Help my friend improve her TV diet!
June 30, 2016 11:58 AM   Subscribe

My friend has taken a vow to only watch television shows that have socially conscious casting and writing, and she's doing this by applying what I'll call "The Nanton Test." Can you recommend well-written shows that fit the bill?

Here are the criteria. Any given show doesn't have to meet all of them, but the more criteria it does meet the better.

The main cast of the show should include juicy, socially engaged characters who are:
--people of color
--members of the QUILTBAG community
--people living with disabilities
and the show itself should have
--a diverse writer's room.

I was able to think of ER, Ugly Betty, Oz, Glee and, er, Degrassi. But I know there must be more. Help my friend binge!
posted by zeusianfog to Society & Culture (38 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Please turn her on to Lady Dynamite. Maria Bamford is so hilarious, talented and kind. But especially hilarious.

The first 2 episodes are a little hard to follow because it establishes three separate timelines - but from there it takes off completely. She's a joy to watch.

Edit: I don't know about diversity in the writer's room, but she seems to tick all of your other boxes.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:05 PM on June 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Fosters is new, a inter racial lesbian couple foster a mutli racial group of children, who deal with queer and class issues. Also, there is some discussion of learning disabilties. I think the writers room is diverse.
posted by PinkMoose at 12:05 PM on June 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Scandal and How to get away with murder both come to mind.
posted by Captain_Science at 12:08 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Orange is the New Black
posted by threesquare at 12:08 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "socially engaged characters", but two shows come to mind:

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ticks pretty much every one of your boxes. Don't let the title put you off. (The one exception is that the writers' room, while gender-balanced, is still mostly white.)

Master of None fits the bill pretty well, too.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:10 PM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you don't mind going a few years back, this sounds like the Wire.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:11 PM on June 30, 2016

Do you need each show to have ALL of these things?

There aren't a ton of TV shows that have casts that are diverse in terms of race, sexual orientation/gender identity, and also gender. Because you only have a certain number of principle characters in the cast, and the show can only tell so many kinds of stories. Not to argue in favor of a lack of diversity, but for example a show like Fresh Off The Boat meets all her criteria, but doesn't deal with queer themes basically ever, because it's kind of outside the scope of the show. Orphan Black is amazingly feminist and deals with queer and trans issues a lot, but the cast isn't terribly diverse because... it's mostly just one woman playing clones of herself. Agents Of SHIELD is also very diverse and does feminism well, but it's an action adventure show so identity politics, sexual orientation, etc. almost never comes up. It's just a diverse group of people chasing bad guys through warehouses, mostly.

Some ideas if you really need ALL of these criteria:

My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (racially diverse cast, major themes of the show are super feminist, and there's currently a subplot about queer supporting characters)

Brooklyn 99 (cast is diverse racially and gender-wise, one of the main characters is a black gay man)

Probably a lot of Shonda Rhimes shows, but I haven't watched enough of them religiously enough to know whether LGBTQ themes are ever predominantly featured/there are ever any openly non-cis/hetero characters.

Since women only make up 25% of the WGA, and I don't have stats on POC but... it's really not a lot ... you will probably have the hardest time finding shows with diverse writers' rooms. Especially if you're looking for a high degree of diversity/lack of tokenism, and diversity on a variety of fronts. You're mostly going to find a lot of shows with two or three women, a gay guy, and a token person of color.
posted by Sara C. at 12:12 PM on June 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

I don't know about the writer's room (the executive producers are all white, but half are women), but Grace and Frankie ticks off a lot of the other boxes and is pretty good.
posted by Etrigan at 12:12 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Brooklyn 99 has a diverse cast and the captain is gay and in an interracial marriage. My favorite thing about this is how this is not played for laughs or "unusual" factor, he's just married with married issues the same as anyone else who is married which I don't usually expect from sitcoms. Otherwise diverse cast including Terry Crewes (always great) who is frequently concerned about how to be both masculine and sensitive. Several good female roles, though not as prominent as I would like. Producers and writers appear to be all dudes tho.
posted by jessamyn at 12:13 PM on June 30, 2016 [8 favorites]

Orange is the New Black does not have a diverse writing staff. There was some to-do about this, but I don't remember the details. Otherwise it fits.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:14 PM on June 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

Difficult People fulfills most of those characteristics and makes me laugh like a better Curb Your Enthusiasm. It looks like Julie Klausner is a one-(white) woman writers' room, and the characters are often mean and petty. They're also often right (library water really is delicious). Here's a summary.
posted by witchen at 12:15 PM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Broad City does a better job with QUILTBAG stuff, the two main characters are Jewish women and the writers' room is a lot more diverse.
posted by jessamyn at 12:15 PM on June 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Grey's Anatomy fulfills all the requirements with gusto. The Mindy Project comes close. Switched at Birth doesn't tick all the boxes but hits some of them so well that I would highly recommend it.
posted by telegraph at 12:22 PM on June 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

Seconding Grey's Anatomy.

