Ships make the world go round. And ships certainly make our world go round. Especially in this weird still-in-a-pandemic year of 2021, when we were desperate to go out and experience things after a 2020 that saw us spend way too much time inside, and yet it still wasn’t truly safe to do all we wanted.
That’s where fiction comes in. And that’s where our favorite couples become more than just entertainment, they become a refuge. A safe harbor in the middle of the storm that is real life. We laugh with them, we cry with them and we always, always feel.
Some couples made us feel more than others. Some had better years. And yes, a lot of that is on the writing — which we sadly cannot control. But we can take a moment to celebrate the wins we did get, ship wise, even as we mourn the ships we lost, and the ones that didn’t get the writing they deserve. Celebration first, though.
Here are our favorite ships of 2021, starting with …
Angel and Papi, Pose
The final season of Pose was bittersweet, to say the least. But the pure love, support, and joy that was Angel and Papi’s relationship contributed to a beautiful, happy ending for them. Their extravagant wedding was something Angel never dared to dream for, but if she had allowed herself to wish, it would have been the dream come true.
That is not to say that the final episodes we spent with these two were free of angst. On the contrary, we saw Papi supporting Angel through a lull in her career like the rock he always was, him begging her for help, and the soul-crushing moment when she walked out on him. But they were always destined for greatness, for a love that endured even the worst of times, and when Angel decided to come home, it wasn’t about going back to a place—it was about going back to him.
If you want to see what true love looks like, what a safe port in the storm can and should be, and what the happiness so many people—who have otherwise been represented by struggle and heartbreak—deserve is? Look no further than Angel and Papi. They are the ideal, so pure and good…And maybe, just taking a look back at some of their moments has made us cry just a wee bit.
Clarkeman, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
From the moment Max sang “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” to Zoey, we knew we would go down with this ship. Our love for these two only grew over the next season and a half. But that isn’t to say that all was smooth sailing for these two. Between Zoey’s grief following the loss of her dad and Max’s insecurity over her uncanny ability to hear his deepest emotions through song, they had their own trials to overcome.
But that’s what makes a truly wonderful ship. It isn’t that they never face conflict. It’s that they come through it stronger than ever. Together. And that’s exactly what makes Zoey and Max so easy to root for. At the heart of their relationship is a deep and meaningful friendship. Through flashbacks, we saw just enough of the beginning of their relationship to see why Zoey’s friendship with Max is one of the most profound of her life. And why fear of losing him caused her to push him away for so long.
The season ended with Zoey resolved to stop running from her feelings. Which made the premature cancellation of the series that much harder to accept. Happily for fans, an online #SaveZoeysPlaylist campaign was successful, leading to the release of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist on The Roku Channel. The wrap-up movie gave us enough to see how perfect these two are for each other, and left us hoping for more.
Brettsey, Chicago Fire
Sylvie Brett and Matt Casey didn’t always feel like they were meant to be. In fact, for a long time, it felt like they were just two ships passing each other at night, never to meet. However, life is funny that way sometimes. Because out of heartbreak good things can sometimes emerge. And sometimes when you look around after finally being able to raise your head again, you see someone you hadn’t paid attention to before. You see something you hadn’t noticed.
Love doesn’t have to be instant attraction to be true. Sometimes you can fall for your friends. You can even fall for your friends years after you first met them. The heart is funny that way. And Brett and Casey went though all of that this year …well, not the falling in love part, that might have started before, but the looking up and discovering the person in front of them had become somehow…more.
Then came the doubts, and the reaffirmation. The putting feelings into words. And, of course the beginning of a relationship they’d both wanted for a while. And though Chicago Fire ended up throwing a big hurdle their way, what we’ve seen from them this year makes us think they can overcome any and all hurdles.
Deckerstar are the definition of eternal. Soulmates doesn’t even come close to encompassing what they are, considering literal heaven and earth are places they now exist in, because, you know, their forever is one of basically helping people, together. Just like in life.
And before that, it was rocky at times. They had to work together, literally and metaphorically, to understand each other, and later to find the words to express what they felt, and they, of course, had to grow individually to even be able to express what the feelings they brought out in each other were, and how to handle them. But they took every step, the being partners, the being friends, then being something more and making that something more work, together. Side by side.
