As much as we love a good thriller or invest our time in procedural dramas, comfort TV is much-needed food for thought. It’s also quite popular; in fact, Hallmark Channel was the only U.S. non-news network channel that saw an increase in ratings in 2016. What does Hallmark Channel offer on the regular? Feel-good television, that’s what.
When Calls the Heart and Chesapeake Shores are the network’s frontrunners, and both offer murals of family-friendly content. The epitome of homely shows, Fuller House, recently dropped its third season on Netflix, and the Will & Grace revival adds another slap of nostalgia to the television landscape. These are just some of the shows that are brightening up an often dim, grim small screen landscape, reminding us that there are still happy stories to be told.
Sometimes it’s nice to close the drapes, curl up in bed and watch shows that let your eyes smile, so here are ten picks that will hopefully help you do just that.
The Great British Bake Off
Is it any wonder that a show centered on baking delicious treats—and then watching people judge and taste those delicious treats—is a hit? It’s basically Sunday at [insert family member who bakes all the time’s] house but you don’t actually have to be there. And now, there’s a Canadian version (premiering Nov. 1) and a soon-to-be re-launched take on the American version of the show. While it’s similar to other cooking competitions (Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef) the art of straight-up baking is honoured and celebrated—just watching contestants roll dough is quality therapy for the day. Forget about your outside worries and watch the finest cannoli being made right in front of your eyes instead.
Now in its fifth season, Adam Goldberg’s show has catapulted audiences back in time to watch the lives of one family unfold. The series has found a way of telling a story—Goldberg’s story—about life in the ‘80s, and the importance of family, without being overly gushy. Family is the common theme for sure—there’s always a narrative to the tune of “that’s why you always need family” ringing through at the end of each episode, reminding viewers that at the heart of everything “your family always has your back.”
Even if your own family isn’t like the Goldbergs, the show’s ‘way of life’ reminds us of slower times, you know… before social media. It’s about believing in your tribe, so to say, and for those that didn’t live through the ‘80s, The Goldberg’s makes you feel like you did. The regular video footage from Goldberg’s actual childhood is also a nice touch.
This heartfelt drama features a cast that includes Jessie Metcalfe (Desperate Housewives, Dallas), Meghan Ory (Once Upon a Time), Barbara Niven (Cedar Cove) and one of TV’s go-to gentlemen, Treat Williams. To say the show has been successful is an understatement—the first season was the Hallmark Channel’s highest rated scripted TV series, and according to Nielsen, season two put the network as the most-watched on cable in its 9 p.m. Sunday timeslot. Chesapeake Shores, Maryland is the playground for the family drama, so you get to see a lot of serene landscapes. The beautiful scenery cozies into the plotline, which follows Abby O’Brien (Ory), a divorced mother with two girls, leave the big city to a life back home.
Nashville may be the most “scandalous” show on this list, it’s had its racy moments of drugs and sex, sure, but it’s the show’s “keep going” mentality that speaks to us. It also happens to be one of the few shows on television that depicts the world of country music; from emerging talents to crooked investors to longstanding veterans of the scene, Nashville’s family is big and the stories we’re watching focus on personal growth, identity and connections. The show was so popular that even after it was cancelled, fans rallied and started the #BringBackNashville movement, which worked, and it returned this year on the most fitting of networks: CMT.
Cut from the same cloth as The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon follows the life of Big Bang character Sheldon Cooper… when he was little Sheldon Cooper living in East Texas, not Los Angeles, in the 1980s. Not only was it the biggest comedy premiere on any network in terms of total viewers since 2 Broke Girls’ in 2011, but it was also the biggest comedy premiere in the 18-49 category since 2013’s The Crazy Ones, which starred Robin Williams. Young Sheldon has already been renewed for another season, so you may fall in love with Iain Armitage (who plays Sheldon) just like you did with this little guy. The show highlights a small-town family that’s built on strong morals with Sheldon’s mother Mary reminding the children to be grateful, and idle prayer. Mary is played by Zoe Perry, who’s the real-life daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who plays Sheldon’s mother in the The Big Bang Theory. As much as the show is about Sheldon, by the looks of it so far, it’s also about the strong relationship he has with his mother, too.
What’s a good recipe for people to watch new feel-good TV? Bring back one of Disney’s biggest feel-good stars to be at the helm of it. Fans of That’s So Raven are already aware of Raven-Symoné’s comedic talent, and now that her superpower has been passed down to her son, a new dose of doozy happenings is unfolding. Raven’s Home shows the unity between two mothers raising their children together. It’s done without the “traditional” notion of a family unit; Raven’s Home shows a more up to date version of what some families look like today. But, as much as it’s a fresh take, the show’s quirky, cheesy, sentimental and playful material brings us back to the original T.G.I.F. days (you know, Family Matters, Step by Step, Boy Meets World… those days), and for that we are thankful. The show was just renewed for season two.
This Is Us
You knew this was going to be on the list. Here’s a show that lets us really feel again. Ask around your circle of friends, family, co-workers—either they’ve fallen hard for This Is Us, or they’re pretending it doesn’t exist for fear of being like the rest of us, who leave each episode with our eyes welled up, snot dripping from our nose, and a body buzz that’s numbing to the core. If you watch it, you know this is not an exaggeration. The beauty of This Is Us rests in its varied characters and each of their stories, but like many of the others on the list, the beauty also lies in the power of family, flaws and all.
The Good Doctor
Another newcomer this fall season is ABC’s The Good Doctor, which features a surgeon, Shaun Murphy (played by Freddie Highmore), who has autism and savant syndrome. Created by House creator David Shore and Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim, the show ranks as “ABC’s most watched Monday drama debut in 21 years,” and is the “highest rated in 18-49 in 8.5 years, since Castle in March 2009,” according to Deadline. One of the powerful quotes from the season’s preview and perhaps the best way to summarize part of the show’s intent is, “…we give hope to those people with limitations, that those limitations are not what they think they are, that they do have a shot.” The Good Doctor is showing a new face to the medical profession as much as it is to the world watching.
Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K. write well together, and Better Things is a prime example of their winning partnership. The show is based on Adlon’s own life with her three daughters, but it’s as much of a single parent show as it is a coming-of-age show; it’s relatable on many fronts. Now, this is definitely not a PG-13 type of program (would you really expect it to be from Louis C.K. and Adlon?), and that’s okay. Feel-good doesn’t have to always be family-friendly. Can’t it be about lessons and weird moments and challenging mothers living across the street from you? The witty banter, heartfelt moments and Adlon’s infectious voice are a joy to take in. Plus, hearing John Lennon’s “Mother” as each episode opens is as comforting as it gets, and quite possibly the best feel-good theme song on TV since The Wonder Years.
Date My Dad
There are single dads, too. We’ve listed other shows that highlight mothers, but lest we forget about the men that are tackling the same issues. Barry Watson from 7th Heaven fame is the lead dad in question on Date My Dad, and the show follows him, as Ricky Cooper, as he recovers from the loss of his wife, all while raising three kids. Oh, and did we mention these kids are trying to get their dad to look for love, again? It’s only season one so who knows, but if you’re in the mood for a show that loves its dad jokes as much as it does teaching us how to move on from tragedy, then give it a shot.