While Glee may have all kinds of characters and the main producer is a gay guy, it still manages to be really offensive about pretty much any issue.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:26 PM on June 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

Blackish - fun sitcom starring a black family and they balance traditional sitcom plots with engaging with tough topics

Transparent (not racially diverse and while not at all perfect, the presentation of women's sexuality is really interesting in the second season and it also tries to provide some queer history)

Brooklyn 99--seconding. It also features that rare quality of characters who like and respect one another, even through conflict.
posted by purple_bird at 12:33 PM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jane the Virgin
posted by galvanized unicorn at 12:35 PM on June 30, 2016 [11 favorites]

How to Get Away with Murder ticks most of the boxes though it is also a bit of a bonkers show and requires much suspension of disbelief. (Still love it though.)

Avoid Glee. LoonyLovegood is right. It's an infuriatingly offensive show.
posted by thereemix at 12:47 PM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing Grey's Anatomy. Almost every single main character falls into one or more of the categories you list - and some fall into three or more.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:10 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Definitely Jane the Virgin. The premise is certainly ridiculous but it's such a funny, engaging show. The main character is a Latina woman, most of the characters are Latino.
posted by radioamy at 1:12 PM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm going to suggest New Girl. It has turned out to be one of the most wonderfully weird shows, the cast has at times been more than half PoC, and there are frequent discussions of feminist thought, white privilege, and other progressive topics. I'm not sure about the writer's room, but the show's producers include PoC.

No main cast QUILTBAG characters, but there are several in the secondary cast, and they are non-stereotypical.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:18 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

House actually has a lot of interesting things to say about disability, addiction, diverse groups of adults working together, sickness, health, fate, family, lying and loving etc and in a surprisingly non judgy way for American tv. It has nothing much to say about the larger culture but for a workplace drama I was surprised by how complex and interesting the characters are. It's refreshing to watch a show about ambitious, selfish, flawed, adults at work that doesn't always have happy endings. Or ever, really.
posted by fshgrl at 1:48 PM on June 30, 2016

Please watch Scandal.
posted by Night_owl at 2:00 PM on June 30, 2016

Also unsure what "socially engaged" means, but The Expanse on SyFi checks all of those boxes, some more than others.
posted by Ookseer at 2:44 PM on June 30, 2016

Sense8 should make her happy:

"A multinational ensemble cast starring Tuppence Middleton, Brian J. Smith, Doona Bae, Aml Ameen, Max Riemelt, Tina Desai, Miguel Ángel Silvestre and Jamie Clayton portrays eight strangers from different parts of the world who suddenly become "sensates"; human beings who are mentally and emotionally linked. Freema Agyeman, Terrence Mann, Anupam Kher, Naveen Andrews and Daryl Hannah also star. The show aims to explore subjects that its creators feel have historically not been emphasized in most science fiction shows to date,[7][8] such as politics, identity, sexuality, AIDS, gender and religion.[8][9]"
posted by current resident at 4:24 PM on June 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Adventure Time!
posted by fritillary at 4:33 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

As Ookseer says, The Expanse has a lot of diversity and social engagement, which comes from the books. From an interview with one of the authors:
It was always our intention to have a future world that included women who were strong as characters, and we also had a male central protagonist. In Leviathan Wakes, we made the choice that, when we found people in positions of power, we’d try to make them women to balance out the fact that both of our protagonists were men. And so, Yao and Shaddid. The later books wound up feeding into that too. One of the interesting things about that structure is that one of the point of view positions in every book is this one guy. If you try to keep the rest of the character mix balanced, what you’ve really built is an engine for generating interesting female characters. So Caliban’s War had room for one new male character—Prax—and two women—Bobbie and Avasarala. Abaddon’s Gate had room for a guy—Bull—and two women—Anna and Melba.

When the time came to adapt the books into a show, we had a lot of very interesting, complicated, fully conceived characters that were also women.…

Having any hyper-competent character and keeping them well-rounded—regardless of gender—involves giving them weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and moments of relaxation. Avasarala has her husband, Arjun. Her complex relationship with her dead son. Muss has terrible taste in men. Bobbie in season two will also have her weaknesses.

