This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Think of a handful of the most watched and acclaimed dramas of recent years. The Handmaid’s Tale. Game Of Thrones. Chernobyl. They’re not a cheerful bunch, are they? Comedy-drama Orange is the New Black spent much of its final season highlighting the plight of those caught in the United States’ horrifying immigration systems. New Star Trek series Discovery has gone for a dark, gritty feel and some downbeat storylines. Even cute ’90s sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch has been re-imagined as dark teen drama The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, in which Sabrina’s aunts encourage her to be baptized into the Church of Night.
With the world such a depressing place in general, it can sometimes be hard to get excited about such depressing televisual fare. Of course, there are always sitcoms and reality shows to relieve the misery – we’d recommend The Good Place or Brooklyn Nine-Nine for the former and Queer Eye for the latter, all on Netflix. But sometimes, it’s nice to watch a drama that acknowledges the darkness in life, but embraces an overall optimistic attitude. Here, we’ve collected ten dramas or comedy-dramas that should give you a decent dose of the warm and fuzzies.
Where better to start a list of feel-good shows than with a series all about a man on a mission to ‘set right what once went wrong’? Quantum Leap was not always a soft and fluffy show – the best episodes explored racial tensions, sexism, PTSD and other major social issues. But it was an optimistic show. Sam Beckett was nearly always able to do whatever he was ‘leaped’ in to do and most of the people he encountered (with some murder-y exceptions) were basically good and decent people. There were plenty of lighter comedic episodes, and the drama was always heartfelt and sincere. As an additional bonus, just like Doctor Who, the show went to a different place and time every week, so if you don’t like one episode, you might do better with the next.
How many seasons? 5
Less feel-good episodes to avoid: “Raped,” which is very good, but probably the most pessimistic episode of the show.
All 95 episodes of Quantum Leap are available to stream on NBC.com. Alternatively, episodes can be purchased on Amazon.
Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager
All of Star Trek (even Discovery, eventually) is idealistic and largely optimistic about human and alien nature. However, some branches of the franchise are more warm and optimistic than others. The original series set the template – our brave heroes explore the universe, explaining to alien civilizations why their entire culture is wrong and rescuing named characters from exploding alien flowers and the like. The Next Generation largely follows the template and offers slightly (though not entirely) improved cultural understanding and a conviction that there is always hope for diplomacy. Star Trek: Voyager is frequently criticized because its main characters get on with each other too well, as its initial premise suggested there would be more tension among the crew, but this is exactly what makes it a heart-warming and largely optimistic incarnation of Star Trek.
Deep Space Nine, on the other hand, follows a lengthy war storyline and includes frequent holocaust and occupation metaphors; Enterprise similarly spent much of its time on stories about terrorism and difficult command decisions, and Discovery’s lead character is a mutineer who accidentally started a war. For optimistic drama, you’ll be better off with TOS, TNG or VOY.
How many seasons? 3 plus six theatrical movies of Star Trek, 7 plus four theatrical movies of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and 7 of Star Trek: Voyager.
Less feel-good episodes to avoid: “Course Oblivion (Star Trek: Voyager)”, in which everyone you follow through the episode dies.
All TV branches of the Star Trek franchise that have aired so far (even The Animated Series!) are currently available to stream on Netflix.
The West Wing
If real-world politics is getting you down, The West Wing might just be the answer. Imagine a world where the most powerful politicians are people of integrity, who went in to politics because they wanted to help people and make a difference in the world. Imagine a White House staffed by dedicated people who love each other and who work long hours in the best interests of those they serve. Imagine a show in which saving the life of one turkey can end up feeling as triumphant as those of thirteen people. Imagine you’re watching The West Wing.
How many seasons? 7
Less feel-good episodes to avoid: “Han,” in which one of season 2’s most heart-warming storylines is repeated in season 5 with a much more depressing ending. It’s also worth mentioning that [spoiler warning] in season 7 the show was sadly forced to write John Spencer’s death into the series.
The West Wing is available to stream on Netflix.
Gilmore Girls is a comedy-drama rather than a straight drama, and has heart-warming scenes aplenty. It has its downsides – the town of Stars Hollow is so picture perfect it’s cloyingly twee, Rory can be surprisingly annoying for one of two protagonists, and everyone is incredibly privileged, whatever largely self-imposed hardship Lorelai may have gone through before the show started. But ultimately this is a show about love, family, and friendship, and if the main characters’ romantic woes start to get you down, Melissa McCarthy’s Sookie – one of her best and least showy roles – is bound to appear and cheer everyone up again.
How many seasons? 7 plus one miniseries
Less feel-good episodes to avoid: For a feel-good comedy-drama, Gilmore Girls had bizarrely depressing season finales, especially the final episodes of seasons 2 and 4, “I Can’t Get Started“ and “Raincoats and Recipes.”
Gilmore Girls is currently available to stream on Netflix.
Xena: Warrior Princess
Like its parent series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess was a fun 1990s adventure show with a Monster of the Week format combined with some larger arc plots. Both are feel-good fun, but Xena has one extra point in its favor – it’s a show all about redemption. The title character was originally a villain and the series follows her attempts to make amends for her dark and violent past. This provides some real drama underneath the surface level fun and is at the core of the show’s optimistic ideology, that no one is irredeemable and that redemption is always worth seeking.
