Sometimes, the world can just get a little bit much to take. Whether it’s the big stuff that you see on the news or something more personal, life can be tough. Other times, it’s nothing more than waking up on the wrong side of the bed (late, and stubbing your toe getting out of it!). A case of the Mondays. One of those days. And when you are feeling down, TV can be a fantastic way to escape from a bad day for a few hours – especially if the show itself centers on things getting better.
Seeing a favorite character overcoming the odds, finding true love, or making the world a better place is a great way to cheer yourself up. If they can do it, so can you! (Who cares if they are fictional? It’s the principle of the thing.) It’s a wonderful way to get happy, so we’ve rounded up some of the most inspiring, uplifting, a lighthearted series to watch when the world leaves you in need of a pick-me-up. Settle in to any of these series with a big bowl of your favorite comfort food, and get ready to feel better.
Here are the 15 Most Uplifting TV Shows Of All Time.
15. Quantum Leap
An older series, but well worth a re-watch, Quantum Leap centers on scientist Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), who got lost while working on a time-travel device… which left him lost in time. Now, Sam has to hop from lifetime to lifetime, attempting to find his way home. Of course, this is so much more than just a homecoming story. After each jump, Sam finds himself in a new body, and must alter an event in the timeline in order to engage the device and allow him to jump again.
Aided by an AI tuned to his brainwaves, Sam wanders through time, always making the world just a little bit better than he found it. As he travels, righting the wrongs of history, Sam also makes some discoveries about himself. A huge part of the series is the empathy that he gains from living as someone else for a time, and it’s a wonderful (if very literal) reminder to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Quantum Leap is sci-fi through and through, but with a clearly optimistic bent that will have any sci-fi fan cheering by the end.
14. Jane The Virgin
This award-winning new series centers on a young woman who is a devout Catholic, a virgin at 23 and intending to stay that way until marriage. Unfortunately, her gynecologist is having a bad day, and her distraction leads to Jane (Gina Rodriguez) going in for a routine checkup and coming out having been artificially inseminated. Just to complicate things further, it turns out that the baby’s father is Jane’s teenage crush, and the owner of the hotel where she works. When Jane decides to keep the baby, intending to give it up to the intended parents when it is born, things get… complicated.
Not only does Jane have to deal with the ups and down of pregnancy, but it turns out that the feelings she had as a teen aren’t entirely gone, and Rafael (Justin Baldoni) is having some marital troubles. It’s not an easy situation, but Jane’s sunny nature and faith will bring her through. The series gleefully parodies telenovelas, and is a bright look at overcoming a completely unexpected situation.
The second time-travelling show on our list, Journeyman stars Kevin McKidd as Dan Vasser, an unlikely (and involuntary) time-traveller who discovers that he is destined to help people. Living a happily married life in San Francisco, one day, Dan starts jumping through time, landing in random times and places, although always in the past. He soon discovers that something is “jumping” him back toward specific people, who he is supposed to help somehow.
While these jumps start to affect his home life, they also start to change how he feels – and when he discovers that his (presumed dead) ex-fiancee is a time traveler too, things will never be the same. Although the series ended up being cancelled after only one season, it’s hugely underrated, and a fantastic show for a rainy day. Although his jumps are seemingly random, the idea that he uses this gift exclusively to help people is a fascinating look at the impact that we can have on someone, even if we don’t know it.
Another series cancelled too soon, Wonderfalls centers on Jaye (Caroline Dhavernas), a chronic underachiever in a dead-end job. In her mid-twenties, Jaye has a philosophy degree, a trailer and a job in a Niagra Falls gift shop, and spends most of her down time in the local bar. It looks like she isn’t going anywhere, and her caustic attitude isn’t helping anything. That is until one fateful day when the souvenirs in the shop start talking to her.
At first she thinks that she is going crazy, but as she listens to the figurines, Jaye starts to see the world a little differently – and they always get it right. As she is forced to start connecting with people, her attitude slowly shifts, even when it seems like the little muses are giving her terrible advice. Definitely on the quirkier end of the spectrum, this is a show for those who don’t know exactly where they are going in life, with the romantic sub-plots balanced out with a strong focus on family.
11. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Adding a little dark comedy to such a bright and shiny list, Crazy Ex Girlfriend is another show about a woman looking for love – but who goes about it the wrong way. When Rebecca (Rachel Bloom), a successful New York lawyer, bumps into her first love, she ends up giving up everything to follow him to California. In New York, her life was completely different, and she is hoping that this crazy decision will lead to happiness.
Her ex, however, is taken aback by this total change, and Rebecca isn’t going to get her happy ending in the way that she expects. However, as she adapts to her new life, Rebecca starts to learn a little about the nature of happiness and what she really wants. This is the perfect show for anyone stuck in the rat race, and desperate for a little escapism to a show as sunny as its setting.
10. The Mindy Project
Created by comedian Mindy Kaling, this sharp and witty show about the search for true love (and self-confidence) is bright and incisive in equal measure. Kaling stars as Mindy Lahiri, an OBGYN whose professional success doesn’t translate to her love life. Her obsession with romantic comedies doesn’t help, either, and Mindy’s search for a knight in shining armor is a central theme of the series.
However, it’s not just about a lonely gal looking for love. The Mindy Project takes a lighthearted look at Mindy’s insecurities, career ambitions, troubles with colleagues and every other aspect of her full, perfectly imperfect life. As the series progresses, life changes, and the show takes a look at modern relationships and unrealistic expectations. Rounded out with quirky (if occasionally less-than-believable) colleagues and situations full of silliness, this is a great option for rom-com fans who would rather watch a series than a single film.
A new and hilarious take on the buddy comedy genre, Psych stars James Roday and Dulé Hill as life long best friends who start a psychic detective agency, even though neither have psychic powers. Instead, Shawn (Roday) is a slacker, coasting through life despite his father’s dreams that he would end up in the police department. Gus (Dulé) is a much more responsible adult, working as a pharmaceuticals salesman and the straight man to Shawn’s prankster.
When Shawn seems to know a little too much about local crimes, he’s arrested on suspicion of being involved – but it’s really his carefully honed eidetic memory that is allowing him to figure things out, piecing together crimes that are stumping the local police department. Rather than come clean, he convinces the cops that he is psychic, and his detective agency is born! Although each episode is individually sunny, it’s the way that Shawn and Gus grow up throughout the series that is the most uplifting, and Psych is a show that does it without ever taking itself too seriously.
8. How I Met Your Mother
Whether you watched this hit sitcom the first time around or not, it’s a perfect bingeable sitcom for anyone wondering if they’ll ever meet that special someone. The series is narrated by Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) as he tells his children the long and winding story of how he met their mother, with each episode a flashback to Ted and his friends’ days as young professionals living in New York.
Although the series is very similar to your standard “attractive people live in an unrealistic New York apartment” trope, the unique perspective gives it a fresh feel, and the character dynamics are unusual. Ted, although perpetually single, shares an apartment with his two best friends (and the sweetest couple ever), Lily and Marshall (Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segal). Between the three of them, the show gives us a relatable singleton and relationship goals at the same time. The cherry on top of this star-studded comedy is Neil Patrick Harris as the womanizing uber-bro, Barney Stinson. One of the funniest and most original sitcoms to hit screens in years, How I Met Your Mother is a delight through all nine seasons.
7. My Name Is Earl
Earl Hickey (Jason Lee) is not what you would call a great guy. In fact, he’s an unashamed loser, a petty criminal and the kind of guy who would throw just about anyone under the bus. All that changes, however, when he learns about karma – a concept driven home when he wins the lottery… only to be hit by a bus moments later. Deciding that he needs to atone for all his past crimes, Earl writes a list of every bad thing he has ever done, and he and his brother Randy (Ethan Suplee) set out to make up for all of them.
Not only are Earl’s efforts to right his wrongs absolutely hilarious and heartwarming, but we get to see the things he did in flashback form, and many of them are absolute doozys! Rounding it all out are a lovable cast of trailer-trash characters, from his ex-wife Joy (Jaime Presley) and her new man Darnell (Eddie Steeples) to their motel-cleaning, stripping friend Catalina (Nadine Velazquez).
6. Don’t Trust The B**** in Apartment 23
Future Jessica Jones Krysten Ritter steals the show in this hilarious (but short-lived) take on the classic odd-couple genre. Ritter stars as Chloe, a party girl who glories in her lack of a moral compass. Unable to afford her apartment alone, she rents out the spare room… to a different person each month, who she drives away as soon as they move it.
