How to become a person - tv edition
January 7, 2019 7:26 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to watch more of my favorite type of tv show: an android, robot, alien, or supernaturally cursed or just plain old traumatized person learns how to be a person when they're not sure they can. The key to humanity should not be the love of a good woman (or women's emotional labor in general, unless it's reciprocated). Some examples inside -- I would love your recommendations for more!

Obviously, Data in Star Trek:TNG is the ur-example. He managed his own journey, explored lots of aspects of humanity, and was a better person than pretty much all of the people around him, even if he couldn't see it. Plus, he's hilarious.

Other examples I've identified include The Good Place (pretty much everyone, but, also, Janet), Supernatural (Sam initially, Dean later), The End of the F***ing World (both James & Alyssa), most of the other Treks (Spock, Hugh, Odo, 7 of 9), and pretty much every vampire show (Buffy, Angel, Vampire Diaries, etc, though these all violate the no woman as savior rule).

Any suggestions for tv shows that include a main/recurring character like this? I obviously enjoy sci-fi and supernatural shows, but am absolutely open to regular drama and comedy as well. Suggestions for books and movies are also great!
posted by snaw to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Westworld. I cringed through the first episode because I thought it might just be a vehicle for the gratuitous abuse of women, but it is so good.
posted by stowaway at 7:35 PM on January 7, 2019

Schitt’s Creek is slow-burn magic.
posted by mochapickle at 7:49 PM on January 7, 2019 [12 favorites]

30 Rock from the Sun seems like a good fit.
posted by cabingirl at 7:49 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is basically why I think Legion is such a great show, although I've only seen the first season.
posted by Little Dawn at 7:52 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by oceanjesse at 8:13 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Blade Runner 2049 is a perfect example of this. It’s on HBO Go at the moment, but it’s leaving soon. (As a bonus, the romantic side-plot features an artificial intelligence who gets her own mini-arc about trying to learn to be a person.)
posted by ejs at 8:27 PM on January 7, 2019

The Helena clone on Orphan Black
posted by brookeb at 8:38 PM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The main conceit is that someone drops everything and moves to California (from NY) because an ex from her band camp days "just happens to live there." While that's the impetus for the show, the bigger arc is her trying to become a better person (and sometimes failing spectacularly along the way). It is a comedy and also it's a musical. And don't let the iffy title scare you off like it did me.
posted by O9scar at 8:46 PM on January 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

Dexter. Maybe? Although there are women in his life, I don’t think his journey is marked by “the love of a good woman.” But more that his relationships offer some stability in his life and provide insight into himself as he interacts and reflects on his interactions with others. He’s a complex character that’s just trying to be or at least seem normal. I love that show.

“They make it look so easy. Connecting with another human being. It's like no one told them it's the hardest thing in the world.” Dexter
posted by Sassyfras at 8:54 PM on January 7, 2019

Book: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. An AI who ends up in a body not by her own decision bonds with diverse sapient beings and learns about chosen family. Not explicitly gay or trans but could ring a lot of bells for some LGBTQ folks. #2 in a trilogy but could stand alone.
posted by matildaben at 9:09 PM on January 7, 2019 [12 favorites]

The female android in Dark Matter embarks on a similar journey. If you want a spoiler, let's just say that love of a good woman scenario is flipped a bit on its head. (The series ends on a cliffhanger as it didn't get a proper final season/episode) but I still think the show is worth watching.
posted by sardonyx at 9:14 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:17 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Dark Matter: Six people wake up on a derelict spaceship with no memories of who they are or how they got on board. Their search to rediscover their identities leads them through moral dilemmas, violent confrontations with outsiders, and the question of do they really even want their old memories back if they decide they don't like who they used to be. Side plot involving the ship's Android discovering and exploring her humanity.

Warning: The show starts out seeming super tropey and the characters seem like they will fall into some pretty tired stereotypes. I encouraged a friend to watch it and he texted me 10 minutes in asking me "Why are you making me watch this garbage?". I told him the show would take his first impression and smash it. Now its one of his favourite shows, the character he predicted he would hate became his favourite, and he's still mourning the fact that it was
cancelled after the 3rd season.

