There are times it feels like you really have to reach to find happiness. There are times it feels like everything around you is angry, dark, and heavy. There are times when it seems like the entire media landscape—from the news to the fiction you turn to when you need to escape the news—is conspiring against your valiant attempt to find reasons to smile and laugh every day.
This seems like one of those times, doesn’t it?
Looking back on posts from previous years, it seems that around this time every year, television decides to get really dark, and this year is certainly no exception. From Jane the Virgin and Nashville to This Is Us, there’s been no shortage of tears shed over fictional characters lately. And even in the world of cinema, this has been a rough patch if you’re looking for some escapist fun and unabashed joy; Oscar season isn’t known for its happy films, but this was a particularly heavy year, where even the film being praised most ardently for its joyful spirit (La La Land) ended on a bittersweet note.
What are we to do when things look dark? We celebrate the light. We appreciate moments of pure good where we find them. And we hold on to happiness like the precious treasure it is.
I watched a lot of Fuller House in the days around the presidential inauguration this year. It’s a show that exists for no other reason than to make people happy, and it does its job well. It’s not Breaking Bad or Orange Is the New Black, and not every show needs to be or should be. Sometimes you just want to watch a silly, simple show where storylines are wrapped up in 30 minutes with a group hug. It’s a throwback to a more innocent, less cynical time, and if you’re looking for some warm, fluffy feelings in your media-consuming life, I highly recommend it.
Another show that has become my antidote to all the death and cynicism on television in recent weeks is Timeless. It’s certainly not on the same level of fluffiness as Fuller House, but it’s about three fundamentally good people working together and becoming a family through trust, respect, and empathy, which is even better than fluff. Plus, it’s a time-traveling adventure with great costumes, impeccable guest stars (Fellow Once Upon a Time fans should check it out if only for Sean Maguire’s almost inhumanly charming turn as James Bond creator Ian Fleming.), and characters you feel good about rooting for—characters who have grown more in one season than some shows allow their characters to grow during an entire run, characters who fight for each other, characters who have big hearts and are big nerds. It also has my favorite developing romance on television right now between Wyatt Logan and Lucy Preston, and there is no happier feeling than watching a fictional relationship progress from initial skepticism to respect to fake engagements to real hugs to “I cannot lose you again!” to opening hearts and taking chances—all in the course of one season.
Beyond the world of television, the happiest media I’ve consumed lately is the movie I am most strongly rooting for during tomorrow’s Oscar ceremony: Hidden Figures. Don’t get me wrong; I loved La La Land and won’t be sad at all if it wins Best Picture, but Hidden Figures was something special. I haven’t loved a movie with the passion I feel for this one since walking out of The Force Awakens over a year ago.
Sometimes you just want to leave a movie theater feeling uplifted and inspired, and that’s exactly what Hidden Figures is all about—spreading joy and hope, even while acknowledging that there are times in our history as a nation where those things have not been easy to come by. Hidden Figures is a movie in which hard work is rewarded, friendship is celebrated, women build each other up and break barriers down, and good things happen to good people. It’s a movie that reminds all of us—especially women (and even more especially women of color)—to hold on to the passions, the work, and the interests that make us happy, even if they aren’t what society thinks we should focus on. It’s a movie that shows women that there is nothing “weird” or “wrong” about being smart and owning your intelligence (especially in STEM fields); in fact, your intelligence and pride in it could change the world. And it’s a movie that provides young women with role models they desperately need; superstar scientists who are intelligent and hardworking but also fun-loving, flirtatious, rebellious, warm, and kindhearted.
I loved Hidden Figures so much that I immediately bought the book it was based on, which is just as inspiring as the film. It’s inspired me to push for this topic—women of color in STEM fields—to be included in a book series the publishing company I work for is creating, and I could not be prouder to continue to share these stories with the young women (and men) who will read the book we’re working on. On days when the world seems oppressively dark and growing darker, that’s where I’m finding the light.
Finally, no post about media that brings me joy should end without including the one medium that always warms my heart: the stage. Last week, I had the pleasure of watching a filmed version of the Broadway musical Newsies with two members of the NGN Family—Mary and Shauna—and it reminded me how much joy I get watching talented people dance in front of a live audience. If you need a quick burst of joy today (or any day), this video should do the trick; it always works for me:
Now it’s your turn to share your current media happy places! What books, movies, TV shows, stage shows, and web series are currently bringing joy into your life?
