stay tuned

What Shows Will Make Me Cry? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered

Photo: Getty Images, PBS, Warner Brothers

Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your pressing television questions. To submit your own Qs, please email, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

My favorite shows are low-concept, human ones that make me cry: Six Feet Under, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood (Boy Meets World also holds a special place in my tear ducts). I’ve been somewhat emotionally satiated by comedy/dramas like Transparent, Looking, BoJack, Enlightened, Please Like Me, You’re the Worst, Cucumber/Banana.

I just have not been able to find more dramas that give me that gut-wrenching, squee-inducing, choked-up feeling that I would get on an episodic basis with the above shows. It feels like dramas these days are too concept-driven for their own good. I love the payoff on an emotional investment; prime-time soaps and dramas lately feel too rushed to earn it; daytime soaps (particularly British ones) achieve it from the sheer time I’ve spent with the characters, despite their lower production quality, but they’re few and far between.

Any recommendations? (Are you gonna make me take the dive with Gilmore Girls? I worry I missed out in my tweenhood and now it won’t hit as hard. And, I know, I know: Srugim. Just as soon as I decide to pay for Hulu …) —Rachel

Hi, Rachel, I love you. And while you’re right, I do recommend GG and Srugim a lot, I don’t think those shows fit what you’re looking for. Luckily, there are lots of weepers that do.

That low-concept, ensemble-driven, human-scale drama you’re looking for? Those are rare these days, but they do exist — they’re just all teen shows now, and they air on Freeform (née ABC Family). The Fosters makes me cry sad tears and also happy tears, and just like “look at our babies, all growed up” tears. Switched at Birth wrecks me because its early seasons especially capture that burning rage you feel as a teenager, that way you’re convinced the world is lying — and in the case of our switched-at-birth leads, they’re right. The new series Recovery Road hasn’t hit the full waterworks just yet (it’s only three episodes in), but I did get a little misty.

As for current, grown-up shows, Grey’s Anatomy feels too obvious not to mention. Holy mother of God, that show can just ruin a person. You said prime-time soaps don’t often earn their sobs, but I think Grey’s does. Sure, it has those drive-through tragic episodes, where a character we’ve never met before succumbs to a terrible fate, but there are also plenty — more than plenty — of sad arcs from characters we have a long-term relationship with. Most episodes of Call the Midwife have a least one moment of lip-quivering onscreen; many episodes can induce full-on weeping. The show isn’t tonally sad, but it does depict many of the sorrows life throws our way. This one might not make you cry, but it did make me cry: The People v. O.J. Simpson. There’s a lot of intense emotion in that show, and every figure (it feels weird saying “character,” so) is pushed to his or her breaking point. There’s a lot of fragility, a lot of “oh, no,” which surprised me. This sensation of suddenly and unfortunately recognizing the precariousness of human existence deepens as the show goes on.

You say you’re looking for dramas, but I’d be remiss not to mention Jane the Virgin here: Of all current shows, it’s the one that makes me cry the most often, and always in a good way. For reality shows, Intervention is a sure bet.

I think for most of your true sobs, though, we’ll need to go the TV vault: Everwood is basically untouchable. If you like FNL and Parenthood but want a little bit more quirk mixed in, this is your jam. Frequent weeping guaranteed. Let’s continue down this teen-centric path and say My So-Called Life, too; that’s definitely on the “when they cry, I cry” list, and there’s a lot of crying on the show. (You might also cry at different moments now as an adult than you did when you were younger!) Party of Five will still wreck you. And if you have any way to track down the MTV reality series If You Really Knew Me, do so, but also have a flotation device ready, lest you drown in tears.

I consider myself a TV aficionado; a year or two ago, I was watching everything there was to watch. Recently I have been feeling like I am slacking because something has changed and I no longer enjoy the heavy dramas I used to love. I feel like a fraud saying I love TV when I can’t get into acclaimed shows like Jessica Jones. Should I feel ashamed, or just embrace the fact that I only want to rewatch Buffy and Chuck? —Emily

Here are instances where it’s appropriate to be ashamed: when you were cruel when you could have been kind; when you hurt someone on purpose, or through carelessness; when you could have helped alleviate suffering and instead you did nothing. If you were green-lighting shows that fostered racist ideas, or shows that promoted homophobia, or shows that normalize violence against women, sure — be ashamed of that. (Though trust me, none of the people who do that are.) But come on, ashamed of wanting to rewatch your favorite shows? No.

We’ve covered this here before, but these types of questions have had a recent resurgence, so here goes: There is no TV Fan Police. There is no test, there is no membership fee, there is no secret password. You are welcome to like TV however you choose to, or choose not to. My pet theory is that thanks to the election, we’re seeing a boom in affiliation policing — “a real progressive would never say that”; “you’re a RINO”; “do you even super-pac?” etc., etc. That posturing is hugely exhausting in a political context, and utterly worthless as it applies to fandoms. It’s bad enough in comics and music and video games. Don’t bring that gatekeeper nonsense to TV, friends. TV is for all of us! Join us at the TV party! There is plenty of room, and you can stay as long as you like! Anyone who would try to make you feel bad about liking what you like is not someone whose ideas you should entertain.

Should I watch the last two seasons of The Office? I loved Carell, but is it worth watching it without him? Charlie, via Twitter

No, you shouldn’t bother with the last two seasons of The Office. But don’t skip those seasons just because Steve Carell is gone — skip season seven and most of six, too. The Office had already started to struggle long before Carell’s exit, and the lack of Michael didn’t change the vibe of the series anywhere near as much as most of us expected it to. If you loved the show’s more aggressive nastiness in seasons six and seven, then eight and nine will be right up your alley. If you already feel a little stressed out by just how awful everyone has become by “Scott’s Tots,” which was my breaking point, then call it a day. Watch the finale, though; it’s a good episode, and it’s nice to have a sense of completion.

What Shows Will Make Me Cry?