In this digital age of infinite screens and streams is an opportunity for liberation: Specifically, liberation from the families that we did not have the luxury of choosing. In 2017, Netflix and other platforms have been kind when it comes to giving us a glimpse at perhaps preferable family lives. So this Thanksgiving, it’s time we give thanks to the TV families who’ve been there for us no matter what — because, you know, they’re fictional.
The Byers (“Stranger Things”)
Despite the bloodthirsty monsters and suffocating slime, “Stranger Things” is all about the power of family. The writers kept their focus on the relationships between friends and family, and the extent that people endure in order to protect the ones they love. The Byers may not have the best luck in the world, but through every strange twist and turn they never once turned their backs on each other.
The brotherly dynamic showcased in the “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” jam sesh transcends through the series, making us wish we either had a brother or a bond as special. And no force, not even the Upside Down, can stop Joyce Byers from taking care of her sons. If “Stranger Things” tells any story, it’s that moms are truly superheroes. The ‘80s nostalgia and supernatural stretches roped audiences in for good reason, but it’s the relationships that leave us wanting more.
The Starks (“Game of Thrones”)
Who wouldn’t want to be a Stark? They’re the most badass house in all of the seven kingdoms, and they’re textbook loyalty goals. Though, their luck hasn’t been the best — dear fallen Starks, you all deserved better. For years, the focus has been on Jon, Bran, Sansa, and Arya. These little twerps have grown to tremendous heights: Arya’s the swiftest assassin in Westeros, Bran reigns as the Three Eyed Raven, Jon’s the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, and Sansa’s engaged to Joe Jonas. (Oh, also, she’s now basically HBIC of the North.) When we watch “Game of Thrones,” we’re hoping that the Stark children stay safe at all costs — after watching them grow up, fight to survive, get betrayed and even murdered, their persistence and love for each other keeps both the audience and the characters going. Let’s just hope the Ned Stark favorite, “the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives,” rings true through Season 8.
The Pearsons (“This Is Us”)
The Pearsons are really America’s family, becoming a ratings hit while the Big Three stole the hearts of every primetime audience. Most, if not all, episodes of “This Is Us” evoke tears, heartbreak, joy, and a mountain of other feelings, just like life itself. Chrissy Metz and Justin Hartley always deliver an honest performance as biological twin siblings Kate and Kevin, while Sterling K. Brown navigates life as Randall, a black man who was raised by a white family, with a poignant stamina which deserves every bit of the critical acclaim Brown has received. The hardships of reality ring true to so many of today’s ever-changing family dynamics, turning the NBC series into a refreshing take on the family drama.
The Windsors (“The Crown”)
There’s no better drama than royal family drama. Real royal family drama, so forget what you’ve seen on E!. The fascinating life of Queen Elizabeth II hardly begins with Claire Foy’s performance in Netflix’s “The Crown,” but it does take us through some of the hottest messes to grace Buckingham Palace within her massive 65-year (and counting) reign. While Season 2 has yet to premiere, Season 1 featured plenty of heartfelt moments. Despite the obvious and constant stress of successfully continuing a monarchy, the relationships in “The Crown” are real. The writing excels in its relation to us, proving to audiences that even those branded with a royal name go through fundamentally human experiences. And most often those universal experiences are the ones that make us feel the happiest and cause us the most pain.
The Sanchez-Smiths (“Rick and Morty”)
Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s animated favorite “Rick and Morty” has come a long way since Season 1. In three seasons, fans have witnessed the writers sift through topics like divorce and absent parents who return later in life, proving the Adult Swim half-hour goes deeper than anyone could’ve imagined. Beth and Jerry’s divorce added extreme depth to the already complex and strained family dynamic, filling Season 3 with surprises and empathy. Regarding the brash decision to split the marriage, Dan Harmon explained to Time: “We can now start exploring the form of parental dynamic that a majority of viewers had growing up, which is actual separated parents arguing over custody and whatnot.”
The voice cast of “Rick and Morty” is as underrated as it gets. Spencer Grammar, Sarah Chalke, Chris Parnell, and Justin Roiland make up the Sanchez family, combining a stellar amount of talent into one house and hundreds of alternate realities. All in all, “Rick and Morty” is about Rick’s relationship with the individual members of his family. The title and main relationship of the series explores a real relationship — at times wacky and impossible — but one that’s open about genuine emotions.
Captain Holt, Kevin, and Cheddar (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”)
It would be a shame not to include the greatest small family on television — Captain Raymond Holt, Professor Kevin Cozner, and their corgi, Cheddar. The reason being is that their relationship is the best one, period. Since fans met Kevin (Marc Evan Jackson) in Season 1, his likeness to Captain Holt is not only admirable but genuinely sweet. They’re the type of couple who argue over math problems and don matching pajamas. You know, the silk ones that put-together adults wear, with their initials on the chest pocket. They’ve overcome adversity, as Ray frequently recalls, and now the two seem able to withstand anything life decides to throw at them, including six months in emergency witness protection. Cheddar’s common appearances in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” also indicate that he is a very special dog, making us wish life was a sitcom.
The Gallaghers (“Shameless”)
Showtime is now airing Season 8 of “Shameless” and fans of Chicago’s dysfunctional family couldn’t be happier to have them back on TV, making terrible decisions. Each member has their quirks, and they’re usually not-so-good, but we love to root for them anyway. The Gallaghers are a family made up of love to hate and hate to love characters. Sure, Fiona can make anyone angry when she chooses to indulge her wild side, but ultimately it’s forgiven after making sure her siblings have enough food to eat. And Frank’s successes and failures make audiences at home feel like a part of this truly shameless family. His hilarity is well-needed in order to identify with, but it never lasts long — Frank biffs it, as always, and you’re left crying.
The Shahs (“Master Of None”)
The past two years at the Emmys, Aziz Ansari’s Netflix comedy “Master of None” brought home the statue for Best Writing For A Comedy Series. Its curation of familial intimacy and ripe attention to detail is what sets it apart from other primetime series. Dev Shah, Aziz Ansari’s fictional alias, often speaks to his parents in the show, Ramesh and Nisha Shah, who are delightfully played by his real parents. These regular appearances from Dev’s parents provide a window into our own lives, usually one kept hidden in other shows about 20-something New Yorkers.
“Master of None” specifically won this year for Lena Waithe’s co-written episode “Thanksgiving,” in which the audience is taken through a series of Thanksgiving dinners at Denise’s (Waithe) house. The episode was used to mark the major milestones of Denise’s coming out to her mother. This smart, one-of-a-kind series is special because it explores what it means for kids to be there for their parents, and vice versa. It also teaches us how to connect with the ones we can’t help but love, even when it feels like there’s no hope left.