When a couple is as epic as these two are, you want more. You want everything. And it kinda hurts that they didn’t get all those years together on Earth, I’m not gonna lie. But they did get forever, confirmed, and that …well, that’s what makes them so special.
Densi, NCIS: Los Angeles
There are couples on every part of the journey on this list. Densi, however, has gone through what most of these couples have gone through, and come out on the other side stronger for it. They’re the standard for happy TV couples right now, and boy, have they earned that. For the past eight seasons they’ve been a steady couple, and before that we saw the trust, the friendship, and yes, we saw the slow burn. One that we can now say is beautiful because payoff makes it beautiful, what can I say?
But what truly sets them apart is that we’ve seen everything else. We’ve seen them get together, have conversations about what each step of the journey they’re on means, get married, discuss starting a family together, struggle doing just that, and through it all, continue loving each other, supporting each other and communicating with each other.
It’s what real couples do. It’s the foundation TV sometimes forgets. The reality, good, bad and everything in between. And it’s what makes us still care, 13 seasons in.
EO, Law & Order: SVU/Law & Order: Organized Crime
There are ships of the year, and then there are ships of a lifetime. They are undefinable, indescribable, and timeless. They are Elliot and Olivia, Benson and Stabler, the slowest of slow burns. Some of us have literally grown up with Law & Order: SVU, and part of that growing up involved constantly being on the edge of our seats, wondering when Elliot Stabler was finally going to get over his Catholic guilt, permanently end the unhappy marriage, and make IT happen with Olivia Benson. Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni have had undeniable chemistry since the very start, and the way their characters have always been able to communicate without words has been nothing sort of magical.
But, of course, Meloni left SVU after season 12, and as time moved on, our hopes of one day finally seeing EO get their happily-ever-after died a slow, horrible death. Thankfully, the year of our Totally Absent AF Lord, 2021, decided enough was enough. From the second EO’s eyes locked in the middle of a crime scene after ten long years of radio silence, those shippy senses were back to not just tingling but catching on fire. It was as if Hargitay and Meloni had never stopped being scene partners, and the unbreakable bonds of partnership and trust between their characters, while damaged, were anything but destroyed.
This year gave Bensler a reunion, a not-quite-date at a not-wedding, Liv’s pure confidence and joy during a mere phone call following said not-date, hugs, hands clasped as Elliot and his Olivia went in search of a missing Eli, “I want you to come home,” “I love you,” and so much more. There’s certainly been a ton of angst, too—especially that fucking letter…may Kathy’s memory not be a blessing to a single soul—but through it all, it’s been (often painfully) obvious that this love, left buried but not abandoned for a decade, is one worth fighting for.
Even if EO never go beyond a newly-rekindled friendship, seeing them back together again, walking (always so in sync) side-by-side, or with one partner having the other’s six, has been nothing short of beautiful. And let’s be real: Our fearless Liv with her massive, kickass heart? She already said it’s a friendship “for now.“ So, yeah. We’re headed somewhere we’ve never been before. We’re finally in Elliot’s parallel universe, or maybe we were there all along. It has, after all, always been them. Partners for life, for better or worse, the single most important people in each other’s lives.
Kanej, Shadow and Bone
Every second of Kaz and Inej in season 1 of Shadow and Bone broke us and put us back together again, only for the possibilities to break us once more, but it’s okay. We can take this kind of pain. Particularly because we know, we’ve seen them in their eyes, in every move they make, that this is real. This is love, even if the two people in the middle of it cannot find the words …might never find those words.
And the ship was amazing in book form, but to see Amita Suman and Freddy Carter embody these two characters, embody a relationship that is made up more of stolen glances and quiet moments than the feverish touches and impassioned words other OTPs get, was nothing short of amazing. Shadow and Bone was good, but these two and their relationship elevated the show from something we enjoyed to something we couldn’t stop thinking about.
