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The Shows I Was NOT OKAY After Watching… And Why

By Avery Benbow


Anyone who interacts with me semi-frequently would know there is a pattern I follow upon getting immersed in an outstanding show: I binge-watch the show, and consequently make it my entire personality. As a result, bringing up any of these shows around me can guarantee I will not stop talking about it, forever! This includes in any moment of silence following one of my cyclical binging sessions, because I will work the show into the conversation.


However, as you can imagine, not everyone enjoys these, quite frankly, unhinged rants. Thus, I’ve decided to direct my fixated energy into writing, fully confident that my partially refined yapping will convert many to viewing these shows. HOWEVER, these shows are the cream of my crop (everyone has different preferences and exposure, they won’t be for everyone and that’s okay), so treat them kindly, and enjoy the following free advertising that NOBODY asked for…


P.S. Besides shows, I am equally obsessed with music, and associate all of these shows with a particular song that has, at one point or another, been at the top of my Spotify ‘On Repeat’ playlist, so that will also be included.



Schitt's Creek



Key Word: Beautiful


Song: You’ll Always Be My Baby, by Mariah Carey


(Forewarning: I finished watching this show approximately an hour before I started writing this, so my consequential emotional vulnerability may come through in this section.)


Before I delve into my reasons for loving this show, I’ll outline the basic premise: the Roses are a filthy-rich family consisting of Johnny and Moira, and their adult children, David and Alexis.  However, upon suddenly becoming bankrupt, the only thing left to the family’s name is a small, rural town they bought decades ago as a joke, named Schitt’s Creek. Because of their precarious financial situation, they are forced to move there, in two adjoining rooms at the local motel. Not surprisingly, the Roses are far from satisfied with their new life, and are little less than disgusted at this town they are forced to inhabit. However, throughout six seasons, they evolve, as individuals, a family, and members of the town community, becoming active in relationships and work they would have never considered in their past lives.


Now, one of the main reasons I love this show is because it pays homage to something the world is undervaluing at the moment, the transformative power of love. Before the Roses came to Schitt’s Creek, they had been, in many ways, using their extensive wealth to prevent closeness and understanding in their relationships: romantic, platonic, familial, and even with themselves.  However, by the end of the series, they are fully immersed in the community, have established a true family, and are sure of what journey they are each on personally, things they never could have purchased with money. 


But it isn’t that simple. Schitt’s Creek flawlessly evokes so many human emotions, and switches between them so seamlessly you will end up crying and laughing simultaneously. For context, I am not a crier, however much I would like to be (I think my tear ducts need a software update).  But the ending of this show made me sob, due to the sheer emotional distress of it being over. I couldn’t bear to turn off my laptop (I hold Eugene and Dan Levy responsible) and think about the fact that I’ll never be able to experience more of that beautiful town, Schitt’s Creek, or the incredible people in it for the first time again. Throughout watching the show I grew into the set and characters, and things that felt so outlandish at the start, like the eccentric wigs and makeup of Moira, became natural, and the town itself - with landmarks like the motel, cafe, and townhouse - felt like home.


This leads me to another point: the show was curated with extreme care and consideration.  All the characters, whether they were leads or just appeared for one episode, were empathetically made and felt real. The storyline was never rushed, and good outcomes always felt natural and well-earned.  Additionally, there was not a single episode during which I didn't laugh. The humour is immaculate, managing to be both witty and respectful, especially considering the often-overlooked nature of small towns. Furthermore, one of the great feats of Schitt’s Creek was the character development, which took place so naturally and without ever contradicting the essence of who that character was. I could go on for days about these characters, especially about Moira’s confidence, David’s sass and facial expressions, Stevie’s (employee at the motel) sarcasm, or the very real depiction of a sibling dynamic between David and Alexis. But I won’t because that would give too many spoilers.


