As a lowly production assistant trying to make my way through the entertainment industry, I’ve been the fly on the wall in rooms full of various executive producers and network heads yelling at each other about what should and shouldn’t air. Most of it is logistical and way more boring than you’d imagine, but one word that’s always interesting to hear a bunch of white men toss around is “diverse.” I’ve seen grown men go pale realizing someone they’ve employed misidentified an actor’s name during a live broadcast. While it is a sign of progress to see people in positions of power express concern for the integrity of their content, the fact that most of these television executives are motivated simply by money means that they still don’t quite understand meaningful diversity.
I’ll spell it out for you: having one black best friend to crack jokes and offer vague advice every few plot arcs is not meaningful diversity. Honestly, even if the person of color thrown into the show does have depth to them, one character isn’t enough to justify actual “diversity,” when the rest of entertainment history has been led almost exclusively by white actors. Fortunately, not every board room is packed with nervous white capitalists who would love to just reboot Friends (am I throwing shade at the new Will & Grace? I might be). Sometimes a network trusts the creators of color they hire to produce real, actual diverse TV shows that are entertaining and tell meaningful stories.
Superstore is a breath of fresh air for major network TV. Led by America Ferrera, the pretend-Walmart cast features well-developed Asian, Black, and Latinx characters. The show does a great job of incorporating plotlines that explore issues that disproportionately affect minority communities; such as immigration, maternity leave, labor unions, sexual harassment, and workplace racism, without feeling corny or overreaching. The writers of this show know how to make jokes about these issues but never at the expense of their characters. Amy, Cheyenne, Garrett and Mateo all feel like genuine, nuanced representations of working-class Americans, which is reflective of actual reality rather than the white worlds most often on our screens.
Seeing a character like Stephanie Beatriz’s Rosa Diaz develop over seven seasons as stoic, firm, while tangibly empathetic and kind is a joy I can barely begin to describe without risking tears in public. And she’s only one in a cast of several beautifully written characters on (now) NBC’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The show follows a group of New York City detectives who unabashedly love each other and support each other (when they’re not competing for their annual Halloween victory-title) in each episode. Performances from Terry Crews and Andre Braugher deepen the representation of Black men on TV to allow for softness and non-toxic masculinity.
I started watching The Good Place at a time where nowhere felt like a good place. Post-2016 election, I feel like I can speak for most of the country in saying that the world felt like chaos, and this show felt like a hug. Exploring themes of morality and the afterlife, The Good Place features a cast that sits far away from any cultural stereotypes. Tahani, a wealthy South Asian socialite, drops hot celebrity names alongside a black ethics professor, Chidi, and goofy Filipino dancer Jason Mendoza. Thank heavens (or the good place?) that the cast is actually diverse, given that the show takes place in the afterlife — where literally anyone who was once alive ends up. The sort-of-dead cast is charming and warm and offers the hope that maybe even the most flawed (and most annoying) of us have the potential to be better.
Even though it’s currently in TV-land-limbo after Netflix canceled it, One Day At A Time is a beloved show for its reimagining of its '70s/'80s predecessor. So, rather than a white family in Indianapolis, we get to know the Cuban-American Alvarez family. The show earnestly explores all kinds of important themes: some that we’ve seen from time to time on more serious episodes of television, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but some that feel like uncharted territory for a sitcom, like the introduction of a gender non-binary character. Ultimately, One Day At A Time showcases heart and humor through the experiences of a historically underrepresented cast of characters, and proves that even your white grandma can agree that family drives you crazy — but you love ‘em.
FX introduced Atlanta, a truly unique gem to television back in 2016 led by Mr. “What Can’t He Do?!” Donald Glover. The show abstracts typical storytelling devices to question notions of race, class, and the music industry, but also defines its own style of unsettling humor. The show focuses on the careers of a few black men in Atlanta and also dynamically explores the relationships they have with and the lives of black women, rather than using them as foils to their dysfunction or props for their shenanigans, as TV shows historically have done. Atlanta distinctly does a great job of making very timely and relevant pop cultural observations and using irony to make you rethink consensus — like really, what if Justin Bieber was black?
Issa Rae’s banger of an HBO show will have you recording terrible attempts at freestyle rap on your laptop’s Photobooth application before shoving three taco-truck fish tacos down your throat in defeat. Ok, fine, MAYBE that’s just me (?) but Issa’s character on Insecure makes spontaneous rapping look so easy and always seems to know where the best LA food spots are. What makes the show special, though, is how beautifully it explores the friendship between Issa and Molly, as they navigate their respective personal and work lives. And lest I forget, their other friends and even coworkers build a dynamic network of perspective that explores issues affecting black and brown communities.