I am here with happy recommendations! Some with qualifications because I will find happiness in weird and probably not actually happy media and some that are just pure joy.
Staring with the pure joy, first in my heart right now is Superstore. I laugh so much watching this show and you cannot help but love these characters. I have had to pause episodes because I am laughing so hard and I need that in my week and in my life. It’s ridiculous and fun and these people care about each other so much and that shines through even when they disagree, which they do a lot.
Next, everyone go watch One Day at Time right now. This is how you make a comedy that has so much to say but also entertains and makes you feel. It is the perfect blend of everything I could ever want. And who can resist the incomparable Rita Moreno?
It’s been cancelled for a few years now, but Enlisted is well-worth an Amazon purchase. It will make you cry but the heart of the show is so lovely. Randy Hill is still one of my favorite male characters in a comedy because he is so caring and wonderful.
And just in case anyone hasn’t seen it yet, Playing House. The 3rd season is currently being filmed so it’s the perfect time to catch up on this wonderful gem of a show. It has a beautiful female friendship at its core and also Keegan-Michael Key as the leading man in a romantic comedy we all need more of.
Now onto the recs with qualifications. Call the Midwife makes me feel more hopeful and better about humanity than anything else on television. It will make you cry at least once an episode, for both happy and sad reasons, and it will make you feel a lot because it’s a show that demands empathy. The women of Nonnatus House, both the midwives and the nuns, care so much. They have so much love for women and hearts that call them to serve in whatever way possible. I don’t recommend this for people who are squeamish about childbirth in any way though, so be aware of that.
The next show only has qualifications because I’m still in the early stages of catching up with it and I’m not entirely sure what direction the show takes in later seasons. Steven Universe is a strange, adorable, good-hearted gem. And I mean that literally. It focuses on Steven and the Crystal Gems who are for all intents and purposes, his adoptive moms. Their job is to save Earth from those who would try to harm it. The characters are all great (and it features the most adorable tiny nerdy girl who I adore with all my heart) but what I have loved the most is Steven’s gigantic heart. He loves so much and so freely. It’s also gathered a reputation for being one of the more inclusive children’s shows, which is also a win.
I need to write a full post about it, but Sweet/Vicious was one of the TV highlights of the past few months. It deals with a very serious subject (campus sexual assault) but does so in a way that doesn’t bog you down in darkness. It balances the dark side of recovery and speaking out with an amazing friendship and the healing that comes from that. It’s still funny and a pleasure to watch and works so much better than I am making it sound. It is however, horrifying and unrelenting in it’s portrayal of rape culture and I spent and entire episode in tears. So big qualifications if you’re looking for something strictly happy but I cannot recommend it enough.
Finally, just a general recommendation for my CW shows. Jane the Virgin is a continued delight even in the midst of tragedy. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend makes me happy even as my heart breaks for Rebecca and the music is a constant source of joy and so extremely clever. Supergirl is always a pleasure even when the show isn’t at it’s strongest or doing things I don’t love because Melissa Benoist radiates happiness and her bond with Alex continues to ground the show. And for being one of the least happy shows I watch, The 100 and the slice of fandom I lurked in continue to make me happy each week even in the face of the apocalypse. The show I fell in love with is back and nothing is happier than that.
And now on to the book portion of this, take all of these recommendations with a grain of salt because I often find a lot of happiness and comfort in darker books.
For fun and something that I know will end well, I’ll turn to cozy mysteries (preferably something cooking related). My favorites are the Hannah Swenson series by Joanne Fluke and the White House Chef series by Julie Hyzy. They are very easy reads and not brilliant works of literature but they are comforting and come with recipes.
Also leaning toward the happy and inspiring, Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. I loved reading this book and the way she pushed herself outside of her comfort zone and found so much more than she expected. And for Grey’s Anatomy fans, the way she talks about Cristina Yang will make you cry. To continue the inspiring theme, I will recommend Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection until my dying breath.
On the side where you should probably not listen to me if you’re looking for happy things but that bring me joy, I will continue my love for Seanan McGuire. It’s not quite happy but Every Heart a Doorway offers a tragic but hopeful look at finding the place you belong and the person you were meant to be. It’s about telling and embracing your own story and there is a comfort and warmth in that even in the sadness and grimness of the story. It’s gorgeously written and I just love what it has to say about the role of narration in one’s life. I’ve also been enjoying her October Daye series, which has given me new characters to love and an incredible chosen family that I think gets better as you go on (I’ve only read the first two). Seanan is not known for writing happy books but they are books you can get lost in because the world is so vivid and detailed. That feeling will always make me happy, even if the content is heavier.