We still can’t. And they’ve only just getting started. They’ve basically admitted they need each other, and nothing else. Who will we become when Kaz and Inej finally find better words? When they finally face their own personal demons and are able to show each other some of what they clearly feel? We’re not sure, but we’re here for as many seasons of the show as it gets for us to experience the full story. Particularly sine we’ve been given the gift of these two amazing actors and their sizzling chemistry that doesn’t even need touch to bring us to our knees.
Peraltiago, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Over eight seasons we’ve seen Jake and Amy grow as people, friends, confidants, lovers, partners, and family on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And the final season was something even more special as these two made the ultimate kind of decision that would change the trajectory of their lives. And no, one of them didn’t die or run off all dramatic like for it to happen.
Jake choosing to stay at home to watch over their son was born out of wanting to support Amy and her dreams while following his. They didn’t give up anything for the other. They didn’t even compromise. They looked at their priorities and made the best decisions for their family and their future. That’s what makes them so great and why we’ll miss them so much.
Raylla, Motherland: Fort Salem
Not gonna lie, when Motherland: Fort Salem first started, we weren’t on the Raelle and Scylla train. Scylla was a murderer who took innocent lives. There’s no going back from that. But we’ll admit that as her character got more complicated and her life became entangled with that of Raelle’s, she was just a hurt young woman in a world of violence.
By the end of season two of Motherland: Fort Salem, Scylla had found a new way. Yes, part of it was with Raelle but a lot of it was just her. And Raelle learned her place in this world and how she stood on her own. Deciding to stay with Scylla was her choice in a world full of so much hate and pain. Together they are on the path to forging something new that acknowledges the mistakes of the past while trying to build new ones and grow.
Roy/Keeley, Ted Lasso
Ted Lasso Season 2 did everything it could to convince us that maybe, just maybe, Keeley and Roy wouldn’t be a couple by the end. The episodes threw us curve balls and conflict, but Keeley and Roy’s love persevered. They shined as an example that drama or tension doesn’t have to end a relationship. Instead, it can be the thing that tests its weakness, calls for good and welcomed change, and enforces its strengths. They are one of the healthiest and most romantic ships on Tv right now, and they deserve to be on any and every Ships of the Year list.
Juno Temple and Brett Goldstein’s chemistry is something special — on a show filled with special things. Their chemistry elevates already amazing material and contributes to the confidence RoyKeeley fans had about the couple’s fate in the season’s dark forest. There are few moments in Season 2 that it seems like the cracks may be too big and there is no way to fix them, but a subtle change in physicality or how those two powerhouse performers deliver their lines to each other proves nothing is coming between Keeley and Roy.
Watching them fall for each other during Season 1 was fun and often quite suspenseful — in a joyful way. None of those sentiments dim with the second season; they intensify as we get to see Roy and Keeley’s relationship as a lived-in proponent of this show. They are two characters who love each other enough to be better for themselves and each other. It’s a give-take dynamic that sings in the quieter moments of the season — like when Roy realizes Keeley could use a break and treats her like the queen we all know her to be. There’s also the way Keeley assures Roy in the final moments of the season that their love story isn’t over because the two will physically be apart for a while. Rather, their relationship will defy the distance because it survived the dark forest. There is no breaking RoyKeeley.
The way these two stole our hearts defies expectations. It’s rare that we get main characters like Salvor Hardin to begin with, and to get a character like Salvor who is in a relationship with a man like Hugo, and have that just be …what it is: loving, supportive and emotional, even when it’s not the center of the show? That’s just a lot.
And then there’s also the way the show — and Hugo — understand at every point who the hero of this story is, and what their role is in regards to that. Some ships work because they get a lot of moments, some because they add a lot of feeling, and a third kind because there’s a lot of promise to their interactions. This couple is all of those things, combined.
Sharpwin, New Amsterdam
How to put into words a couple that doesn’t just get together because there’s undeniable chemistry, or because it makes sense, storytelling wise, but because the show has proven that these two people make each other better, at every turn. Sometimes we think love is all we need, but it isn’t. We also need choice. And if we’re lucky, we might get something more out of a relationship …we might just get a person that challenges us. One that understands us, yes, but one that never settles for the worst parts of us.
