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: What TV show that has changed your perspective on something? How? Why?
Sonia Saraiya (@soniasaraiya), Variety
This is almost cliché given how much we all wrote about it — but “You’re the Worst” really did alter the way that I thought about and understood clinical depression. I think the power that television and storytelling, in general, has to change our perspectives and/or broaden our horizons about experiences that aren’t our own is its most powerful force, and I could point to any number of shows that have slowly and gradually opened up new realizations for me. With “You’re the Worst” it felt like the realization happened all at once — and it was particularly surprising because I guess I’d assumed that I understood, to some degree, what clinical depression can do to a person. I turned out to be pretty wrong!
Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx
A few years before “The Wire” debuted, my wife and I were spending a weekend in Woodstock, NY, when a couple of college kids wearing many items made of hemp approached us and asked if they could ask us a few questions for a documentary they were making about the Rockefeller Laws. “What are the Rockefeller Laws?” I asked them. They looked dismayed, because as pot enthusiasts, much of their life was consumed with discussion of the fairness or unfairness of anti-drug statutes, whereas the War on Drugs wasn’t really something I thought much about beyond, “Drugs are… bad? Some of them, anyway?” I wasn’t very politically engaged in general at that age, and I gave that subject almost no attention at all. Then I watched “The Wire,” and in addition to all the annoying evangelizing I’ve done about it to readers, friends, relatives, strangers on the street, etc., over the last 15 years, it also made me actually stop and think about whether drug use should be criminalized, if this was the best use of police resources, etc. Now, if I were to run into the same two kids, I would have a long and rambling dissertation to give them on the Rockefeller Laws, treatment programs versus prosecution, community policing, and so much more — not all word-for-word from Jimmy McNulty or Sgt. Carver, but informed by everything I learned as a result of having the interest sparked by that show.
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
Before Fox’s “Celebrity Boxing,” I wouldn’t have been able to tell you who would win in a fight between Manute Bol and William “Refrigerator” Perry. Now I would be able to, except that I don’t remember. [Honestly, television has played a constant role in conditioning my responses and shifting my responses to many things, but I’m at a loss to tell you a single show that has led to a single concrete shift in my perception, so I look forward to reading other people’s answers and either going, “Man, those people are sheep” or “Duh, that should have been my answer.”]
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
A lot of great series changed or influenced my perspective on things. Notably Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.” This show humanized people behind bars and gave a profound awareness that in this world, especially in the USA, that if you have no money and you find yourself in legal trouble, you will get swept away by the incarceration corporate tides.
Most of my life and up until that series, I gave little to no thought to the economically, socially and culturally disadvantaged people who wind up in the system. I have no relatives in prison and I know no one in prison or with their relatives locked away.
But this unlikely hit series about frankly not super shiny, pretty people who made a wrong turn in life struck me from the beginning. Granted there are a lot of bad people who did bad things and deserve to be locked up, but then there are a lot who just needed counseling, mental health support and money to hire a lawyer to advocate properly for them.
Since I started following that series, I have to say that show more than any other made me realize how stacked the decks are for people without any resources. I have since learned in my volunteer work this past year with a homeless shelter that a lot of prisons release people without any proper identification (photo IDs), basically ensuring they will wind up homeless.
I think showrunner Jenji Kohan brilliantly adapted a book and Trojan Horsed the white POV (using Piper) and perspective in a sobering (and entertaining) wake-up call to show these profound inequities, then flipped the show to really focus and celebrate the hardship and backstories of the black and Latina women in the cast. I love how her creative mind works.
Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine
Growing up in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, my perspective of what it meant to be gay was that you were either a screaming cliche like Paul Lynde or Mr. Furley on “Three’s Company”; the butt of jokes like Jodie Dallas on “Soap”; or tragic cautionary tales like Aidan Quinn in “An Early Frost” and what felt like every haunted, suicidal gay supporting character on every teen drama “special episode.” Almost each depiction I saw was negative, narrow-minded, clownish and unappealing to someone struggling with who they were. Even when “thirtysomething” and “Dynasty” aired their big same-sex kisses, the uproar over them was so fucking scary that hiding in the closet seemed far safer than stepping out of it. Remember, even in the early ‘90s, it was a terrifying move to be openly gay. It wasn’t until the first season of “The Real World” in 1992 when I recall seeing a gay man I could associate with. Norm Korpi was funny, smart, self-assured and proudly out without waving a pride flag like it was his whole identity. They showed him in a romance with another man, they showed him fighting with roommates, sometimes being right, sometimes being wrong. They showed him as, oh my god, an actual human being who was OK with himself. As someone on the verge of coming out, that changed my (real) world view.
