Welcome to Friday Five, a column dedicated to all things pop culture. Every week, we’ll put together five recommendations for you from the worlds of film, television, books and music, each curated to a different theme.
2020 has been a year of primarily two things: lots of free time and lots of isolation (and, well, murder hornets, because we truly live in the weirdest timeline). Maybe that’s meant living on your own, thinking of all the projects you could now get done without so many distractions. Maybe that’s meant spending more time with your kids or family than you have in a while. Either way, you’ve likely grown a little weary of the situation at this point, especially as it doesn’t look like things will be lightening up any time soon.
So, when 2020 has become just a little too much for you, when you need a way to decompress for a bit on your own, what better way to do that than to unwind with a bit of feel-good TV that will put a smile on your face and also maybe distract the kids for a couple hours?
5. Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)
The facts are these: Ned, the Pie Maker (Lee Pace), can raise a person from the dead with a single touch but after sixty seconds must touch them and render them dead once more, less someone else die in their place. These are the rules that have dominated his life since he was a boy and ones he always follows, until his childhood sweetheart, the girl called Chuck (Anna Friel), unexpectedly dies…
Created by Bryan Fuller, Pushing Daisies exists in a strange, whimsical universe where not only can the dead occasionally wake up and argue with the living, waitresses played by Kristen Chenowith will abruptly burst into song, and everything is narrated in kindly, homespun cadence by Jim Dale. It also takes place in the same universe as Hannibal (as in “the Cannibal”) and is possibly the cheeriest show about death you’ll ever watch. This is a series that relies on its own brand of logic and twee macabre style to sell itself, and what’s most amazing about it is that it works. Besides, let’s face it, if Chenowith and Ellen Greene singing “Birdhouse in Your Soul” in duet doesn’t make you smile, nothing else will.
4. Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)
Imagine if Hermione Granger were American, had grown up in Pawnee, Indiana, fell in love with office organizational systems and became a bureaucrat for the town’s parks and recreation office. Now, imagine if she were played by Amy Poehler and had an enormous crush on Joe Biden. Now, populate her parks and rec office with a murderers’ row of comedians all bringing their A-game, and that’s it. That’s the show.
It might feel weird to recommend a feel-good show about politics right now, what with our reality so often feeling like a particularly surreal episode of VEEP. But Parks and Recreation takes the opposite tack of that series, portraying its crew of office bureaucrats as well-meaning workers trying to navigate a system that can often stymie them but never quite defeat them. While the show shines in its satirical takedowns of small-town politics, it succeeds mostly on the strength of its characters’ idealism, with Poehler’s Leslie Knope representing exactly the sort of person you’d want to become a politician. Although the first season is shakey and can mostly be skipped, follow the show’s advice and treat yo self to the rest of the series.
3. The Great British Baking Show (2010-present)
Twelve amateur bakers compete against each other to become top home baker in Britain in a reality TV series from the BBC and Channel 4.
Do you want to see people explain how they’re definitely not going to cry over a cake… and then cry over a cake? Do you want to see two English women make absolutely terrible puns and double entendres as they explain weekly challenges and call out time checks? Do you find Paul Hollywood intimidating yet intriguing? Then this is the show for you, a reality series that isn’t about contestants scheming against each other or acting out to get more screen time, but enthusiastic cooks baking delicious pies, breads and biscuits. And maybe you’ll cry a bit along with them (cake, after all, can be a serious business), but in the end, sometimes, it’s just really lovely to see nice people get rewarded for making nice things.
2. Bob’s Burgers (2011-present)
In a shoreside tourist town, Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) runs his eponymous restaurant, along with his wife Linda (John Roberts) and three children: boy-obsessed Tina (Dan Mintz), musically inclined Gene (Eugene Mirman) and clever, scheming Louise (Kristen Schaal).
Bob’s Burgers operates as sort of the odd man out of Fox’s animation block, lacking the mean spiritedness of Family Guy or the cynicism of The Simpsons. While the Belchers’ world contains plenty of oddballs and competitive small business owners determined to destroy their local competition, the show itself isn’t mean or ironic. The characters fight amongst themselves like families do, but there’s never any doubt by either the characters or showrunners that the Belchers all have genuine affection for each other. The show also strives to keep its working-class heroes as working class, ensuring the series has a way to ground its stranger elements in Bob’s day-to-day efforts to keep his business running.
1. Galavant (2015-2016)
Galavant (Joshua Sasse) is the greatest knight of his age, determined to rescue his lady love from the clutches of the wicked King Richard (Timothy Omundson). Only, oops, she decides she likes the financial security of being the king’s bride after all and dumps the knight instead. So, with Galavant spiraling out in response, who’s going to save the world now?
Galavant is a fantasy sitcom that is also a musical. If that makes you wonder how the show ever got a second season, don’t worry, the show wondered the exact same thing, with its second season premiere opening with a fourth wall-breaking song all about its unlikely renewal. And that in turn should give you pretty good idea of exactly what sort of series you’re watching when you pick up Galavant. Its trope subversion extends both to its fantasy and musical genres, Omundson alone is enough to justify the series’ existence and all the music was written by Alan Menken, the man who probably wrote or co-wrote every Disney song you ever loved. The show is, in a word, delightful, and if the phrase “medieval fantasy musical comedy” doesn’t at least elicit a chuckle from you, well, there are four other options on this list to watch.
So, that ends our selection of happy, binge-worthy shows. Are there any other series you like to break out when you’re feeling down in the dumps? Comment below and give us your thoughts!