TV Recommendations with Rev. Gretchen: Feel Good Shows

For the first batch of TV recommendations, we’re starting with the opposite of serious. All of these shows are accessible, easy to get into, with a general feel-good ethos. Here are 19 Feel-Good Shows I highly recommend you check out: 

  1. The Good Place (4 Seasons, 22-30 mins, Netflix): An extremely Unitarian Universalist take on the afterlife. The truth of this won’t become clear until a few seasons in, so you’ll have to trust me. It’s funny, smart, and surprisingly wholesome. The best series finale in my memory. 
  2. Fleabag (2 Seasons, 30 minutes, Amazon Prime): Fleabag a show about grief, friendship, family, and regret. It’s witty, tragic (though, like the main character, it hides it well), funny, and smart. And it’s a great length for such a powerful show. The second season is a world unto itself, probably even better than the first. Especially fun (and again, tragic) to watch as a clergyperson who has spent a lot of time thinking about boundaries, intimacy, and power in the church. You’ll know what I mean after you watch. Also, just try not to become obsessed with (star and creator) Phoebe Waller-Bridge after watching this show.
  3. Hacks (2 Seasons, 26-35 minutes, HBO): The formidable Jean Smart plays Deborah Vance, a groundbreaking female comic nearing the end of her career, though she doesn’t think so. When it looks like her Vegas contract will be pulled, her manager sends one of his other clients, a 25-year-old career-troubled comedian, Ava (Hannah Einbeinder), to help freshen up her act as a last-ditch effort. There are so many reasons I love this show. Most of all, I love that it takes an older woman seriously and gives her a full, complex history that fills out so much of who she has become, but not in a way that ever fully excuses her faults. I love that it does the same for a younger woman. I love that they both get to change through their relationship, or at least they try to. I love that both lead characters are trying to figure out just how brave they are willing to be and how much risk is worth it – both in their relationship and careers. I love that it is honest about what it takes for a woman to succeed at a big level in a career like comedy and how much it costs them.  
  4. Ted Lasso (3 Seasons, 30 minutes, Apple TV): It’s hard for me to imagine that someone out there hasn’t heard of Ted Lasso by now, but just in case, the quick summary is that a British soccer (football) team owner, Rebecca (played by the stunning Hannah Waddingham), hires an American football (not soccer) coach – Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) – to coach her team. She does it as a way to humiliate and punish her cheating ex-husband. It’s a joke – except no one told Ted. This show is funny, original, smart, and unapologetically earnest. It explores and celebrates non-toxic masculinity and positive female friendship and believes in a world where people try to be better through community, loyalty, and play. As Ted Lasso’s motto goes, by the end, you can’t help but Believe!
  5. Schitt’s Creek (6 seasons, 22-30 minutes, Hulu): A bratty, superficial rich family loses all their money and ends up in a dead-end town living in a motel. Yes, it starts with some old tropes and some extremely unlikable characters, but this is a redemption tale wrapped in a love story held together by dry humor and bananas costume design. (In other words, if you aren’t sure through the first five or so episodes, keep going.) Second best series finale I can remember.
  6. Kim’s Convenience (5 seasons, 30 minutes, Netflix): This sweet, smart, very funny, and heartwarming show centers on Korean immigrants to Canada, Mr. and Mrs. Kim (Paul Sung Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon), and their two now-adult children Janet (Andrea Bang) and Jung (Simu Liu). The Kims own a convenience store, where much of the episodes unfold and where they have grounded their own story of independence and making a life for themselves and their children in Canada. Kim’s Convenience explores the cultural tensions and expectations present in an immigrant family in original and often hilarious ways that also feel authentic and specific.  