Max and Helen are the embodiment of that. They started as two people who only had a professional relationship, two people who couldn’t be more, and without bringing romance into it, grew into confidantes, partners, friends. With that foundation, the rest was easy. Circumstances changed. The world turned upside down. And through it all, there was Max and there was Helen. Together.
The end of season 3 and the beginning of season 4 has been about that choice. Their connection is unmatched and it’s always been there, but Max and Helen have also now chosen not just to acknowledge that, but to invest in each other. Chosen their life together. Decided that the joy they bring each other is more important than anything. More important than New Amsterdam, more important than their friends, and even more important than trying to save the world.
How can you make the world better when you can’t even make your personal life better, after all?
Stellaride, Chicago Fire
The people Kelly Severide and Stella Kidd were before each other, the doubts, the fears, the mistakes they made … those are things of the past. And you don’t have to forget your past, or put it in a tiny box, never to be thought of again, no, you have to learn from it. That’s exactly what Kelly and Stella have been for each other, the support, the inspiration, the strength. You can indeed become a better person on your own, and no one else makes you better. You make yourself better.
But that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone, or that having someone there to hold your hand, or just cheer you on, makes your accomplishments any less. And though Stella Kidd and Kelly Severide still have some things to learn about communicating with your partner, those are lessons we hope to see them navigating together.
2021 gave us the certainties this couples needed, the ones they deserved. It’s been hard fought, for two independent people with baggage who have found peace, comfort and strength in each other. May 2022 bring us the wedding they deserve so they get to make the thing we all know and feel …that they are endgame, soulmates, forever, official.
Upstead, Chicago P.D.
What’s there to be said about Upstead that I haven’t said before? And yet, I’m still gonna sit here and try. And I’m going to start with the obvious …these two weren’t meant to be. The show didn’t set them up from the beginning, and they weren’t even set up as a backup. Instead, Hailey (and Tracy) came on to fill a void in the team, not in Jay’s life. And then …magic happened.
The best relationships are born out of the kind of chemistry that can’t be denied, and that’s exactly what we have between these two actors, and these two characters, as a result. And yet, it wasn’t all just about that. It wasn’t superficial, or quick. Instead, it was about building a foundation of trust, of caring, of …love. Before it was even romantic. The rest …the rest was just the natural progression.
And 2021 was truly the year of Upstead, from getting together, to a marriage proposal (x2) to an actual wedding! And though there was a lot about the storyline with Voight I could change in a heartbeat, I wouldn’t change what it gave Upstead, and what it promises to give Upstead going forward. Because this is what I want from them, to face all the upcoming obstacles together. To learn to communicate better. And yes, to be able to enjoy this feeling of pure joy that they give each other, and us as we watch them.
Wayhaught, Wynonna Earp
Waverly Earp and Nicole Haught’s entire existence feels like something out of a dream after everything we’ve had to endure as a community when it comes to LGBTQ+ people. They were bold, smart AF, tender, and so strong together. They made each other want to be better people, not just for each other but for themselves.
What made Wayhaught even better in the final season of Wynonna Earp is how they came together. Sure, problems came their way. But there were moments done just for drama because this was it and the show and EP wanted you to know that. And that, months later, is much appreciated by those who want to see the LGBTQ+ community feel seen.
WestAllen, The Flash
Everyone knows that relationships take work. They require an ongoing commitment to each other, to stand together through thick and thin, sickness and health, ups and downs. Of course, for most people, “thick and thin” means things like figuring out with where to go for the holidays. For Barry Allen and Iris West-Allen, “thick and thin” means things like facing off against villains from the future and being trapped in a mirror world.
But over the past seven years, the one constant in the show has been Barry and Iris’s love for each other. In every world, in every reality, in every time, they will always find each other. They will always choose to run together, even if it would sometimes be safer to stand alone. Their love is the stuff of legends, making it only right that they should be given a moment to renew their vows, reasserting that Barry’s heart will only ever belong to Iris (and vice versa). After all, she’s his lightning rod. And her voice will always bring him home.
Agree? Disagree? What ship you think is missing from our list? Share with us in the comments below!