Television is constantly changing. The rise of online streaming platforms has revolutionized the creation and distribution of television, and for the first time, basic cable isn't the primary source of TV for viewers. While this is a technological change, the move to independent platforms has also affected content. Without the restrictions from the FCC and reliance on advertisers, television makers have much more creative freedom. As a result, TV is more progressive than ever, and these shows on Netflix offer important social and political commentary.
In an age where media has tremendous influence on society, it's important for television to reflect diverse perspectives. Netflix has thus far lived up to that responsibility, distributing plenty of shows with a progressive point of view. No matter what the genre, from comedies to dramas to documentaries, Netflix has embraced the opportunity to contribute to social and political conversations through content. Whether it's breaking the stigma on mental illness like Maria Bamford's Lady Dynamite does or critiquing the prison industrial complex like Orange Is The New Black does, many Netflix shows have a big impact and truly matter. Check out the list below to find a few series you might have missed but need to check out ASAP:
'Master Of None'
While there are plenty of stories about personal and professional life in New York, Master of None manages to take on new territory. Over the course of the first season, Aziz Ansari goes deep on feminism, racism in casting, and the immigrant experience in America. It feels like one of the first shows to accurately depict the ups and downs of young city life, and Ansari manages to mix humor with commentary.
"In September of last year, I met a woman at a party. We exchanged numbers. We texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. We went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual.
The next day, I got a text from her saying that although 'it may have seemed okay,' upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.
I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue."
'One Day At A Time'
Sure, One Day At A Time isn't show isn't the first television family to stray from the conventional nuclear family story (Hello, Full House and Modern Family), but this series offers a unique perspective on single motherhood. Ann Romano is the matriarch of this Cuban-American family, and the story follows her as she balances her career with caring for her children.
It's not often that you get to see a candid, honest, and humorous take on mental illness on television. Comedian Maria Bamford has long used her humor to discuss mental health issues, which remain taboo in our culture, and Lady Dynamite is based on her personal experiences with depression and anxiety. The show is funny, but it has also helped break the stigma on mental illness and opened up a larger conversation on mental health.
In this sex-positive series, each episode explores a different sexual or romantic relationship. While every story is loosely related and all these characters live in Chicago, each of the episode's vignettes tells a different contemporary story about sex and love in the city. It's a complex, inclusive examination of dating and sexuality in the modern age.
Chelsea Handler has truly committed herself to activism over the past few years, and her documentary series offers some deep dives into serious topics. Handler isn't afraid to put a mirror up to American culture, tackling Silicon Valley, marijuana legalization, marriage, and more.
Jessica Jones is so much more than a superhero story. Jones is a private investigator with super strength, but as she tries to defeat her biggest enemy, Kilgrave, the story becomes more nuanced. The show is a powerful examination of assault and trauma, and while it is sometimes a difficult watch, it makes it a resonant and crucial series.
The animal characters in this series are deceptive: Bojack Horseman is not a lighthearted cartoon with an odd premise. This ruthless satire of Hollywood takes on some heavy material, and is at its heart a character study. It takes on friendship, family, and fame from a unique point of view, critiquing the values of the entertainment industry.
'Orange Is The New Black'
This series was one of the first major Netflix hits, and it remains vital. When it premiered, it felt revolutionary in how it represented women and their stories. A women-centric story shouldn't be radical, but the show resonated with people because it presented presented diverse, complex perspectives in a way that had never been seen on TV before.
'Dear White People'
In the 2015 film of the same name, a group of diverse students try and find a place among the predominately white culture of elite Ivy league universities. The film portrayed the flaws in the private university environment, which is not as progressive or post-racial as many administrators and students would like to believe. The new series goes further into the character's college experiences, and it is an important critique of the denial and hypocrisy that often pervades white America.
'Hot Girls Wanted'
The 2015 documentary of the same title that started this series saw the creators investigate the amateur porn industry and how it exploits young women. While the film was praised for bringing light to a flawed industry, it was also viewed as a one-sided and limited perspective of sex work. The show runners heard that criticism, and this show is a broader look at the intersection of technology and sexuality. It covers everything from dating apps to feminist erotic photography.
'Bill Nye Saves The World'
It's possible that Bill Nye was your first introduction to science. I definitely remember watching his educational videos in middle school science class, and being totally captivated by scientific study like never before. Now that Bill Nye's audience has grown, the man has come back for a different kind of education. In talk show format, Bill Nye Saves The World tackles big issues like climate change, artificial intelligence, and the evolving science of sexuality.
All of these Netflix shows bring some much-needed representation, commentary, and critique to television. Hopefully, more series in a similar vein will come along soon.