Killjoys: More Canadian Sci Fi. A woman trained since childhood to be an assassin struggles to escape her past, build connections with her chosen family, and learn how to be a "normal" person. A disgraced ex-soldier copes with guilt and PTSD and tries to rebuild his relationship with his younger brother.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:43 PM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Mr. Robot, though ironically it’s not actually about a robot! The main character is a lonely, socially isolated hacker with serious mental illnesses from a traumatic childhood. He doesn’t believe he’ll ever be able to be “normal” but throughout the series we do see him building relationships with people and becoming more “human.” I root for him so hard.

Several other characters have similar struggles and one of the best/most painful parts of the show is watching them alternately connect with each other and hurt each other.
posted by the sockening at 10:13 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am old enough to think that 'Mork and Mindy' qualifies.
posted by h00py at 10:15 PM on January 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

This will be the second thread in a day where I suggest The OA; a super-odd piece of TV where the main character is, in many ways, relearning or redefining what it means to be a person. She is joined on that journey by some others also in the process of defining, redefining, finding themselves.
posted by Iteki at 10:45 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Being Erica is about a woman who feels completely lost in her life. She is full of regrets and believes if she had just made the right choices she would be fine. Enter time travelling regret undoing 90s nostalgia therapy hilarity.

Over time Erica learns who she is and basically how to be a person.

Although human to start with the show deals with all those important milestones in life. Similar vibe to the Good Place but a slower burn.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 11:25 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding mochapickle's answer (Schitt's Creek); it is EXACTLY what you're looking for. And it's easy to marathon it: the episodes are about 22 minutes, and the seasons have 12 or 13 episodes. There are currently four seasons on Netflix. Fifth season starts tonight; I'm sure you can find ways of watching/acquiring.

I watch or watched and loved (almost) all of the shows you listed, so hopefully our tastes will continue to match :D

Trailer for Season 1

(Personal caveat - Season 1 is... uneven. But the quality shoots way up in Seasons 2 and 3, and Season 4 is just *chef's fingers kiss*)
posted by tzikeh at 12:10 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, and Leverage. Could apply to any one of the five main characters, really.
posted by tzikeh at 12:12 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

My Name Is Earl.
posted by jzb at 2:33 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Visit to a small planet
posted by Morpeth at 3:42 AM on January 8, 2019

Lucifer is mostly this. It might rely a bit too much on the love of a good woman, but one of the things I like about it is that the good woman doesn't take much shit from him or do a tremendous amount of emotional hand holding. Instead, he has a therapist for that. Admittedly, he sleeps with the therapist so it is a bit weird but she is still largely teaching him in her professional capacity and she doesn't take much shit from him either.

For the most part, he is the one who cares about the detective and it is his love that changes him, not hers. I don't know if that fits your bill, though.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:23 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

There's certainly an element of House that revolves arounnd House trying to be less of a an opposition ally-defiant-Sherlockbot and grow into some sort of a Real Boy.

Speaking of Sherlock there's a similar dynamic in Jonny Lee Miller's portrayal of the character in Elementary.

As an aside - I like this aspect of character development and would kill for a decent adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Reaper Man.
posted by mce at 5:27 AM on January 8, 2019

Amos Burton in The Expanse. The show explores this well as one character arc among others, but the book series get inside his head more in book 5, Nemesis Games.
posted by BrashTech at 5:44 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

There was a sci fi TV series called Almost Human which I enjoyed but got cancelled too early in its run.

(also, you may want to go to imdb and look up shows you like -- there's a "more like this" section in the middle which is pretty good at accurately recommending thematically similar media)
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:00 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to include anime, then Violet Evergarden sounds like it might be just what you're looking for.

It's about a young woman who was raised as a child soldier, and her attempts to find her own identity and learn to express her emotions after the war is over.
posted by teraflop at 7:25 AM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Being Human the US version. You’ve got a vampire, werewolf and ghost trying to live as normal people.
posted by hazel79 at 7:45 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think The Drop might fit the bill here. hands down one of my favorite movies. (!also, Danny the dog!!)
posted by speakeasy at 8:59 AM on January 8, 2019

Farscape! In which bred-from-birth Peacekeeper soldier Aeryn Sun learns to care about other people and form healthy relationships. Although one of the mechanisms for change is the love of a man (he's only sometimes good, and certainly has his own problems).
posted by suelac at 10:21 AM on January 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


+1 +1 +1 +1 +1

It's another one where it's a little while until suddenly the show is AWESOME (most fans agree that happens in Season 1, Episode 16, "A Human Reaction"), and once you get to that tipping point, Farscape is the best, and as suelac says, Aeryn Sun's journey is absolutely what you're looking for (the love of a man plays into it but Aeryn is 100% her own woman and her growth is due to her own work and her own reasoning).

