to all the boysNetflix

  • With hot hits people can’t stop talking about, like “Set It Up” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Netflix is getting a lot of credit for saving the romantic comedy.
  • But the rom-com has been very much alive on TV networks with shows mostly created by and starring women, including “The Mindy Project,” “Jane the Virgin,” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
  • Without ambitious shows that subverted the formulaic genre while embracing it, rom-coms like “The Big Sick,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and the Netflix originals wouldn’t be here. 

With new movies gaining momentum in 2018 including “Set It Up” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Netflix is getting a lot of credit for bringing back the romantic comedy. But the genre has been dominating the TV landscape for years, with shows created by and starring women. 

A staple in the film industry for decades, the romantic comedy slowly receded in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

Rom-coms were 1990s and 2000s culture, with at least one major release with a huge stars like Meg Ryan or Reese Witherspoon every few weeks. And that’s because rom-coms were consistently solid at the box office. They were also wildly successful on DVD and cable, where many still play to this day — have you ever not stumbled upon a Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey movie on TBS?

But by 2010, rom-coms increasingly became less popular, both with critics and audiences. Since 2010, they went from nine major studio releases to zero in 2017. The last rom-com to earn over $100 million domestically at the box office was 2015’s “Trainwreck.” Before that, the most prominent rom-com studio films were 2011’s “No Strings Attached” and “Friends With Benefits”: two rom-coms with literally the same premise. 

But things have changed.

One of the most well-received movies of 2017 was indie rom-com “The Big Sick,” which got an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay. And in 2018, chatter around the disappearance of the standard rom-com stirred around the release of Netflix’s “Set It Up,” a conventional and predictable rom-com updated for a modern, young audience (the most iconic scene involves pizza, which feels right for the times). And the same week that “Crazy Rich Asians” came to theaters, Netflix released another rom-com starring an Asian-American actress: “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.”

Netflix saw the need for original rom-coms after noticing that its users rewatched (over and over) romantic comedies like “10 Things I Hate About You” and “The Wedding Planner” that were available on the service.

But other TV networks were keeping the rom-com alive before Netflix started making these movies, and they paved the way for rom-coms with a modern twist. This started quietly and with judgment during TV’s golden age, when the best shows on TV included “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and the early seasons of “Game of Thrones.”

These new shows that incorporated rom-com elements, spanning from 2011 to today, gave fresh angles to the genre — from “New Girl” to “The Mindy Project.” They opened up opportunities for darker rom-com movies including “The Big Sick,” as well as more formulaic, breezy ones like “Set It Up.”

While a need and want for diversity in film is one of the reasons “Crazy Rich Asians” has been so successful, it’s also the genre: after years of prestige dramas and superhero movies, people want to relax, laugh, and feel good about the future, and that’s what rom-coms are doing, thanks to a generation of creators (mostly women) that were inspired by the iconic ones from the 90s.  

People love rom-coms, but without these TV shows, they could have faded into obscurity as movie studios turned their backs. Or, if the genre did come back, they wouldn’t be as modern and revolutionary: We’d still have a father character who, like the one in “10 Things I Hate About You,” aggressively pushes chastity on his daughters, rather than the dad in “To All the Boys,” who awkwardly hands his daughter a manila envelope filled with condoms.

From “The Mindy Project” to “You’re the Worst,” here’s all of the TV shows that were saving the romantic comedy on the small screen when the studios weren’t making them for the big screen: