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12 TV Shows to Watch During Times of Political Unrest — IndieWire Critics Survey

Critics weigh in on whether they lean into the turmoil or seek escapism during tumultuous times.

"Lost"

“Lost”

Touchstone/ABC/REX/Shutterstock

IWCriticsPick

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: During a period of political unrest, which TV show do you find yourself turning to?

Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox

This is weird, but as the inauguration of Donald Trump (and the attendant protests) have approached, I’ve been thinking more and more of “Lost,” a show filled with anxiety about the darkness humanity is capable of, but undergirded with hope about what we can do when we’re all forced to work together. I, in general, believe humanity works toward something better, and while that faith has been shaken throughout my life (and is almost certainly coaxed into existence by the fact that I am a White Dude(TM)), the overall arc of what I’ve experienced backs that up. But I’ve also found that we only tend to fix things when we’re absolutely forced to, when reality comes down and knocks on our door and tells us it’s time to clean our fucking room already, and we roll our eyes, because we’d rather be out with our friends, but then we say, “Fine,” and we figure something out. It might be grand and pulpy, but “Lost,” for me, captures that feeling intimately, and thinking about it has given me some good, warm feelings in a time of turmoil.

April Neale (@AprilMac), Monsters & Critics

Weirdly, I find myself tuning in voraciously to Viceland’s “Desus & Mero,” despite the fact that they are way too harsh on poor Ray Romano.  I am also hovering on the History channel a lot this past year. I have a serious “Vikings” addiction, and docuseries “Alone” and “American Pickers” are my “happy places” to escape the reality of what you describe as “the period of political unrest,” aka the Trumpocalypse. I completely lost my taste for “Celebrity Apprentice,” “Homeland” and “The Americans,” that’s for sure.

Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire

Oddly, I thought that shows like “The West Wing” would offer me some sort of solace this week, but I’ve been finding that all the dystopian stories (“Incorporated,” “Colony,” “Man in the High Castle,” “3%”) have an oddly soothing quality, perhaps because the chaos and terror they depict let me feel like my insides are there on the screen. I might soon try to re-watch some of the shows I loved back in the early 2000s; another time period when I felt like life was somewhat out of control. But it’ll be tough going.

"One Day at a Time"

Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), HitFix

The “One Day at a Time” remake turned out to be incredibly timely, not just because it’s about a Cuban-American family and touches on a lot of subjects that will be unavoidable in this new administration, but because it’s an old-fashioned feel-good multi-cam family sitcom. At the end of a long, ugly day, it’s a reassuring, happy thing to be able to watch.

June Thomas (@junethomas), Slate

In the weeks immediately following the presidential election, my TV diet was very unbalanced. All I could watch were old British mysteries (“Midsomer Murders,” “Inspector George Gently,” ancient “Inspector Morse” episodes), the Kiwi equivalent thereof (aka “The Brokenwood Mysteries”), and Australian legal procedurals like “Janet King.” I needed the reassurance that a successful criminal investigation can provide — and I guess those accents reminded me that there’s a world outside our borders (without requiring me to pay the amount of attention needed to read subtitles!).

Allison Keene (@keeneTV), Collider

Usually in times of unrest of any kind, I turn away from it and bury myself in TV escapism. Though I rarely have time to revisit series anymore, I’ve found myself watching “Justified” again. Returning to past favorites like that — especially Western-tinged series, for whatever reason — always brings me some comfort. I often say I wish I could go back and watch series like “The Wire” or “Six Feet Under” again for the first time, but there’s something nice about seeing old TV friends. While you may forget some of the nuances of the story, you know how it’s going to end. During times of great uncertainty, that counts for a lot.

"Happy Endings"

Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine

This will probably sound lame, but I have been hiding in comedy re-watches — “Happy Endings,” “Kimmy Schmidt” and “Better Off Ted” — as well as a “30 Rock” binge that led me to the two-part arc in the seventh season that starts in “Unwindulax” and ends in “There Is No I in America.” It’s eerie in its parallels to this election, as Jack drags Liz to a Republican fundraiser and they both realize that Jenna’s Floridian fanbase will sway the vote. And now that Fox has “The Mick,” I have added that to the rotation because nothing helps distract from the abject weirdness of our current political state than Kaitlyn Olson doing what she does best: raunch-lite and physical comedy.

Tim Surette (@timsurette), TV.com

CNN, of course. JUST KIDDING. Call me snooty, but when things are wacky in the real world, PBS’ “Frontline” gets it done. Its coverage of the 2016 presidential election was outstanding because it had no peers to compete with and therefore no reason to run the same stories everyone else did, allowing new angles to rise above the 24/7 cable news cycle. And beyond Trump and Hillary, “Frontline” dove deep into ISIS the refugee crisis, the police, and more, all while the topics were still the main conversation in the world. Only “South Park” has a better turnaround time when it comes to current events. And yeah, “South Park” is a close second as the answer to this question.

Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire

During any time I find myself overly worked up, I tend to lean into it. So if I’m excited, I’ll watch something stirring. If I’m deep in thought, I look for something thoughtful. The blues get a sad show, and times of political turmoil usually take me to topical TV.

Setting aside the massive number of shows I’m required to watch whether I want to or not, lately I’ve been finding a mix of catharsis and engagement in the funny fellas of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Some episodes of the long-running FXX comedy are self-sufficient in that they exist unto themselves, not bothering with commentary outside of calling Dee a bird or randomly screaming “you old bitch” at transgressors of all genders. Others, though, shrewdly take on controversial political and social topics through the insane actions of Mac, Dennis, Charlie, Frank and Dee. The new season is no different (though it has been consistently great), making it a treat to check out new episodes specific to today and scroll through old seasons on Netflix for both fun and purpose.

Now, I don’t know if my behavior is particularly beneficial, but it seems to mimic the contrasting instincts I feel after reading the daily news: “Run and hide!” vs. “Fight back!” Hopefully, the gang will help me keep landing on the latter.

"Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries"

“Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”

Netflix

Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), TVGuide.com

“Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.” I only discovered this a couple months ago on Netflix, thanks to my awesome coworker Kaitlin Thomas, but I’m already on my third re-watch. (No, I do not have a life.) For the uninitiated: It’s a delightful, charming series about Phryne Fisher (a perfectly bobbed Essie Davis), an impeccably dressed flapper detective with a gold pistol solving crimes in 1920s Australia. She’s smart, fiercely independent, sexually liberated, and best of all, wonderfully unapologetic about all of it. Phryne Fisher is the feminist icon we need right now.    

Eric Deggans (@deggans), NPR

In past years, as an unabashed political junkie, I’ve always gobbled up hours of cable TV news and TV politics shows. But recent events are so polarizing and filled with conflict, that I am now moderating my intake of news and leavening it with more sentimental stuff. NBC’s “This Is Us” is topping my list these days, as a show filled with lots of well-meaning, flawed characters who often make bad choices but are self-aware and earnest enough to admit it later — which feels like something of a fantasy these days. I’m also loving all the great documentaries and TV projects focused on the dawn of the hip hop era, so Netflix’s “Hip Hop Evolution” is an amazing look at the stories behind all the jams I was rocking back in the day; a time when fans knew they were on the cusp of something tremendous, but really had no idea how much their pop culture was going to transform the world.

Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter

Wait. We get to turn to things voluntarily? NICE! I find it easier to answer the shows that I’m finding myself less interested in. I really don’t know if “Homeland” is bad this season or if my tolerance for it is just lower.  “Designated Survivor,” already pretty mediocre, has little appeal to me right now. The building dread I have about another mediocre season of “House of Cards” trying to one-up world events knows no bounds. I guess I’m enjoying comedies more as an escape, even if they’re comedies that directly address the “political unrest,” like “Black-ish” did excellently. If I had to just give one answer, though, Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” remake may be the perfect combination of topical humor, well-executed multi-cam laughs and reassuring warmth.

Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*

A: Three-way tie: “Black-ish,” “The Good Place” and “The Young Pope” (2 votes each)

Other contenders: “American Housewife,” “Baskets,” “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,”  “Man Seeking Woman,” “Sneaky Pete” and “Vikings” (1 vote each)

*In the case of streaming, the show must have premiered in the past month.

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