It’s that time of year again: autumn is in the air! Time to break out the sweaters and scarves, coordinate apple-picking trips, and indulge your annual proclivity for pumpkin-spice lattes.
(Or your annual proclivity for making fun of people who dig pumpkin-spice lattes. But really, the only thing more eye-roll inducing than an overzealous affinity for pumpkin-spiced libations is an overzealous affinity for mocking those with an affinity for pumpkin-spiced libations. Seriously, you can call me “basic” if you want to, but pumpkin-spice lattes are delicious. Instead of wasting the beautiful first few weeks of fall posting stale memes that are about as relevant as Vine, maybe try your hand at the ancient art of shutting your mouth and letting others enjoy things?)
Anyway, another groovy aspect of fall is the fall TV season. Growing up, the hardest part of geek life for me—besides ducking the bullies—was sifting through hours of sitcoms, procedurals, and dramas, trying to find the kind of shows that would appeal to my multifaceted geek-centric tastes. Now it’s the exact opposite. The golden age of streaming has flooded the airwaves with an embarrassment of riches in terms of available shows. Twenty-five years ago, you made a list of shows so you could find them. Now you make a list so that you don’t miss any of them.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still challenges that come with being an avid TV watcher in the contemporary era. The struggle now isn’t to find content but rather to find content that isn’t tied to problematic producers, directors, and performers. Like many geeks, I have more than a little bit of an trouble separating the creation from the creator. For example, I loved Bill Cosby’s television works, consuming all of it voraciously starting in the early ’80s—from Fat Albert cartoons to his groundbreaking eponymous sitcom and even that disappointing series on CBS he had with the dude from Cool Runnings, I was all about Cosby. But now I can’t dig any of his work, for what should be obvious reasons. Even if you disagree with my decision to avoid it, I’m sure you understand why I and many others can’t and/or won’t continue to watch his work and contribute to his residual earnings.
Recently, there has been a positive force cascading throughout the television industry, and more and more problematic individuals are being drawn out into the light for their transgressions. So what’s a binge-happy, grandmaster-level coach potato to do when some of the grooviest shows and films are coming from people who are definitely not groovy?
Here you’ll find, first, a brief list of shows that can serve as comparable alternatives for indulging your binge-watch cravings without having to contribute to the residuals and royalty payments of problematic individuals. Next, in order to truly make this a fall viewing guide, I’ve listed a few programs premiering this season that prominently feature people of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ actors and characters, because the television industry’s problems are far greater than a handful of detestable celebs. And finally, I’ve also included some slightly older but still recent shows that you may have missed and that fall into the same category.
Let’s get started.
Instead of: Roseanne
Watch: One Day at a Time (Netflix)
Earlier this year, Roseanne Barr posted a racist tweet and then doubled down when she was called out for it. Although the backlash was swift and she was fired from her recently renewed self-titled show, she is still an executive producer and the star of the previous seasons, and as such she will receive residuals for viewings. Even for the proposed Roseanne-free Roseanne spinoff, part of the deal is contingent on Barr turning over rights to the characters, which will still lead to her getting paid.
For an alternative dose of blue-collar family situational comedy, check out One Day at a Time instead. A reimagining of the classic 1975–1984 series, it focuses on a Cuban American family living in Los Angeles; Justina Machado stars as Penelope Alvarez, a former army nurse who is raising her two children, Alex and Elena, with the help of her mother, Lydia (played by the incomparable Rita Moreno). The show addresses important issues like PTSD, immigration, sexism, homophobia, religion, gender identity, and racism through the distinctive but relatable lens of a single-parent Latinx family. The show is genuinely funny, thanks in no small part to an ensemble cast that also includes Todd Grinnell, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz, and Stephen Tobolowsky.
