Oscar Wilde wrote that "life imitates art for more than art imitates life." Writers have been forever basing their stories and scripts on the world around them. Still, as Wilde suggests, the books we read, the shows we see, and the lessons we learn play a role in our decisions and behaviors.
Knowing this, writers like to feed us messages that make us think and even sometimes bring us to their way of thinking. In recent years, the real world (such a terrible place to live) has been fraught with a great deal of tension politically. The left and right seem more at odds than ever, and everybody is speaking out.
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So too, the writers of our favorite shows are making their positions known as this climate leaks into our shows, helping us see our world and the issues facing us in a different light.
in 2018, many political plots and arcs have come across our screens. We've seen plots addressing the #MeToo movement, police brutality, gun control, immigration reform, and just general right versus left tension.
Here are some examples of the way politics crept into our favorite shows this year, sometimes adding to the story, and sometimes taking away from the escape we like to find when we tune in.
On The Rookie Season 1 Episode 8, Protagonist John Nolan deals with accusations of police brutality, a hot topic of late. While the victim was not a POC, as is common in many of these cases, the question of the right and wrong was still significant to the story. Some say that cops are heroes who we should support, others do not trust cops and find it unjust what they can get away with because they have a badge. As the protagonist, Nolan was portrayed more like the victim. Still, this issue is never simple.
Last season, many fans commented on the political plots cropping up, such as Lena arguing her right to carry a gun, and James dealing with police brutality to a POC (who is also a vigilante). This year, they cranked it up to eleven, hitting us with a plot about alien rights. The implication is that this mirrors the immigration issues America is facing today. While the comparison was obviously intentional, some of the arguments against aliens are really not applicable in the real world. Many fans feel that this plot is too heavy-handed, as well as one-sided. Those who agree with Supergirl's current political message may enjoy the arc, but the rest will ignore it and call it propoganda.
The Bold Type
The Bold Type is actually known for tackling controversial topics. They've addressed quite a few political issues in their two-season run, but we're spotlighting The Bold Type Season 2 Episode 7, which brings up the issue of gun control. Jane Sloane is anti-gun rights, but friend and roommate Sutton Brady has been hiding a gun in their apartment. Sutton's gun Betsy is not used for protection, but recreational skeet shooting. While this plotline had the potential to address a controversial topic in an interesting and new way, it was ruined by Sutton backing down without fully exploring her side of the argument. The show preached showing both sides of the issue, but it did not quite practice it.
Law and Order: Special Victims Unit
The U.S. Government's new immigration policy was addressed on Law and Order: SVU Season 20 Episode 3 when Olivia Benson and Peter Stone attempt to reunite an immigrant mother with her daughter Gabriella. Throughout the episode, the characters share their views on this controversial issue, giving voice to different sides of the argument. In the end, mother and daughter are reunited. This victory was a nice win for our characters, but some felt it took away from the direness of the current situation. While Gabriella was saved, Benson's last look at the detention center full of sad and lonely children serves as a reminder that there is more work to be done.
The new Charmed series sold itself on the idea of tackling feminist issues. No surprise that on Charmed Season 1 Episode 1, the first demon the sisters face is masquerading as a well-known scientist/professor who just beat sexual harassment charges. Before her death, the girl's mother Marisol was fighting his reinstatement in the university, and afterward, her daughter and charmed one Mel Vera takes up the cause. The plot was considered obvious, yet current, and shined a spotlight on an already spotlit issue without adding anything new. Still, for those new to the movement, it certainly provided some context to understand the issues.
This show is about the Secretary of State and her life, so obviously, political issues arise in every episode. This season provided us with a particularly moving subplot about political apathy and disillusionment. On Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 4, Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord's daughter Alison decides not to vote in the upcoming election when the candidate she championed compromises on one of his policies. Her mother explains that yes, the system is flawed, and no politician is going to be everything you want, but as an American, you have a right and responsibility to participate in the democratic process.
On The Fosters, a show known for addressing current and social issues, new character Ximena Sinfuego's presence introduces an arc about immigration and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). In the second half of the season, Callie, AJ, and Ximena seek sanctuary in a church to protect Ximena from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Callie and her friends protest at a rally on The Fosters Season 5 Episode 12, which aired the day after Senate Democrats voted to end the federal government shutdown in response to Republicans promising to consider DACA legislation. Callie gives a moving speech, and Ximena's story is picked up by The Huffington Post.
On Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 4, Chris Noth plays Jack Robertson, an extremely Trumpian character. He is a Real Estate Mogul with political aspirations. He is willing to throw underlings under the bus (or in this case, in the path of giant spiders) and he is incapable of taking responsibility for the repercussions of his actions. When all is said and done, he gets away with everything. Whether you think this sounds like Trump or a caricature of Trump made by liberals, clearly, the writers from The UK were trying to say something about the current Commander and Chief.