I usually hook people on Farscape by telling them to get a large bottle of their favorite wine and just stick with it until S01E016, because that first two-thirds of the first season veers hard from mediocre to fabulous to AWFUL and back, but I promise you that it's all worth it. It's like a roller coaster (if you like roller coasters). That first bit, where you're just sitting as it climbs the first hill, and sitting, and climbing, and sitting, and climbing, but THEN! It careens down this track that you didn't see coming and you're on a whole new roller coaster and it's AMAZING.

On top of Aeryn Sun's personal journey, you also get a show that wow, continuity, that there was a throwaway line in the first season and now it's a major plot point in the fourth season? Okay, everybody gets gold stars.

(The "fifth season" is a mini-series because they were canceled at the end of fourth season after they had been promised five seasons when they were renewed after season 3, and then there was fan support and so on and so SciFi gave them a few hours to wrap up. So when you watch it, just imagine it as a pitch for season 5. You can fill in the gaps.)

<3 <3 <3
posted by tzikeh at 10:42 AM on January 8, 2019

Oh good, you mentioned books! I had a really slow start (actually put it down) with Ann Leckie's "Ancillary Justice" series but came back and got totally hooked. Strongly recommend.

+1 on Dark Matter although the more you like the android character (I like her a lot and she has exactly the kind of character development I think you're after) the angrier you'll be about the series cancellation.
posted by HaveYouTriedRebooting at 11:25 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh man, Steven Universe might be right up your alley. Steven exists because his mother, Rose Quartz, was so enamored of humanity that she gave up her physical form to become half of him—and the show does a good job of exploring the reasons why she would want to do this and the impact it had on her friends and loved ones. The characters Peridot and Lapis Lazuli also grapple with some of these issues in their respective character arcs. Plus, if you haven't seen it, the whole show is an earnest, heart-warming delight and features the best friendships, sci-fi/magical girl-style hijinks, and space lesbians. It is GRAND.
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:41 AM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Caveat: I am a grown adult woman who has long loved the productions of ABC Family (now Freeform) and Kyle XY is exactly this. Unfortunately, it wasn't renewed after season 3 so it doesn't finish but it is satisfying enough in and of itself that it's still worth it. That said, I'm really not sure where you can watch it, as it doesn't show up on Can I Stream It as being anywhere.
posted by urbanlenny at 1:04 PM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Violet Evergarden if you are ok with Anime.Got punched in the feels (in a good way) a bunch with that one.
posted by forforf at 3:01 PM on January 8, 2019

I just remembered The Pretender. Each episode had at least some amount of subplot about the hero discovering a part of life he'd missed while growing up at the research center.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:28 PM on January 8, 2019

Pretty much the whole cast of Person of Interest evolves to the human state you describe, from near-robot-like self-centeredness, over the course of the show.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:40 PM on January 8, 2019

I love this story as well! Allow me to second the recs for The Pretender (at least the first few seasons before it went off the rails with the mytharc), Leverage, and Person of Interest. I haven't seen Westworld, but a lot of the people who did Person of Interest work on that show, so if you like one you may also like the other. Leverage and PoI are both pretending to be procedural-type case of the week shows but have amazing character arcs and continuity arcs if you give them a little time to hit their stride.
posted by oblique red at 8:03 AM on January 9, 2019

So, you guys get me. And, I can't believe I forgot to list Amos as an example. I've already enjoyed about 90% of the sci-fi suggestions here, and am looking forward to checking out the ones I haven't seen and watching the non-sci-fi options as well!
posted by snaw at 5:10 AM on January 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

For books, This Book Will Save Your Life.
posted by dobbs at 5:59 PM on January 11, 2019

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