Instead of: House of Cards
Watch: Madame Secretary (CBS, CBS All Access, Netflix)
To say that Kevin Spacey has fallen from grace would be like saying Seattle is a bit of a drive to Santiago, Chile. Since Anthony Rapp revealed in 2017 that Spacey had made sexual advances while Rapp was still a teenager, 14 other men have come forward, resulting in the Oscar winner’s forced departure from the riveting political drama House of Cards. As with Roseanne, there are plans in the works to continue the series without its star, but that doesn’t impact Spacey’s residuals on previous episodes, nor has there been any discussion that I’ve been able to find addressing his producer benefits.
For gripping political drama in a similar vein, you could watch the original House of Cards (a phenomenal BBC series), but seeing as the entire run consisted of just four 55-minute episodes, you’ll likely burn through that pretty quickly. Instead, or in addition, try Madame Secretary. While it may not be as dark or cynical as the American House of Cards, it’s still a fiercely compelling political drama. The premise is deceptively simple: Téa Leoni plays Elizabeth McCord, a former CIA analyst turned poli-sci professor who is picked to be secretary of state by her former boss, now the president, when the previous secretary dies in a plane crash. The show deals with topical issues, interpersonal conflict, and international matters. Also helping it stand apart from House of Cards, which, let’s be honest, tends to be more than a little monochromatic in terms of casting, Madam Secretary features Kat Sandoval—an openly bisexual Latina character who serves as Secretary McCord’s policy advisor and former chief of staff to a UN ambassador, played by Sara Ramírez, an openly bisexual Latina actor.
Instead of: Master of None
Watch: Man Seeking Woman (FX, Hulu)
Some may consider Aziz Ansari’s problematics to be a bit more complex than others. But though his alleged misdeeds are definitely not as horrifically egregious as Kevin Spacey’s, they’re still reason enough to give many cause for pause. The point of this article isn’t to rehash and debate his actions but instead to offer an alternative program for those who believe he was in the wrong and don’t watch to watch his work. Master of None is a tough one, because it’s somewhat unique in the modern televised entertainment landscape. As brilliantly produced and directed as some of the episodes were, the fact that it also addresses issues facing first-generation, non-hetero, non-able-bodied, and older people in a respectful, insightful way made it well deserving of its critical-darling status and its accolades (three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe).
Another groundbreaking program, albeit more in the surrealistic fantasy realm, is Man Seeking Woman. The plot of the series is in the title: it’s about a man, Josh (Jay Barunchel), looking for a woman to love. The twist, and what makes the show so groundbreaking, is that it uses the technique of fantasy sequences à la Ally McBeal and Scrubs as the platform for each entire episode as well as the catalyst for the episode’s main theme. For example, in the pilot episode, Josh is dumped by his girlfriend and visualizes her new boyfriends as (literally) Adolf Hitler, and he also goes on a date with a (literal) troll but still manages to be the biggest monster in the room. My personal favorite is “Cactus,” which addresses the completely erroneous notion that men are entitled to reciprocal romantic interests simply because they are. In the episode, Josh gets angry over being “friendzoned” and testifies to (an outrageously misogynistic) Congress to get them to pass a federal law that people must date a person who’s nice to them. This backfires beautifully, as when on his way back to his apartment, a homeless man does something nice for him (holds open the door) and thus, by letter of the new law, Josh is forced into a relationship with him. That’s not the kind of stuff you’ll find in most sitcoms, both in terms of the scenario and in how bluntly the topic is addressed.
Instead of: Talking Dead
Watch: The Podcasting Dead (YouTube)
Chris Hardwick was supposed to be one of us geeks who’d made good. He seemed to be a nice person who was just as nerdy about comics, shows, and games as the rest of us. Then Chloe Dykstra revealed detailed allegations highlighting years of mental and sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of the former host of reality dating shows Singled Out and Shipmates and current host of Talking Dead. Unlike ABC and Netflix, AMC, the network home of the show, renewed Hardwick (even while postponing the release of his other program, Talking with Chris Hardwick).
