A TV show that tugs at our heartstrings can be not only a great source of comfort, but a source of emotional release. The wildly popular multi-generational NBC family drama, This is Us, is regarded as “emotionally manipulative” by cynics. But for its fans, they see pieces of themselves, or their families, reflected on the screens.
Netflix’s Queer Eye, another huge hit, is shamelessly emotional. There’s something lovable about most of the show’s makeover subjects, and The Fab Five reinforce what’s beautiful about these people while showcasing their own vulnerability and empathy.
Recently, two of my favorite emotional TV shows aired their season finale (Pose) and their series finale (The Fosters). And I sobbed!
So, did you already binge the newest season of Queer Eye multiple times? Think there’s nothing that’ll make you reach for the Kleenex until the next season of This Is Us premieres on September 25? Here’s Dietcoke4breakfast’s list of recent TV tearjerkers to check out!
1. Pose (FX), 2018-
Set in the late 1980s New York City, Pose focuses on the lives, loves, triumphs and losses of the trans women and gay men who populate the ballroom scene. Characters such as ballroom MC, Pray Tell (Billy Porter) and House of Evangelista Mother, Blanca Evangelista (Mj Rodriguez) deal with the realities of HIV. Angel Evangelista (Indya Moore) and Elektra Abundance (Dominique Jackson) navigate their complicated relationships with their lovers. Of course, there’s fabulous music, costumes and wickedly funny shade thrown. But most of all, Pose focuses on how people who have been rejected, broken and beaten down by their birth families can find home with a chosen family.
Before watching Pose, I’d strongly recommend watching the essential documentary, Paris is Burning, to learn about the history of ball culture.
Not yet available streaming
2. The Fosters (Freeform), 2013-2018
Lena Adams (Sherri Saum) and Stef Foster (Teri Polo) are an interracial lesbian couple raising five kids in San Diego. Brandon is Stef’s biological son with her ex-husband, Mike. The Adams-Fosters adopted Latinx twins, Mariana and Jesus, after fostering them. And and siblings Callie and Jude, are introduced on the series as their new foster children. Though the show was marketed as a “teen drama,” it is, at its heart, a family drama. Even though the characters only age one year over its five seasons, there’s a lot of ground covered; racism, colorism, abortion, mental illness, disability, child prostitution, the cracks in the US foster care system, dating while transgender, classism… and so much more!
You will definitely get frustrated with Brandon’s actions and Callie sometimes comes off as the poster child for white privilege. But Lena and Stef’s realistic, affectionate, lived-in marriage grounds the center of The Fosters, much like Randall and Beth in This is Us (and another couple we’ll get to later…). Despite the kids’ many silly decisions, Lena and Stef are the compassionate and empathetic Moms we all want!
All 5 seasons available now on Netflix Canada
3. One Day at a Time (Netflix), 2017-
Don’t let the laugh track put you off! Like the original 1975-1984 version, this is a classic multi-camera Norman Lear sitcom. One Day at a Time 2.0 stars Justina Machado as Penelope Alvarez, a newly-divorced army veteran working as a nurse in Los Angeles. Penelope’s mother, Lydia (the incomparable Rita Moreno), a Cuban refugee, moves in to help her raise Penelope’s teenagers, Elena and Alex (aka Papito). Privileged millennial landlord, Schneider (Todd Grinnell), provides comic relief and male eye candy.
There’s a heartfelt breeziness to every episode, but there’s always a touching breaking point. Issues such as immigration, racism, coming out, gender identity, grief, alcoholism, anxiety and especially PTSD handled expertly, thanks to revelatory performances by all cast members, especially Machado and Moreno. So, if you need a good binge-watch, both seasons are on Netflix, with Season 3 coming next year!
Available on Netflix everywhere
4. RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo/VH1), 2009-
Sure, Drag Race is known as fun, escapist fare, chock-full of attitude, lewks and catchphrases. But behind the queens are resilient, incredible human beings. Over the past ten seasons, plus three All-Stars seasons, we’ve been exposed to over 100 queens’ charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. But never without tears. Queens have opened up about being HIV-positive, single fatherhood, mental health struggles, serving time in prison, body image issues, family rejection/abandonment, alcoholism, religious abuse and sexual assault. Knowing what some of these queens have been through makes their triumphs more triumphant, and their losses victories.