The CW’s masterful Jane the Virgin has to be among the top five shows that'll make you cry. While this North American pop-spin on the Latin American telenovela definitely has us all crying at its dramatic plot twists and tragedies, you'll also be constantly moved by the touching relationships between the three Villanueva women. Each at different stages in life (retired, working, or pursuing her dreams) and with different life philosophies (very traditional, very rebellious, or somewhere in the middle), the women consistently show up for and work to understand each other. It's magical to watch a sincere and entertaining story led by three distinct and powerful Latinx women on network television.
Netflix has been shelling out content like nobody’s business — only their multibillion-dollar business — which for the most part hasn’t disappointed. Among their lineup stands On My Block, the exciting high school show I would have been ALL OVER back in my younger years. I’m still all over it now, but I can’t help but think how nice it must be for kids in high school to see actors who look like them in a story about being in high school. The show is fun, interesting, and just a little bit serious. Much like HBO’s Insecure, it breathes *real* life into Los Angeles through characters that are dynamic and hilarious.
Ok, so, Patriot Act isn’t necessarily an ensemble cast of diverse actors. Technically, it’s a cast of one person. But that one person, Hasan Minhaj, fills a major role never before filled by a South Asian person before! You might remember him from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, or for his delightfully poignant White House Correspondents dinner bit in 2017. Now as the host of his own political-commentary TV show, he delves into serious issues affecting minority communities, often neglected by mainstream news. Funny, sincere, and clearly passionate, Hasan is a necessary beacon of hope (and warning) in the Netflix catalog.
If you’re wondering why the lead of Crazy Rich Asians looks so familiar, it’s because she’s also a star on ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat. In Eddie Huang's memoir-adaptation, Constance Wu plays his mother Jessica Huang, married to father Louis with their three boys. The Huang family starts the show not entirely new to the U.S., but new to suburban Orlando and the restaurant business. The hilarious show navigates their lives as Chinese immigrants in a predominantly white neighborhood with a genuine respect for their experience that doesn’t feel forced. With Asian American representation so scarce, Fresh Off The Boat is a special buoy to keep us afloat while Hollywood gets it shit together.
Speaking of Asian American actors carrying representation in Hollywood on their backs, recent Golden Globe award winner Sandra Oh kills it in her role on BBC’s Killing Eve. The Grey’s Anatomy alum plays Eve, a bored-turned-badass spy who ends up dedicating her energy to hunting down one psychopathic assassin, Villanelle. Fierce, intelligent, and beautifully written, the story surrounding two capable (of murder, among other things) women with endless vigor and motivation turns the typically white, male-driven action-thriller on its head and makes you wonder if you’re losing yours.
Diversity comes in all shapes and sizes, and now TV is finally giving attention to the beautifully large. Lindy West’s larger-than-life memoir finds new life on screen with Hulu’s Shrill. Played by SNL darling Aidy Bryant, Annie is the fat character Hollywood is historically afraid to cast. Not only that, but her best friend and roommate is also a larger lady, and a black immigrant. The cast boasts the brilliant trans comedian, Patti Harrison, whose charming performance is just another reason to finish reading this list and, if you haven’t already, go press play on episode one of Shrill.
Black-ish is the black family sitcom we needed and Kenya Barris provided. I can’t pretend my dedication doesn’t have something to do with my favorite person to follow on Instagram, Tracee Ellis Ross, who is on the show as a lead cast member. But my love for it runs deeper than that. Dre and Rainbow Johnson spend the show doing their best to reconcile their visions to teach their four kids what it means to be black while navigating universal themes of growing up, school, work, and family in an affluent, white neighborhood. The show is as funny as it is heartwarming, and the cast will charm your pants off.
If you love Black-Ish, or even if you don’t, you’re going to want to give its spin-off, Grown-Ish, a watch. Yara Shahidi takes her character, Zoey Johnson, out of the Johnson home and off to college at the fictional Cal-U. There, Zoey Breakfast Club-style meets and befriends a diverse group of her peers, who then go on to experience college firsts (and seconds) together. While the show was still finding its rhythm in its first season, by season two Grown-ish proves to do a great job of understanding its audience and incorporating relevant pop culture nods as well as addressing relevant problems that come with being a Gen-Z kid in college.
Finally, last on my list (but not last in my heart!!) as an honorary addition, is Comedy Central’s beloved Broad City. I simply could not make a list of TV shows, whatever the topic may be, without including her. Yes, you read that right, her. The show is a “her”! When it premiered in 2014, I had never seen anything like it on TV before. A show set on streets of New York City led by two boisterous, impolite, hilarious (sure, white, but also Jewish!) women who are best friends?! It was an absolute God-send. The Ariana Grande “God Is A Woman”-type God-send. As the series reaches its end in the fifth season, it is at its most politically explicit, too. And it’s still just as hilarious. What a treat!