Looking for positive TV shows that are streaming online
April 21, 2015 12:19 AM   Subscribe

I've been trying to find shows to watch streaming (Netflix US or Amazon Prime) that are interesting and entertaining without being cynical, negative, and/or over-the-top violent and gory, after realizing a lot of things I had been watching were pretty dark. Does anyone have any recommendations?

I got on this train of thought when I started watching Murder She Wrote and Columbo over stuff like CSI and Bones (the latter of which is basically gore porn) while simultaneously getting really frustrated by how Cutthroat Kitchen doesn't actually allow people to perform well + remembering how much I liked Good Eats.

More guidelines: Warehouse 13 and Psych fit, Breaking Bad and Law+Order SVU don't. House is borderline. I really wish How It's Made was still all on Netflix because that was my #1 go-to.
posted by flatluigi to Media & Arts (53 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Possibly The West Wing?
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:24 AM on April 21, 2015 [14 favorites]

Being Erica
posted by mathiu at 12:29 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Holy cow, I was just typing Being Erica when mathiu's comment popped up!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:31 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, Freaks and Geeks.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:34 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Bob's Burgers, The Vicar of Dibley, Parks & Recreation, Raising Hope, Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, Eureka (you probably watched that if you watched Warehouse 13 though). Those are all Netflix. Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis are on Amazon Prime and I love them because they're so much less cynical than a lot of similar ensemble scifi.
posted by Mizu at 12:46 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

100% nthing Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:49 AM on April 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Parks & Recreation, Parenthood.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 1:07 AM on April 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

'Call the Midwife' is my non-cynical televisual comfort food of choice. And 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' is *incredible.*
posted by nerdfish at 1:29 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

Better link for Dead Like Me
posted by BoscosMom at 2:14 AM on April 21, 2015

I can relate. Almost all the dramas I'm watching are dark and cynical. There are lots of good sitcom style shows, but no engrossing dramas that don't revolve around crime. I had to add a disc plan to find engrossing shows that balance out all the murder and mayhem.

Doctor Who kind of fits the bill, though it's erratic. Some episodes are great, some are stupid beyond measure, and the overall story arcs rarely make any sense. Still, it's mostly fun.

Les revenants / The Returned is a French ghost story. Or maybe a zombie story, but it's haunting more than violent. There are no flesh eating monsters.
posted by kanewai at 2:20 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

There's a Netflix show with just one season so far (anxiously awaiting season 2) called "Transparent"--it's sweet, funny, and incredibly touching.
posted by aimeedee at 2:52 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've pimped it here before -- yesterday, in fact! -- but King of the Hill manages to be funny and irreverent while also being life-affirming and upbeat.
posted by apparently at 3:05 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Bletchley Circle, I just wish there had been more of them.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:10 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sorry I fail at trying to figure out whats streaming and where but if you can find them:

Educating Essex and Educating Yorkshire. Fly on the wall docusoaps in British schools, total happies abound. This documentary style is something channel 4 in the UK have been doing lots of recently, they rig a place up with many remote controlled cameras and end up capturing some really genuine and natural stuff. Similar Fix Rig shows include one in an A&E (ER) - (24 Hours in A&E) and one in a maternity ward (One Born Every Minute) - both also very life affirming but a bit more squick obviously. I understand there's a US version of One Born Every Minute.

The wildlife documentaries The Bear Family and Me and the Snow Wolf Family and Me by Gordon Buchanan are delightful. I can no longer see clips of a brown bear without trilling the mantra 'Hey bear, hey bear' under my breath.

Alongside Parks and Rec - The Middle (ongoing) and Raising Hope (ended) are US sitcoms I've enjoyed because they are kind. Whilst the characters can tend more towards caricature than in Parks and Rec, the writers seem to have genuine affection for the families.
posted by Ness at 3:33 AM on April 21, 2015

Midsomer Murders fills a space between Murder, She Wrote and Law & Order. There's a bit more gore in the first few series (but even then it's pretty camp - thinking of 'Killings at Badger's Drift' here) but it lightens up. The darkest the main characters get is when they're late for their wives' book club or think that they don't actually want to live in the countryside and would prefer to live in a market town.

If House just makes your list on a case by case basis, try Inspector Morse (and later Inspector Lewis and then Endeavor). No darkness in Morse like House, just a resigned sorrow. No drugs either, just real ale.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:43 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

New Tricks, also a BBC production, is a series I enjoy watching when I want engaging and pretty non-stressful entertainment. I'm not sure if it's streaming on Netflix, but I did find a reference to it being available on Hulu.
posted by michswiss at 4:06 AM on April 21, 2015

You'd probably like Doc Martin (it's on Netflix).
posted by O9scar at 4:29 AM on April 21, 2015

Friday Night Lights, but be warned that there's a terrible plot line in season 2 that has a murder. Fortunately, the producers realized the plot line was a mistake and basically pretend that it didn't happen for the remainder of the show.

