TV’s Most “Woke” Shows
Who says television can’t be woke? Network, cable and streaming services like Netflix are proving that the content we consume can entertain while addressing issues like racism, social injustice, police brutality, sexism, classism and more head on. The result? Thought-provoking, intelligent, engaging content that keeps viewers tuned in week after week and season after season, while bucking longstanding cultural norms, delving into issues in ways that traditional media can’t, or rather, won’t, and seeking positive, lasting change. Are you watching?
The Carmichael Show
Salon recently named Jerrod Carmichael, star, and creator of NBC’s The Carmichael Show, the most important comedian in America. The sitcom, now in its second season, uses humor to tackle issues of social and political importance, and all through the lens of a Black, working-class family. The show, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time, has discussed everything from #BlackLivesMatter to transgender issues and even Bill Cosby. The varied perspectives of The Carmichael Show’s diverse characters always welcome and encourage debate.
Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and his writing staff continue to wow viewers. The episode centered around police brutality and the criminal justice system still has people talking. Whether discussing the n-word or the differences between Black and White churches, the Johnsons are honest about who they are and keep us laughing and thinking time and again.
Cristela was the first U.S. sitcom created by a Latina woman. The first! Based on comedienne Cristela Alonzo’s own family, Cristela constantly battled her family’s traditional, outdated and often debilitating views on a consistent basis. The episode where Cristela learned that her mother purposely denied her the opportunity to partake in a gifted and talented program because “we are not supposed to aim so high,” was both heartbreaking and beautifully written. Unfortunately, Cristela didn’t make it past season one, but you can watch reruns of it on Netflix.
When it comes to transgender characters and issues, Netflix’s Sense8 is breaking barriers. The character Nomi (played by trans actress Jamie Clayton in a show helmed by trans writers/directors, the Wachowskis) has a family who refuses to acknowledge her as the woman she is – a definite nod to the difficulty many trans people face when trying to be their authentic selves. Nomi is one of several characters in the sci-fi drama who identify as LGBT but whose stories and lives are built around so much more than sexuality and gender identity.
Scandal may be wrapped up in the ongoing drama that is Olitz, but its episodes tackle hot-button topics like women’s rights and often speak on the double standards women face, particularly women in positions of power and influence. And on occasion, Scandal goes a bit further by addressing other relevant and timely issues as well. Who can forget the “The Lawn Chair” episode inspired by events in Ferguson, that mirrored the deaths of unarmed Black men and women at the hands of police?
Being Mary Jane
Since its inception, Being Mary Jane has directly addressed important issues like immigration, suicide, and addiction both via Mary Jane Paul’s talk show, Talk Back, and in her personal life. And she, of course, addresses issues of visibility, race, and colorism, being a Black woman and a news anchor, and has done so with real-life activists like Michaela Angela Davis and singer India Arie making appearances.
The Simpsons might be a cartoon, and the show might be 27 years deep, but its penchant for political satire and commentary is still very sharp. And don’t sleep on Lisa Simpson, a true feminist character who always fights for women’s rights.
Co-starring Emmy Award-winning actress Regina King and created by Oscar-winner John Ridley, this drama deals with race, gender and class in ways that are both subtle and overt, and that draw attention to the troubled flaws in our legal system.
The Daily Show
Under the guise of (not so) new host Trevor Noah, The Daily Show is never afraid to “go there.” Hilarious, sharp, political – TDS attacks the absurd and the unbelievable with healthy doses of reality.
Fresh Off The Boat
Based off of the book by Eddie Huang, Fresh Off The Boat has probably raised a few eyebrows from its title alone. A term that has been used derogatorily towards Asians, perhaps the show is trying to reclaim the phrase? Critics (Huang especially) have been tough on FOB, saying it enforces stereotypes. Set in 1990s Orlando, Florida, the comedy tackles cultural differences and, yes, stereotypes, in a clever, unique way.