches vamps and humans fawn all over Eric. By season four, she and Eric have indulged in their mutual attraction, but their meeting in “Escape From Dragon House” is hardly more than a promise. Same goes for Sookie’s budding relationship with Bill; though he calls her “his,” Bill does little more than comment on how great she looks in her summer dress. For one of the horniest shows ever to air, this all amounts to edging—a state symbolized by Jason’s engorged penis, which takes nearly the entire 50-minute runtime to, er, “deflate.”
The Haunting Of Bly Manor, “The Altar Of The Dead,” (season one, episode five)
For better or for worse, Netflix’s The Haunting Of Hill House follow-up The Haunting Of Bly Manor takes a sharp turn from intense haunted-house horror into soapy Gothic romance. The main attraction on the series is the relationship between our main character—wholesome, bright-eyed young American au pair Dani (Victoria Pedretti)—and Jamie (Amelia Eve), a tough-talking gardener with droll wit and a penchant for overalls. But we’ll be honest: While of course it’s a victory for representation to have a series like this one center around a lesbian couple, when you get down to it, Dani and Jamie are… kind of boring. As far as lovers stretching their hands towards one another from beyond the veil goes, we’re much fonder of stoic, self-reliant Bly Manor housekeeper Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller) and sweet, mustachioed cook Owen (Rahul Kohli), whose adorable flirtation and heart-rending parting provide a compelling counterpart to Jamie and Dani’s more by-the-books affair. Hanging out in the kitchen sipping on red wine as Owen gives Hannah a taste of whatever he’s whipping up that evening, the chemistry between the two is as tender as a gentle kiss on the forehead. And when Owen drunkenly proposes that they run off to Paris together to eat croissants and stare into each other’s eyes on some romantic cobblestone street, you want nothing more than for these two to get their happy ending—even though, as a viewer, you already know something that these characters don’t. Hannah’s story is ultimately a tragic one, but the warmth of the manor fireplace and Owen with a dish towel slung over his shoulder will always burn brightly in her—and in our—memories. [Katie Rife]