A final note, before I conclude, on some of the show’s core messages, besides the value of love: I feel that the storylines of Moira and Johnny Rose, and Roland and Jocelyn Schitt, are a testament to the fact that life and growth don’t end with getting older, and that friendships and opportunities can be found across social divisions and experiences. Additionally, Alexis’ self-love story throughout the show provided a beautiful insight into how prioritizing ourselves over others can lead to better lives and relationships, as we truly understand what we want and deserve. Finally, David’s journey demonstrates an equally important but slightly different message, that we need to be willing to open ourselves up to and make sacrifices in relationships for them to be truly fulfilling and meaningful. In particular, his love story with Patrick, which unfolded so purely, was lovely to watch, because they came together in such a complementary way that allowed them to both stay grounded and accountable, despite their differences.


Overall, as stated in the documentary, ‘Best Wishes, Warmest Regards: A Schitt's Creek Farewell’, “Schitt’s Creek gives us a better world to live in”.  Despite the humorous premise of the show, it builds a warm and welcoming world of love and growth, which I encourage you all to visit.



Heartstopper



Key Word: Heartbreaking


Song: Moment In The Sun, by Sunflower Bean


Based on the Heartstopper comics by Alice Oseman, Heartstopper is a coming-of-age show that follows a friendship group in high school, most of whom are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. They navigate their identity, relationships, school, mental health, and more, and it is probably the most popular show on this list (as it deserves). The main protagonists of the show include Charlie Spring, Nick Nelson, Elle Argent, Tao Xu, Darcy Olsson, Tara Jones, and Isaac Henderson, who provide a beautiful range of heartwarming people to connect with.


Admittedly, this show is harder for me to watch than the others on this list. However, that has nothing to do with its quality.  It has everything to do with the heartbreaking beauty of it, which tends to push my emotional boundaries a bit. For many, it is a symbol of hope and joy for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies alike, compassionately telling their stories in a world that often seems hostile.


However, despite what some say, the positivity Heartstopper emulates isn’t toxic or unrealistic.  It tells very human stories, including painful ones that many in the LGBTQIA+ community have experienced, such as Nick’s difficulty coming out, Darcy’s tumultuous relationship with her mother, or Charlie’s bullying and struggles with mental health. But, amidst the dark, as aforementioned, Heartstopper acts as the light, providing a blueprint for the support, respect, and love in romantic relationships, friendships, and families, that all people - especially the young - deserve.


I must note, that its primary focus on the relationship between two cisgender, white men, Charlie Spring and Nick Nelson, is reflective of LGBTQIA+ representation issues within media, regarding the lack of people of colour, transgender people, or sapphic relationships as main characters or storylines. However, the cast as a whole was carefully considered, and there is an incredible ensemble of representation that I can’t want to see more of in Season 3.  Also, this is in no way a criticism of Charlie and Nick’s relationship, because their black cat and golden retriever dynamic must be protected at all costs!


Ultimately, Heartstopper is such a hopeful show to watch, and has given many the chance to experience high school joy and love, even if they never got to in their own time.  Most importantly, it shows young people, especially the LGBTQIA+ ones, that they are not alone.



Takin' Over the Asylum



Key Word: Healing


Song: Let It Be, by Aretha Franklin


For context, discovering this show was a complete accident on my part, but one I am extremely grateful for (all credit goes to my David Tennant-centric ‘For You’ page on YouTube). It came out in Scotland in 1994 as a one-season series, and follows Eddie, a disillusioned window salesman trying to pursue his dream of being a DJ. One thing leads to another, and he ends up establishing a radio station for patients at a Glasgow psychiatric ward, where he befriends a number of them, who all run the radio station together. This includes Campbell, Francine, Rosalie, and Fergus, who are all being forced to reside at the hospital due to their mental health conditions.


I want to emphasise that I did not go into this show with high expectations. Being aware of society’s stigmatisation of mental illness, especially in the 1990s, I had little hope for a show that primarily focused on people impacted by it. 


