Every month, the analysts at TruthCo choose the most culturally relevant TV show. By “culturally relevant,” we mean the most keenly attuned to and in dialogue with the year’s cultural shifts in terms of content and marketing. From the role of feminism and race in pop culture to the reality of reality TV, these five shows from 2015 touched upon the most relevant social topics in culture today, keeping audiences entertained.
UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt rewrites the narrative that culture constructs around women who endure sexual abuse. Kimmy’s refusal to settle into the role of the traumatized victim, and her insistence on instead starting her life anew, reflects emergent survivor culture. This shift aligns with the strain of feminism taking hold in pop culture, which emphasizes personal narratives of female empowerment and refusal of defeat at the hands of the patriarchy.
INSIDE AMY SCHUMER
This latest season of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer bears witness to a new confidence as the show’s subversive ideas about gender — previously packaged in Schumer’s claim-to-fame insecure, self-loathing and promiscuous persona — are now being directed outward, fearlessly implicating society and the way it fails women, instead of how women are failing themselves. Better described as “full-frontal feminism,” it takes on a highly confrontational approach to its commentary. But this is not women-only comedy: Schumer makes great use of her male guest stars and represents an increasingly relevant cultural conversation that simultaneously implicates and includes men, who are both in on and the butt of the joke.
Reality TV viewers are curious about the manipulation and staging of reality TV. Lifetime’s UnREAL, a deconstruction of the competition dating genre, aligns with this cultural interest by pulling back the curtain and revealing just how much of a role production plays in creating what viewers perceive as “reality.” UnREAL also delivers this in spades, not only though the behavior of the contestants but more notably through the behavior of the producers, who have their own catfights, love triangles and emotional breakdowns. This meta-series occupies a space that allows it to simultaneously provide a new approach to a calcified (due to its own slump) and well-established genre as well as satisfy die-hard reality lovers. It’s a wink that appeals to almost everyone.
Netflix’s Chef ’s Table, which uses food as a vehicle to explore the “microjourney” of each chef, is representative of an emergent cultural shift that finds us more interested in craft and process than in result and finished product. Chef’s Table offers a meditation on creativity, portraying chefs as artistic visionaries and auteurs that have more in common with poets and dreamers than the harsh, hierarchical judges who have populated food TV for over a decade. As culture pays more attention to food as an expression of social values, the role of chef has been elevated to that of sophisticated thought leader, a shift echoed by Chef Table’s symphonic score and gorgeous cinematography.
MASTER OF NONE
On this Netflix series, Aziz Ansari (Dev) represents an emergent comedic and cultural point of view as he increasingly takes on the role of a public intellectual who is wrestling with big social questions, not just everyday minutiae. Equally important is the show’s perspective on race, which values inclusive, realistic representations over tokenism. For Dev, frustrated in his attempts to find satisfying work as an actor, it’s not enough that Indian characters are finally being played by Indian actors. The show takes its own advice: Dev wants to play roles that reflect his real experience, and Aziz creates them. These aren’t characters burdened with encapsulating Indian identity as a whole but instead are distinctive, multidimensional, even idiosyncratic, much like the actors who play them.
Emily Morris is director of cultural insights at TruthCo, a New York-based omnicultural branding and insights company.
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