Critic's Notebook: How TV Can Save Us From Our Post-Election Grief

Boycott cable news, but by all means seek solace in a good comedy (NBC's 'The Good Place,' for example) or a drama like 'The Americans,' which takes us back to the relative comfort of the Reagan years (yes, today is that bad).
Courtesy of FOX; Courtesy of NBC; Courtesy of FX
From left: 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine,' 'The Good Place' and 'The Americans'

Hey, who's up for some escapist television?

Yes, it's mourning in America for millions of people. Yes, it's a national nightmare we might not wake up from until 2020. Yes, it's shocking and depressing and unbelievable. I was there. I saw it, too, and vented on Twitter (for all the good that will do) and disgustedly watched it unfold on several TV news channels  I had written about avoiding for more than a year  just a day before the reckoning.

Now we're all spun and hopeless and hurting and searching.

We all have ways of coping. Months ago on Twitter I began only looking at the "mentions" feed — people interacting with me about television and maybe a few other things — getting back to them when possible, which is essentially the deal made between the person being followed and said followers. I stopped even looking at my Twitter timeline (of people I follow) because it was filled with political garbage, hand-wringing worry and lecturing that slowly morphed into smugness until it careened last night into shocked horror, finger-pointing and dread.

Yeah, so taking a break from social media or using it more wisely is not a bad idea.

Taking walks in nature — also not a terrible idea. Reading books or magazines? Absolutely (but choose carefully!).

I know the passionate-cause fighters will be back out there today with searing, directed rage. Others, who maybe need just a few more days to sit bummed in their houses and apartments, will join in when ready. However, if you're looking to disengage as a way to regain your sanity or some semblance of happiness, I not only completely endorse that but I can help the hell out of you.

Television is our shared cultural experience. And I'm THR's Chief Television Critic right here. Handy!

But first a few hard truths:

1. I'm not going to recommend some of the series I love the most right now because they contain triggers that will just make you sadder (see: Atlanta, One Mississippi, etc.); and for other shows, I will have caveats because there are likely to contain metaphors that just won't sit right (The Man in the High Castle, The Walking Dead) when the point is to catch a mental break.

2. You should absolutely stop watching television news, particularly nonstop cable coverage. You are enabling their brokenness, ensuring their complicity and allowing them to profit off your fears (wait until they all crow about their ratings). Cable news is a televised carnival, an endless spinning wheel of useless, dangerous, unchecked rhetoric that pivots on what it didn't see coming to say, "We told you so" before going back around again. If you can't quit that, I can't help you.

3. I'm going to turn you on to what I call "visual Xanax," so be ready.

OK, let's do this.

First, if you're gutted – and who's not? – you can't start with pointlessly light comedy. Silly will be too soon. No, your metastasizing depression can only be addressed by the aforementioned "visual Xanax." My two choices are Maisy and Little Bear.

Yes, those are old children's television shows.

Maisy is a mouse. Little Bear is, well, a bear who is little. Nobody is currently steaming Maisy so you'll have to get it on DVD, and I'm telling you right now that the primary colors, preschool plotting, lack of talking, hilarious animal voices and a pretty awesome soundtrack will save your life so go get it now.

You can also find Maisy in snippets on YouTube, but it's not quite the same as watching it on your TV and turning every light in the house off and soaking in those primary colors as one episode rolls into the next and you heal.

Amazon Prime is showing the first two seasons of Little Bear, an endearing little gem based on the Maurice Sendak books that basically depict a world where everybody is nice to one another and there's lots of curiosity and thoughtfulness set to lovely and calming classical music, and it usually ends with Little Bear getting an enormous piece of chocolate cake. It's perfect. Do not think this is some "let's go back to 1950s America" bullshit that the Trump people wanted. Nope. This is just stories about animals being nice to each other, and we could all use a lot of hours of that.

Now, once you've spent a day or two completely immersed in those, you will understand what I mean by "visual Xanax." I think you can also safely pair both with alcohol, so there's that.

Once your early-stage nightmare is lifting, then we can move on to what broadcast network television was actually invented for (besides selling soap) and that is to mindlessly entertain a nation. Again, let me say that if your reaction to this notion is "Screw that, we need change and we need it now, and I'm going to burn America to the ground," well, you do you — no judgment. This is for people who need to not think right now and not watch cable news on a loop.

It might be very hard to watch ABC's Blackish or Fresh Off the Boat or any super-topical sitcoms about race right now because of the whole inevitable rolling-back of progress thing, but there's still Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Bob's Burgers, NBC's Superstore and The Good Place, ABC's The Goldbergs, etc. (and no, I'm not going with a CBS comedy because that's just getting too close to the nightmare).

Branching out into cable and streaming there's always South Park (Comedy Central), It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (the Gang definitely voted Hillary; FX), Veep (come on, you can do it; HBO), Silicon Valley (HBO), Master of None (yes, I know this will remind us all of progress thwarted, but it's essential; Netflix), You're the Worst (FX), Catastrophe (Amazon), Fleabag (Amazon), Casual (Hulu), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix), People of Earth (TBS), Archer (FX), Red Oaks (Amazon), Insecure (yeah, it'll hurt; HBO), High Maintenance (HBO), Better Things (yeah, it'll hurt; FX), BoJack Horseman (Netflix), etc.

The point is, there are tons of things to take your mind off of the hell you're in.

I would seriously start with the comedies, though. Laughter as medicine, laughing to keep from crying — it so obviously is not going to fix things but temporarily dulls the pain.

I tried to note the comedies with triggers in them, but your mileage may vary.

Dramas are perhaps a little harder because the very best of them are, how to say this, not escapist. They are dark, grim, often depressing. On the other hand, think of all the options. There's obviously Game of Thrones (HBO). And Chance (Hulu) and Goliath (Amazon). Even a good futuristic series like Westworld (HBO) might seem less escapist and more Trumpian if you look hard enough (and the point is to look without it all being hard). I still recommend that one, though. Maybe not something like The Leftovers (HBO) because it's so depressing and taps into cultish behavior and you'll probably wish you were part of that vanishing. Or Billions (Showtime) because duh. See, this isn't super easy.

But you could totally watch The Americans (FX) because Ronald Reagan-era America doesn't seem so damned scary now and it might be nice to remember that we were in a Cold War once with the Russians instead of inviting them to topple us. Rectify (Sundance) might be great because it's slow and thoughtful and the idea of being locked away from the world for 20 years isn't as horrific as it seemed when it started four seasons ago. Probably not a good idea to do Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) or Good Girls Revolt (Amazon) – I know, I'm not helping! -- but maybe The Crown (Netflix) is Old World escapist enough? Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (Netflix) are New World escapist. Same with Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (BBC America) or No Tomorrow (The CW), though I'd stay away from all the time-travel shows because they will only make you wish that, you know …

Look, the ultimate point here is that all the stuff we TV critics complain about (we are approaching 500 scripted series and it's hard to breathe) goes hand-in-hand with what we celebrate (that there's an endless amount of greatness in the Platinum TV Era). If you have just enough strength left to point a remote at a television screen or tap a finger on a tablet, then a temporary escape from reality is at your fingertips.

Television, when it's not tuned to the news, is your friend. And it's here for you in times of need.

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