Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email email@example.com, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
I love political TV shows and since this is an election year and the news coverage is nonstop I have turned into a political junkie. I need more. Are there are fictional political shows you can recommend? Aside from The West Wing (obvi) or current shows like Veep, Alpha House, and House of Cards, are there any overlooked series or TV movies I should be watching? I’m a HUGE Jack & Bobby fan but it is so hard to find, so any other recommendations would be greatly appreciated! —Chris
Oh, Jack & Bobby — that was a fun one. If you like that mid-2000s vibe, you might also like Commander in Chief. Geena Davis plays the president. It’s only 19 episodes, and it’s not going to set your world on fire, but it’s pretty solid. I also find myself getting more and more sucked into Madam Secretary, too. It hits a lot of procedural beats for a politics show, but there are also interesting ideas afoot, and a great, functional, grown-up marriage at the center of the series. The Good Wife is much more of a legal drama, but the show is still about politics, too. Alicia’s husband Peter is a state’s attorney when the show starts, so.*
The best political show you didn’t mention is Battlestar Galactica, of course, but a very close second is Borgen. It might take some internet finagling to track down, but it’s a Danish drama, and it’s great. (There are some slightly soapy threads, but that makes it even better.) The Wire, of course, is a political show, though without a sense of pomp. The Kelsey Grammer drama Boss, where he plays the mayor of Chicago, has some strong moments, and if you’re jonesing for something a bit moody, you can do a lot worse. I have mixed feelings about the current season of Scandal, but seasons two and three and some of four are a real blast.
Have you rewatched Murphy Brown ever? A lot of the show is still funny and snappy, but it’s more fascinating as an artifact of how quickly our culture metabolizes scandal. There are punch lines about, and allusions to, political hubbubs that escape all memory at this point. It’s a real time-machine.
If you like the American House of Cards, try the original British version, of course. And since you like Veep, you will probably also like The Thick of It. Beyond those, there are a boatload of good British political shows, too: Party Animals is a more behind-the-scenes look, and it’s zippy and engrossing. There’s The Politician’s Wife, from 1995, and The Politician’s Husband, from 2007, and both of those are great — dark, and, for lack of a better term, adult. Everyone whose taste I respect adores The Honourable Woman, and I’m willing to believe that they are right, even though it bored the living crap out of me. Be better than I am, Chris. On more of the thriller side of things, there’s also State of Play, which might qualify more as a newspaper show than a politics show, but is still super worth watching.
Being an avid Gilmore Girls fan, my Stars Hollow senses perked at tweets regarding a GG subplot on this new Netflix season of Degrassi. I (unfortunately) have never seen Degrassi — just missed the boat when it first came out, but I have no doubts I’d be a fan. Would I need to catch up on previous seasons to watch this new iteration? —Sara Beth
The more you watch Degrassi, the more you get out of Degrassi, but that’s easy for me to say because I’ve seen more than 400 episodes of the show. (There are 385 episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation; of course I have seen all of those. And the ten episodes of Degrassi: Next Class, the current iteration. Plus most of the D:TNG specials, plus many, but not all, of the original The Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High, and Degrassi High. I am a monster, and this is my lair.) But okay, you have a civilian’s life. No, you do not need to watch old Degrassi to get into new Degrassi.
One thing Degrassi does better than just about any other long-running show is cycle new characters in and old characters out — people graduate, people … die, people move, and sometimes characters just run their course and fade into the background. New characters might have small parts in B-stories for a while before landing their own major plot points. This means there’s no one good place to start watching, since the stories really blend together, so this new batch is as good a place to start as any. Better, even, because these ten episodes are ten of the stronger episodes the show has had in recent years while still being representative of the show in general. Degrassi is incredibly earnest, bordering on cheesy now and then (it’s technically for young audiences! you can’t blame them!), and sometimes it can feel like it’s piling on. Like, for example, with Claire, one of the mainstays of TNG for the last few years (she has since graduated). Do we really need Claire to: worry that she seems too prissy; bring a vibrator to school; get a coach fired; write sexy vampire fiction about herself and her classmates; nimbly bounce back from a malicious rumor about getting breast implants; fall in love with the bipolar, grieving Eli, who turns out also to be a hoarder; be the clearest voice of support for her friend Adam during his FTM gender transition; date a bully but then get together for-real with Eli; try to dress goth; endure her parents’ divorce; worry briefly that Eli is going to kill her; work for the school paper; have a fling with her potential stepbrother … Honestly, there are 10,000 more plots here, but she also survives cancer, processes her grief after Adam’s death (don’t text and drive), gets together with Eli again, cheats on him, gets pregnant, decides to carry the pregnancy to term, considers postponing college, and then loses her baby. AAAAAHHHH. You can’t even believe how much I left out!
Anyway. Just start, and if you like it, read the various character wikis and let your mind reel. Then watch season three of D:TNG and if you like that, go ahead and start at the beginning and work your way through. Enjoy.
[Years-old spoilers for The Good Wife ahead.] I’ve recently begun watching The Good Wife for the first time, and this week I hit the fifth season and Will Gardner’s shooting. I’d heard spoilers, so I knew it was coming, but I still wasn’t prepared. I feel so heartbroken. When you’re watching a show that’s just come out and something like this happens, you have your fellow fans to help you through it. But Good Wife fans have had years to process Will’s death. For me it just happened yesterday! Any advice for grieving a favorite character when you’re watching way behind the times? —Karen
Most fans/humans will still be with you on this. I am, certainly. Your grief make sense to us all, Karen: Will’s death was the absolute worst. I hated it then, and I hate it now, and I love The Good Wife. I think most fans of the show would happily commiserate with you at whatever time is convenient. I still commiserate with people about Mrs. Landingham’s death on The West Wing, and that happened 15 years ago. I know who lives and dies on ER, and if someone told me they’d recently started watching and just gotten to Lucy Knight’s introduction, I would be baking them a freezer-friendly casserole and planning a visit. Sure, I’ve had years to get over it, and also I know it’s pretend, but I’m a person — I can remember things and I can experience empathy.
Think of it this way: Haven’t you ever read a sad book? Didn’t it feel fine to talk about it with people, regardless of when they’d read it? I hope it did, and if it didn’t, the issue is that your crew is emotionally stingy. In that case, seek kinder companions.
*This article previously misstated that Alicia is the First Lady of Illinois at the beginning of the show. That actually happens later. When the series starts, Peter is a state’s attorney.