The climate crisis is worsening at a rapid rate, a deadly virus spread across the globe, and tragedies like school shootings are no longer a rare occurrence. The last thing TV viewers need these days is more violence and destruction and terrible people doing terrible things. Since all of that is happening for real, audiences feel the need to escape from the bleakness of the modern world with more uplifting, lighthearted TV content.
As a result, the other side of the Sopranos/Breaking Bad coin has presented itself. The most popular shows right now are the ones that inspire hope and love and optimism. In an increasingly hostile and uninhabitable world, audiences have embraced the warmth and positivity of shows like Ted Lasso, Schitt’s Creek, Mythic Quest, and Bob’s Burgers.
Based on commercials for U.S. coverage of English football games, Ted Lasso stars Jason Sudeikis as an American coach who goes to the UK to coach a Premier League football team. A half-hour series dragged out of seconds-long promos seemed destined to fail, but Ted Lasso surprisingly became one of the biggest hit shows on the air. It’s a classic underdog story that inspires optimism and self-love. With a pandemic raging on and political division running rampant, Ted Lasso was the show that audiences needed in mid-2020.
Ted’s coaching style is built around his belief in people, and the series addresses the crucial yet rarely discussed issue of mental health in athletics. Ted is determined to keep his head held high in the face of adversity, but he suffers from panic attacks that make that positive attitude difficult to maintain. Non-sports fans tend to be dubious about checking out Ted Lasso, but football is a very small part of the show. There are plenty of culture clash gags, but the writers are ultimately more interested in making the audience care deeply about the characters.
A niche Canadian sitcom that became a worldwide phenomenon, Schitt’s Creek tells the story of a rich family losing all their money and being forced to adapt to a less expensive lifestyle in a small town in the middle of nowhere. This riches-to-rags story is a familiar comedic premise, but the wealthy, out-of-touch socialite characters are usually depicted as satirical caricatures, like the Bluth clan of Arrested Development. Schitt’s Creek takes the opposite approach and treats the Roses like real human beings.
David goes into business for himself and finds love in the process. Alexis becomes a more independent, self-assured person after losing all her luxuries. The show is set in a wholesome, idealized reality full of decent, accepting people. The David/Patrick storyline was particularly groundbreaking. From Brokeback Mountain to My Own Private Idaho, same-sex romance stories are usually defined by tragedy and prejudice. Schitt’s Creek changed the game with its casual approach to David’s pansexuality and the refreshing lack of homophobia from the residents of the titular town. The conflicts in David and Patrick’s relationship stem from their own insecurities and miscommunications, not their struggle to be accepted by society.
Created by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia stars Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day with Sunny writer Megan Ganz, Mythic Quest focuses on the day-to-day operations of a video game studio. It couldn’t have less in common with the trio’s other series. Mythic Quest is the anti-Always Sunny. Whereas Sunny adheres to Seinfeld’s “no hugging, no learning” rule, Mythic Quest is exactly the kind of schmaltzy, traditional workplace sitcom satirized brilliantly in the iconic Sunny episode “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award” – but it works beautifully.
The characters bicker and fight and constantly disagree with each other, much like Sunny’s “The Gang,” but unlike the Gang, there’s ultimately a lot of love amongst the Mythic Quest team. Mythic Quest has many of the well-worn tropes of the sitcom genre, like a “will they or won’t they?” couple, but it never settles into clichés and it earns all its heartwarming payoffs, like Rachel and Dana finally getting together or Ian visiting Poppy at the end of the quarantine episode.
Most post-Simpsons animated family sitcoms revolve around deeply dysfunctional families. The key to The Simpsons’ success is that the Simpsons feel like a real family, and the show has some very sweet moments exploring Homer’s softer side. But for the most part, Homer is characterized as a negligent, abusive father who spends all his time getting drunk in a dive bar while Marge takes care of all the housework and parenting duties. From Peter Griffin to Randy Marsh, most Homer imitators are similarly irresponsible parents. Bob Belcher from Bob’s Burgers is the polar opposite.
Bob’s Burgers is often compared to King of the Hill, and this comparison is apt in that they’re both grounded cartoons about real, relatable families, but Bob would never say, “That boy ain’t right,” when Gene expresses his individuality. Bob and Linda have one of the healthiest marital relationships on television. Like Rob and Laura Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bob and Linda’s storylines explore “us versus the world” conflicts, not “us versus each other” conflicts. They’re great parents to Tina, Gene, and Louise, and encourage their kids to be themselves and follow their dreams. The immature parenting of Homer, Peter, and Randy gets plenty of laughs, but Bob is a real role model. The humor doesn’t come from Bob making terrible mistakes as a husband and father; it comes from Bob acting as the deadpan voice of reason opposite his zany wife and kids.
In a world fraught with division and devastation, feel-good shows like Ted Lasso, Schitt’s Creek, Mythic Quest, and Bob’s Burgers (as well as New Girl and Black-ish and Grace and Frankie and anything involving Michael Schur) are just what the doctor ordered.