It’s a genius plan until she meets June Colburn (Dreama Walker), a sunny-side-up country girl who came to the big city to pursue her dreams. Polar opposites, the two end up balancing each other out and becoming unlikely friends. Chloe ends up taking June under her (borderline sociopathic) wing, but it’s not just June who grows as a result. James Van Der Beek becomes the third member of their little crew as a fictional version of himself, and something of a mediator between the two. Funny and bright, the series is a perfect show for people not looking for romance… or a lead to aspire to!
5. Being Erica
Have you ever wondered if your life would have been better if you’d just made better decisions? Erica Strange (Erin Karpluck) thinks so. At thirty two, she is single and unemployed (after being fired from a customer service job that she didn’t even like), and filled with regrets for all the bad decisions she’s made. Enter Tom (Michael Riley), a therapist with a difference – he’s a time traveler. Erica starts an incredible journey of self-discovery, as she heads back in time to re-live her greatest regrets, and do all the things she wishes she had… or tries to, at least. Over the course of four seasons, she learns some valuable lessons (and makes some wonderful friends), even without really being able to change her past – but by learning from it.
A quirky take on destiny and determinism, Being Erica will leave you feeling optimistic about life, and a lot more comfortable with your own regrets. Perfect watching if you are feeling a little lost.
5. Pushing Daisies
The definition of quirky, Pushing Daisies is a colorful show about true love (and pie-making) with a huge twist – the lovestruck pair can never touch. Ned (Lee Pace) has a gift; he can bring people back from the dead with one touch. However, if he keeps them alive for more than one minute, someone else has to die to balance the scales. He uses this power to solve mysteries, by reanimating murder victims (and other dead types) to ask them for answers – until one day, the victim in question is his childhood sweetheart, Chuck (Anna Friel).
This time, he keeps her alive, and she joins him in pie-making, mystery-solving, and falling in love. Chuck’s gratitude at a second chance infuses the show with earnest optimism, and the unique style of narration is a pleasure to watch. Brightly colored and reminiscent of being told a bed-time story, Pushing Daisies is an adorable story that was cancelled far too soon.
3. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
One of the very best Netflix original series out there, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt stars Ellie Kemper as Kimmy, a woman in her late twenties who was kidnapped in 8th grade and held in a bunker for fifteen years. After being rescued from the cult leader, Kimmy (and her three fellow mole-women) are back out in the big world – and everything is new and exciting. Kimmy heads to New York City, where she finds a closet to rent with a drama-queen of a roommate and a truly unique landlady, and attempts to start her new life… but it’s not always easy, since she missed fifteen years of technology and pop culture.
Kimmy’s attitude is the star of the show, as she brings the enthusiasm of a middle-schooler to her new, grown-up life (along with the matching wardrobe), and won’t let anything get her down. Relentlessly cheerful, the series finds its humor not only in Kimmy’s wide-eyed wonder at the world, but in how she changes the lives of those around her.
2. Drop Dead Diva
When Deb, a superficial young model is killed in a car accident, she decides that she’s not having any of it, and hits a “return” button in Heaven that sends her straight back down to Earth… and into the body of an overweight and overworked lawyer. Jane (Brooke Elliott) starts out determined to get her original life back. However, her guardian angel reveals that she can’t just tell everyone what happened, unless she wants to be committed.
Stuck with only her best friend knowing the truth, Jane has to make it as a lawyer (luckily, she gets the IQ that came with her new body), learn how to love her new self, and convince Deb’s true love to fall for her all over again. Along the way, she learns to care about others like she never did before; pro bono cases and lawsuits with lessons make every episode of Drop Dead Diva heartwarming and sweet as Jane copes with her brand new life.
1. Parks & Recreation
Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) just wants to make her town a better place – but bureaucracy doesn’t make it easy, even if all she wants to do is build a simple park! A preternaturally perky worker in the parks department, Leslie has her heart in the right place, and her optimism has survived her years working for government – unlike everyone else in her department.
Alongside Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), she tries to turn an abandoned lot into a park, and runs into obstacle after obstacle. The premise is a perfect showcase for an incredible cast of characters including Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson, Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate, Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, and the incomparable Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer. Leslie and Andy are the two rays of joy in a department of jaded employees, and the show is satirical perfection from start to finish.
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