Ships Ahoy

5 Friends-to-Lovers TV Romances Just Waiting to Happen

Is something magical brewing between these dynamic duos, or is it all in our heads?

Watching a TV friendship evolve into an epic romantic relationship is the very best experience that shipping has to offer. Let’s be honest, though–it can also be frustrating as hell. Showrunners, those experts in psychological torture, understand our love/hate feelings toward slow burns a little too well. They know we might whine about it, but we’ll still tune in week after week hoping that maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally witness a first kiss. In the meantime, they tease us with spontaneous hugs, flirty smiles, and hints of jealousy, crumbs that we dine on for months and even years until our will-they-or-won’t-they pairing becomes canon (if it ever does!!). Living on the knife’s edge of anticipation for so long is killer, but every once in a while, you find a slow-burn romance that’s done so well you can’t even be mad.

These are 5 friends-to-lovers couples who haven’t officially gotten together yet, but whose (inevitable) first kisses are guaranteed to be worth the wait.

Janine and Gregory in Abbott Elementary

Scoot over, Jim and Pam: You’ve finally got some serious competition for the title of Cutest Office Romance in a Mockumentary. Not only is Abbott Elementary one of the best new network series in years, but it’s giving us a new will-they-or-won’t-they ship to overanalyze with Janine and Gregory. The two junior teachers are a classic grumpy/sunshine duo whose chemistry only grows stronger with every episode. 

Since we’re only in season 2 of what promises to be a long-running sitcom, shipping these two will require patience. The only thing to do for now is enjoy the little moments, like Gregory’s lovestruck gazes getting picked up by the camera crew, Janine’s adorably flustered reactions to him doing nice things for her (umbrella scene, you will always be famous), and their surprisingly sensual dance at the club in “Holiday Hookah.” Consider them appetizers for the Janine/Gregory feast ahead of us…one day…

Nancy and Ace (a.k.a. Nace) in Nancy Drew

Who ever would have guessed, based on the pilot episode, that Nace Nation would be where it is today? Nancy and Ace went from blips on each other’s radars to soulmates in three seasons, an impressive feat. I remember watching a screening at New York Comic Con back in 2019 and trying to predict my OTP in the show, since the traditional pairing of Nancy and Ned “Nick” Nickerson obviously wouldn’t work out. (What were you thinking, Nancy Drew writers, introducing them as friends with benefits? That’s boring! Everyone knows this!) Nancy doesn’t say much about her “slacker” co-worker Ace in the series premiere, but what she does say is mighty interesting: She lets slip that she’d told him how she’d “tanked” her last semester of high school and put off applying to colleges in the wake of her mother’s death. 

Nancy’s urge to confide in him isn’t a fluke, either. Over the course of the show’s first couple seasons, Ace becomes more and more important to our beloved detective. Ace offers her countless opportunities to talk, to unburden herself, and to trust someone else with her secrets. He becomes her best friend, partner in (solving) crime…and more. In fact, Ace and Nancy were on the verge of confessing their mutual crushes and making that leap from friends to lovers at the end of season 3 when a pesky curse got in the way. I have no doubt that season 4–recently announced to be the show’s last–will deliver more epic pining before ultimately giving Nace a fittingly romantic sendoff.

Kiara and J.J. (a.k.a. Jiara) in Outer Banks

If you’re gonna ship Outer Banks‘s J.J./Kiara (a.k.a. Jiara), the thing you have to know going into this teenage adventure show that you’re going to need to play the long game. Risking the breakup of a close-knit high school friend group is a huge deal (see: the Pacey/Joey/Dawson triangle in Dawson’s Creek), and Pogue Life means absolutely everything to J.J. and Kiara. Neither of them is going to pursue a relationship that could hurt their fellow Pogues.

Chemistry doesn’t lie, though, and Jiara have loads of it. You can see it in their constant awareness of the other’s proximity, in their lingering hugs, and in the way their eyes sparkle as they banter. Kiara has held J.J. while he cried and after he nearly drowned. For his part, J.J. has jumped to Kiara’s defense at every opportunity and made it clear he’d do anything for her. They each have more growing to do to figure out what they want from life, but my spidey senses tell me those experiences will only bring them closer together.

Kaz and Inej (a.k.a. Kanej) in Shadow and Bone

Good-hearted criminal masterminds Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghafa are a pair you can root for in both the Shadow and Bone TV series and Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse books. They’ve already been attached at the hip for years when we meet them, with an unshakeable bond. Kaz earned Inej’s loyalty by ending her indentured servitude to an awful woman and recruiting her into his gang, the Dregs, as a spy. In return, Inej became his right-hand woman, a person he could trust above all others. But do they crave more?

Season 1 of Shadow and Bone hinted at what Grishaverse readers already knew: Kaz is desperately in love with Inej, and she with him. Fear is what holds them back. They both suffered severe childhood traumas, and they don’t want to risk ruining the relationship they’ve painstakingly built. And being vulnerable? Gross! Denial seems like the safer bet. Or at least it does until their high-stakes heist puts them in some pretty sticky situations. Guarding your heart on a normal day is one thing; maintaining perspective when your beloved is in mortal danger is a whole other. Kaz has already revealed that Inej is his Achilles’ heel, and I fully expect to see more of their delicious softness for each other in season 2 of the show.

Kaz and Inej in Shadow and Bone

Lucy and Tim (a.k.a. Chenford) in The Rookie 

Given that Chenford’s origin story in The Rookie involves Officer Tim Bradford teaching his trainee, Officer Lucy Chen, everything she knows about policework, it’s no exaggeration to say theirs is a complicated relationship. Acting on their obvious attraction while Lucy was under Tim’s supervision as a rookie would not have been cool. But…she’s not anymore! While Lucy will probably always bask in Tim’s approval on some level (girl has a serious praise kink), she’s now a full-fledged member of the squad. Tim still outranks her, but cops dating cops is common and there are ways to work around that.

The shift in their power dynamic is undeniable by season 5, when Lucy and Tim go undercover as a couple. To sell their cover story, Lucy takes initiates not one but two passionate kisses with Tim. Those kisses leave the poor guy visibly reeling from genuine physical and emotional reactions. Lucy attempts to shrug off her reciprocal desire as “basic biology,” yet after they complete their assignment, she invites him into her apartment…and he accepts! Their potential hookup gets interrupted, but that just kickstarts a delightful pining era that culminates (too soon, if you ask me) in Tim asking Lucy to dinner.

Yes, what I’m saying is that, after 5 years, the wait for canon Chenford is nearly over. In fact, I acknowledge I’m squeaking them into this list just under the wire. Tim Bradford’s about to take Lucy Chen out on a DATE, Y’ALL! Their first real, no-holds-barred kiss is gonna be so, so hot.

What friends-to-lovers ship is testing your patience these days?

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