"Problematic" is a word that has been cropping up more and more in recent years. It seems that so much these days can be classified under that umbrella. But, let's be real, it's not just "snowflakes being offended." It's the reality that some things in popular culture are straight up offensive and troublesome. Rule of thumb: you don't get to tell someone if they should be offended or not. If they are, due to problematic TV shows or movies, then maybe there's a bigger issue! So many of the most "groundbreaking" series in the last few years have, in actuality, turned out to be hugely problematic TV shows!
Some of these shows have no idea how to handle race relations, others can't grasp reasonable class portrayal or tact when it comes to health and weight loss. What may be funny to some can be incredibly hurtful to others. Does this mean that we shouldn't joke about anything ever again? Definitely not! But, it's important to recognize the TV shows that aim to do something ~groundbreaking~ and totally miss the mark! Here are some of the most "important" shows of our time that actually have some deep, problematic issues!
During it's run, Girls was both much beloved and much maligned. The series had a lot of positive qualities. There were the body-positive leanings, the realistic struggles of some twentysomethings, and a female-led cast. But, behind those things, there were some hugely problematic issues. The show aimed to show the universal struggles of twentysomethings fresh out of college trying to make their way in the world but really just centered in on a small, privileged set of individuals living in gentrified Brooklyn. The "relatability" the show strived for was completely skewed. There's also a huge lack of representation on the show. The entire cast was white, with a few exceptions sprinkled in throughout the run. It's hard to make grand statements about money struggles, feminism, and romance without including anyone other than affluent white girls!
There is absolutely no denying that this is one of the most influential drama series to ever be on television. But, if we're being honest, it's also one of the most problematic TV shows. This is for one huge reason: how Italian Americans are represented. While creator David Chase asserts that he wasn't trying to make sweeping claims about all Italian Americans being mafioso criminals, many people weren't buying it. Plenty of Italian American associations and coalitions boycotted the show and even excluded them from parades and events. So, while the show changed TV forever it didn't do much for Italian American image! Furthermore, looking back, the homophobia was blatant.
There is only so far a show can get running off of stereotypes. Inexplicably, it's been 12 seasons for this by-the-numbers comedy. While it's one of the most beloved sitcoms on television, it's also been problematic from the get-go. The show is blatantly sexist, full of stereotypes, and a little pervy. Every main male character is the archetype of a "geek," with everyone else around them basically being touted as idiots. On top of that, all of these nerdy characters think they're better than everyone else and it leads to highly misogynistic moments involving many women on the show. It may be one of the most popular shows on TV (somehow!), but it's also one of the most offensive TV shows to come around in a long time. The fact that so many people watch it without even regarding its issues is even more troublesome!
Glee always did a decent job at talking about sensitive topics and being inclusive for the most part. But, that doesn't mean there aren't major issues in this so-called groundbreaking musical dramedy. While it presented the idea of the glee club as a place all could be included and accepted, the show often stereotyped everyone at McKinley High. The "mean girl" didn't often have layers; the "gay guy" was notable only for his sexuality; Shannon Beiste's (Dot Jones) treatment was a whole lot of BS; and the show frequently did things for the sake of "being shocking" instead of actually delving into the issues at hand. While the series did a lot of good for kids who related to it, it also hindered many by the way it pigeon-holed every character.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is iconic, but that doesn't stop it from having some pretty serious issues. One big issue people have had with the show is the "bi-erasure" of Willow (Alyson Hannigan). The character dated several men before falling in love with Tara (Amber Benson). But once the two got together, her attraction to men was out the window as if it never existed. Shows tend to have an issue with bisexuality, unfortunately, and therefore tend to see sexuality as a dichotomy instead of a spectrum. Can we also talk about how every person of color that pops up on the show dies within a few episodes? Or how Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) losing her virginity *literally* almost causes the apocalypse?! Some of the most problematic TV shows are the ones you don't expect!
Let's be real, Seinfeld was never trying to be unproblematic. Not to say it was actively trying to cause issues, but it was a series about selfish people doing selfish things that were funny and wrong. So, you could say that the problematic nature of the show was built into the comedy. Though, under the surface of the obvious racist and sexist jokes that poked fun at the characters' prejudices was something a little deeper. There were homophobic and sexist undertones to many of the things Jerry & Co. do in the series. We should also mention that the cast is predominantly white and male, with any minority or woman stepping into the series being mined for laughs in some stereotypical capacity. Oftentimes the show intended to be shocking, but it was the most problematic when it unconsciously being offensive!
There is no denying that this show is hilarious. It's also super body-positive and led by a diverse cast. But there are some fundamental issues with race and feminism that the show still has. For one, the show seems to take the jokes about radical feminism a bit too far. Mocking actual sexual assault issues for laughs can undermine the severity of campus rapes and victim shaming, for instance. The show has insinuated that dressing sexy, going out to the club with friends, and getting a little drunk are basically "anti-feminist" actions. That insinuation is the only anti-feminist thing I see here! The series also has some issues with race — namely, every minority is basically a stereotype. Jacqueline's (Jane Krakowski) entire Native American storyline is proof of that! The show may be funny, but some things aren't jokes!
Oh dang, one of your faves is one of the most problematic TV shows! That obviously doesn't mean The Office is unwatchable, but it does mean that blind love of something can hide some of the glaring problems. Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is incredibly sexist and homophobic towards his employees. He creates the definition of a hostile work environment! He harasses female employees, once outed a gay colleague, and has no sense of racial sensitivity. M. Scott is just the worst and the fact that he's still presented as a likable guy on the show is a huge issue! Even some of the tamer characters could be viewed as pretty offensive from a modern lens.