Also along those lines but maybe a little happier (like I said, probably don’t take my word on any of these) is Sarah J. Maas’s A Court Of series. The second book in particular is about healing and finding your strength and your voice and those kinds of stories are ones that make me feel good. I love characters who have been through awful things and survive and are made stronger by those around then and A Court of Mist and Fury gave me so many of them. It’s darkly hopeful that good can survive and that there are people and places worth fighting for with everything you have. There are a lot of places where it hurts as we see the main character get broken down before being able to start building herself back up but it’s a great character arc. When things get hard, I want stories of resilience and friendship to turn to and that’s what I find in this series.
YES to One Day at a Time! I’m savoring the first season so I’m only about halfway through it now, but it’s so warm and wonderful. Rita Moreno has been an inspiration for me since I was 16 and saw West Side Story for the first time, and she continues to make me smile today. Her character reminds me in no small way of my great aunt, and I love seeing women of her age with big personalities celebrated.
I’m also getting so excited for the CW superhero musical event. I know that’s going to bring so much joy into my TV watching life, even though I gave up on The Flash this season and am woefully behind on Supergirl. The mere mental picture of all those talented people singing together makes me smile.
Finally, I just want to second your Playing House recommendation. I think I’m going to try to do a rewatch with my sister soon so she can be all caught before S3 airs and so I can enjoy it all over again.
PS: I just need to add that “And for being one of the least happy shows I watch, The 100 and the slice of fandom I lurked in continue to make me happy each week even in the face of the apocalypse.” is the most quintessentially “Heather” sentence I have ever read in my life. Your ability to find bright spots in dark media is such a wonderful quality, my beautiful tropical fish. ❤
Sweetie, I’m so glad you brought this up. This idea has been lurking around the corners of my brain since this summer and the end of “Royal Pains. Now, I’m not exactly a die-hard fan; I would just check in sometimes (primarily because of Campbell Scott . . . and there’s another good rabbit trail: shows I have watched because of the actor). I wanted to watch the end because it was the last of USA’s “blue skies” programming.
I miss “blue skies.” I miss Adrian Monk and mysteries that get solved in an hour and Lt. Disher’s take on Barney Fife. I miss Shawn Spencer’s terrible puns, Gus’s Pluto pick-up line and waiting for the moment where he screamed like a small child. I miss Eureka and Warehouse 13. As you say, sometimes you want fluff and happy at the end of the hour.
So I have been thinking about the shows that make me happy. I will watch “Murder, She Wrote,” “Columbo,” and “Hart to Hart” until the end of time. I will keep Shauna company with “MacMillan and Wife.” (But only MacMillan and wife. We will not speak of “Macmillan” and that last season.) Classic TV shows — especially mysteries — make me happy.
“White Collar” and “Leverage” are my catnip. (I think “Leverage” is still on Netflix. If you like heist films and witty banter and bad guys getting their come-uppance, then check this out. Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Christian Kane, Aldis Hodge, and Beth Riesgraf.)
I have “Timeless” DVR’d because it seems like a good show to binge . . . I have to admit, I’m also waiting to see if it gets renewed . . .
“The Librarians” is also on my happy list. This show gave us Bruce Campbell as St. Nick . . . need I say more?
I’m also a fan of “Elementary.” (I know all the cool kids love “Sherlock,” but I think Moffat’s gotten too obsessed with being clever and missed the point of Holmes.) The Sherlock-Watson dynamic in “Elementary” is great, and I think this version of Holmes is more faithful to the spirit of the original. (IMO, the best interpretation of the original Holmes is Jeremy Brett.)
I’m also a classic movie girl. I love good screwball comedy and “B” mysteries. You will pry The ThIn Man movies from my cold, dead hands.
As for books, I ADORE mysteries. (Yes, I was a Nancy Drew girl.) I love Golden Age mysteries. I like the puzzle, so I don’t necessarily go for the exceedingly dark mysteries.
Also, Tolkien geek. Serious Tolkien geek. No, really. TOLKIEN GEEK.
I’ll probably think of more later . . . can’t wait to see everyone else’s happy lists.
