Hooray for Diversity: Speed on the Beat's Comedy Picks

It isn't that often you come across a show that's uproariously hilarious and unapologetically biting with its social commentary at the same damn time. Often, you have to get one or the other. Either that or you get a show with hilarious bits but wavering social commentary. Enter this new generation of TV. Instead of these double-headed beasts of awesome being as rare as Chris not getting beat down (physically and/or psychologically) on Everybody Hates Chris, these shows are popping up more and more, potentially in a response to people not being afraid to be bold with their "real talk." Let it be known I love people and love all people being represented in media. However, this piece is dedicated to shows that aren't just about your average cis white male.

For instance, we've got a show on a mainstream network like black-ish that's hilarious and, I'll just go ahead and say it, unapologetically Black.

In a recent episode, "Hope," that could've gone "very special episode" very quickly, creator Kenya Barris tackled police brutality and the idea of Black lives mattering (and not straight-up advocating for BLM) while still working in jokes about Chipotle and take-out. This was an episode that brought up something that usually is regulated to jokes on "Black Twitter," the fear some minorities (specifically Black people) felt when Barack Obama stepped out of his car for his Inauguration.

As a twenty-year-old in College Park, I felt that fear. I'm not a full-on "Obamanoid" or whatever, not by the furthest stretch of the imagination. But, even I felt a fear that our first Black president would get assassinated and any hope of progress and "progressivism" we, as a society, we had would be taken out right along with him. The strength of this episode lied in its realness, both its realistic dialogue about the situation and its lack of fear to talk about these "sensitive" topics on a broadcast TV sitcom.

On Hulu and Netflix, we've got shows such as The Mindy Project and Master of None, respectively. Mindy, a revived-from-Fox series, essentially, serves as a deconstruction of the rom-com genre. The Mindy Kaling-helmed series has tackled topics such as sexual consent between partners ("It Slipped") to the possible dissolution of a relationship due to archaic, slightly misogynistic beliefs (most of the fourth season thus far). Hell, Mindy herself is a young woman who wants to have fun, be a wife/mother, and still have a job. It's some pretty dope-ass shit, to say the least.

While there's always that "ooh, Mindy only has dated mostly blond, chiseled-from-stone white guys" thing floating around, I feel even that choice is more a parody of the romantic comedy tropes (especially since, ya know, Danny isn't exactly blond or Chris Hemsworth). I've championed The Mindy Project since its inception because Mindy Kaling is a boss. But, on top of that, the show is hilarious and not afraid to (ugh) "go there" to get its message across. However, it does so in a way that isn't exactly outright off-putting.

Master of None, an Aziz Ansari vehicle, does a lot of things well.

But, for me, one of the biggest is that its lead, like Mindy is a man who, while he accepts his background, isn't fully defined by it. Often, when we see Indian-Americans and other Asian-Americans on TV, we see them as unsexy nerds who are nothing more than fish out of water. Master of None showcases Ansari's character as Indian to the core, but more than the stereotypes we've seen from other series. Same thing goes for, to a lesser extent, shows such as Fresh Off the Boat (please, guys. Note that I said "to a lesser extent." A lot about Fresh ends up going back to those old stereotypes, even if it's usually to subvert them).

Update: 3.16.17 -- I have begun watching more and more of Fresh Off the Boat. While I still feel weird about some of the stereotypes I see (mainly because, as a Black male, I don't know if it's really my place to comment on them and/or even laugh at them at times), I've got to say it's a pretty sweet show with its heart in the right place. Oh, and it's funny as hell. So, it, in review, gets a yes from me in terms of watching for great diverse characters that aren't just cookie sheet cutouts from "Asian Characters in TV for Dummies."

On ABC (again), you've also got The Real O'Neals.

It's not a perfect series. However, very loosely based on the life of columnist Dan Savage, it takes the ball Modern Family started rolling and continues it in a different setting. Main character Kenny is a teenager in a traditionally Catholic family who, in the pilot, comes out to his family. His brother struggles with "manorexia," his sister's possibly an atheist, and his folks are getting a divorce.

It's funny because it's outlandish. One episode sees the O'Neal men on a camping trip where, I shit you not, Kenny knowingly pulls out a bunch of gay stereotypes. This is in order to get his brother out of the trip because...the brother wants to quit wrestling by any means necessary. This, of course, backfires since their father is all "I don't care if you're gay." The resulting "tender moment" at the end, it's actually pretty sweet.

But, underneath the "well damn!" events the series throws at you, you're left with a family that, while it doesn't fully grasp what "being gay" means (I can only speak but so far to that as a straight male) or what separated means, they still love each other. I've seen a lot of series where coming out's played up for dramatic flair and the implications coming out has on the straight members of the family. With The Real O'Neals, we get to see more of the anxiety and evolution of Kenny versus trying to see the events of the show just through a straight character's eyes. Again, the series, especially with its depiction of Irish Catholics, isn't perfect. However, it works.

Finally, and I just got introduced to this series. But, I'm singing its praises to high heaven after binging it over the past couple weeks. Broad City. If you haven't seen it, you're missing way the fuck out. If you haven't seen any of the shows I've mentioned, I feel you're missing out, but yeah. Originally conceived as a pseudo-web series, the series deals with two twenty-somethings navigating life in New York City.

"Oh, Speed. It sounds like Friends or Girls or a young Sex in the City." WRONG! And here's why and here's where things get interesting. While it acknowledges (and/or gives nods to) those other series, it's definitely unlike anything I've seen. The show is openly and unabashedly feminist without being excluding of "the mens" (it's inclusive as fuck), it's sexually exploratory (before Broad City, I haven't seen a show tackle the idea of pegging before. Also, Ilana as a whole. If you watch, you know exactly what I'm talking about), and it shows white and non-white people in NYC in non-stereotypical roles, while still confronting stereotypes by the boatload. You'd think that, in the 2010s, that wouldn't be a moment that's warranting of a "YAY," but you'd be surprised.

Hannibal Burress' Lincoln is possibly one of my favorite characters on TV right now.

He feels real (all the characters in BC feel real, by the way) and is a successful Black man. I mean, really? How many shows do you see, mostly Black-written or otherwise, where you see a successful Black person in a profession that's usually thought of being for older, white dudes? And before you answer that, let me give you a qualifier. The profession isn't one that we've seen a lot of successful Black people in before on TV (so, don't get all Suits rage on me; I love Jessica Pearson as much as the next person). Exactly.

Additionally, it's an incredible show about the power of friendship (along with a lot of other, real-world shit, as you see above). Don't you laugh at me, Yu-Gi-Oh fans. Also, don't laugh at me for knowing/remembering YGO. Fuck you. It was awesome for a split second when I was younger.

But, yeah, the friendship dynamic of Abbi and Ilana is beautiful. If I were an artist (still), I'd probably draw them both running through a field holding hands while having vapes in the other with rainbows and hearts and shit all around. And I'd call it "Alana," in hopes I'm being witty (but deep down, I know I'm not).

Neither friend tries to change the other unwillingly and both just want the best for each other. Plus, without their dynamic, I would've never found out about the series. I mean, I decided to finally watch it off the strength of a The People's Couch review of the season three premiere. Their "We're both The Odd Couple. Deal with it" presence is just fucking...beautiful.

So, in closing, if you want diversity in your TV comedies, there's a shitload out there. You've got to know where to look. This isn't a definitive list. But, I highlighted some of the best out right now.

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