1. The Muppets Take Manhattan
“Together again. Gee, it’s good to be together again.”
Those are the first words said — or rather, sung — in The Muppets Take Manhattan, and they capture the heartwarming spirit of inclusion that permeates the best Muppet film ever made. As Kermit, Miss Piggy, and their deeply diverse cavalcade of friends attempt to put on a Broadway musical, the film examines the hardships endured by those down on their luck, the power of positive thinking, and the ties that bind us together.
By the time the movie reaches its emotional conclusion and Kermit declares their Broadway musical needs “more frogs and dogs and bears and chickens,” you’ll have spent 90 minutes watching a joyous celebration of love, unity, and the fact that we’re always stronger together. —Jarett Wieselman
2. Keeping Up With the Kardashians
I’ve been rewatching all of Keeping Up With the Kardashians for the past few months, in order from the beginning. That means the spinoffs too, all of which are on Hulu except for the two seasons of Khloe & Lamar, which I had to buy on Amazon. (Maybe Hulu was like, No, this one is too depressing in retrospect, we will spare you all.)
It’s not a walk in a sunny park, these shows with this family, especially watching all at once now. There are divorces and deaths and substance abuse spirals and mental unravelings: What happens to Rob Kardashian is slow and confusing, and still not over in 2016; Lamar Odom’s downfall, handled tastefully throughout, is terribly sad and also obscured by dimmed privacy concerns. Only Scott Disick, Kourtney Kardashian’s erstwhile partner and the father of her children, is transparent in his messiness. And there is the strange experience of watching Caitlyn Jenner evolve into whom she was always meant to be, with a journey that included anti-gay panic when Kris hired a gay man in Season 2 to give Caitlyn a clothes makeover, as well as all of the struggles over growing her hair out, which she has since said was a painful symbol of her hidden desires.
But there is a compelling reason to watch this show, especially at the dawn of the age of Trump. I would never compare Donald Trump to the Kardashians — because I like them. Yet there is a lesson to learn about reality television fame and its currency in our culture now that we have a president who has never held office or served the public good, and is known only through the machinations of the publicity cycle. The way CNN showed Trump’s unfiltered, un-fact-checked speeches before they finally realized he wasn’t a joke is a luxury the Kardashians are never afforded. Being a womanly brand led by a matriarch, they have been questioned and bullied at every turn; even after Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint, which has yet to play out on the show, the media’s primary stance was to mock her and doubt the story. (Morning Joe on MSNBC, which gave Trump free publicity for months, was openly laughing/sneering after the robbery — ugliness that characterizes the reaction to the Kardashians.)
We develop affiliations with reality stars. The first episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians was in fall 2007, when George W. Bush was still president. It’s shocking that today that seems like an innocent, more gentle time. But I’m glad to have spent these many hours with a supportive family that chooses to take on politics as a central part of its identity. Raising awareness about the Armenian genocide, racism and Black Lives Matter, and the rise of trans civil rights has played out on the show and in the sisters’ ancillary outlets on social media. If the lesson learned from this election is that celebrity is toxic and that more people hate women and people of color than we ever could have imagined, the Kardashians offer an antidote to the notion that reality television is pestilential. It can also be instructional, and a fascinating view of these changing, troubling times. —Kate Aurthur
3. Spirited Away
I love everything about Spirited Away. I love the spongy, incomparable dream logic of the story, which begins with 10-year-old Chihiro’s parents transforming into pigs after eating too much nonhuman food, then introduces us to an otherworld of magical bathhouses and giant babies and vacationing river spirits scheduling a spa day to rinse away pollution. I love the beauty of it, the bright colors and haunting character designs that swirl cuteness with eeriness. I love the totally weird and yet irresistibly romantic connection between Chihiro and the helpful dragon Haku.
Most of all, though, I love that Chihiro, whose name gets taken away from her and replaced with “Sen” when she settles into a new life as a spirit realm employee, isn’t some chosen one and doesn’t become the instant center of the mythical world into which she’s stumbled. The spirit world in Spirited Away wasn’t created or waiting for her. She’s a visitor there, one who is, at first, bewildered and alarmed by the strangeness of everything she’s seeing, but remains open to learning about it. She doesn’t have special powers, just tenacity and bravery, and it is with those qualities that she saves her mom, her dad, and the day.
Rather than fight the monsters she encounters, Sen bargains with, chastises, befriends, or changes them. Even the worker-gobbling being named No-Face, at first the film’s most frightening creation, ends up turning into a lovable, apologetic companion. After months of political rhetoric stoking fears of otherness, it’s beyond soothing to settle into a movie that’s all about the value of trying to understand people — or spirits — who may not be exactly like you. —Alison Willmore
4. MasterChef Junior
First, there is nothing more comforting to me than food during times of distress. And second, there is nothing more inspiring than watching children as young as 8 display the kind of genuine good sportsmanship and sincere kindness I wish more adults would exhibit. They help each other when a competitor’s dough fails to rise as the clock winds down, they cheer for each other in team relay challenges, and they comfort each other when they’re eliminated and forced to hang up their aprons. Someday, kids like the ones on MasterChef Junior, from a wide range of states and backgrounds, will feed and rule the world…and that gives me hope. —Jaimie Etkin
5. Steven Universe
There are many episodes of Steven Universe that give me hope, but “Jailbreak” sticks out to me most. It’s the first instance in Rebecca Sugar’s animated series where viewers get the sense that real danger has befallen Steven Universe, his magical Crystal Gem guardians (Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl), and the rest of Earth. After an invading alien gem, Jasper, defeats and imprisons the gang on his spaceship, the show takes an eerie turn, but our young hero — battered and separated from his protectors — never loses his smile.
