Whether you’re eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s alone in front of the TV on February 14 or have a second spoon to share it with, sitcoms always have some wisdom—or, at least, some laughs—to impart on Valentine’s Day. In the traditional airing process, V Day episodes would land a little over halfway through the season, providing the perfect chance for whichever characters have been eyeing each other up to finally seal the deal.
Of course, Valentine’s Day also provides the opportunity for us to acknowledge the platonic love we share with friends and family. Some of sitcoms’ most heartwarming moments come from celebrating these relationships, which provide the shows’ core dynamics but are, at times, forgotten.
Below, we have 14 of the best sitcom episodes about the day of love, counting down to number one. Grab your beau, or just a bottle of wine, and start watching.
Note: For the purpose of this list, each sitcom is only represented by one episode. Some shows (looking at you, Bob’s Burgers) have so many Valentine’s episodes that they’d simply take over the list.
It’s Always Sunny could accurately be called the least romantic show on television, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a fun Valentine’s Day episode. A dozen seasons in, Dennis insists that the gang finally do their jobs and tend bar since Paddy’s Pub is full of lonely hearts on February 14. The concept of actual work escapes them, but eventually Dee and Mac come to the conclusion that Dennis really wants the friends to work on themselves and their relationships. They’re not exactly right, but they’re not exactly wrong either. The episode ends with a tender moment featuring a rocket launcher, which only It’s Always Sunny could sell.
Frasier thrives when its characters’ storylines intersect, but the show makes a valiant effort with “Three Valentines,” featuring a series of vignettes that separate their romantic plans. Niles’ Valentine’s Day date with the president of the wine club goes to the dogs when his trademark fussiness leads to a series of disasters. David Hyde Pierce milks every moment of slapstick as he plays opposite Eddie. Next, Frasier is unsure if he’s on a date with a woman from the station’s publicity department, and continually phones Roz for advice. Daphne starts fishing for compliments while she’s out to dinner with Martin, downtrodden that she’s alone on the most romantic day of the year. The structure proves a little stilted, but the talented cast more than makes up for it.
Hal and Lois win the award for TV’s horniest parents, but their romance isn’t at the center of this particular Valentine’s Day episode. While, yes, Hal frantically runs around the mall and commits a couple crimes in the attempt to find her the perfect Valentine’s gift, the most hilarious bits happen when a pregnant Lois imagines what life would be like if she’d had girls instead of boys. She pictures taking Renee, Mallory and Daisy shopping and civilly eating salads together, rather than the boys devouring three grande chili stampedes like half-starved dogs. In the end, though, she realizes that children, no matter what their gender, will try her patience, and Hal finds just the present to put a smile on her face.
The Mindy Project’s best moments stem from the deconstruction of our protagonist’s romcom-based fantasies. The cold open of “Harry & Mindy” finds all the creepiness in Dr. Lahiri’s talk of destiny and finding that special someone to visit the Empire State Building with, while the rest of the episode casts her as the Joan Cusack character in another couple’s love story. Mindy’s new boyfriend Jamie (B.J. Novak) seems to always be distracted by his best friend Lucy (Eva Amurri, aka Susan Sarandon’s daughter), in what’s easily pinpointed as a “When Harry Met Sally” situation. Mindy begrudgingly plays matchmaker, and the curmudgeonly Danny teaches her a vital lesson about romance.
Jess finds herself single on Valentine’s Day for the first time in six years, which means she’s ready for a one night stand. Her flirting technique is rusty, to say the least, but eventually she finds a possible hookup in the utterly dull (but very hot) Oliver (True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten). This episode deserves kudos for its juicy plot developments, in particular the beginning of Schmidt and Cece’s secret romance. Special shout outs to Zooey Deschanel’s delivery of “Ugh, couples. Boo! Hiss!” and Max Greenfield’s repeated use of the word “Youths!”
Seemingly small lies told at the beginning of a relationship grow into huge falsehoods once they become a part of a couple’s mythology. Hank Hill knows this all too well, as he told his high school girlfriend (and now big footed-wife) Peggy that he threw out his back on Valentine’s Day when he actually had mono. A furious Peggy discovers the truth years later and puts Hank through the ringer—not even necessarily because he kissed another girl or lied, but because he ruined their love story. In his attempts to win her back, Hank weaves an even better tale for Peggy to tell.
“But what about ‘Galentine’s Day’?” you might say to this choice, and to that, I reply—there is still a Galentine’s celebration at the beginning of “Operation Ann!” However, the half hour that popularized the idea of spending February 13 with your lady friends suffers from the presence of self-centered Justin (Justin Theroux, who probably didn’t want to learn another name for a character that lasts only four episodes). “Operation Ann,” on the other hand, has lots of love to give, from Leslie’s convoluted scavenger hunt for Ben, to Ron’s love of riddles, to the surprise match of Ann and Tom. Throw in Chris Traeger as the world’s most depressing DJ, and you’ve got a hit.