  7. Grace and Frankie (7 Seasons, 30 minutes, Netflix): I was a little skeptical of this show when it first started because I don’t buy the connection between Sol and Robert, but I was hooked by the end of the second season. I’m so glad I stuck with it because it ended up being a singular portrayal of female friendship, older adult sexuality, and older adulthood, period. Not to mention Jane Fonda is stunning and vulnerable, and I ❤ Grace more than maybe any other character ever. It almost makes me forget how unbelievable I still find the chemistry between Sol and Robert….almost… 
  8. Heartstopper (Netflix, 8 episodes, 30 minutes, 1 season): After all of the struggles of the last few years, Heartstopper came bursting through in 2022 with a refreshing, unapologetic, adorable joy. Set in high school, it is the story of 14-year-old Charlie (Joe Locke) and his friend Nick (Kit Connor). Nick has the audacity to treat Charlie like a human, even though Nick is a popular rugby player and Charlie is relentlessly teased and bullied for being gay and out. Adapted from her graphic novel series by writer Alice Oseman and using on-screen graphics along with animated text messages as a part of the visuals, everything about this show brings you back into that scary, vulnerable, invigorating time of self-discovery that is the best part of high school. Because even though Heartstopper does address the more painful and angsty parts of being a teenager, most of all, this is a show that makes you feel good. It is instead funny, sweet, heartwarming, and even wholesome – without sacrificing depth or specificity, or diversity in the characters and their stories. It’s the story I wish I would’ve had to watch growing up (I cannot even imagine how my life would’ve been impacted…) and also that I am so grateful we can watch with our kids (and parents) now.
  9. The Great (2 Seasons, 30 minutes, Hulu): My friend, who actually knows a lot about Catherine the Great, has a lot of problems watching this show because it’s so historically inaccurate. Luckily, I have no such problems, so I just got to thoroughly enjoy it in all my ignorance. Elle Fanning fearlessly plays Catherine, the smart and ambitious young German woman who heads to Russia to marry the Emperor, Peter III, the marvelously doltish Nicholas Hoult. The Great’s capacity to be both hilarious and absurd but also emotionally honest and tender is surprising and so much fun. There is a good amount of violence along the way – Peter’s constant disregard for anyone’s life except his own (and suddenly, Catherine’s) is offered by Catherine repeatedly as to why she’ll never love him. But mostly, it’s played more like a Shakespearean comedy than a tragedy – moving quickly, focusing on the main characters. Even though they are upfront about how much they’ve made up, the challenges of leading and being a woman with ambition and being a man who might prefer not to lead – all offer plenty of truth.  
  10. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (4 Seasons, 30 minutes, Netflix): A musical comedy exploring mental health, loneliness, and the search for meaning and purpose in life today…. Did I lose you already? This show is strange, brilliant, and completely worth getting to know, even if you don’t usually trend toward musicals, comedies, or shows whose titles reference a “crazy ex-girlfriend.” Star and producer Rachel Bloom is brilliant, creative, and bold in her vision, and the musical numbers are singularly hilarious and on-point.  
  11. Sex Education (3 Seasons, 30 minutes, Netflix): This has been one of my very favorite shows in each of the last three years. It is a comedy and, at times, very lighthearted, but it is also a deeply touching and sometimes heart-wrenching portrayal of the complex world of teenage sexuality. The show shies away from nothing, and fair warning, the first episode’s first few minutes almost made me stop watching because it was just a little too explicit.  But that’s part of the beauty of the show…sex is portrayed as messy and awkward, as it often is in real life. The show revolves around the teenage Otis (Asa Butterfield) and his sex therapist mother (Gillian Anderson) until Otis takes all he’s learned into an advice business at school in partnership with his friend/crush Maeve (Emma Mackey). At its heart, this show is incredibly Unitarian Universalist in its message and is a lot of fun along the way. 
  12. Parks and Recreation (7 Seasons, 30 minutes, Netflix): Set in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana, this show centers on the employees of the Parks and Recreation Department, led by the optimistic and singularly determined Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). Over their seven seasons, Leslie and her team navigate the challenges of local government bureaucracy while attempting to make their town a better place (or at least, that’s Leslie Knope’s mission…).  If you haven’t ever taken the time to check out Parks and Rec, I’m so jealous because that means that this funny, smart, and authentically heart-warming show is still something for you to discover and then join the rest of us when we wonder if – whenever we are feeling especially earnest and enthusiastic – if we are being a little too much like Leslie Knope….
  13. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (4 Seasons, 30 minutes, Netflix): Funny and smart with also a twinge of tragic – if you like Tina Fey’s sense of humor, you’ll probably love this show about a 29-year-old who was rescued from a kidnapper/cult leader after 15 years believing the world had ended. Supposedly it’s a story of Kimmy’s growth and self-discovery, but ultimately it’s a story of how it’s never too late for us to find and claim our own path of joy and meaning. All that sounds pretty serious – really, it’s mostly just a fun, silly, enjoyable show.
