Historically, procedurals have not been about romance. Or, at least, some of the people responsible for them would like to believe so. The X-Files‘ Chris Carter did spend an inordinate number of years fighting against the inevitability of a Mulder and Scully relationship. But despite the fact that the genre has a lot to offer outside of romance, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the most beloved procedural shows usually feature a memorable ship fans love. The biggest draw of procedurals is, after all, the idea of riding along on these characters’ day-to-day lives. And if they happen to fall in love along the way, that’s as normal as the fact that most of these people have the kind of jobs where things go boom every three episodes. With that in mind, here are our picks for hte best romances in procedural TV shows.
Mulder and Scully Invented Shipping on The X-Files
An exaggeration for sure, but the term “shipping” as we know it was indeed adapted from The X-Files fans, who divided themselves into two camps: “Relationshippers” and “No-Romos” – the ones who wanted a romance between Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and the ones that didn’t. In the end, neither side really won on screen (Chris Carter was always the biggest no-romo), but Mulder and Scully did go on to have off-screen sex, a child together, and by the second movie, were even living together.
The questionable The X-Files revival seasons brought back the relationship drama Carter never wanted us to focus on. But considering they once again end with Scully and Mulder expecting a baby, we’re going to call this one a definite win for the shippers, and for the numerous shows that got their inspiration from the Mulder and Scully romance.
Densi Made NCIS: Los Angeles A Staple
The first NCIS spinoff needed something to establish itself separately from the original, and despite featuring big names like Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J, that something came in the form of a romance between two other characters in the procedural: Kensi Blye (Daniela Ruah) and Marty Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen). At first, Densi was just your typical partners turned possible lovers’ kind of relationship, with a will they/won’t they the show stretched into Season 6. From then on, however, Densi became not just an example for other shows, they became the standard.
Since the couple got together, NCIS: Los Angeles took them on multiple other journeys, including marriage and then parenthood, without ever breaking them up. The show ended in Season 14 with 9 solid seasons of Densi, and a legion of fans who can say that they followed that couple from their beginning to their happily ever after.
Bones and Booth Elevated Bones
Though based on a successful book series, Bones still felt like a risk when it premiered in 2005. After all, the show was mainly about the work of forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and the team of scientists she led at the Jeffersonian Institute in Washington D.C. And though Brennan, nicknamed “Bones” by FBI agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz), always tried to explain the science, the show was a departure from the typical procedural. Fans, however, were in from the beginning, if not for the science, for the chemistry between Seeley Booth and Temperance Brennan.
And fans would remain invested for 12 seasons as Bones and Booth got together, had kids, got married, and somehow found a way to make her analytical mind and his heart-on-the-sleeve personality work together, both at work and outside of it.
Stellaride Makes Chicago Fire A Must-Watch
All the long-running procedurals mentioned above found their “it” ship from the beginning. Chicago Fire, however, went through trial and error before hitting the jackpot with the relationship between Stella Kidd (Miranda Rae Mayo) and Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney). And the show did so the right way, by giving both the characters and the relationship time to grow into what it needed to be.
A show about firefighters operates on a different plane of existence than your run-of-the-mill police procedurals. Sure, things might go boom in those every once in a while, but in a procedural about firefighters things don’t only go boom, their entire job is to run into things that go boom. However, despite that, a lot of fans tuning into Chicago Fire have done so because of the steady, devoted romance the proocedural show has managed to build with Stellaride – and for the character growth it means for them to now be happily married.
Castle and Beckett Set the Standard for Chemistry Procedural Romances
Castle was always a more straightforward show about a relationship – it had an ensemble, but the main draw was basically novelist Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) and his relationship with NYPD detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). And when it was good, the procedural show was a standout because of chemistry that kept fans watching even when the show turned the stars’ unsolved sexual tension into an actual romance.
Then rumored strife between the leads led to a breakup for Castle and Becket and then a rushed reconciliation before the show’s end. But with some separation from the way it ended, it’s still possible to look at the first few seasons and see what made the show successful: the ship, and how much care Castle took with it.
Chenford Made The Rookie More Than it Was Supposed to Be
Initially conceived as a vehicle for Nathan Fillion, the cop procedural The Rookie quickly morphed into more of an ensemble show, and part of that was due to the chemistry between Lucy Chen (Melissa O’Neil) and Tim Bradford (Eric Winter). Unplanned ships that change a show into something different than it was conceived are a staple of TV, and Chenford is the latest example of a romance that changed the trajectory of a procedural.
There’s also the fact that the show did it right, focusing on their mentor/mentee relationship first and making sure the characters were way past that and were in an equal position before allowing them to take the next step. Now, Chenford isn’t just “the” ship of the show, they’re the reason a lot of people watch.
Kacy Brings the Promise of a New Kind of Procedural Romance to NCIS: Hawai’i
The newest ship on this list, Kacy has only been around for two seasons on NCIS: Hawai’i. And yet they make the list not just for their devoted fandom or how well their story has progressed so far, but for what it means for Lucy Tara (Yasmine Al-Bustami) and Kate Whistler (Tori Anderson) to be the main romance in a procedural.
It might be 2023, but LGBTQ+ ships are still a rarity in network television, much less on a big procedural. But Lucy and Kate are more than just representation, they are objectively a very well-written ship that has earned fans’ love because of the outstanding chemistry between the two actresses and, of course, steady development that always takes into account characterization.