We are all well-rounded people in our fantasies and as well-rounded fantasy people we strive to experience media and culture outside of our chosen workspace of science fiction and fantasy. Also Doctor Who isn’t back until August and Game of Thrones isn’t back until April and we’ve watched the entirety of all five Star Trek shows yes all five and Battlestar Galactica isn’t on Netflix anymore for some reason.
So we’re all kind of forced to watch something else. And since our love vaguely resembles a petri dish, we thought we’d list out the non-genre TV shows that we enjoy in between genre shows as a sample of what science fiction and fantasy fans may also like in between mass killings of Stark family members.
Emmet Asher-Perrin, Staff Writer loves White Collar
USA shows tend to be hit or miss, but when they hit, they are so much guilt-free fun. White Collar basically started under a fictionalized Catch-Me-If-You-Can premise, a story about a con man who begins working with the FBI in hopes of getting time shaved off his sentence. But the casting in this show is what made it special with Matt Bomer (who just won a Golden Globe for his performance in The Normal Heart) playing Renaissance confidence man Neal Caffrey, and Tim DeKay (who was recently really mean on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as his grumpy-yet-cuddly handler at the FBI, Peter Burke.
Neal lives in a swanky Upper West Side home with Diahann Caroll as his benefactor, for pete’s sake—and yes, she does sing sometimes on the show. Not only is the cast not all-white and all-male, but Agent Diana Barrigan is a gay woman of color whose storylines always get handled with sensitivity and consideration; she choses to become a mother even after breaking up with her partner, and continues to be a superwoman even when she’s scared she won’t be. Then there’s Neal’s confidence buddy Mozzie, who spends the majority of the show drinking up Neal’s expensive wine and spouting the most incredible conspiracy theories.
The show also gets major plusses from me for being one of the few I’ve ever seen that features a married couple (Peter and his wife Elizabeth Burke) who have a completely supportive, loving, healthy relationship even with hectic professional schedules and no children. It’s like finding a unicorn on TV. The plots get harder and harder to buy the more Neal gets away with, but it’s hard to care. You’re in it for the heists, and they never ever disappoint. And the show just ended, so it’s easy to marathon the whole thing.
Katharine Duckett, Publicity Coordinator loves Orange is the New Black
While I choose to believe that Orange is the New Black is genre because Alex Vause is obviously the tattooed, time-traveling incarnation of Donna Pinciotti, one of my first TV crushes, I acknowledge this theory doesn’t hold much sway in the world at large. But OITNB does have Captain Janeway, along with a whole host of other extraordinary actresses, from Laverne Cox to Samira Wiley to Natasha Lyonne to Lorraine Touissant. Admittedly, the show doesn’t always hit the mark for me: I’m not particularly interested in its main character, Piper, and at times the sharp pivots from dark comedy to drama feel shaky, as they did (in a much more jarring way) on Jenji Kohan’s previous offering, Weeds. But this will always be my binge-watching go-to, because it offers the widest representation of female characters on television today, and is currently unmatched in its complex portrayal of queerness.
Carl Engle-Laird, Tor.com Editorial Assistant loves Brooklyn Nine-Nine
This is, bar none, the best cop-related workplace action-comedy on air today. It makes me so, so happy. If you have lived your life up to now without seeing a stony-faced police chief holding two puppies up to his face while maintaining a perfect lack of expression, I think it’s time to make a change. I love its take on the incredibly over-used sloppy manchild trope, making Samberg’s Jake Peralta actually own his stupid actions and grow up significantly, even over the course of one season. I love how its built up its world through persistent in-jokes (Terry looooves yogurt).
I don’t quite like the fact that there’s been approximately 7321 idiotic slobs named Carl in the first 30 episodes, but in this comedy world a man named Carl must take his lumps. Last note: I happen to be the co-host of the world’s foremost and only Brooklyn Nine-Nine podcast, Back in the Field! You can head over for more information, or if you just want to hear my big dumb voice having big smart thoughts about a regular-sized funny show.
Lee Harris, Tor.com Editor loves Galavant
As a former actor, I’m sucker for a good musical. Hell, if I’m in the wilderness, even a good musical episode of a TV show will do (Buffy, yes; Scrubs, no). And sometimes—just sometimes—there comes a TV show that scratches that itch. Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, Smash, hell—even season one of Glee had me for while. And now we have Galavant. Not strictly genre (despite casting the best Joe Abercrombie lookalike I have ever seen as the lead), this show really shouldn’t work. And, to be perfectly honest, it has as many moments of failure as it does success. Oh, but when those successes come, it’s worth sitting through the dull bits. The joust scene in episode 2 had me actually laughing out loud, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget episode 4, with Lord Grantham himself, Hugh Bonneville, playing the land-locked singing Pirate King. But the best thing about Galavant? Timothy Omundson’s brilliant, and beautifully imagined King Richard. Sometimes sad, usually wicked, always funny. And with only 8 episodes planned, Galavant is unlikely to outlast its *cough* Glee *cough* welcome….
Chris Lough, Production Manager loves Broad City
(FYI: These clips are NSFW.)