Bob’s Burgers has by far the most Valentine’s Day episodes of any show featured here—half a dozen, in all—making it particularly difficult to choose one to represent TV’s most heartwarming (and occasionally very horny) family. While loving moments between Bob and Linda are always welcome, “V for Valentine-detta” sees the parents splitting up to spend time with their kids, primarily because Tina has had her heart broken by Jimmy Jr. (again). The Belcher girls decide to go on a limo ride, helmed by renaissance woman Nat in a pastel pink tux. The others egg Tina on to seek revenge on Jimmy Jr. and his date, but the softhearted tween decides to befriend her rival instead. The message about female solidarity is fittingly capped off with “Girl Power Jam.”
This episode could have made it on the list purely for Lrrr’s oft-memed line, “Why does Ross, the largest friend, not simply eat the other five?” “Love and Rocket” offers much more, though, including some always-appreciated 2001: A Space Odyssey references and a trip to the surprisingly ghoulish Romanticorp factory, where Lovey Bears are genetically engineered before being shot and stuffed to be made into toys. The episode even manages to pull a few heartstrings as well when Fry gives up his oxygen tank to Leela as she tries to stop the crazed ship from plunging into a quasar.
It’s Valentine’s Day in Scranton, and love is in the air… except for just behind the receptionist’s desk, where the long-suffering Pam doesn’t receive a single flower from her inattentive fiance, Roy. Phyllis, meanwhile, is showered with gifts from Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration and the epic romance of Ryan and Kelly kicks off with their initial hookup on February 13 (which an unlucky Jim has to hear all about from Kelly). Some of the episode’s best bits, though, come from Michael’s trip to corporate in New York City, aka Scranton on steroids. He stops by Sbarro’s, his favorite pizza joint, and shows the memorable “Faces of Scranton” video to the new CFO. The bumbling boss also manages to let slip that he and Jan have hooked up, a mistake that Michael is actually able to correct for once.
30 Rock has plenty of excellent contenders for best Valentine’s Day episode, from Isabella Rossellini’s star turn as Jack Donaghy’s eccentric ex-wife Bianca in “Up All Night” to the beautiful disaster of Liz Lemon’s date with Dr. Baird (Jon Hamm) in “St. Valentine’s Day.” However, “Anna Howard Shaw Day” takes the cake for Liz’s attempt to avoid the Valentine’s Day rush by having oral surgery that day, only to end up hallucinating her ex-boyfriends in the dentist’s office. Hot-shot reporter Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks, perfectly cast) makes her debut as Jack’s date for the evening and Jenna tracks down her one-time stalker. It’s the sort of zany mess (featuring Bon Jovi, of all people) that only 30 Rock could pull off.
Not all great Valentine’s Day episodes need a romantic bent. Case in point: Community’s second V Day installment, which begins and ends with Jeff grappling with how he feels about the study group. There is a little bit of love in the air, with Abed and Troy having a totally-above-board competition to win the heart of a hot librarian, but in the end Troy chooses his TV-obsessed friend over the chance to get the girl. Britta hangs out with Page (The OA’s Brit Marling, rocking one of her rare comedic performances), a girl she thinks is a lesbian, but who likewise has the same notion about her. Pierce’s pill addiction escalates and Jeff’s apartment is invaded by various characters from Greendale—including the first-ever appearance of Magnitude (Luke Youngblood, aka Lee Jordan from Harry Potter)—in a scheme cooked up by Chang. The emotional weight of the episode comes from Jeff’s separation from the group, as he realizes he needs them just as much as they need him.
After a rousing speech from Michael Bluth (inspired by an awkward chant of “Speech! Speech!”), various members of the once-wealthy family feel compelled to shake up their romantic lives. Gob’s girlfriend Marta finally realizes she has feelings for Michael, but her message gets bungled in the Abbott and Costello routine around the brothers’ misunderstanding of the word “hermano” (despite, you know, them living in Southern California). Tobias and Lindsay decide to sleep in separate rooms, bunking with George Michael and Maeby, respectively (“a more normal arrangement,” Lindsay insists) while Buster attempts to cut himself off from his controlling mother Lucille once and for all. Highlights include Carl Weathers (always a delight, but especially when talking about stew), George Michael’s excitement at the “Maybe Tonight” candy heart and Lucille’s iconic scene singing Gypsy alone in the apartment.
“I Love Lisa,” we choo-choo-choose you as number one! This episode’s beauty is in its simplicity: kind-hearted Lisa takes pity on Ralph Wiggum, who has nary a scrap of paper much less a Valentine in his mailbox. She gives him a card last minute, and what ensues is a very one-sided, persistent courtship on Ralph’s part, with Lisa trying to let him down easy until his efforts become too much. The episode contains some of The Simpsons’ most tender moments, particularly the last scene between Lisa and Ralph when she finds the perfect card to capture her feelings for him. Plus it’s hilariously bookended by “The Monster Mash”—happy Valentine’s Day to us all!
Clare Martin writes about comedy, music and more for Paste.