TV's new wave of political series is righteous but rotten
My TV is preaching at me, and I’m not happy about it. I’m a U.S. citizen, I bleed Democrat blue. But even I find the politics on TV series ham-handed these days.
Take the Trump attacks on the rebooted Murphy Brown. Watching the first episode was like being struck repeatedly on the forehead with a hammer of righteousness. “He’s bad! (clang) He’s wrong! (clang) He’s embarrassing! (clang) He’s an idiot! (clang)”
Obviously, no one would say that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Senate Republicans or any of the White House mob are committed to the truth. But white, liberal Hollywood bashing back equally, without nuance, isn’t the answer. By the end of Murphy Brown’s second episode, all I could think was, “If I were Republican, I’d be turning this show off and never turning it back on.” The danger of preaching to the converted is that it quickly becomes screeching.
A different kind of preaching happens on the new comedy The Neighborhood — like Murphy, on CBS. It wants to flip the classic sitcom All in the Family on its head — hijinks ensue when a white guy, Dave (Max Greenfield), moves into a Black neighbourhood and tries to befriend Calvin (Cedric the Entertainer), who’s written as the Black Archie Bunker. (There’s even a nod to Archie’s beloved Barcalounger chair.)
The difference here is that All in the Family had the courage of its convictions: Archie said terrible things, which his son-in-law called him on; the audience was supposed to be made uncomfortable by what they recognized in themselves. In this iteration, Calvin schools Dave on his assumptions, and Dave walks on eggshells. There’s little debate and a lot of apologizing. “I’m sorry if I seem racist,” Dave says to Calvin’s son.
“It’s hard when you see yourself one way,” the son replies, with a pointed look, “and the rest of the world sees you another.” (Clang.)
Then there’s the new CBS drama God Friended Me. Miles (Brandon Micheal Hall) is an atheist, and proclaims it on his podcast. Then he gets a friend request from a mysterious account named God. He first dismisses it, but coincidences convince him he should investigate further.
Hall is a charming actor, but already by the end of episode two, Miles is softening his stance. “In an age where everyone is talking, we’ve forgotten how to have a conversation,” he podcasts. “Maybe it’s about finding a new language. Or putting aside our differences and really listening.” Or maybe it’s Touched by an Angel 2.0: Poked by a Deity.
All of this is why I remain so grateful for The Good Fight, currently between seasons, but much-needed in this cultural moment. Instead of preaching, The Good Fight gives us arguments. The plot points of season two could read like a left-wing wet dream: sexual harassment, the golden shower tape, a white supremacist candidate for the U.S. Senate, white cops shooting Black kids. But showrunners Robert and Michelle King keep the drama focused on character — how will Diane, Lucca and Maia react? How will they challenge each other and themselves?
We participate in their struggle, rather than passively receive their sermons. That’s a TV godsend.
Johanna Schneller is a Toronto-based pop culture writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @JoSchneller