Anti-heroes are everywhere on TV these days – ever since Tony Soprano kicked off the trend, Don Draper continued it, and Walter White put it into hyperdrive, it seems a prestige drama can’t get a green light without a hard-to-love character at its center. While that is an exciting prospect for actors looking to play nuance with surprising-but-realistic turns, it can wear on a viewer. Crime, drugs, adultery, violence – it can become a bit much. Especially this week. With the real world doing everything it can to exhaust us, we put together a list of television shows that serve to buoy you up. These are optimistic, bright, and fun shows – binge-able series that will leave you with a guilt-free sugar high.
NBC, 4 seasons
Superstore is a great example of how a show can sneak in social commentary, channeling it through vibrant-yet-realistic characters who are – most importantly! – consistently funny. Storylines about the lack of paid maternity leave are balanced with defiling food-court cups on Instagram feeds. Mark McKinney (The Kids in the Hall) leads the team at chain store Cloud 9, which includes familiar faces such as America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) and Ben Feldman (Silicon Valley, Mad Men). But the show has also put actors on our radar who could well be the future of comedy, such as Lauren Ash, Kaliko Kauahi, and Nico Santos, who killed it this summer in Crazy Rich Asians as the fashion-designer cousin-to-the-groom, Oliver T’sien.
Fox, 9 seasons
H. Jon Benjamin is the voice of Bob Belcher, who just wants to bring burgers to his customers without a side of antics from his hilarious and easily-distracted family. Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, and Kristen Schaal play his kids (Tina, Gene, and Louise), and John Roberts plays his wife, Linda. Aside from some amazing burger-name puns (Three Beets to the Wind, Edward James Olive-most), you can count on this show’s storylines to always bring out the best in the characters, eventually. Who knew health code violations could be so fun?
POP, Netflix, 4 seasons
Prior to losing their fortune to the Internal Revenue Service, the Rose family wouldn’t have won any congeniality contests – unless they paid for the trophy. Their humanity was lost in a sea of wigs, priceless jewels, and enormous family portraits. In their disgrace, though, they are forced to move to the town they purchased as a joke, namely Schitt’s Creek. Together, living in the local run-down motel, they rediscover their humanity…but keep the wigs. The show – full of snappy one-liners, scenery-chewing performances, and big dollops of heart – is something of a family production in real life: It was co-created by and stars Eugene Levy and his son Dan, and co-stars Eugene’s daughter Sara and his longtime collaborator, Catherine O’Hara.
NBC, 3 seasons (season 3 airing now)
Weighty themes – Death! Morality! The afterlife! — are given a bubbly, bright-colored treatment in The Good Place, a comedy that will have you thinking almost as hard as you’re laughing. When the show kicks off, Kristen Bell’s Eleanor has died, but her work is far from over. Without revealing too much, since the plot’s weekly twists and turns are a major source of the show’s pleasures, we’ll say that the supporting cast — ranging from veterans like Ted Danson to new-to-us faces like Manny Jacinto and Jameela Jamil – is what makes the show a must-see event (and great for a binge). Not only will you be wrapped up in the journey of the characters as they navigate their new lives (deaths?), but you’ll get refresher courses on some of the great thinkers’ theories on morality. Fun and Freud? Pizza and Plato? Enjoy.
Netflix, 2 seasons
Wherever there are people, there are makeovers to be done. This Netflix reboot of the popular 2000s series focuses on the vulnerability of the makeover experience as our Fab Five 2.0 barges into unsuspecting folks’ homes to whip them into shape. Bobby Berk is on interiors, Karamo Brown does culture, Tan France assists with fashion (and the French tuck!), Antoni Porowski focuses on food (mostly avocado), and Jonathan Van Ness imparts his grooming knowledge. The series sneaks up on you: You’ll be spending most of your time soaking up the tips, but by the time each episode wraps, it’s likely you’ll be shedding a tear or two. A makeover for the soul.
Netflix, 2 seasons
This fictional account of the origin of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (G.L.O.W.) hits you hard with fists of feeling, yet still manages to feel campy and fun – like the wrestling league itself. Episodes focus on family, friendship, gender politics, performance, and what happens when you feel like you’ve reached a dead end. It’s a tribute to the cast that it is mostly such a feel-good time. Alison Brie (Community) and Marc Maron (Maron) head up this talented ensemble whose underdog journey will have you cheering for the next bodyslam, piledriver, and warm hug.
Starz, 4 seasons (season 4 airing now)
Like your escapism with a heavy side of steam? This is definitely the hottest show on the list. Adapted from a popular book series of the same name, this Ronald D. Moore-led hit has it all: time travel, kilts, espionage, and passionate romance. Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) is a nurse in 1945 who suddenly ends up in a very different 1743, right in the middle of the Jacobite risings, and right alongside a handsome Highland warrior (Sam Heughan, who once performed an actual citizen’s arrest…true hero). Her skills as a nurse – and the advantage of 200 years of scientific advances – are endlessly helpful to the Scots, but her abrupt appearance and lack of family make her a target as well. If anyone can handle it, though, it’s Claire.
ABC, 5 seasons (season 5 airing now)
This fresh single-camera sitcom shows that there remains plenty of ground to cover on the tried-and-true TV-comedy topics of family, relationships, heritage, and generally just being a person on this planet. Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross head up the Johnson family, shepherding their kids through the world as they navigate everything from racism and political debates to teenage romances and bullying. One of the strongest elements of the show is that everyone is genuinely fallible, and the issues that often throw them off balance are ripped-from-the-headlines real. You’re bound to absorb a lesson or two while you laugh. Spinoff series Grown-ish is worth a binge, too, if you run out of eps.
CW, 4 seasons
Few prime-time soaps have the heart and charm of Jane the Virgin. If the original premise seems like something out of a telenovela – virgin Jane is accidentally artificially inseminated during a routine gynecological checkup – that’s because it was: Jane is loosely based on Venezuelan show Juana la Virgen. The transition from South America to Miami works brilliantly, largely thanks to creative writing and a committed cast. Gina Rodriguez is a standout as Jane, the young Venezuelan-American woman who’s chasing her dreams and learning how to roll with life’s (really weird) punches.
Comedy Central, 4 seasons
This web series-cum-Comedy Central hit has become the comedy of a generation for certain city-dwelling Millennials. As best friends in the big city, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are officially one of the finest comedic duos, serving New York realness with a hilarious brand of feminism, self-deprecation, and truth. And weirdness – serious weirdness. Their constant descent into the absurd is a rare example of how our topsy-turvy world can still be satirized in strange, broad, and hilarious ways.
Representative image credits: @ NBC, @ Netflix, @ ABC