Master of None promises a lot of things. The Aziz Ansari-fronted series boasts a diverse cast, experimental storytelling, and feminist themes. But, despite the inclusion of all that great stuff, there are some problematic issues with the show. Dev (Ansari) is a stereotypical "Nice Guy" a.k.a nice and respectful on the surface but harboring misogynistic views underneath. Case in point: his relationship with Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi). He knows she's engaged and still pursues her, acting like a petulant child when she turns him down. As if a woman can't want to be friends with a man without it eventually turning romantic! The fact that the season ends (spoiler!) with her in bed with him insinuates something else: if you bother a woman enough she will eventually give in and sleep with you. Ugh, gross!
One of TV's most problematic TV shows is also one of its most popular. Game of Thrones has a lot of problems. Racism, sexism, and a casual stance on sexual assault are just some of the cringe-worthy aspects of the show. There are very few developed characters of color on the show — you can probably count all of the ones with names on one hand. Even when there are diverse communities presented, they're basically just there for Daenerys to save (hello, all of Essos!). Game of Thrones also has a widely publicized rape problem. There have been almost 20 rape scenes and near-rape scenes in the series' history. While that can make for powerful storytelling if done right, here it just feels like gratuitous violence against women with very little emotional payoff to account for it being a plot point again and again and again!
This Is Us is basically guaranteed to make you laugh and cry every week. But, that doesn't mean it's without its flaws. One of the most problematic parts of the show is anything concerning Kate's (Chrissy Metz) weight loss. While it's always great to see a real looking woman on TV, her storyline has been reduced to fatphobic tropes and not much more. The show acts as if she has nothing else to offer other than her constant worries about her weight. The series also takes her insecurities and amplifies them by 100 when it comes to her relationship. Her boyfriend is sweet, but completely ignores Kate's boundaries. Yet, he's still portrayed as her ideal man and the best a girl like her could get! Kate deserves so much more than the problematic storylines she receives on this show!
Modern Family is named such because of its depiction of modern day, diverse families. When it first began, it did a great job of showing different kinds of families and the craziness that we all go through with our loved ones. But, as the show has progressed, it has presented the exact type of stereotypes it had hoped to debunk. There's casual racism when it comes to Gloria (Sofia Vergara), who is rarely given storylines that don't have to do with her ethnicity or the fact that she's dating a much older, white man. As one of the only prominent characters with a nonwhite background, this is especially problematic. But this isn't the only issue! The LGBT couple is frequently the butt of jokes; the youngest Dunphy daughters are stereotypes (one is dumb and pretty, the other is smart but has no friends); the men are almost all casually sexist. It's all used as fodder for laughs while making this one of the most problematic TV shows along the way!
Oh, boy. This one. The Netflix series aimed to do good with a storyline about a girl who loses weight and regains her agency. But, in reality, it was problematic as hell. It's incredibly fatphobic, insinuating that anyone who is overweight is "sick" or just something to be laughed at. The show also makes tasteless jokes about molestation, statutory rape, and the LGBT community. It's a bit of a shock the show even got made! The most surprising thing, though, is the fact that there are people out there that love it and don't see the problematic issues!
Say it ain't so! Yep, one of the most groundbreaking sitcoms of all time is also problematic AF. Oh, and it's not just millennial whining — there are some seriously concerning things on the show! First off, the obvious one — there is no diversity. These are young twentysomethings living in NEW YORK CITY and they don't know any people of color!? The series is also severely homophobic and transphobic. How often did we have to hear the gang call Chandler (Matthew Perry) gay like it was some horrible thing to be? Not to mention Chandler's trans father who was the butt of every joke when she(? their gender identity is never really stated) appeared on the show. That's just the tip of the iceberg! Let's not forget all the times the guys objectified women and when a young Monica (Courteney Cox) was constantly body shamed for her weight! We love Friends and it totally changed TV comedies, but in the light of 2019, it's one of the most problematic TV shows around.
Sex and the City was groundbreaking when it came to depicting women's sexuality. They talked about vibrators, orgasms, oral, and every type of female pleasure most types of TV shows to this day are afraid to talk about. But, it runs into the same problematic issue that plagues many of the show on this list: it's completely whitewashed. Much like the gang on Friends, how do these women in New York City not know any people of color?! There is also the issue of the men on this show! While the women are searching for ~true love~ in NYC, they run into some of the sleaziest men alive and constantly make excuses for them. While the show mostly dealt with heterosexual relationships, when it did delve into LGBT territory, it was always a damn mess. There are also the instances of casual slut-shaming (mostly towards sex-positive Samantha, played by Kim Cattrall) on a show that claims to be about women loving sex just as much as men. The show will forever be iconic for depicting the dating scene for young women. But, you know, only white, affluent, heterosexual young women!
Of all the problematic TV shows on this list, this one is definitely the most controversial. There are huge fans of the TV show, while others fully recognize a potential for danger concerning the content. The series centers on Hannah (Katherine Langford), a high school student who commits suicide and leaves tapes for her classmates explaining the reasons why she did it. Suicide awareness is incredibly important, as well as shedding a light on bullying and high school sexual assaults. But there are for sure problematic issues with how the show did it. Showing Hannah's suicide in full, unflinching detail may have scared some away from self-harm but also may have inspired others. There is also the problem of the blame shifting narrative that doesn't take into account Hannah's clear mental health issues that are never discussed! This is the pinnacle of problematic TV shows!