The marriage between Coach and Mrs. Coach is the best portrayal of a (more or less) happy marriage I've ever seen.
posted by griseus at 4:59 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Broad City!
posted by oceanjesse at 5:07 AM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

"Derek" and "The IT Crowd" come to mind.
posted by jcworth at 5:17 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

We LOVE "The Goldbergs". It's like The Wonder Years but in the 80's.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 5:19 AM on April 21, 2015

Happy comfort watches from my Netflix list:
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Gilmore Girls
Keeping Up Appearances

I also stream The Bob Newhart Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Hulu. I think retro shows are where it's at if you want more positivity.

Tragically, King of the Hill isn't streaming anywhere anymore.
posted by Alexandra Michelle at 6:06 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mozart in the Jungle, Alpha House, Betas and Transparent on Amazon Prime are terrific an not dark at all.

You've got some great Netflix sitcom recommendations above. Parks and Rec, Bob's Burgers, Kimmy Schmidt, Raising Hope and Malcolm In the Middle especially. There's also Arrested Development and Scrubs, Cheers, Futurama, The Office, 30 Rock, Better Off Ted, Undeclared, The IT Crowd, Don't Trust the B in Apt 23 (criminally underrated).

And if you like westerns in space, there's Firefly.
posted by General Malaise at 6:12 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was in a similar mood one day, and of all things I decided to try Drop Dead Diva, which is the stupidest premise, but is executed in a way that features lots of plot lines where people try to love and take care of each other by being kind. (Also lots of absurd court cases where the law is flagrantly violated but Bad People are given their comeuppance. It is totally absurd, but often satisfying after a day spent in the real world.)

I don’t know if it is streaming anywhere, but Due South is another show that I often watch when I am tired of grit and grim realism. The DVDs are super cheap on Amazon!

(also if you ever want to have extended conversations about Columbo and Murder She Wrote I would be so up for that. Columbo always ends up catching the one percent murderers by using their class/race/gender privilege against them! Jessica Fletcher gets hit on 11 times an episode and is too busy leading her awesome life to even pretend she cares! AMAZING)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:15 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

I can't believe this has twenty-five comments and no one's said Leverage yet, so: Leverage.
posted by MeghanC at 6:28 AM on April 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

It's only one season: The Finder.
posted by rtha at 6:30 AM on April 21, 2015

Pushing Daisies isn't streaming at the moment, but definitely put it on your list in case it reappears. Also, seconding Better Off Ted.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:46 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ooh, ooh, Terriers is still on Netflix. Another single-season show that deserved more.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:49 AM on April 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

I came in to say Leverage but should have known MeghanC would beat me to it since she's the one who got me watching it in the first place. Nonetheless: Leverage. At least the first three seasons. It's possible it turns grimdark after that and I just don't know it yet, but that seems unlikely.
posted by Stacey at 7:56 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not mentioned yet:
Mission Impossible (the original TV series)
Drunk History
posted by julen at 8:01 AM on April 21, 2015

I hit this point in my life a while back, too.

The Good Life/The Good Neighbours
No Reservations/The Layover/Parts Unknown go in and out of availability
Monk doesn't seem to be on either service right now, but that could change
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Star Trek, Doctor Who (both have dark episodes, but so does Warehouse 13)
Campion, if it comes back to Amazon
Last year's Cosmos, if you missed it

And if you enjoyed "How it's Made," it's worth rooting around on Youtube for NHK World's programs like Begin Japanology, The Mark of Beauty, Journeys in Japan, etc.
posted by wintersweet at 8:15 AM on April 21, 2015

I feel like it's impossible for you not to have seen Orange is the New Black, but: Orange is the New Black. Some sad things happen, but it's not a dark show. Mostly I think it's about resilience and women's relationships. And lots of it is quite funny.

I watched It last year at a time when I was feeling sad and vulnerable, and I found it was just the thing.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:32 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing Leverage. So great. Caper-ish Robin-Hood-y fun, team-as-family, humor, and a righteous thrill at the end of every case when a bad guy gets their comeuppance in an inevitably satisfying way. Plus, HARDISON. <3 <3 <3

Due South is a gentle and charming show and well worth a watch. Stargate Atlantis is silly, but it's fun silly.

