While you’re doing your part to keep everyone safe during quarantine, it can feel like your opportunities to be productive are limited. Not to worry. We’ve curated this list of the five best TV shows streaming right now to give you insight into the world from storytellers who are passionate about their craft. Ranging from action and adventure to comedies and hard dramas, each and every one of these projects delivers essential information that you just can’t get from a zoom call.
We hope you enjoy these shows and that they will spark a discussion among friends and family about what you learn.
- When They See Us (May 31, 2019; Ava DuVernay) Netflix
We won’t lie, we’re starting off with a doozy. In When They See Us, director Ava DuVernay exposes a violent institution of systemic racism in the U.S. through the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) and the intimate true story of five young boys who are wrongly accused of rape and subsequently incarcerated. Deemed the “Central Park 5” in news headings, Kevin Richardson (Asante Blackk), Antron McCray (Caleel Harris), Yusef Salaam (Ethan Herisse), Raymond Santana (Marquis Rodriguez), and Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome) are targeted by cops and dragged through diabolical court procedures and the prison system, putting their families through great distress and struggle as well.
This 5-part mini-series examines the boys’ lives as children before the event, the court case itself, life behind bars and the explicit hardships that follow, and the personal torture that the carceral system inflicts. By moving through these key stages, DuVernay carefully tends to the experiences of the five, letting the audience feel the process on a macro and micro scale. When They See Us is emotional. Not one second of the cast and crew’s work is wasted in telling this important story.
If you feel like you need to remain productive while supplementing work from home, this series should be at the top of your list.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender (Dec. 2, 2005 – July 19, 2008; Michael DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko) Netflix, Amazon Prime
Wait, isn’t this a Nickelodeon cartoon for kids? Yes, it is, but creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko did their work to deliver an odyssey about mature topics such as colonialism, activism, grief, and disabilities. This show is a perfect way for you to start off supplementing work and classes with essential lessons about systemic societal issues in a fun and imaginative narrative.
In a world where some people have control over one of four elements -water, earth, fire, and air- Avatar tells the story of Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen), a young boy with the unique ability to command all four. As the avatar, a spiritual leader of peace, it is his job to unite the four nations that take their namesake after the elements that their citizens can “bend.” The show takes place when two tribal children of the Water Nation, Katara (Mae Whitman) and Sokka (Jack De Sena), discover Aang trapped in ice after he fled his responsibilities out of fear. In the 100 years that have passed since he’s disappeared, the Fire Nation has almost succeeded in their imperialist takeover of the world. With the help of his new friends, Aang embarks on a journey across the globe (and the spirit world) to reverse the ramifications of this new dictatorship. (Are you still with us?)
Despite the fantastical nature of the program, Avatar’s premise heavily featuring the exploits of an imperialist nation sets the show up for exploring grand themes on an intimate scale. For instance, each of the main characters and the antagonist, Zuko (Dante Basco), relate to the effects of genocide as survivors, refugees, war criminals, and citizens from different countries on opposing sides of a war. This show will help you remain productive over the course of quarantine, even if you’re too distracted by the awesome flying air-bison to know it.
- Gentefied (February 21, 2020; Marvin Lemus & Linda Yvette Chávez) Netflix
Gentefied, a Spanglish reference to the gentrification of a community by its own wealthier members, is a comedy-drama that humanizes the intimate violence of vacating a community. For folks who aren’t aware of the complexities and relevance gentrification, this show can help you learn about the cruel practice that has been developed over generations in the U.S. Although the show thoroughly surveys rent control, zoning laws, and economic class replacement, its main accomplishment is specifying the process of these tactics through the charming Morales family in East L.A.
Comprised of an all-Latinx cast, the story follows aspiring painter, Ana Morales (Karrie Martin); soon-to-be-father, Erik Morales (J.J. Soria); and chef Chris Morles (Carlos Santos) as they try to save their grandfather’s (Joaquín Cosío) taco shop. The positive and uplifting Latinx representation featured in the show effortlessly undermines the stigmatization of the community in current U.S. politics.
Just because this show is on your “supplemental work” list doesn’t mean that it’ll be a lecture. Gentefied doesn’t flat out give you the right and wrong way to combat gentrification as the issue is quite layered. Rather, it informs the audience of the threatening reality for many people of color, specifically Latinx people, in one of the richest cities in the richest country of the world. Tackling everything from the inherent racism of ICE agents to the financial burdens of the prison system, this show provides a relevant look at the struggles to maintain a home in the time of quarantine.
- #blackAF (April 17, 2020; Kenya Barris) Netflix
Are you well versed in racial coding and optics? Do you know about the white gaze or what it means to be critical of other black artists? If so, this show’s great. It features a lot of inside humor based on Kenya Barris’ fictionalized version of his own life and what it means to be a successful black showrunner in Hollywood. If not, his documentarian daughter, Drea Barris (Iman Benson) is determined to get it all on camera.
#blackAF follows Barris, the real-life creator of Black-ish, Grown-ish, and Mixed-ish, and his difficulty processing his responsibilities as a black father who has come into “new money” from the shows he’s produced. Correspondingly, Joya Barris (Rashida Jones) struggles with her decision as a black mother who has left her life as an attorney to become a full-time parent.
Incorporating black history (look up the titles of each episode), a gathering of other famous artists working in Hollywood, and the trials and tribulations of raising three girls and three boys, this comedy addresses a broad audience at a clipped pace.
- Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj (October 28, 2018 – Present; Hasan Minhaj & Prashanth Venkataramanujam) Netflix, Youtube
While supplementing work from home, this show is the closest you’ll come to a lecture … as well as a comedy club at a concert featuring a home cooked meal prepared by your best friend. Going beyond straight political satire, Hasan Minhaj takes an in depth look at political issues going on in today’s world with palatable graphics (presented on an all-encompassing electronic stage) and easy-to-understand metaphors.
Hasan and his team seemingly select their show’s topics from a random list of symptoms created by systemic injustice. But upon viewing, Patriot Act successfully communicates the relevance and urgency of issues pertaining to topics like music streaming, bad wifi, cricket, cheap fashion, and the cruise industry. While other episodes address mental health, drug addiction, and various election events, the entire series feels like you’re talking to someone who understands the seriousness of a dire situation but helps you laugh to get through it.
Eric M. Earle is the founder of Tutor Portland. He became the premier math tutor in Portland, Oregon. He focuses on improving students’ math grades to better their college acceptance rates.