On Grey's Anatomy Season 14 Episode 19, we find more immigration issues as ICE comes to the hospital to talk to Dreamer Dr. Sam Bello. Everybody rallies to her side, coming up with ideas and clearing up the misconception about green card marriages for Dreamers. Eventually, her friends find her a way to continue on her chosen career path ... in Switzerland, which is a bit bitter-sweet. She does not go to jail, and she is not deported. She is not on the run, and she does not have to change her name or jump into a quicky-marriage. Still, she has to leave the U.S. and her friends and boyfriend behind. It's not ideal but better than what happens to many non-doctors without friends in high places.
Last Man Standing
On Last Man Standing Season 7 Episode 1, the Baxters are a family divided. Their differences of opinion on politics lead to a blanket policy not to discuss the topic in their home. Eve and Mandy are angry with each other because one of them believes in the current administration, and the other thinks that America has gone to the dogs because of it. This family has always had differing political views, but the way it is brought center stage in this episode is incredibly relatable. It highlights a new dynamic that many families across the U.S. are experiencing, where relationships end because of differing political views. Eve and Mandy won't communicate about the issues due to stubbornness and fear.
Candice Bergen who plays Murphy Brown said in interviews that President Trump's election motivated the reboot. So far, the revitalized show covers a variety of hot political topics. However, the biggest issue for a news-based show to cover is news itself. With accusations of Fake News (which is, incidentally, the title of Murphy Brown Season 11 Episode 1) the media world is under a microscope. Brown herself champions the liberal view with her new morning show which is likened to CNN. Meanwhile, Brown's son Avery joins the right-wing Wolf Network, a fictional network likened to Fox News. The show can show both sides of the spectrum and how each network goes about covering issues of the day.
Like Murphy Brown, the return of sitcom Roseanne was motivated by President Trump's election. Actress Roseanne Barr was an outspoken supporter of Trump, and her fictional family was much the same, with one noted exception. On Roseanne Season 10 Episode 1, fans learn that Roseanne and Jackie have not spoken in a year due to differing political views. Jackie is very strongly against President Trump, and most certainly did not vote for him. Darlene makes an effort to get her mother and aunt talking again, and the two eventually make up despite their differing political views.
Will and Grace
On Will and Grace Season 9 Episode 14, Karen tries to buy a cake for a party she is hosting for President Trump. When she tells the baker, Amy, to write MAGA (Make America Great Again) on the cake, Amy refuses to make it. Karen calls on Grace to help her out, and Grace wants no part in it, cheering on Amy. However, someone points out to Grace that if Amy can turn away Karen because she does not like what her cake says, what is to stop other bakers from turning away people who want a cake for a gay wedding? It is a complicated issue, and while Grace is as uncomfortable as anyone in that situation would be, the whole ordeal is dealt with humorously, as is the classic sitcom way.
In a world filled with synths, sentient robots intended as servants, society has to decide if these human-like beings deserve the same rights as humans. It's a classic science-fiction trope, a cautionary tale about developing technologies, as well as an allegory for the mistreatment of and prejudices against minorities. Season three in particular addresses the dangers of mistreatment, showing synths in camps not unlike those utilized during WWII. Some synths commit terrorist acts out of fear and anger, believing there is no other way. These issues are as old as time and they will remain relevant as long as people have prejudices as allow them to affect their behavior.
Orange Is The New Black
This show is known for tackling the injustice within the prison system, a political topic all on its own. This year the show dealt with the trial of Tasha 'Taystee' Jefferson, a black inmate who had been framed for killing a guard during a riot. The trial caught the attention of activists, and for a minute Taystee had hope. Alas, it was not to be, proving the show's point of racial bias in the prison system. While Taystee is being locked away, others are getting out, namely protagonist Piper Chapman and immigrant Blanca Flores. While Piper gets to go home with her brother, Blanca is led from one prison to another, as it is revealed that the prison is now opening up an Immigration Detention Center.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
When a show is about a woman who survived abuse and came back stronger, a #MeToo episode was inevitable. Fan were however surprised when on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 4 Episode 1, Kimmy was not the victim of harassment, but the harasser herself. When Kimmy has to fire someone, she is overly friendly and her attempts to make him comfortable come off as a come-on. While some fans may have found the humor in the situation, critics seemed uncomfortable with the whole thing. As a feminist icon, it seems that the show could have handled the issue better and taken it a bit more seriously.
The bad-guy on The Resident is not one doctor or even a disease but the healthcare system itself. Chastain Hospital and its staff are pushed to focus on the bottom line. They are urged to overtreat to rake in more money from insurance companies. The first season's big arc had a well-known and loved oncologist intentionally misdiagnosing cancer so she could charge insurance on chemotherapy treatments; one patient actually got cancer from the chemo. While Lane Hunter is a villain of the highest order, she is also a symptom of a flawed system that not only allowed it to happen but encouraged her behavior.