I’m really picky about blue, gross-out humor. It’s usually a turn-off for me, which is oddly why I’m so addicted to shows that actually do it perfectly, like Broad City. It’s also surprisingly…authentic…considering how often their days spiral out of control. Whether they’re out on the streets of NYC or in their crappy under-furnished apartment, I often feel like I’m just offscreen.
It’s also really great to see how far the show can push a scenario solely based on Abbi or Ilana’s false expertise as young adults. Often it combines with the weird shit that NYC throws at you on a daily basis, resulting in something surreal and wonderful, like “Garol.”
Bridget McGovern, Managing Editor loves Nashville
Soapy primetime dramas tend to get a bad rap, but for sheer entertainment value, Nashville is just incredibly fun to watch. I got hooked because Connie Britton is delightful, and because the legendary T-Bone Burnett had signed on as music supervisor (his wife, writer Callie Khouri, is the show’s creator). While Burnett left after one season, Britton continues to anchor the series, along with co-star Hayden Panettiere, and I’ve been impressed with the evolution of their clichéd “arch-rivalry between divas” plotline into a respectful alliance between two strong, savvy female entertainers in a male-dominated industry. There’s still plenty of fluff and melodrama afoot, but I think it’s telling that while all of the episodes in the first season were titled after Hank Williams songs, Season Two drew inspiration from the likes of Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton. At its best, Nashville is a supremely sassy show that’s often smarter than one might expect…and there’s also singing, sequins, crazy love triangles, and weird celebrity cameos. What’s not to love, y’all?
Irene Gallo, our publisher you guys: “Rayna and Deacon must never get together.”
Leah Schnelbach, Staff Writer loves Archer
Archer is the funniest show on TV, you fox-eared assholes. (FYI again: Clip is NSFW.)
You may notice that Tor.com has a certain affinity for the vocal stylings of one H. Jon Benjamin. I think Archer’s my favorite of his performances, because playing an utterly amoral character brings out a certain lightness to his performance that just makes me glad I have ears to hear it. But apart from the star, the show’s willingness to draw on a seemingly bottomless well of sick humor has helped it create a consistent world. The writers have gleefully paralyzed Ray how many times now? And how many times has poor Brett been shot? I also love the way the writers have allowed the show to change, shifting Cheryl from a lovesick secretary cliché to a deranged glue-sniffing heiress with a choking fetish, Pam from a sad-sack HR coordinator to a sexual dynamo/coke fiend who moonlights as a drift racer, and Krieger from a mad scientist to a…mad scientist who might also be a clone of Adolf Hitler. When they decided the show was getting boring, they blew the whole concept up and turned it into Archer: Vice, and now they’ve rebooted themselves again to come back for their 6th season. They walk a delicate meta line, with characters commenting on the fact that no one knows what era they’re in, while also getting realistically wounded in the line of duty. There is some hint of a heart under all that acidic wit, though, and I’m glad it’s there, just as I’m very glad that the writers don’t show it often. Plus they’ve done brutally violent crossovers with both SeaLab 2021 and Bob’s Burger’s, and you can watch an alternate pilot with a dinosaur instead of Sterling!
Sarah Tolf, Production Assistant loves Bob’s Burgers
(Final FYI: This clip is wonderfully, marvelously safe for work.)
Bob’s Burgers is easily the best thing to happen to primetime animation in about a decade. The premise is pretty simple: the Belchers run a small, struggling burger joint in a seaside town filled to the brim with oddball characters, from their eccentric landlord Calvin Fischoeder to elderly fussbudget (and sometimes nude model) Edith Cranwinkle. The Belchers’ completely believable quirks drive the plots of each episode: Bob’s stubborn competitiveness, Linda’s infectious (and occasionally overbearing) enthusiasm, Tina’s awkward teenage sexuality, Gene’s bizarre outbursts of creativity, and Louise’s barely-contained anarchist spirit form the backbone of the show, and often blend together in great ways—like when Linda accidentally encourages Tina to read her “erotic friend fiction” in public…
It takes a lot of skill to make another working class family comedy shine, but the core cast’s performances and the tight, punchy writing really make this show sing. And I mean that literally; some of the show’s best moments are musical, ranging from the legitimately great anthem to teen angst in “Bad Tina” to the many annoyingly catchy tunes Linda spontaneously belts out. I don’t think I’ll ever get her Thanksgiving turkey song out of my head.
Natalie Zutter loves Girls
I stand by my defense for when I first started watching Girls three years ago: I just keep telling myself it’s a satire of self-obsessed Millennial young women. I hate-watch it the way I read the Facebook posts of someone I don’t particularly like; and yet, more than once Girls has slyly gotten me in the feels. (Hannah and Marnie dancing out their frustrations to Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” in season 1 is still one of my favorite moments.) By not shying away from unlikeable female characters—by, in fact, populating a show with four of them—Girls forces viewers to make the active choice to follow along with these awkward, uneven, constantly shifting relationships in order to mine the rare moments when the characters actually grow. Let’s face it, a lot of SFF plots are necessarily propelled by their epic settings and world-saving MacGuffins; in those cases, it would be a waste not to play with those building blocks. Sometimes I just want a bite-size guilty pleasure of a story whose the entire conflict revolves around the kinds of trivial bullshit that we all experience.
Everyone loves Parks and Recreation