Every Fall, as new series compete with old ones, television forces us to make tough life choices. But ThinkProgress is here to guide you in the decision-making process. This upcoming season gives us a wide range of shows with intersecting themes to dissect: criminal justice, immigration, religion, reproductive health, race, class mobility, and gender norms in the workplace. The verdict isn’t out on whether or not the shows will start productive conversations (some certainly won’t), or just be offensive. That said, here is a guide to 8 new shows that progressives should watch (at least once), for better or worse. Hate them or love them, they’ll have people talking:
The obvious ones:
1. Black-ish (Sept. 24): If there’s one thing I am 100 percent sure about, it’s that Black Twitter is going to erupt during this pilot. Some people will hate it, some people will love it, but an eruption is imminent. Black-ish tells the story of an African-American family, living in Suburbia, whose patriarch (Anthony Anderson) has an identity crisis raising his children. The title alone is off-putting, implying that middle-class black families aren’t black enough.
My initial thought upon hearing the name of the sitcom was, “Really, ABC? Are we really going to question multidimensional yet equally authentic black experiences?” And then I remembered my own internal struggles as a black girl living in the white suburbs, with comedic trials that mirrored the ones in the first trailer. And though the show is about a black family, it’s a larger commentary about what it is like to live in a community where one is, for whatever reason, different from the status quo. Black-ish speaks to the experiences of people of color nationwide, and highlights the intersections between race and class. It sheds light on what it means to be a minority in America, and as the country undergoes a rapid demographic shift, it’s one that everyone should see.
2. American Crime (2015): I’m jumping the gun since it doesn’t premiere until 2015, but this show couldn’t be timelier. It delves into the relationship between race and the legal system. In it, several murder suspects are arrested for the death of a war veteran’s son, which heats up racial tension in the small town of Modesto, CA. Although details about the series are still emerging, the explosive trailer follows a white family in mourning after a brutal murder, and a Latino family dealing with the accusation and arrest of a teenage boy. And the term “illegals” is used, so we can also assume there will be an immigration component to the crime drama, in addition to the theme of racial profiling. With police brutality and immigration constantly in the news cycle, the show magnifies the shortcomings of our criminal justice system and the role that race often plays in dividing a community. Stay tuned.
3. Cristela (Oct. 10): Cristela is a Mexican American woman who still lives at home and can’t finish law school. The show follows Cristela as she strives for upward mobility while reconciling her traditional upbringing. We will have to keep an eye out for stereotypes thrown in the mix, but it’s still genuinely exciting to see a show that stars a Latin American woman on a primetime network, and also explores race, class, and shifting cultural priorities. Much like Black-ish, this show investigates what it’s like to be an outsider trying to figure it all out. The trailer also calls Cristela “the modern American woman,” which is refreshing. Give it a chance.
4. Fresh Off the Boat (2015): ABC is really going for the gold on race representation this pilot season, but the network also wins the award for Most Questionable Show Titles. This series is about a Chinese family that moves from DC to Orlando in pursuit of the American Dream. Eleven-year-old Eddie, a hip-hop fanatic, goes through an identity crisis as the Asian kid living in a white suburb. The difference between this sitcom and Black-ish is that the kids in Black-ish are insiders, raised in and comfortable with white suburbia. In Fresh Off the Boat, white suburbia is a challenge to be tackled by an outsider. I recommend the show because it evaluates the American Dream through a comedic lens, and explores immigration and assimilation. But we’ll wait and see whether it will turn out to do those things in a sensitive and thoughtful way.
Less obvious contenders:
5. Jane the Virgin (Oct. 13): The voiceover in the first trailer for Jane the Virgin says the show is about fate, family, and worlds colliding. It’s actually about religion, abstinence-only education, and the worst possible depiction of reproductive health services. Its protagonist, Jane, is mistakenly inseminated with her ex-boyfriend’s sperm after a doctor confuses two patients. Thereafter, she must reconcile her strict Catholic upbringing — which includes a strict no-sex rule — with the reality that she is with child. In the preview, abortion is described as shameful, and teen pregnancy the result of irresponsible life choices. That said, the drama features a Latin family, a stark departure from the CW character M.O.: sex-loving white starlets or supernatural heroes. Stereotypes and questionable messages abound in Jane the Virgin, so watch it for Twitter talking points. And let it be a broader starting point for critical discussions about reproductive justice in the U.S.
CREDIT: The CW
6. Mission Control (2015): Women in science and tech are criminally underrepresented, so I’m excited about this 2015 sitcom about a lone female wolf working at NASA in the 1960s. It’s set in the past, but many of the absurdities of being a woman in male-dominated industries — wage gaps, harassment, etc. — still exist. Details are still unknown, but hopefully Mission Control will offer funny yet educational insight into what it is like to be a woman in science who has to cope with those absurdities.
7. Selfie (Sept. 30): Honestly, I couldn’t make it through the pilot of this show. Critics warned me how intolerable it was, but I really thought I’d find a light in the darkness. Eliza Dooley is a self-absorbed, delusional, and social-media obsessed woman who wants to be rebranded by her co-worker (John Cho). Her character is simultaneously her company’s best and least-respected sales rep, in desperate need of fixing her tarnished image. The gender dynamics on this show are difficult to watch because there doesn’t appear to be any sense of irony. And the show’s social-media-gives-us-the-worst-of-humanity trope is tired. BUT you don’t have to like it to consider it worth watching. In light of last week’s leaked photo controversy and gender-based violence on the internet, there’s something valuable to take from this monstrosity. Stripped of its absurdity, the show is about a man who evaluates a woman’s respectability — and place in the office — based on her social media presence and lifestyle choices.
8. State of Affairs (Nov. 17): There are already several national security dramas, but this one stars Alfre Woodard as a black female president and a female CIA analyst (Katherine Heigl). Watch the pilot for them, if nothing else.
9. Key and Peele (Sept.24): Okay, technically, this Comedy Central original is not a new show. But it is one that everyone should be watching. Few television programs are able to bridge comedy with a wide range of serious subject matter like slavery and the Holocaust. If you want smart commentary about political and social discourse in America — and not from white men — this sketch comedy series in the one for you.
CREDIT: Comedy Central