How many seasons? 6
Less feel-good episodes to avoid: “Maternal Instincts“ is very depressing – though to be honest you can’t really skip it, as it’s the set-up for the brilliant musical episode “The Bitter Suite.”
Xena: Warrior Princess is not currently available to stream for free, but you can buy it from Apple iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play Movies or YouTube.
You will have noticed that a lot of these shows are from the 1990s – the decade between the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and 9/11 in 2001 was an optimistic time. This extended even to shows set in the military. SG-1 frequently covered battles with aliens and Earth’s struggle for survival, but always did so with a song in its heart and its tongue wedged firmly in its cheek. Stargate: Atlantis was also reasonably feel-good, but the more short-lived Stargate: Universe had started to take the franchise in a different direction. Like many of the shows on this list, the core series SG-1 had optimism about humanity at its core – it even managed to redeem the Destroyer of Worlds.
How many seasons? 10, plus one theatrical movie and two TV movies
Less feel-good episodes to avoid: “Meridian“ – SF heroes die of acute radiation sickness surprisingly often, but usually not realistically. OK, so this episode is hardly Chernobyl, but seeing one of our heroes resembling the mummies he loves is still rather distressing.
Stargate SG-1 is available to stream on both Hulu and Amazon Prime.
Doctor Who (Second and Tenth Doctors)
All of Doctor Who – Classic and New – is idealistic and largely optimistic, and most of it is a pretty feel-good show. We’ve picked on Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor and David Tennant’s Tenth, though, as the most cheerful and least tragic of the bunch. Both are ‘second’ Doctors in a way, as the Tenth Doctor was the second in New Who, and in both cases a sharper-edged character (William Hartnell’s irascible First and Christopher Ecclestone’s traumatised soldier Ninth) gave way to a more sociable, lively successor. Two and Ten were particularly close to Companions Jamie and Rose and those affectionate relationships also kept their stories well within the realm of the warm and fuzzies.
How many seasons? For the show total, 37, plus one TV movie and a number of one off TV specials. 3 of those were the Second Doctor (for the most part) and 3 plus four specials were the Tenth Doctor.
Less feel-good episodes to avoid: “The War Game“ – the Second Doctor’s departure is one of his best stories and is an epic 10-part saga, but its focus on war and downbeat ending make it a sad one. The Tenth Doctor’s exit is of course tragic as well, but for a really downbeat episode “Midnight” is the one to avoid.
New Who, including the Tenth Doctor’s tenure, is available to stream on Netflix. Classic Who, including the Second Doctor’s tenure, can be streamed via BritBox or purchased at the usual suspects – Amazon, YouTube, et. al.
Once Upon a Time
If you’re looking to recapture a simpler, happier time, you could do worse than wrap yourself up in re-tellings of fairy tales. Once Upon a Time isn’t all sweetness and light – there’s a lot of darkness in its storylines and even a shocking death or two, and a worrying number of the main characters have murdered people or otherwise brought about their deaths. But it is, like the other shows on this list, optimistic and it implies that everyone is good at heart. SG-1 may have redeemed a Destroyer of Worlds, but Once Upon a Time did it one better and redeemed both the Wicked Witch of the West and the archetypal Evil Queen.
How many seasons? 7, plus 9 specials
Less feel-good episodes to avoid: “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter“ was the first really shocking death on the series, and is something of a downer.
Once Upon a Time is available to stream on Netflix.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
DC superheroes weren’t always grimdark and full of emotional turmoil. Adam West’s 1960s incarnation of Batman was fairly cheerful and most incarnations of Superman before Henry Cavill’s have been chirpy Boy Scout types. Possibly the most cheerful of them all was Dean Cain’s version. This series reversed the understanding of the character’s dual identity in the 1970s movies, in which Superman is Kal-El’s own personality and the sometimes bumbling Clark Kent is a disguise. Here, Clark is himself, and Superman is only a part of him. This makes Clark, whom we spend the most time with, a much happier and more relaxed character. And if that wasn’t light and happy enough for you, old Pa Kent is alive and kicking throughout as well.
How many seasons? 4
Less feel-good episodes to avoid: Nothing in this show is ever really depressing, but after all the build-up to the wedding in “I Now Pronounce You…” it’s fairly frustrating to discover Lois and Clark aren’t really married yet after all.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman can only be streamed for free at DC Universe currently. Perhaps it will be rolled into HBO Max once that arrives.
One of the most recent shows on this list alongside Once Upon a Time, The Librarians is the closest modern show to the light-hearted adventure romps of the 1990s. Following on from a series of made-for-TV movies, the show draws liberally on great hitters of the past like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even features a main cast member from Buffy spin-off Angel (Christian Kane, who played Lindsey McDonald on Angel and Jacob Stone on The Librarians). This series, however, is much lighter and less inclined to shock its audience with tragic deaths than those were. Story arc heavy at first, it moved more towards Monsters of the Week as time went on, and is a real spiritual successor to an age of TV that’s mostly gone.
How many seasons? 4, plus 3 TV movies
Less feel-good episodes to avoid: “And The Echoes of Memory“ is a good final episode, but it’s a shame the show ended so soon.
The Librarians is currently available to stream on Hulu.
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