The Podcasting Dead is a podcast available on YouTube. Most of the episodes consist of audio playing under stills from the given Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead episode being discussed, but hosts Justin, Matty D., and JP are charismatic and funny, and the conversations are lively and palatable—very similar to what you’d find between panels at a convention. Admittedly, it’s not an apples-to-apples replacement; unlike Hardwick, the trio of Podcasting Dead doesn’t land interviews with writers and cast members. But if you’re looking to listen in on casual and humorous discussions about episodes after they air—whether you’re deeply into these series or, like me, are just kind of a casual fan and sporadic viewer—it checks off more than a few boxes.
Instead of: Guardians of the Galaxy
Watch: Sky High
James Gunn’s recent firing by Disney over past tweets may be controversial, but the final decision has been confirmed numerous times: he will not be returning for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. For those for whom this isn’t sufficient enough distancing from the troublesome comments he tweeted but who are still looking for a blend of subversive comedy and sci-fi/comic-book action, try 2005’s forgotten gem, Sky High.
This flick centers around Will (Michael Angarano of Will & Grace fame), the son of the world’s most famous superheroes, the Commander and Jetstream (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston), as he begins his freshman year at Sky High. The school is sort of a combination of Hogwarts and Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, where new students discover what powers they have and how to use them. In a hilarious scene that’ll remind you a bit of the Sorting Hat, students assemble in the gym and go before the class for a test of their abilities that determines their ranking. If they’re powerful, they’re a hero. If their powers are, uh, less impressive, they’re relegated to “sidekick.” Will is worried because he hasn’t developed any powers yet, and even more so when he encounters Warren Peace (Steven Strait), a pyrokinetic whose father was a supervillain defeated and imprisoned by the Commander. With a cast that includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Cloris Leachman, Kids in the Hall alums Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald, and the original Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter, Sky High is surprisingly entertaining and genuinely hilarious.
New Shows This Season
The stars aren’t the only problematic element in modern entertainment—the entire industry still has a lot of issues around representation. So if you’re looking for content with strong POCI, female, and/or LGBTQIA+ actors and characters, here’s a list of programs that you might want to view.
I tried to avoid some of the more obvious selections like Orange Is the New Black and Black Lightning because chances are, considering how popular those series are, you’ve already given them a try or at least know about them. Instead, I looked for series you may have missed.
God Friended Me (September 30, CBS and CBS All Access)
Starring Brandon Micheal Hall, this dramedy series is about an outspoken atheist podcaster (and son of a reverend) who’s thrown for a pretty big loop when God friends him on Facebook, leading him to become a sort of change agent in the lives of those his new divine FB buddy suggests. To me, this looks to be a cross between Veronica Mars and Touched by an Angel with the odd humor of Dead Like Me.
Magnum, PI (September 24, CBS and CBS All Access)
Now hold on; don’t close the window on this article just yet. Hear me out. Yes, this is a remake of an ’80s series that nobody was really asking for, but it is a remake coming from notable screenwriter Eric Guggenheim (Miracle, Parenthood) and producer/writer/comic creator Peter Lenkov (La Femme Nikita, CSI: NY, Demolition Man)—and it stars Jay Hernandez (Quarantine, Hostel, Suicide Squad) and Perdita Weeks (Ready Player One, Penny Dreadful). Procedurals with Mexican American action stars don’t exactly grow on trees, so I’m definitely willing to give this one a try.
Charmed (October 14, CW)
Phoebe, Piper, Paige, and Prue are gone, but the alliteration is still here. In this hard reboot of the widely loved series, Madeleine Mantock, Melonie Diaz, and Sarah Jeffery star as Macy, Mel, and Maggie (respectively)—three siblings who discover that they are witches with the powers of telepathy, telekinesis, and the ability to freeze time.
Roswell, New Mexico (April 29, 2019, the CW)
Yes, technically this is a midseason program, not a fall show, but the buzz coming out of San Diego Comic-Con was huge—and, based on the trailer, rightfully so! This reboot stars Jeanine Mason (the first Cuban American to win So You Think You Can Dance) as Liz Ortecho, a biomedical researcher who learns that her teenage crush is actually an alien with extraordinary abilities. I never got into the original Roswell back in the ’90s and early aughts, but the trailers for the 21st-century version make it look extremely binge worthy.
