We live in an age where every TV show must be terrified of provoking outrage when they release a new episode or season. The latest victim of the tendency towards outrage is Netflix’s Insatiable, but it is just one in a long line of shows who have been found wanting when it comes to the message they portray.
In this world, it’s fair to say that no TV show is getting everything 100% right. There will always be episodes that stand out; characters that are problematic for a variety of different reasons; and concerns about the impact of the underlying message of a storyline. Factual shows have their issues too; they are dismissed as too partisan, not partisan enough, or factually incorrect. As a result, there’s no denying that making TV in 2018 is a tough ask.
However, there are a few shows that have managed to find a place as internet darlings; shows that are getting (almost) everything right in an environment where so many shows are getting it wrong.
Below is a list of the shows that are generally considered to be on-point with their marketing, character portrayal, chosen plotlines, and diversity. Shows that are so good, so relentlessly positive, that you’ll want to upgrade your TV and broadband service with Suddenlink so there are no restrictions on what and how much you can watch, cancel your plans for the weekend, settle down in your living room, and binge-watch to your heart’s content. Read on for the full rundown…
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has had a rocky path over the course of its life. The show ran for five seasons on Fox, but was eventually canceled in 2018. However, the show was picked up almost immediately by NBC, and enters into its sixth season this fall – much to the delight of fans.
The cancellation caused outrage online, but for all the right reasons. Fans were defending a show they thought was important; that was achieving impressive feats week after week; and that had an important point while still being genuinely enjoyable to watch. Daniel Abraham of The Expanse termed Brooklyn Nine-Nine one of the “most important comedies of our generation”…
— Daniel Abraham (@AbrahamHanover) August 17, 2018
… and Abraham is far from alone in his appreciation for what the show manages to achieve.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is, superficially at least, a fairly standard workplace comedy. Set in a Brooklyn police station, it hinges on the dynamic between the main characters and their various escapades. So far, so standard; but Brooklyn Nine-Nine offers a genuinely outstanding portrayal that subverts cliches and makes a number of important points.
First and foremost, the main cast features only two white males, neither of whom subscribe to the standard “alpha” role you may expect from a police show. They are joined by a racially-diverse mix of characters who are drawn as genuine people rather than stereotypes; in fact, stereotypes are frequently subverted, with the gay Captain Holt being taciturn rather than flamboyant, and muscle-bound Terry Jeffords depicted as a kind-hearted, soft-centered guy. The same desire to truly reflect the world as it is is depicted in the storylines, even covering issues such as police brutality and lack of trust in the police from the general public.
All of the above is impressive, but all the more noteworthy when you consider this is taking place in a comedy. The writing is excellent; there’s no feeling of social justice issues being prioritized over storytelling; and the characters learn, grow, and mature. As a result, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a show that’s getting it right in literally every way.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Last Week Tonight is a difficult pick, as the show is undeniably partisan in its politics, with host John Oliver falling to the left of center. However, the strength of the show is less in its relentless taunting of the Trump-Russia scandal (which it has deemed “Stupid Watergate”), and more in the second half of each episode.
Oliver and his team are famed for their ability to “deep dive” into subjects with the second portion of their show. The subjects chosen may sound initially bland – infrastructure, mandatory sentencing, and astroturfing are among the areas focused on the past – but when delivered in Oliver’s trademark wry style, become incredibly watchable. What is most noteworthy about these subjects is that they are chosen because they aren’t particularly interesting – which tends to mean issues are overlooked, and problems and injustices aren’t discussed in other fields. Oliver shines a light on these issues, and broadens his audience’s understanding of their world and makes them laugh at the same time.
The second-half deep dives are often supplemented by star performances and set pieces. There are plenty of examples to choose from, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s highly-praised performance on the plight of Puerto Rico is unmissable viewing:
Even if you disagree with the heavily-partisan opening segments of Last Week Tonight, there’s no denying the second-half deep dives definitely constitute a television show that is getting it right.
The Good Place
Remember Daniel Abraham from the Brooklyn-Nine-Nine Tweet? Well, he further reflected the general perception of The Good Place in a follow-up Tweet:
I can actually go on for a long time about why it’s not only smart and good-hearted, but brave and subversive in the best possible ways.
I fanboy over few things these days, but B99 and The Good Place are the most important shows on television.
— Daniel Abraham (@AbrahamHanover) August 17, 2018
The Good Place is a hugely celebrated comedy in niche circles, and is well worth if you like clever, subversive comedy with an ethical edge. Ethics is a governing influence on The Good Place’s universe, with one of the main characters actively teaching ethics to others, and this featuring as a core part of the show.
As well as this ethical focus, The Good Place also benefits from an excellent, diverse cast who portray characters most of us can relate to in some way. The acting performances – led by Kristen Bell and Ted Danson – are sublime, and occasional guest spots further enhance this reputation. Overall, The Good Place makes a point about morality while still providing a clever, witty comedy that is also capable of tugging at the heart strings – what more could you possibly want?
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which is set to begin its fourth and final season this fall, is a shown that initially seems problematic from the outset due to its use of the word “crazy”. However, what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend actually offers is a show that focuses on a little-known aspect of mental health, and how it influences the main character’s decisions.
Rebecca Bunch, the protagonist, is not officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder until the third season. When the diagnosis comes – following a soaring song reflecting Bunch’s quest for understanding…
… it changes the entire dynamic of the previous seasons. Bunch was not just a hapless character making impulsive decisions for the sake of the plot; she was unwell.
The other well-drawn and diverse characters are sympathetic to Bunch’s situation – which is novel in and of itself – but the show makes a very important point: Bunch still needs to take responsibility for her actions. The show balances an excellent portrayal of mental health with an important message; Bunch’s BPD is a factor, but it is not the only factor, in her poor decision-making. This is a show that has managed to tell the story of mental health issues without using it as an excuse or a crutch; instead, it offers a very human story that is inherently relatable.
This complex, highly-praised portrayal is managed without compromising the quality of the rest of the show. The musical numbers combine with intelligent observations about modern millennial life, and there’s plenty of laughs – and a few tears – to enjoy too.
The shows above are the perfect choice if you are looking for smart, clever production that seeks to reflect the world as it actually is – but without impacting the viewing pleasure to be enjoyed.