There will be lots of inaugural festivities on TV this weekend, some of which have already begun. Even if you’d rather stick needles in your eyes, I strongly suggest actually watching the main inaugural ceremony. Many people will also be spending this weekend marching in protest, volunteering in their communities, or finding other positive things to do. When you do finally get home and collapse on your sofa, though, here are some suggestions for what to watch.
For the optimists: Veep, streaming on HBO Go and Amazon Prime.
“Wait,” you’re thinking. “Isn’t Veep a show about incompetent know-nothings who run the government based solely on their own self-interests? Isn’t it basically a short step away from disaster at every moment? How is that for optimists?!” I see what you’re saying. But at this point, the wit, invention, and sense of reality the Veep’s cast of clowns bring to their society of mutual contempt feels enviable, frankly. Plus, while Veep is a show about politics, it’s almost never a show about policy, which makes for a refreshing change.
For the realists: The Americans, streaming on Amazon Prime.
Gear up for our future of Russian-influenced American policy and the nagging sense that someone named Mischa is actually controlling things from behind the scenes by settling in with The Americans. Not only will it give you conflicted feelings about the USSR in a way that could be helpful in the years to come, The Americans will also strike a familiar chord: It features an FBI agent who perpetually fails to recognize the Russian spies who are literally his neighbors.
For the catastrophists: Battlestar Galactica, streaming on Hulu.
The worlds have been annihilated through nuclear apocalypse! Humanity teeters on the brink of extinction! A religious fundamentalist has taken control of the government, if she can even wrest enough power from the military industrial complex! There are also secret robots lurking among the remaining human population, who will eventually reveal their identities in a further attempt to destroy all humankind, so that’s fun.
For the escapists: Pick your poison! All of PBS’s new Victoria series is available if you have PBS Passport access, so you could dive headfirst into the middle of the 19th century and never look back. You could also kick back with just one ultimately not-that-powerful tyrant and binge Netflix’s new A Series of Unfortunate Events adaptation. Or, escape humanity altogether and settle in with Planet Earth, streaming on Netflix, in anticipation of the second series finally hitting American markets in February.
For the nihilists: The Leftovers, streaming on HBO Go. Oh sure, things may look bad now, but it’s bad in a way that’s galvanized a lot of people into action and self-consideration. For a truly dark vision of what things could be like, consider The Leftovers, where the search for meaning is fruitless and even hope for the future feels laughably futile. The strivers and hopefuls on The Leftovers come off as misguided, the cold-eyed cult of silent terrorists is growing, and the most reasonable people are the ones who’re doing the best they can to just get through the rest of their lives. It’s also a gorgeous, elegiac, wonderfully produced show, so you can glory in its beauties while settling in to await the heat death of the universe.
For the nostalgists: You could go with The West Wing here, of course. It’s streaming on Netflix, and some of its plots will look remarkably familiar, most recently the episodes about moving the press corps out of the White House and defunding the NEA. I think Parks and Recreation, streaming on Hulu and Netflix, is an even better choice. Sorkin’s version of political life is ultimately idealistic, but has enough moments of cringeworthy pedantry that it could make you flinch. Parks and Recreation, which is powerfully rooted in the sense that good work is hard, and that public service is thankless but ultimately worthwhile, might hit you a little better this weekend.
For people who want to fuel the rage: If, somehow, simply turning on the news or opening a Twitter feed isn’t enough, check out the Netflix original documentary 13th, on the prison industry and the persistent criminalization of African-Americans. PBS’s Frontline also offers a series on the Divided States of America. Or, revisit some of the most potent Golden Age fictional outrage TV — The Wire, which is streaming on Amazon Prime. That show’s portrayal of the inevitable failure of our social structures will not be fun to watch, but it also depicts the faint light of hopefulness in individual action.
For people who need a reminder that humanity is fundamentally good: Jane the Virgin, streaming on Netflix. It is not apolitical, nor does it ignore the reality of life as an immigrant, a woman, a single mother, a Latina, or a middle-class citizen (or the life of a wealthy, successful telenovela star whose face appears on bus ads). Jane the Virgin is not a show to shy away from social issues. But it is a persuasively humanist show, one that depicts people as well-intentioned and capable of finding joy even in spite of extremely difficult (and often surreally absurd) circumstances. It’s an optimistic perspective of the world that currently feels farther from real life than you might like. Its argument is sound, though. Horrible things can happen, up to and including discovering that your mother is a drug lord, being impregnated without your consent, being kidnapped by an evil fan, being shot on your wedding night, and being paralyzed for weeks by your twin sister. You can recover, you can acknowledge that trauma in your life, and you can gather your strength and work to make things better again. It may not feel like the truest reflection of the world right now, but Jane the Virgin is always a good choice.