There is so much good programming on television right now that I hate to complain; especially when shows like “The Walking Dead,” “The Good Wife” or “American Horror Story” consistently deliver interesting, provocative television. However, by the time the holidays roll around every year, my soul reaches its saturation point of exploding zombies, political sociopaths and extreme human depravity. I start to crave a simpler, more wholesome way to receive my feels.
If you have had just about all you can stand with the gore, violence and exploitation of the fall television season, there is a solution, in list form, that will help you wash away the gross residue of our more terrible TV habits. The shows below won’t make you feel scared, or worried about humankind, or necessitate a shower afterwards — instead, they’ll make you feel okay about the world. You won’t have to watch these shows through your fingers, or quickly change the channel when your mom/kids/spouse enter the room. You can watch these guilt and trauma free.
“The Fosters” (ABC Family)
A drama about a mixed-race, same-sex couple raising four adopted children and co-parenting one biological son with his father sounds like it would be rife with political agendas and finger wagging about how to exist in the world, but it’s not. It’s so earnest that you can almost see the halos over the actors’ heads. Teri Polo and Sheri Saum play the moms to the five children, and the genuine warmth between the characters will make you forget you once ever saw the inside of zombie’s skull. The show is a healthy mix of teen melodrama and and family strife, but you won’t ever leave an episode needing an eyewash station. Catch up on Netflix.
“The Little Couple” (TLC)
Check it out — a reality show that will renew your faith in the human spirit. If that sounds like a bit of an oversell, watch the five minute trailer below and see if you can resist this family. If you can’t root for Bill and Jen through battles with disability, cancer, adoption and surgeries, then you might need to check your chest for a heart, Mr. Grinch. These two are the most inspiring people on the planet right now, and this show is just what the holiday heart needs to feel better about all the yuck we’ve consumed this year. You can pick and choose how you want to cry happy tears, as many of the episodes are available on TLC.com.
This series is wearying and emotionally taxing, but not in the way that will require restorative psychotherapy afterwards. Instead, it’s healing and cathartic and beautifully wrought. Airing on Amazon, it stars Jeffrey Tambour as Maura, who has only recently transitioned into living as a woman. None of her family, including her grown children, have it together enough to offer much support, and so the show is about the beautiful mess of family. Although it can be hard to watch at times, it is worth every single second of the hand wringing. It makes you feel great about being reduced to a blubbering mess.
Maybe the most criminally underrated comedy show ever — it only aired for one season on Fox, but those few episodes produced more laughs than all the rest of the network comedies put together. “Enlisted” is the type of show that doesn’t want you to laugh with them, but prefers you to laugh at them, as it is completely devoid of self-consciousness. Set on a military base, this show tells the story of three brothers who serve in a rear-detachment leg of the Army — a far less glamorous gig than you could ever imagine, but the shenanigans make it worth your time. “Enlisted” is available in Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.
“Jane the Virgin” (The CW)
The CW’s answer to every telenovela dream we never knew we had. In its freshman run, this adapted drama focuses on 23-year old virgin Jane Villaneuva, who is accidentally inseminated with a rich playboy’s sample, and subsequently becomes pregnant. Feeling jaded as a viewer? This show will make you a believer in good TV again. “Jane the Virgin” is clever (not in a which-one-is-the-serial-killer kind of way) and heartfelt, and every aspect of the show makes you want to smile at the screen. You’ve only missed a few this season, which you can binge at The CW’s website.
“The Wonder Years” (Netflix)
A classic series that’s instantly soothing and feels like home. Who better to get you over the holiday hump than Kevin and Winnie? Every time I hear Joe Cocker’s voice on the theme song (rest in peace, Joe), nostalgia pours out of my eyes. This show is so much more than a childhood relic, and it totally holds up. You can watch every brutally glorious moment of their adolescence now on Netflix.
This quiet little show will bring out the existential philosopher in you, and you won’t mind one bit. Set in a small Georgia town, “Rectify” tells the story of a man released from prison after 19 years, when his conviction is overturned. On the surface, the show seems like a crime drama, but as you watch, it transforms, before your very eyes, into a story about what it means to be a part of the world around you. SundanceTV is keen at bringing you graceful shows in which you can invest emotionally and spiritually. If that is not what a soul cleanse is all about, then I just don’t know.
“Mr. Show with Bob and David” (HBO)
This sketch series was hipster before we knew what hipster was. Starring a very young David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, “Mr. Show” is a sketch variety show with a healthy dose of the absurd. It’s clever enough to be considered intellectual, but silly enough that it’s not too esoteric. It’s “Portlandia’s” idiot cousin, if that cousin graduated first in his class.
“Call the Midwife” (PBS)
When this period drama aired on PBS in the spring, critics loved it, but it went almost completely unnoticed by most TV watchers, and this is a damn shame. Set in 1950s East London, it follows a fresh-faced, newbie midwife as she transcends her own privilege in order to help women whom she would never normally know or interact with. The hair and makeup alone is worth tuning in for the first episode, but you’ll stay for the intense relationships and personal melodrama (the good kind). All three seasons are available on PBS.org or YouTube.
“Laverne and Shirley” (Hulu)
This classic duo made the list because it’s impossible to feel bad about the world while these ladies are on screen. The best friends played by Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams are, by far, the most practical of all feminist icons, and their friendship can get you through the darkest of holiday funks. Episodes are available on Hulu for your enjoyment and inspiration.