However, it destroyed my every assumption. While it was still a product of its times’ media regarding representation and some outdated language, it is possibly the most humanising representation of people with mental health conditions I have ever seen on screen. It doesn’t shy away from the struggles, but gives adequate attention to the fact that people with mental health conditions are still complete and deserving members of humanity. Additionally, it is highlighted that the struggles of these people are in many ways amplified by ostracisation and mistreatment by society, and most importantly, constructs the characters to be so much more than their illnesses.


This is also accentuated by the show’s primary focus on Eddie, an outsider who grows beyond his initial prejudices by building connections within the ward. In the process, he comes to appreciate his friends’ struggles, both in their heads and the outside world, and consequently advocates for their rights. However, the patients he befriends - Campbell, Francine, Rosalie and Fergus (all of whom I adore) - are not without their own journeys and growth, despite their struggles, and each is given the personal complexity that many shows take seasons to achieve with characters.


In all honesty, the crushing reality of this show almost made it impossible for me to reflect on, especially regarding its exploration of mental illness and life generally, as we see through the struggles of Eddie. However, in delving into the realities of the world, ‘Takin’ Over the Asylum’ demonstrated that people with mental health conditions are not at fault for what they are going through, and should not be defined by it in their careers, relationships, and personhood.


In the end, besides being left with a Scottish-accented inner monologue (that’s how immersed I was), I was astoundingly aware that all humanity has room to grow together, and nobody should be denied compassion and connection to move through, then beyond, obstacles in life, whether or not we understand them. 



Our Flag Means Death



Key Word: Homecoming


Song: La Vie en Rose, by Con O’Neill


To call this show a comedy series is a partial crime by producers, because it tested my emotional capacity to the maximum.  At some points, I even needed to pause to process (if you get to the conclusion of Season 2 Episode 6, you’ll understand).


The central idea of the plot is that Stede Bonnet, an aristocrat who has always been discontented with his life of pompous luxury, sets sail with a crew and ship, intending to be a pirate. This concept, from the start, is presented as hilarious, considering the naïvety, elite background, and inexperience of Stede - who comes across as nothing more than a joke to his crew - who have had no choice for survival but a life of crime. He is essentially destined for failure, that is, until the most renowned and feared pirate captain of the high seas, Black Beard, or more affectionately, Ed, takes him under his wing.


This is, of course, part of a broader, deceitful scheme by Ed and his crew. However, Stede and Ed become close, and it is evident that their collision of worlds and experiences allows them to express parts of themselves that they had never felt comfortable exploring. This is a basic version of the early plot, but I do not wish to provide further spoilers. Instead, you’ll just have to listen to why I love the show:


Our Flag Means Death is refreshingly original in its concept, delivery, writing, and characters (it's Kiwi-produced as well - always a bonus), making it a true work of art. It creates complex and believable characters, who all come together to form an incredibly enjoyable dynamic of found family. None of them is perfect, yet all of them have something to offer and space to grow. Thus, we the audience are allowed to become emotionally invested in what happens to them, with deep connections that develop over time. For example, Jim and their journey towards reconciling with their past in Season 1, which I hope you understand soon (please watch the show!!!).


This also applies to the plot, like in Season 2, which can sometimes feel slightly repetitive, but I believe allows for a well-developed internal journey within the characters that builds to earned resolutions. This was especially the case with Izzy Hands, the initially cruel and narrow-minded first mate of Black Beard, who achieves redemption in Season 2, after realising his need to prioritise positive growth and opening up, instead of regressing into hateful self-protection (I wanted nothing for him but suffering after Season 1, but then he become my favourite). This masterpiece of character development makes him one of the show’s most lovable characters, a true demonstration of the power of good writing and attention to detail.


Additionally, the representation this show offers is a gold standard for the media. I absolutely loved seeing the diversity of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, age, ability, body type, personal expression, relationships, life experiences, and more, especially in a way that felt so natural and unforced.  This was emphasised with the colonial setting, because it was incredibly rewarding to see the crew, a significant number of whom were people of colour, besting and poking fun at the ridiculousness of systemic oppression, specifically that implemented by the colonising British, French and Spanish navies.


