TalkPoverty is taking a break for the next week, to give our staff a chance to take a vacation and plan for 2019. These are a few of the shows we’ll be watching when we’re offline and need a reprieve from conversations with weird Uncle Sal.
The first season of Superstore is essentially The Office, set in a big box store where the workers are making minimum wage. There’s a will-they-won’t-they relationship between coworkers, a brutal assistant manager who would break Dwight Schrute’s spirit in under half an hour, and some classic slapstick to tie it all together.
But the longer the show is on, the better it gets. Beginning in season two, the show starts to tease out the substantive issues that define the characters’ lives and brings them to the forefront without ever getting heavy-handed. That’s not an easy feat: There are plot arcs that deal directly, and unflinchingly, with union busting, health care inequity, documentation status, and paid maternity leave.
The show isn’t perfect: We’d be remiss if we recommended it without noting that a disabled character is played by an actor who does not share his character’s disability. It’s a misstep that could have easily been avoided, and a blemish on a show that handles a number of complicated topics so deftly.
Bob’s Burgers is one of the funniest, most consistent shows on TV. It’s heavy on jokes and wild premises, and its characters are a collection of beautifully unhinged, frantic, awkward humans who are inexplicably relatable. And, at its core, the show is about a working-class family that is barely scraping by. The titular restaurant is always in peril, wealthy business owners are an existential threat, and minor mishaps – like a broken minivan or a decrepit sofa – are big enough financial burdens that zany attempts to replace them often form the basis of an entire episode.
Most importantly, Bob’s Burgers is a joy to watch. It’s a rare depiction of a family that faces stress without becoming bitter, and that struggles without being victims.
The Fosters finished airing in June and it is genuinely heartwarming, for those looking for some basic queer joy. The Freeform family drama revolves around a lesbian couple raising five kids under one roof – four of whom are foster children. It delves into the working-class life of a police officer and vice principal navigating childrearing, living in a racially mixed family, and the challenges of the foster system. It’s rare to see queer families on television, especially lesbian families, even though nearly 16 percent of same-gender couples are raising children together. For those dismayed its run is over, a spinoff, Good Trouble, is coming to Freeform!
How to watch it: The whole show is on Netflix, and if you want to dip your toes in, try season one’s “I Do” (episode 10) for an extremely wholesome lesbian wedding, and “Quinceañera” (episode four) for some moving family drama.
On My Block
Four inner-city LA teens navigate their coming of age in On My Block, which is a frank look at a part of Los Angeles that’s usually glossed over or turned into a cautionary tale. Monse (Sierra Capri), Cesar (Diego Tinoco), Ruben (Jason Genao), and Jamal (Brett Gray) inhabit different aspects of the Latinx and Afro-Latinx experience in a vibrant narrative deeply rooted in lived experience.
It would be a mistake to focus on the exploration of gang violence here: On My Block also confronts deportations, teen sexuality, family, and more in a diverse reflection of contemporary teen life. Plus, you are going to love Ruben’s abuela.
How to watch it: It’s a Netflix Original, and with only one season available, you can start right at the beginning!
Energetic mom Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver) and her chaotic family enliven a drama that’s been widely praised by the disability community for its authentic handling of cerebral palsy from both the perspective of disabled youth growing into their autonomy and parents who advocate tirelessly for access and inclusion. Her son JJ is played by Micah Fowler, who actually has cerebral palsy and fills his role as the titular nonverbal character with gusto. Class comes in as the family struggles to find a good school for JJ, and ultimately finds itself living in the junkiest house in a fancy neighborhood and navigating all that comes with it.
Jenji Kohan’s newest show, based on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling series that ran from 1986-1992, is a classic dramedy about a band of misfits that defies the odds. The ensemble cast, featuring Marc Maron, Alison Brie, and Betty Gilpin, is comprised of deeply broken human beings who are trying to relaunch their careers (and redeem themselves after some truly astounding personal mistakes) by filming a low-budget women’s wrestling series in a run-down gym.
The episodes are a little uneven in quality, but the series engages directly with class in a way that feels original: Through the characters and the wrestling personas they take on. It’s worth watching just for real-life WWE star Kia Stevens, who plays Tammé. Tammé’s struggle with the wrestling persona she’s been assigned – who is literally named “Welfare Queen” – is given the air time it deserves in the second season. Her attempt to navigate the space between social responsibility and her very real need to support herself is messy and compelling.
How to watch it: GLOW is a Netflix Original. Start from the beginning, or you’ll struggle to piece together the dynamics between the characters.