Yes, we shall not talk about the last season of MacMillan, lol. I think that was one of my first TV experiences as a kid where I realized TV writers can be cruel.
The entire time I was reading this post I just kept thinking “Tempest really needs to binge-watch Castle.” 😉 Seriously, if you’re looking for another good mystery show with stories that wrap up in the hour, fast-paced dialogue, and a story notably influenced by the Thin Man movies, I cannot recommend it to you highly enough (I can even give you specific episodes to watch to make the bingeing more manageable.) I remember you saying you had started it, but if you’re ever looking for something that I think would suit your interests perfectly, it would be such a good fit, I think. (Just skip the whole last season…)
I also just need to squeal about finding a fellow Nancy Drew girl on here! I devoured both the original books and the new-wave 1990s ones as a kid. I did SO MANY book reports on Nancy Drew mysteries when we got to pick our own books to write about. When I worked at a library in college, I used to spend a lot of time “organizing” (aka re-reading) those books in the hopes that some other kids would fall in love with them, too.
And I will end this by saying watch Timeless whenever you get the time! I did not anticipate loving it as much as I have; the stories they’ve chosen to tell so far (I refuse to believe there won’t be a S2) are so unique and make my inner history buff so happy. Not to mention, there is a lot of pretty happening in that cast. 😉
Since TNT is running Castle, I really need to jump back in . . . And yes, totally plan on a Timeless binge now. (My undergrad was in History as well as English. HIstory geeks UNITE!)
Girl you know I loved that Timless bit. But this was a fantastic article! And I seriously can’t wait to start Superstore per Heather’s request. To suggest a happy show, I binge-watched When Calls the Heart last year during a sad time in my life and it filled me with so much hope. It’s Hallmark, so naturally it’s cheesy beyond words, but I’m literally crying after every episode because of how wonderful these characters are and how sweet the story telling is. If you’re ever in need of some cheesy goodness to just warm your heart, WCTH is a fascinating way to go.
I’m just starting Superstore, too! I can’t wait to talk about it with you!
YES!! I am so excited for both of you to fall in love with the show and these weird and lovable characters.
Happy media is always a good thing. I watched a ridiculous number of Hallmark original Christmas movies this past holiday for exactly this reason.
I am with Tempest in missing USA’s old lineup of witty fun shows! Psych will always hold a place in my heart.
I think when it comes to a shot of happiness I am more of a movie watcher. Its the most efficient happy vehicle. My go-tos: Tangled, Joss Whedon’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, and Ever After. Those three work every time and I tend to pull them out during emergencies.
For TV, pretty much anything by Mike Schur. I really need Brooklyn nine-nine back. And of course I am also on team ‘Timeless’. Its not a show I was super invested in, but its got great characters and I dont think I will ever get tired of watching them all geek out about meeting historical figures or how everyone has a crush on Lucy.
Fanfiction is also a great shot of happiness for me. There is one story in particular I have read at least 30 times and my love for it has not diminished with repeated reading. Its only three chapters long, and a perfect quick read before bed if I have had an especially crappy day. Since I know a lot of readers here are Captain Swan fans, I will post the link it hopes of sharing. I have read A LOT of fanfiction, and this is still my all time favorite. Its Lieutenant Duckling AU, and its also a safe PG-13 🙂 You know what, I think I am going to read it again right now, lol. https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8928397/1/yeah-just-like-me-she-was-a-victim-of-the-night
First: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! (*throws confetti*)
Second: TANGLED. Yes. YES. YESSSSSSSS!!!! Tangled. I ADORE Tangled. (This is the point where I’m waving my hands excitedly and the squeals get louder an louder. I love this movie.) And yes, I can sing ALL the songs . . . as one does.
I’m with you on Hallmark. I like happy at Christmas. I also enjoy the mystery movies. They’re just fun.
TANGLED APPRECIATION THREAD! It’s my favorite Disney movie, and I actually just brought two pieces of Tangled artwork (one that Shauna bought me for Christmas) to hang in my new office. There’s something special about that movie; it’s funny and charming and sweet and just the right amount of emotional. It’s also way smarter than people give it credit for, and who doesn’t want their own Eugene? 😉
First of all, how have I not read that fic yet?! I have now bookmarked it to read ASAP (and then probably reread ASAP). You know I love a good CS fic. 😉
And you know I’m with you on the Mike Schur = instant happiness train. The world is a much sadder place without Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I can’t wait for it to be back in our lives.