However, the show also doesn’t shy away from the impacts of this systemic oppression, and the personal trauma that can be an offset or separate to it. Instead, it embraces this, and shows us the audience the value of finding a home in a chosen family, as aforementioned, to grow beyond these impediments.


Before I conclude, I feel obligated to share how pleasantly surprising it was that this show didn’t fall into modern media trends of queerbaiting (minor spoilers in this section). Queerbaiting, in essence, is a marketing tool where creators lead an audience to believe that a queer person or relationship going to be present onscreen to increase viewership, even if this doesn’t occur due to concerns regarding the loss of conservative audiences. For numerous cases in this show, especially Stede and Ed, I could sense the immaculate chemistry and increasing closeness, but felt braced for the disappointment of their relationship being halted at friendship (this is not to suggest friendship is any lesser than romantic relationships, it is simply providing commentary on the unwillingness of media to provide naturally occurring queer relationships). However, when the truth of the relationships was genuinely honoured, acknowledged, and given space to grow, the feeling was nothing less than catharsis, and something I hope can be learned from in the industry as a whole.


Overall, all the aspects of Our Flag Means Death contribute to a masterpiece that is, in essence, a testament to the simultaneously broken and beautiful nature of humanity, with some great laughs (and cries) along the way. I remain inconsolably distraught that this show was cancelled after two meagre seasons (#saveourflagmeansdeath), and will never stop recommending it as a place of healing, home, and belonging, for all.



Good Omens



Key Word(s): David Tennant (need I say more?)


Song: Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy, by Queen


(Congratulations for making it to the final destination of my favourite shows [I admire your stamina], and the origin of my partial obsession with David Tennant.)


For some background, the show essentially centres on Aziraphale, an angel, and Crowley, a demon, who both reside on Earth to enact the bidding of their respective head offices of Heaven and Hell. But, contrary to what they’d have upper (and in Crowley’s case, lower) management believe, they aren’t too concerned with winning people over to sides of absolute good or evil.  Instead, they are more focused on enjoying Earth and humanity’s comforts, which they love, along with each other’s company, as they have been friends since Adam and Eve’s time.


Thus, when conflicts between Heaven and Hell erupt, they collaborate for the survival of Earth, humanity, and their ever-ambiguous relationship, which would not be possible under closer supervision from the head offices.


With this as the foundation for the show, there are some incredible outcomes. Thanks, in large part, to the great acting and chemistry of Michael Sheen as Aziraphael and David Tennant as Crowley. Their relationship as complementary opposites creates a charming foundation for the show, especially as they combat their inner demons (pun not intended) regarding not being as pure and self-sacrificing, in Aziraphael’s case, or evil and corrupting, in Crowley’s case, as they feel they should be, only drawing them closer together.


To be upfront, this show has its faults: the plot isn’t overly engaging, while still being quirky and original, and the side characters need some development. I also refuse to acknowledge the ending of Season 2 as legitimate.


However, it’s all worth it for Aziraphael and Crowley. Their personalities, relationships, and history are such a joy to watch, and witnessing their chemistry on screen is something I can never get enough of.



In conclusion, amidst the constant stream of media competing for our attention, it is essential to have a few grounding exemplars for pop culture striving to contemplate humanity. All of the shows I have explored vary drastically in plot, protagonist, setting, and other fundamental aspects. However, what they don’t compromise on is telling stories that mean something, prioritising messages related to “Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” [Nam Le]. In doing so, they transcend context to create a place for understanding and acceptance of both the self and the world that tests it, becoming a sanctuary of peace and hope despite worldly conflict and despair.



Honourable Mentions

  • Derry Girls

  • Heartbreak High

  • The Golden Girls

  • Stranger Things (Seasons 1, 2, and 3)

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