As an avid TV watcher, I love that there is a seemingly endless list of options right now when I want to turn on the TV (and not do any work). That said, I must also admit that despite such a plethora of shows, the vast majority are still centred on privileged white people (we love Friends, but there’s no denying it was pretty much White Privilege: The Sitcom).
Thankfully, as more people are realising how troubling and frustrating it is that only a certain demographic are portrayed on-screen, we’ve seen a number of new shows that combat the idea that middle-class white characters are the “norm” or that that’s all viewers are actually interested in watching. Here are six of our favourite programmes that are refreshingly diverse and paving the way for more progressive television.
What it’s about: A transgender woman reveals to her family that she has always identified as a woman, and together they handle the range of emotions, struggles, and revelations that follow suit.
Why it’s awesome: While of course it would’ve been better for an actual transgender actress to play the leading role, this show is still an incredible step in the right direction. It’s rare that transgender characters get any sort of attention on-screen, and even rarer that they’re a) not the punchline of transphobic jokes and b) are the leading character.
It’s clear that the writers and producers have done their research, and even the bathrooms on-set are gender neutral. The show acknowledges the difficulties that transgender people and their families face before, during, and after transition, and displays both the amazing and difficult parts. This isn’t a fetishisation of transgender people and/or their transitions, but a show that reinforces the theme of family and that features a transition that several people make every day but that is rarely, if ever, portrayed with such love and humour.
Where you can watch it: Amazon, who made it.
What it’s about: Dre Johnson worries that his upper-middle class family is losing touch with their black culture as they increasingly assimilate into their white neighbourhood. As a result, he continuously attempts to reinforce black values and traditions (the definitions of which the show tackles) in his children’s lives.
Why it’s awesome: Sure, there are plenty of TV shows about funny-dysfunctional-heartwarming families, but it’s always refreshing when it’s a non-white family. Additionally, simply the fact that this is a well-off upper-middle class family (special shout-out to Bow for being a female mixed-race surgeon) instantly combats several negative stereotypes about black parents and families.
The show actually acknowledges various issues that arise as a result of the Johnsons being African-American, instead of just pretending that race doesn’t exist. Oh, and Lawrence Fishburne is in it, so that’s always cool.
Where you can watch it: Sorry to blueball you – it’s not available to stream in the UK right now. But if you have a US IP address, you can watch it on Hulu.
4. Fresh Off the Boat
What it’s about: Another show that centers on a minority family (yay!), but this time it’s an immigrant family in the 1990s. The show is narrated by 11-year-old Eddie Huang following their family’s move from Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Florida as his dad pursues the American dream. Each of the Huangs have distinctly hilarious personalities that don’t make them clichéd Asian stereotypes.
Why it’s awesome: Like I said, shows with predominantly non-white casts are always wonderful; as a matter of fact, this is the first show since Margaret Cho’s American Girl in 1994 to feature an Asian-American family. But unlike Cho’s disaster of a show, this one isn’t based on racist and unoriginal plotlines and stereotypes. In fact, it quickly becomes clear that even the character of Jessica, who initially seems like the stock “Asian tiger mom,” well, isn’t.
The show embraces Taiwanese culture and the fact that the Huangs aren’t “native” Americans — it was the choice of the actors who play the parents to speak with a slight accent — but the humour isn’t just based on them being Asian.
Where you can watch it: Again, it’s not technically available in the UK right now, but it’s also on Hulu.
3. How to Get Away with Murder
What it’s about: A group of law students and their professor come together in a class called How To Get Away With Murder, and soon after have to put their legal skills to the ultimate test when they themselves are caught up in a murder. And in the midst of all that they handle a wide range of court cases that clients bring to them as well as their own personal issues.
Why it’s awesome: Viola Davis just won (among many, many other awards) the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, making her the first African-American woman ever to do so. The show itself highlights several serious issues such as racism and rape, and while the treatment is brutally honest and difficult to watch at times, it’s still important that these themes be addressed; for instance, one particular episode involves a transgender character who has to deal with transphobic law enforcement.
The show also incorporates hot and heavy gay sex, which isn’t particularly noteworthy, except for the fact that it’s usually only heterosexual sex scenes that are depicted in a sensual manner. I could go on forever on why this show is so great, but really, just watch it.
Where you can watch it: Universal Channel or Netflix
2. Jane the Virgin
What it’s about: Jane is accidentally artificially inseminated with the sperm of a guy that she used to have a crush on. There’s a love triangle, a soap opera star, a villain who specialises in changing other villians’ faces, and so many other things that I don’t want to spoil. (I know, it sounds weird, but just give it a try.)
Why it’s awesome: The lead is a young Latina woman who handles pregnancy mainly with the help of her mum and grandmother, and all three of them are smart, strong, and fiercely supportive of one another. That’s right, the women feature more prominently than the men, and often call out the men on their BS.
Additionally, the show heavily incorporates Hispanic culture in a respectful and appropriate manner, with even Jane’s grandmother only talking to people in Spanish (even though she understands English). Really, Gina Rodriguez kills it as a funny, intelligent, kind, and all-around amazing young woman of colour who handles pregnancy like a pro (most of the time) while still pursuing her dreams of becoming a writer.
Where you can watch it: E4 (though not on-demand), and it’s also on Netflix!
1. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
What it’s about: The 99th Precinct of the NYPD is made up of an eclectic group of characters that are lead by a newly appointed captain. It’s a cop show but a comedy as well, and a funny cop show to top it off.
Why it’s awesome: Okay, so the lead character is a straight white cisgender male, BUT overall, it is a diverse main cast — set in NYC, the show accurately reflects New York’s multicultural nature (unlike shows like, say, Girls that only look at white New Yorkers). Tropes are also subverted — Rosa plays the serious no-nonsense cop (but doesn’t have a sad backstory to “explain” it, that’s just who she is), a role that’s usually reserved for male characters, and Sergeant Jeffords is a muscular “tough guy” who loves yoghurt parfaits and is a doting father.
Plus, the two highest-ranking officers are people of colour, and not only that, Captain Holt’s sexuality is addressed in the very first episode. A strong but caring black homosexual male figurehead? Sold.
Where you can watch it: Channel 4, Netflix
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