“They hurt my friends, they hurt my face, they’ve got you here in prison … that’s why we have to fight them,” he tells a locked-up gem before freeing his captive friends. Midway through the episode — SPOILER FOR ANYONE NEW TO THE SERIES — Garnet reveals to Steven that she’s actually a fusion of two gems, Sapphire and Ruby, and that her source of power comes from the knowledge that she’s made of love. She then breaks into “Stronger Than You,” a battle song for the ages, singing: “You’re not gonna stop what we made together. We are gonna stay like this forever. If you break us apart, we’ll just come back newer. And we’ll always be twice the gem that you are.”
Growing up in this often indifferent and isolating world, it’s easy to become jaded and cynical, but Steven remains unabashedly curious and believes in humanity even after witnessing some truly dark things. This show and its protagonist remind me to stay hopeful in even the most depressing of times. —Susan Cheng
6. Gilmore Girls
There are a lot of elements of Gilmore Girls that I find deeply comforting. That it always feels like autumn in the show even when there’s snow piled all over the set. That the show knows how to crack a joke even when it’s diving into serious moments. That it’s centered above all on relationships, grounding it in an emotional but not overwrought place that hits this perfect sweet spot. I find that whenever I’ve had a really rough day, one of the most soothing things in the world can be putting on an episode of Gilmore Girls – practically any episode, really – and just letting myself feel whatever they’re feeling. The best TV shows, in my opinion, let you step into whatever world they inhabit and walk through life with those characters. And I think that the world Gilmore Girls built is just a particularly good one to step into when you’re frazzled: a small town that, though it’s not calm, is just dealing with everyday human life in a funny, touching way. —Alanna Bennett
7. Star Trek: The Next Generation
This show is set in the 24th century, and yet there is something so old-fashioned about it now. Almost every episode is self-contained — you can dip into any of its seven seasons (all of them are on Netflix) and never feel lost or behind. My favorite episodes are the morality plays exploring a facet of the human condition through a charmingly nerdy sci-fi conceit. (My husband likes to joke that every episode I make him watch involves some kind of temporal displacement.)
TNG presents a world of soft corners and pleasing beiges and pastels, populated by characters governed by reason, an innate sense of inclusion, and the betterment of the greater good. And Capt. Picard and his crew all like each other so much — when they do have differences, they talk them out, because they are adults. Watching the show is like a balm for my nerves, and an always welcome reminder that humanity can reach so far beyond our earthbound grievances. —Adam B. Vary
8. The Lion King
Obviously picking a movie with such an anti-oppression message is not lost on me today of all days, but The Lion King has been my one constant for comfort since I can remember. With something like representation, you’ve got to take what you can get, so even if they were animals, having a Disney film set in Africa made this little black kid very proud. I grew up with a lot of Scars in my life with whom I allowed an almost familial bond only for them to push me off a cliff any chance they got. But it meant a lot to have it sink in early for me that those actions that win the battle end up being the reason those people lose the war.
Simba’s success proved that even if it takes a long time, good always wins. Simba’s friendship with Timon and Pumbaa showed that even if one feels like they are in the middle of nowhere, they can still find friends. Simba’s connection with his father, Mufasa, proved that legacies last longer than grief does. It’s idealistic and borrows from many older works like Hamlet, but it also mirrors a narrative we have seen in real life over and over again. —Marcus Jones
9. The Holiday
It doesn’t have to be Christmastime in order to enjoy The Holiday, a Nancy Meyers classic; I watch it all year round with my sister, whether there’s snow on the ground or sand in our shoes, because the film isn’t exclusively about the holiday season. Sure, Amanda and Iris might be enduring their own existential crises of sorts during the month of December, but within these stressful and sad moments in their lives their characters also manage to find humor, growth, and love that are relatable regardless of the time of year.
There’s love between families, lovers, friends, and even strangers who ultimately become friends. Not to mention, the comforting sounds of Jack Black on the piano, the cozy look of Iris’s English cottage, and hopeful messages about joy and happiness all make for the absolute perfect escape from reality, even if just for 136 minutes. —Krystie Lee Yandoli
10. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I’ve needed Buffy Summers since I was 9 years old. She’s my first and most beloved superhero, and the world needs her now more than ever. Buffy’s a constant reminder that even in the face of the most extreme darkness, you can overcome anything by having faith in yourself and your own power. Hellmouth threatening to swallow your town? Accidentally turn your boyfriend into a soulless demon? Frenemy trying to murder everyone you love? Grab your stake, your witty one-liner, and your friends. You got this. —Keely Flaherty
10 Movies And Series We Watch When We Need Some Comfort 2017