If you’ve been tuned in, you know that we’ve just wrapped up a pretty busy season on the small screen. Mad Men ended its acclaimed run, and the Breaking Bad saga continued with Better Call Saul. On network television, “diversity” was the word. New shows like How To Get Away With Murder and Black-ish — shows with predominantly African-American casts — became critical and commercial successes. Empire broke every record imaginable on FOX— it even got renewed for a second season after just two episodes.
If you have a life, you probably didn’t catch every great show that aired this season. But the summer― television’s traditional dry period― is coming up, so you definitely have time to catch up on some essentials you might’ve missed. Here are five shows you’ve got to give a test run.
Empire and Cookie Lyons made their debut on Jan. 7 and quickly became a phenomenon for FOX. Since it aired on Wednesday nights, ABC’s Black-Ish, ended up getting shorted.
It wasn’t that Black-Ish was mediocre. Let’s face it, Cookie Lyons was Cookie Lyons. Plus, the choice came with consequences: People were missing out on the ultra-cuteness of twins Jack and Diane, Anthony Anderson‘s character Andre “Dre” Johnson Sr and his overzealous quest to keep it real and Laurence Fishburne‘s gruff but usually hilarious Pops. People expected a clunky comedic cash-in on the television’s diversifying landscape. What they got was a comedy with commentary about being Black in white America (in Johnson’s middle-class situation, a whit-er America) that never loses its heart.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
At first glance, Tina Fey’s second show should have a place on NBC. 30 Rock was one of the network’s last classic sitcoms, had implants from the The Office (Ellie Kemper as the titular character) and 30 Rock (Jane Krakowski as a too-rich-to-function socialite), and had a pretty original premise: a woman tries to make it in New York after being with a doomsday cult for 15 years.
However, a closer look at the series shows it’s a bit dark to sell. Although it isn’t harped on, Unbreakable never loses sight of how Schimdt is essentially a woman who lost her autonomy for half her life. She gets robbed in the first episode, there’s a GED teacher who flagrantly doesn’t care about her education and New York just isn’t an easy place to make it.
Rays of sun in the form of bizarre comedy (Schmidt, as the theme song explains, is “strong as hell” — physically speaking) easily break through the darker undertones. Kemper is adept enough of an actress to Schmidt’s perpetual optimism a sense of depth. Plus, Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), an aspiring Broadway actor who’s Schmidt’s roommate, damn near steals the show by being something of a real life cartoon.
More people probably missed out on Brooklyn Nine-Nine because of its new Sunday time slot for its second season. It helps Bob’s Burgers lean in between the consistently mediocre FOX mainstays, The Simpsons and Family Guy. But there’s not much you can do against competition that includes Mad Men, Games of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
However, those who have seen Brooklyn Nine-Nine knows its driven by the most affable sitcom cast in recent memory. The lineup is stacked with potential favorites, from the brilliant man-child Jake Peralta (Adam Sandberg) to Rosa Diaz’s (Stephanie Beatriz) propensity for giving fear boners. Absurdity and character development are rarely that far apart.
Jane The Virgin
This one was certainly one of the most slept-on television shows of last season — it barely averaged over 1 million viewers during its first season. But it still had an outstanding first season.
Jane The Virgin follows a novel premise: the eponymous virgin (played by Gina Rodriguez) is accidentally artificially inseminated by a gynecologist. As a result, she’s carrying the child of the owner of the hotel she works in. However, the writing is sharp enough to push the series past the novelty, while the characters are given enough heart to appeal to the anti-rom com types. Plus, how many English-language telenovelas do you see these days?
Fresh Off The Boat
The Asian-American community has also been underrepresented when it comes to network television. Fresh Off The Boat‘s great first season was a step towards rectifying the issue. The series initially sparked some controversy after Eddie Huang, who wrote the autobiography it was based on, criticized the ABC for making his story “unrecognizable” to appeal to the mainstream audience. That’s a whole other issue on its own. But as an ABC sitcom show, it’s very similar to what Black-Ish is: A look at the American Dream through the minority perspective.
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