Shows You May Have Missed
Ghosted (FOX): Ghosted blends the suspenseful tone of supernatural procedural dramas like The X-Files and Supernatural with the ridiculously irreverent humor of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Arrested Development. Starring Craig Robinson and Adam Scott.
Into the Badlands (AMC): A young boy and a warrior journey through the dangerous postapocalyptic wasteland formerly known as Oklahoma seeking redemption, peace, and enlightenment. Starring Daniel Wu, Orla Brady, and Aramis Knight.
Impulse (YouTube Red): Teen girl Henrietta “Henry” Coles accidentally discovers she has superhuman abilities during an assault by her high school’s golden boy. During the attack, she reflexively teleports, inadvertently injuring him and rendering him a paraplegic. The show is a gripping exploration of Henry’s reconciliation of the assault, the attacker’s physical well-being as a result of her teleportation, and Henry coping with her newfound abilities. Starring Maddie Hasson, Sarah Desjardins, Enuka Okuma, and Keegan-Michael Key.
Dark Matter (SyFy): Six people awaken aboard a starship called the Raza with no memories of their lives before awakening. Assuming numbers One through Six as names (based on the order in which they woke up), they stabilize their vessel and set about trying to determine who they are and what happened to them. Starring Alex Mallari Jr., Roger Cross, Melissa O’Neil, and Marc Bendavid.
Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access): Set roughly 10 years before the adventures of the original crew of Kirk, Spock, et al., Star Trek: Discovery centers on Michael Burnham, a human officer raised on Vulcan who must deal with Klingon war, mirror universes, and numerous internal and external threats aboard the titular experimental Federation starship. Starring Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Shazad Latif, and Anthony Rapp.
Killjoys (SyFy): A trio of bounty hunters working in far-off space take calls and apprehend people and/or property. When dangers from the past resurface as a new threat, they have to work to survive. Starring Hannah John-Kamen, Aaron Ashmore, and Luke Macfarlane.
Siren (Freeform, Hulu): Two marine biologists discover the strange, superpowered woman tearing through the coastal town of Bristol Cove is actually a mermaid trying to find her sister, who was captured by a local fisherman. I know that sounds ridiculous, but the show is addictive, thanks in no small part to the incredible performance of Eline Powell as Ryn, the mysterious mermaid with a dark secret.
The 100 (the CW): It’s been 97 years since a devastating nuclear war wiped out life on Earth, and a couple thousand survivors live on the Ark, a massive space station orbiting Earth. When the life-support systems start failing, 100 young prisoners are sent to the surface to determine whether or not the Earth is habitable enough again—and they discover not all of humanity was destroyed. Starring Eliza Taylor, Paige Turco, Eli Goree, and Kelly Hu.
Wynonna Earp (SyFy, Netflix): Based on the Image and IDW comic series from Beau Smith, Wynnona Earp has developed a rapidly growing cult following. (There’s even a fan convention, Earp-a-palooza, coming to Minneapolis in October.) The show follows the great-great-granddaughter of Wyatt Earp as she fights supernatural beings that haunt a cursed region of the Canadian Rockies near her hometown. Starring Melanie Scrofano.
Strangers (Facebook Watch): This dramedy from Facebook’s new(ish) streaming network, Watch, stars Zoe Chao and Meridith Hanger. Chao plays Isobel, a bisexual woman in Los Angeles who rents out her extra room on Airbnb but finds herself in need of extra cash when her boyfriend moves out after she cheats on him with a woman. The episodes are pretty short, running just 12 to 27 minutes each, but the sharp writing and authentic performances add something unique to what could’ve been an exercise in contemporary coming-of-age tropes.
While having diverse actors, writers, and producers isn’t a guarantee of quality television entertainment, it definitely helps to further expand options by providing a platform for more voices. The more voices we hear, the more stories they can tell, and the more the stories they can tell, the more programming and opportunity for quality television entertainment we get. This fall TV season, as you navigate through the millions of programming options, please remember that representation is important.
And also that pumpkin-spice lattes are delicious.