Seasons 8 & 9 available on Netflix Canada
5. Parenthood (NBC), 2010-2015
Parenthood centered around three generations of the Braverman family; Zeke and Camille (Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia), their adult children, Adam, Sarah, Crosby and Julia, as well as their kids’ spouses and their grandchildren. Adam and Julia (Peter Krause and Erika Christensen) fell into the “straight and narrow” stereotypes, while Sarah and Crosby (Lauren Graham and Dax Shepard) fit the “wild child” tropes. The Bravermans navigated through parenting, career changes, health issues and heartbreak.
This show was not perfect. The Bravermans are the most aggressively well-off and heterosexual (save for a throwaway episode in a later season) “progressive” family living in the Bay Area. That includes Full(er) House—there’s no way Kimmy Gibbler isn’t queer! Adam and his wife, Kristina’s son, Max, was a well-researched, well-acted (by Max Burkholder) autistic character. At the beginning, Adam and Kristina are shown as lovingly frustrated, yet supportive parents who try their best to help him and relate to him. By the end of the series, Kristina is somehow principal of her own school and when a fellow student is being harassed by Max, it’s brushed off and enabled. Yikes.
Problems aside, Parenthood was good at showing all kinds of sympathetic struggles; Sarah searching for love after divorce, Crosby having to tone down his party-boy inclinations once he finds out he has a young son, and Kristina’s mother not being there for her during a health crisis come to mind. And I haven’t even mentioned all the grandkids’ trials and tribulations!
All 6 seasons available on Amazon Prime
6. Jane the Virgin (The CW), 2014-
I’ve sung Jane the Virgin’s praises before, but I won’t stop singing them until I convince more people to watch it! Jane the Virgin is a satirical telenovela-style romantic comedy about Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), a Miami-based aspiring writer, and her family, which expands over the series. JTV has featured groundbreaking storylines about later-in-life abortion, religion, being a working mother, bisexuality and elder sexuality, at the same time as goofy subplots about blackmail, murder and various other escandalos. What stands out the most, at Jane the Virgin’s emotional core, are the strong relationships between Jane, her mother and her grandmother. You’ll want a spot at that porch swing to cry on with the Villanuevas by the time most episodes are done!
All 4 seasons available on Netflix Canada. The 5th – and final – season will be available episode-by-episode after airing on The CW on Netflix Canada
7. Friday Night Lights (NBC), 2006-2011
Duh! At the heart of it, my favorite TV show of all-time was a show about small-town struggles, poverty, class, disability, addiction, absentee parents, dementia, racial divides, and most of all, community. Coach Eric Taylor (*heart eyes* Kyle Chandler *swoon*) wasn’t just a coach to these young men; he was a surrogate father. He believed in them when no one else did. He believed in them when they didn’t. By his side was his wife, guidance counsellor Tami Taylor (*heart eyes* Connie Britton *swoon*), a kickass, ambitious mother figure for the town. Tami refused to be in her husband’s shadow, and her priority was “to make sure you don’t turn out stupid.”
Tami and Eric Taylor’s marriage was the ultimate in #goals. Like Lena and Stef from The Fosters and Randall and Beth from This is Us, the marriage felt lived-in and authentic, they communicated well (until they didn’t), they’d work things out, they were affectionate and they were still hot for one another after all those years. I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach & Tami were inspirations behind my other favorite TV couples!
Anyway, back to FNL… Their town, Dillon, Texas, was populated with children forced to grow up fast – particularly new quarterback, Matt Saracen. Along with being QB1, Matt had to study, work at an ice cream shop, and take care of his grandmother with dementia while his dad served in Iraq (his mother ran off long ago).
I’ve already got you convinced, right? If not, then… maybe you’d like to know that amazing actors like Michael B. Jordan and Jesse Plemons were showcased wonderfully on it? Or I could sell you on the sex appeal of Taylor Kitsch and Adrianne Palicki? You won’t cry every episode, but you will grow so attached to these lovable characters and care for them like family.
- “Leave No One Behind” (Season 2)
- “Underdogs” (Season 3)
- “The Son” (Season 4)
- “Don’t Go” (Season 5)
- “Always” (Season 5 – Series Finale)
All 5 incredible seasons available on Amazon Prime