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
When I binged “O.J.: Made in America,” the first episode of Ezra Edelman’s extraordinary accomplishment in filmmaking changed my mind about something I’d always taken for granted — documentaries about sports are not for me. And by the end of that binge, everything I thought I understood about race, politics, Los Angeles, football and most especially O.J. Simpson was obliterated by a whole new perspective on those issues and more. It was an intense, emotional experience, one that truly affected how I saw the world… just in time for the world to go a bit insane.
Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), TVGuide.com
When I first read this question, I immediately fired this up again. Anyhoo, the first thing that came to mind was “Boy Meets World,” all because of Mr. Feeny. It was the first time as a kid that I thought of teachers as people. Not that I didn’t before, but there’s this weird dissonance when you’re a kid when it comes to authority figures. Plus, teachers gave out homework and I hated homework. Mr. Feeny, though, wasn’t just a person; he was this omniscient being who could be everything to everyone. My house had a green, not white, fence and I desperately wanted him to stand on the other side and impart his infinite wisdom on me. And to do the Feeny call, of course.
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
I presume this question is coming up now because it’s the 20th anniversary of Ellen coming out on “Ellen.” That might be a lot of people’s answers, but it definitely has to be mine. I was a conservative Christian teenager, raised to believe that homosexuality was a sin, a choice made by the sinful because they either didn’t know any better or (worse) wanted to flout God’s will. Now, I don’t want to give Ellen all the credit. I was already shifting my thinking before the endless rigamarole about whether her character would come out of the closet began. But something about watching a woman whose sitcom I had seen but never exactly enjoyed come to terms with her sexuality made me realize how strange a lot of what I believed really was. Why would someone choose to be gay, when Ellen, a major celebrity, was facing endless streams of hate for simply being herself? That she withstood it all with a kind of grace and charm made it easier to understand how important living as herself, and starring in her TV show as some version of herself, was. It was a big crack in the wall I’d built up around my beliefs, one that would come tumbling down when I got to college and met some gay people. But Ellen chiseled away at that crack until it was ready to crumble.
Tim Surette (@timsurette), TV.com
I don’t know if this totally counts as it’s more of a re-education or enlightening than a total change of perspective, but ABC’s “American Crime” has been great at taking a subject you think you know something about and then digging deeper into it until you can’t believe this sort of thing happens in real life. Season 3’s look into migrant workers was positively horrifying, and hopefully brought to light human-rights violations right here in the U.S. Also, I used to think domes were cool until I saw “Under the Dome.”
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
The older I get, the more I realize how watching, re-watching, and relentlessly bingeing “Friends” for nearly two decades has defined my personality. For better and worse, the iconic NBC comedy was my first TV obsession and still holds a close place in my heart — so close, I can’t step back far enough to see just how many connections there are between my friendship standards and the show’s. I’ll just catch bits and pieces.
For example, my expectations for friendship — a la Joey and Chandler — were set by the series: Those two — as well as Monica, Rachel, Ross, and Phoebe — would drop everything for each other, hang out 24/7, always make astute personal inquiries, and generally revolve their lives around the group. So sometimes I get confused when friends let work or personal ambitions get in the way of, you know, hanging out. I will be there for you, and you better be there for me, too. In addition, my sense of humor is ripped straight from Chandler Bing, my romantic life is overly reliant on will-they-won’t-they flirtations (90 percent of the time existing solely in my head), and I’ll probably end up living about two seasons beyond my best self. (Just kidding, of course. “Friends” is perfect from start to finish.)
The point being, “Friends” had more of an influence on me than I realized while I was watching it. Because of this, both when I recommend shows and decide for myself whether or not to watch (and re-watch), I take into account the power of television and encourage everyone to do the same. How will this show affect you, me, and our long-term selves? It may take a lot of viewings to have lasting effects, but even small doses can change minds.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “The Leftovers” (six votes)
Other contenders: “The Americans,” “Better Call Saul,” “Fargo,” “Silicon Valley” (one vote each)
*In the case of streaming, the show must have premiered in the past month.