When I recently had surgery and needed streaming comfort television, I watched a ton of British murder mysteries of what you'd likely call the "cozy" genre - the classic Christie adaptations, of course, and then some more modern - there's one with two ladies who run a landscapting business and solve crime which I think is called Rosemary and Thyme? And of course Midsomer Murders. If you go back to the early seasons, you can play spot-the-British-actor-before-or-after-they-got-famous (one favorite of mine has a pre-LOTR Orlando Bloom as a philandering postman (I think he was the postman? they all run together after a while) who gets stabbed with a pitchfork.
posted by oblique red at 8:32 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Inspector Lewis is on Amazon Prime and is essentially my favorite show ever. Lewis and Hathaway meetcute ... and then they fight crime! While becoming entangled in each other's lives and dramas and learning from each other and becoming fast friends, which is mostly what the show is about.

Pay no attention to the murders, for the most part. They're very calm, low-key, Oxford-style murders that happen mostly off-screen, and are handled very delicately by the camera.
posted by kythuen at 8:53 AM on April 21, 2015

While I nth Call the Midwife, I feel that you should know that most of the episodes are about bad things happening to moms or babies. It's still a super life-affirming, beautiful show, but if you're sensitive about that stuff, you might want to approach with caution.
posted by missrachael at 8:54 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - good luck getting the theme song out of your head. I thought Parks and Recreation was really endearing. I liked pretending that the characters actually were real people in Indiana somewhere. It's hard to explain but they all just seemed to support each other, even if they didn't always get along or like each other. It was very sweet. I don't know if it is available streaming anywhere but I've enjoyed Modern Family recently. It's not as sweet at Parks and Recreation but it's cute and funny.
posted by kat518 at 9:11 AM on April 21, 2015

Jane the Virgin, despite its ridiculous title and premise, is really really good. There's some cartoon violence in a few episodes (in service of the convoluted soap-opera plot), and plenty of emotional highs and lows, but all in all it's a cheerful, positive show. It's wrapping up its first season now, so hopefully it will pop up on streaming services some time soon.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:11 AM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is on Netflix and is like Murder She Wrote if Jessica Fletcher were a fortyish flapper in 1920s Melbourne.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:24 AM on April 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

The Great British Baking Show is streaming on pbs.org. I've only watched the latest season, but it is very much unlike American cooking competitions in that there is zero manufactured drama (one legitimate controversy that people ultimately handle like adults), and everyone on the show seemed to have become genuine friends.

The same goes generally for the British versions of cooking competition shows. Even Gordon Ramsay, and even Kitchen Nightmares to some extent.
posted by cmoj at 10:48 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

Gilmore Girls is exactly like this, in my opinion. There are some tense emotional moments, but overall it's nice people getting mad at each other or caught up in misunderstandings and then making up eventually because they're nice people (caveat: I'm only 3 seasons in). Call the Midwife is also perfect for this purpose.
posted by MadamM at 11:09 AM on April 21, 2015

CBC has Murdoch Mysteries streaming. Set in turn-of-last-century Toronto, its a really good murder mystery show with New! Technology! experiments courtesy of the eponymous Detective Murdoch. Like finger marks and using cameras. The supporting cast is great too, and in the last season they've been exploring Suffragette issues, which has been fun. CBC has season one, then five through eight (I don't know what they did with two through four
posted by sandraregina at 11:28 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Librarians

It is a bit of a mix of Leverage and Warehouse 13.
posted by Shanda at 1:20 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Downton Abbey
posted by sandmanwv at 1:23 PM on April 21, 2015

After a winter of dark and deathy things, I'm shocked that I'm now watching Glee. Because it is way better than it should be and the only non-deathy show I've been able to stand since Leverage ended.

Seriously, I could have written this question almost word for word, but for the exact shows.

If you'd still like a bit of police competence porn that isn't really dark, Flashpoint is amazing. See Wikipedia for the correct viewing order.
posted by monopas at 3:41 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding 'Freaks and Geeks' - that show is just pure kindness and empathy and joy, even when it touches on uncomfortable stuff. It's just a wonderful, funny, life-affirming show all round and I couldn't recommend it more.

Also, 'Futurama'. Futurama, Futurama, Futurama. It's just the best - so ridiculously funny and wise and brilliant. Futurama is my ultimate go-to show. If you haven't watched any of it, you're in for such a treat.

I have to say, I don't think 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' is *that* good - I mean, it's definitely positive and enjoyable, but in terms of giving ME a real sense of hope and optimism, as opposed to just the main character having one, it doesn't come anywhere near 'Freaks and Geeks' and 'Futurama'.

British shows are an absolute goldmine. There's so much satire and cynicism in most of them, but if you want ones that are more positive, 'The Trip' is just lovely (and hilarious). It's got two small seasons and you can watch them quickly, and you'll feel just great afterwards (with a serious itch to go driving around the British countryside).