You also have me thinking that I need a Much Ado rewatch soon. It’s been far too long.
I love this truly madly deeply. Although beaten to the punch on many things I would have said.
TV — I could not more enthusiastically co-sign on Crazy Ex Girlfriend and One Day at A Time’s reboot. Both have such wonderful performances alongside real stories I cared about and in the case of One Day at A Time I related too. I also adored Grace and Frankie where I would argue Lily Tomlin has never been better. And though behind, I am a big fan of Mozart in the Jungle as well. It’s high energy and high velocity and spectacularly fun. I am impatiently waiting for Mom to be on streaming somewhere, because aside from some slight missteps for a half season it is my favorite comedy and Allison Janney is pure gold. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth watching the guest appearance with Chris Pratt as an isolated episode. One that will remain on my DVR for sometime to come. I am also so happy that Planet Earth has returned. The wonders of it never cease to amaze me and it always makes for a great sit down discussion with my 11 year old.
I lean into HGTV, in particular House Hunters International and have a slight obsession with Tiny House Hunters. That for me is escapism at its best and the design factor in both these cases in particular I find appealing and interesting.
I’ve also gone back to classic stand up. I really enjoyed Cristela Alonzo’s recent stand up Lower Classy, but suspect part of my enjoyment was the Latina lens she brings. However, Eddie Murphy’s Delirious remains one of the great stand up performances alongside Robin Williams Live at the Met and Whoopi Goldberg’s Broadway one woman show. Classic George Carlin always makes me laugh.
YouTube continues to save my life and sanity on a regular basis. Just last night it was Neil Patrick Harris’ 2013 Tony Awards opening performance and I am a sucker for the classic Billy Crystal Oscar openers. I also just find watching Broadway performances, joyous.
I too find comfort food in classic movies I adore whether its Hepburn and Grant classics like The Philadelphia Story.
Novels are a luxury for me these days, so my list is longer than my actual reading. But I am taking notes for all the good advice here. But I’ve also taken to listening to music more. Turning off the TV and playing my music at home on full tilt.
It’s so nice to see you around these parts, friend! ❤
It looks like I really need to add Mozart in the Jungle to my list. I have multiple people whose opinions I trust telling me how great it is, so it looks like I might be diving into that show soon.
Your love of HGTV reminds me of my deep love of The Food Network. For someone who doesn't really cook, I have always adored cooking shows. (Seriously, 5-year-old me used to watch PBS cooking shows every Saturday while I ate my lunch.) Chopped, Kids Baking Championship, and Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives always help me relax. I also turn to Bravo whenever my brain needs a break—with Top Chef always owning my heart, but those Housewives of every city and the Vanderpump Rules crew also giving me just the right amount of ridiculous reality TV drama I need in my life.
Finally, what did we ever do without YouTube? Lately I've been going down a wormhole of old panels/cast roundtables for The Americans, because for as heavy as the show is, the cast is such a bundle of laughter and joy that it's infectious.
Since you I brought up food network cooking shows…I got sucked into Master Chef jr this season since my friend’s niece was on it, and I have really been enjoying it. I adore chopped jr, and this is very similar. What strikes me the most is how supportive the kids are of each other. They are trying hard for themselves, but they don’t put down their fellow competitors, and they have such an excitement and hope for the future I really need that dose of optimism right now!
Ok, totally jumping on the HGTV and Food Network train. Fixer Upper, Chopped. Cutthroat Kitchen . . . I love watching the inventiveness.
Like Shauna, I love the positive, helpful vibe on some of these shows. I don’t want manufactured drama. I want to watch people doing what they love and being clever about it.
Oh for the record — we are HUGE Food Network fans in this house. Chopped is our jam. And we adore a good Cake Wars. And Katie, make no mistake the Housewives are in my escape hatch too — Erica Giradi gives me life on RHOBH
OMG YES TO A FELLOW ERICA FAN. My sister and have declared her our favorite in any version of that franchise. She is the epitome of owning who you are—every fierce and fabulous facet.
I love the children’s versions of all cooking shows, too! The kids are just so sweet and genuinely helpful toward one another. That’s actually one of my favorite things about a lot of competitive reality shows featuring people with specific skills (Top Chef, So You Think You Can Dance, even Dancing with the Stars); the contestants—for the most part—seem to genuinely support and care about each other. It’s such a nice antidote to other reality shows that play up the drama.
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