  14. Derry Girls (4 Seasons, 25 minutes, Netflix): Set in a small town in occupied Northern Ireland in the 1990s, Derry Girls is a story of friendship and growing up. Centering on a group of five teenagers growing up amid The Troubles (the Northern Ireland conflict), Derry Girls reminds us of the persistence and consistency of human life regardless of what is happening around us. Don’t be afraid to turn on the subtitles if the Irish accents make it hard for you to follow, and don’t be shy about re-watching past episodes to remember the sweet and hilarious trouble the girls find themselves in as they attempt to grow up.   
  15. Ghosts (BBC version, 3 Seasons, 30 minutes, HBO): Shortly after a young couple inherits a mansion in the British countryside, the wife discovers that she can see and hear the entire cast of ghosts who reside there. The ghosts have died on the property over the centuries, representing a range of residents from an early Viking to a witch burned at the stake, a lovelorn Edwardian poet, and a sketchy Thatcher-era politician who died with his pants off (and thus appears in the afterlife…  with no pants). What would the dead do with their time, given endless amounts of it? And how would they each engage with new technology and entertainment invented long after their death? And how should we think about their “rights” and quality of “life”? There is an American remake of the show that has gotten strong reviews, but I haven’t had a chance to check that out yet, so for now, I am focusing my recommendation on the BBC version, which is available on HBO.  
  16. We Are Lady Parts (1 Season, 30 minutes, Peacock): I get why you have likely not watched this show – it is very rare to find someone who is a Peacock subscriber. But I have to say that this show (in addition to a few others I’ll mention later in the month) is completely worth a 1-month subscription, after which you cancel the service (until the next season drops). We Are Lady Parts is an awesome, original comedy centered on an all-female, all-Muslim punk band. Led by the formidable Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey), the band is made up of a diverse and dynamic group who are each uniquely and unapologetically themselves – which makes the punk rock genre an especially perfect fit.  The first season follows the character Amina (Anjana Vasan), who struggles to reconcile her cultural values with her love for (punk rock) music. Not to mention a wicked case of stage fright. My only critique of this show is that it is way too short – which hopefully will be fixed before too long with a second season.  
  17. The Other Two (3 Seasons, 30 minutes, HBO): We all likely have a sense of Justin Beiber’s story – but no one ever asks about the young star’s siblings. That’s the subject of this funny and heartfelt comedy series, which focuses on two struggling siblings, Brooke (Helen Yorke) and Cary (Drew Tarver), as they navigate the ups and downs of their careers and personal lives after their 13-year-old brother Chase (Case Walker) suddenly becomes a viral sensation. Although early episodes trend towards a satirical feeling, it doesn’t take long before you really feel for Brooke and Cary and their attempts to find themselves and what matters to them, regardless of their brother’s fame.  
  18. Extraordinary (1 Season, 30 minutes, Hulu): In the world of Extraordinary, everyone gets a superpower as a part of becoming an adult, which is why our main character Jen (Emma Moran, also the creator and writer), a 25-year-old who has yet to received her power, is both extra compelling and also really struggling. This British series combines the conventions of the superhero genre with a sentimental buddy comedy to give us a compelling underdog tale, complicated by the fact that Jen is often a selfish, short-sighted individual who continually asks too much of her closest friends, especially her best friend, Carrie. Like most of these shows, this last sentence makes it sound like it’s less heartwarming than it is complicated, but ultimately the otherworldly premise controls the tone of this show and keeps us squarely in a story of creativity and possibility – and the hope while watching it is that the main character will do the same.    
  19. Shrinking (1 Season, 30 minutes, Apple TV): Anyone in a therapeutic-related profession will likely relate with and struggle with the show, Shrinking. In many ways, it asks you to suspend your ethical disbelief to accept the premise that therapy might be even more effective if therapists abandon their professional training and just say whatever they believe their clients should do. Or at least, that’s how the show starts. Starring Jason Segel, Harrison Ford, and Jessica Williams and created by the folks who also brought us Ted Lasso, Shrinking is a show about boundaries and their usefulness – and the consequences for failing to respect boundaries. It is a show about friendship, grief, and the lostness we all feel these days. It is still also steadfastly a comedy, which mostly works because of the brilliance of the actors, who commit to finding the line between the intensity of what their characters are dealing with and the joy of playing out the scenes together.
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