by Maya Brown

Welcome to SPARK’s TV week! Fall means a whole new slew of TV shows and the return of some favorites. This week we’re going to do a roundup of what’s new, what’s bad, what’s coming back, and what we think is worth watching. Why? Because a lot of us have a lot of feelings about TV shows and because TV is important. More so than movies, TV both shapes our culture and reflects it back at us. TV also oftentimes tends to be more progressive than other kinds of media, and it’s fun to watch, especially when your attention span stops after the 45 minutes mark like mine does.  But there can also be a lot of bad TV out there, so our goal for this week is to point out the good stuff and the shows we want more of, as well as start some conversations about critiquing the not-so-good stuff.

To start the week off, I’m going to do a roundup of my top 5 returning shows for you to catch up on before they come back on air. Keep in mind that these only reflect my very narrowly chosen Hulu queue of family dramas and comedies, so I’m sorry if I missed any fabulous ones. Leave your own returning favorites in the comments!

1. Parks and Rec because of course it’s on this list. Leslie Knope is the bomb, and we’re written about her like at least 5 times already. She’s driven and spunky and also deals with a lot of the issues that women in government face. One of my favorite parts of the show is Leslie and Ann’s friendship. It’s one of the most positive, best female relationship out there. The female characters on this show are just amazing in general, and they actually get air time and well-written comedic moments. This is so important because it proves that shows like The Office can be just as successful when headed by women. Also, we have a lot of feelings about Leslie and Ben’s relationship.

2. The Fosters. We wrote about it last fall, and if you never watched it, I highly recommend starting. This show can feel a little bit “issue of the week”-y, but it makes my list because it tends to deal with all of those issues really well. Or maybe I’m just blinded by the beauty that is an interracial lesbian couple on TV. But actually, I love that no matter what drama the teenagers in the show get into, they’re coming home to really supportive and loving parents. However, the real reason I love this show is the youngest cast member, Jude. I have to admit that I’m not fully caught up, but I know that as the season was ending he was starting to see that he had a crush on a boy in his class. This is actually so important—to see a middle-school aged boy on TV come to terms with his sexuality without having to fit into the angsty after-school-special trope of having to come out to his religious parents. Also there was a scene near the beginning of the first season where Jude compliments Mariana on her fingernail polish, and she does his, and of course he gets picked on for it, and Stef and Lena just handle it all so well! It gave me a lot of feelings.

3. The Mindy Project. I know this one can be a little complicated, but I need to give it a shout out for starting to take up the massive 30 Rock sized hole left in my heart. Mindy Kahling is hilariously talented and is making her way in the severely white male dominated space that is comedy. I love that she writes her own show and stars in it, and sets a really body-positive example. It may not be a feminist wonderland at all times, but I think it’s really important to have a woman of color at the front of a show like this.

4. Bob’s Burgers. I have to admit that this is my guilty pleasure show, but I’m starting to see a lot of feminist undertones. It’s also the only adult cartoon that makes me laugh instead of want to vomit. All three women in the family are downright hilarious; Linda acts and looks like a real mother, Louise is always the one with the crazy plan, and Tina, who was originally a gawky teenage boy, was changed to a female character without removing any of her awkwardness. Tina is the unsung feminist hero of the show. She is quiet and weird and writes “erotic friend fiction” but has a supportive family who loves her for all of it. What’s more, the TV show pushes away the common tropes of the deadbeat dad and annoying mom who are dismissive of their daughters. Everyone in the Belcher family is weird, and they all embrace it. Also Kristen Schaal as Louise is like my favorite casting decision ever.

5. Grey’s Anatomy. This show. OMG. I have a lot of feelings about this one because I marathoned it this summer and am still not quite done, but it was my little feminist surprise. There are three major things I love about it (once I got past the gory bloody stuff). The first is the relationship between Christina and Meredith. They are the real soulmates of the show, and no matter what relationships come and go, they always return to each other. I love this because it is honest, and real and is an amazing example of a female friendship that really has substance to it. The second thing I love about Grey’s Anatomy is how dedicated it is to diversity: half the cast are people of color, and they’re sympathetic and developed characters, not tokens. And finally, I love that it actually deals with some amazing feminist issues. The story arch I always return to is Miranda Bailey’s in the second and third season. Bailey has a son and faces prejudice at her job for being a mother, and is forced to learn how to balance her job and her baby. The pain she goes through serves as such an important critique on how we treat mothers in the workplace, and it makes the whole season worth it.

These shows are what I want more of. I want shows with just as many female characters as male, but who face issues that aren’t always gendered. And when they are gendered, they’re real issues, like motherhood vs. a career, or the right to choose to have an abortion. I want more TV shows where the gay characters can have their moment, but are allowed to fall out of the spotlight and act like any other couple, like Callie and Arizona on Grey’s. I want diversity to be so well done that more than half of the cast are people of color, but they are treated and developed just as fully as the white characters. I want to see interracial relationships and bisexual characters and women in nontraditional careers. I want female characters who are allowed to be sexual without being sexualized. I want the minor characters in the show to be just as diverse and break just as many stereotypes as the major characters. I want TV to start working to change culture. I want it to reflect our culture and show the flaws that are there, but not to shy away from real ways to deal with it. I want shows that I would be happy to see little girls watching, because I know they will see themselves represented in them. Clearly I want a lot of things–or maybe I just want a TV show about Miranda Bailey; that could work too.