That said, in the books at least, some of our experiments aren’t as successful as others. Everyone loves Avasarala and Bobbie in part because they’re competent and powerful. But that same book has Prax, who is just as non-traditional by being an explicitly nurturing man. He doesn’t get the same love. In book four, we have Elvi who is very good at her job, but is emotionally a charming fuck-up (to borrow your term) and isn’t as easy to embrace.
posted by Lexica at 4:35 PM on June 30, 2016

Being Mary Jane!!! Almost entirely PoC cast; very attentive to social issues both in overtly didactic ways and through the plots/narrative; central character is a woman with women friends and relatives (including her mother, who has lupus) whose relationships are explored as much as her relationships with male partners; a couple of secondary queer characters. And created by Mara Brock Akil with many writers and directors of color (including Regina King!) 3 seasons on Netflix, season 4 to come with a new showrunner on BET. Also it's an often beautifully lit and shot show that is full of heart and can be really funny and sexy.

While she's at it, Brock Akil's sitcom, Girlfriends (starring Tracee Ellis Ross, now on black-ish), might also be of interest, but I'm not sure where it's streaming.

I haven't watched The Carmichael Show, but I've heard some good things, and it has diverse talent behind the scenes as well (and won a GLAAD award).

An older show that fits some of these criteria (a pretty white writers room but the showrunner, Veena Sud, was a woman of color) would need to be acquired through...less overground means: Cold Case. Central female character, cases tend to revolve around issues of social justice.

Also older and I don't know about streaming, but Noah's Arc was a deeply charming show that was like Sex and the City, but about gay black men (and featuring Wilson Cruz from My So-Called Life!!).

Newer stuff: she should keep an eye on Issa Rae and maybe go back and watch her webseries.

Also the OJ Simpson show on FX was GREAT. Majority white writer's room (1 black writer, 1 woman and John Singleton directed an episode). Obviously not very queer subject matter. But just an amazing consideration of how complex histories of race and class and gender are woven into everyday life. The restriction of trying to tell a true story seemed to really enable all involved to shine.

Finally, I'm surprised no one's mentioned Empire! Not precisely a feminist show (though Taraji P. Henson is just EVERYTHING) but it does have a diverse writers room alongside its diverse cast, and does attend, however clumsily, to issues including mental illness, the prison-industrial complex, and sexuality.

Diverse writers' room is definitely your biggest hurdle here. Good luck and happy watching!
posted by kickingthecrap at 7:35 PM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can't believe I'm the first person to mention Pretty Little Liars. Bonkers plots later on* but it checks most of your friends' boxes (a quick google search shows a decently diverse writers room and the executive producer is a lesbian), it's pretty fun, very feminist, and I've been told the plots involving queer women ring true.

You should absolutely include Scandal and Grey's Anatomy.

*I stopped after the first few seasons because it got kind of over the top for me, but that pretty much always happens to me with soaps, so YMMV. And the first few seasons were fantastic.
posted by lunasol at 9:00 PM on June 30, 2016

PLL is a great guilty pleasure show if you don't mind the complete ridiculousness, and it certainly has a PoC gay main character, but later seasons manage to be incredibly offensive to mentally ill and trans people, plus while it started off with rather independent young women, it is now filled with nothing but relationship drama and needing the guys to rescue them. It is a great show to snark at (the reddit PLL community gives me life), but I don't think it fits your criteria.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 9:47 PM on June 30, 2016

So then I guess my PLL watching was unexpectedly strategic!
posted by lunasol at 10:19 PM on June 30, 2016

Another plug for Being Mary Jane, I think you'll find it's exactly what you're looking for in terms of content. Don't know about writers room.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:27 PM on June 30, 2016

The L Word
posted by lakemarie at 10:41 PM on June 30, 2016

posted by pompomtom at 12:50 AM on July 1, 2016

Steven Universe. Not sure about diversity in the writer's room or main cast with disabilities but it ticks all of the other boxes (while still being appropriate for children, which is a pretty good trick.)
posted by murphy slaw at 2:00 AM on July 1, 2016

The writers/storyboard artists behind Steven Universe are definitely diverse (those two lists have a lot of overlap). A great number of the voice cast are people of color. I think it counts.
posted by darksong at 8:14 AM on July 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Came to recommend Sense8, left with a lot of recs!
posted by kariebookish at 8:52 AM on July 1, 2016

The Expanse! Multi-ethnic, multi-world scifi with one of the characters being the product of an eight person family group.
posted by Phalene at 6:45 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

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