Finally, as mentioned above, I'm making my way through the Neil DeGrasse Tyson remake of Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos' - it's absolute magic. That, plus David Attenborough's BBC series' 'Blue Planet' and 'Life on Earth' are just about as positive as you can get.

Enjoy :)
posted by considerthelilies at 4:29 PM on April 21, 2015

If you've been enjoying Columbo, you might like Emergency! (Note that the exclamation mark is in the show name.) Mid-70s drama about paramedics, when paramedics were sort of a novelty. Sometimes exciting, but not gory; a regular cast of characters but not overly serious about them.

It's been my TV comfort food lately, although in my case that's also because I watched a TON of it as a kid.

(Similarly, maybe give the old Hawaii 5-O a try.)
posted by epersonae at 4:41 PM on April 21, 2015

Sitcom: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
A teenage girl is kidnapped in the mid-90's, and forced to live in a bomb shelter for fifteen years, which is run by a cult. She's rescued, and since she always read about NY being the place to go, she goes there and tries to make a life of it, letting nothing get her down for long.

This seems like The Show You're Asking For.

Reality show: The Voice.
So, most reality shows make it work by treating the contestants terribly, or by the contestants treating each other terribly, or by the contestants treating themselves terribly. The Voice on NBC is none of those things; it's like watching decent performers steadily improve while getting all-positive feedback from anyone in a position of power, ie, the judges.

The judges are friendly with each other, and generally great human beings. They heap praise onto folks who haven't always gotten a lot of that. And some of those people turn out to *shine* with that newfound feedback, which is damn pleasant to watch.

It has it's flaws, but I like it.

Public Television: Antiques Road Show
It's Americana. And every once in awhile, you get to see someone realize their heirloom is worth a million bucks. And every once in awhile, you see someone who you're certain... isn't going to sell that heirloom, as they wanted to know, not to sell.

Bob Ross and his happy trees also would have fit here.
posted by talldean at 8:07 PM on April 21, 2015

Family Tree is on Amazon Prime. Chris O'Dowd stars as Tom. He inherits a trunk full of odd treasures and he tracks down his ancestors through the curios. It is oddly entertaining with quirky characters, esp the woman with the monkey puppet.

Chris O'Dowd is also in Moone Boy where he plays the imaginary friend of Martin Moone in 1990s Ireland. Very funny. Not sure where it is streaming.

Rosemary & Thyme (Netflix) is in the vein of Murder She Wrote. British gardeners who remarkably find a body in every garden.

Alpha House is good. Bored to Death is another quirky show--Jason Schwartzman sets up as an unlicensed private eye after breaking up with his GF and struggling to write a novel.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 8:39 PM on April 21, 2015

Dropped back in to secondJohnny Assay's 'Jane the Virgin' recommendation! I'm not sure where it's available to stream, but it is 110% my favourite show right now and totally fits the 'positive' brief. It's a yummy, delicious, Almodovar-flvoured telenovela, with glorious performances and a batshit plot. A++!
posted by nerdfish at 1:44 AM on April 22, 2015

I asked a nearly-identical question on Facebook about a month ago, right down to describing House as borderline. I've been working my way through my friends' recs and so far they're spot-on. I've watched most of these on Netflix but not sure of current availability.

Strong recs from me, some already on this thread:
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, No Reservations, Bomb Girls, The Paradise, Leverage, Cosmos (old or new), Bramwell, The Great British Bake Off (old eps on Youtube, new eps on PBS), various BBC panel shows on Youtube (I like Would I Lie To You and QI.) Secrets of the Dead is a PBS show that, considering the name, is really low on the grossout porn.

Ones my friends mentioned, but which I don't personally feel as strongly about or haven't seen: Modern Family, 30 Rock, Big Bang Theory, Supernatural, White Collar, Veep, Call The Midwife*, Scrubs, Larkrise to Candleford.

* I can't personally handle this show for the reasons mentioned upthread, and yet I love the tiny bits I see in between fast-forwarding.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:01 AM on April 23, 2015

I recently watched the Netflix show Sense8 and it made me think of this thread in a way I didn't anticipate. I thought it would be mostly action and sci-fi oriented--and it is both of those things, but I was surprised at how genuinely touching and uplifting I found it. The main group of people do have bad guys after them, and some bad things happen to them (it's not violence-free), but mostly it is about people being kind to each other and supporting each other. I found it an oddly positive show to watch. It's very much about love, community, and caring for other people. Also, bonus, it's often surprisingly quite funny.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:09 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

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