Netflix's new docu-series The Family combines archive footage, interviews with some of the parties involved, and glossy reenactments starring the likes of James Cromwell to document the shady history of a wide-reaching Christian fellowship that's been influencing and manipulating national politicians and international events for decades. It's an eye-opening look at The Family, an organization few have heard about, behaving very much like a cult, while gaining insidious influence over the power structures in this country. And of course it ends up involving Donald Trump. And of course, it leaves viewers with the sense that this group will continue to wield their influence forever, without any kind of check on their power.
In other words, summer TV has ladled yet another serving of anxiety and impotent rage into our collective bowl. A bowl that was already overflowing with a megalomaniacal sexual predator responsible for poisoning half of the electorate via cable-news propaganda and deliberate misinformation, a grim vision of a future where the dark road we're traveling only gets darker, and the worst that could happen just keeps on happening.
Remember when summer used to be about light, escapist fare? Silly reality and game shows, and reruns of the comedies and dramas we might have missed during the season? . Summer 2019 did offer its share of game shows and reality programming, but to mixed results. While ABC's Holey Moley was exactly the kind of silliness summer requires and MTV's Are You the One hit the mark with its brilliant pansexual-themed season, CBS's much-hyped Love Island disappointed in its jump across the pond.
However, summer TV doesn't stop there. Now that television programming goes year-round, the prestige networks are still churning out brand new dramas (heavy, heavy dramas) during the months when it used to be safe to leave the house for the night. And my GOD have they been trying on the psyche. HBO's Years and Years, from Doctor Who and Queer As Folk producer Russell T. Davies, projects us into the near future via a middle-class London family who experience the world as it rapidly changes for the worse. A world in which nuclear explosions, dirty bombs, increasingly harsh and heartless immigration restrictions, global recession, and de-humanizing technological advancements come at them fast and furious. It's an intriguing premise and a bold structural conceit to have each episode race another one or two years into the future, as charismatic, Trumpian madwoman Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson) inevitably snakes her way to Prime Minister, taking England to the brink of neo-fascism in less than a decade's time.
On Showtime, there was The Loudest Voice, which followed Roger Ailes (played by a rotund and terrifying Russell Crowe) as he built Fox News into the most influential right-wing media apparatus in the nation, peddling GOP talking points and stoking fear-mongered opposition to Barack Obama, all while acting as a serial sexual predator, stalking the women who worked under his thumb.
It's not just that these shows are bleak, or that they speak to specific anxieties about the world today. It's that they all project an air of hopelessness. The Family is never going to be rooted out of the power corridors they've burrowed for themselves so successfully. Years and Years tells us that the real danger isn't autocratic politicians or unstable nuclear powers, but our very human nature to accept a gradually worsening world, until the downward spiral becomes too steep to stop. And as for Roger Ailes, he's already dead (literally nothing more we can do to punish him now) and the network he created is likely stitched too tightly into the fabric of conservative American voters to be dismantled.
Even shows that have been objectively good for the culture have taken their turns to be utterly devastating. FX's Pose is often a celebration of the resiliency of the queer people of color that it depicts, but in examining the lives of gay men, trans women, and drag queens in uptown New York City in 1990, there have been soul-crushing incidents of violence and the ever-present specter of AIDS. And while Orange Is the New Black ended just about perfectly, it did so by not glossing over the evils carried out by the prison system and the ICE immigration raids.
I guess what I'm saying is that Summer TV could stand to give us all a break. I'm about ready to crawl into bed with a pint of ice cream, and I haven't even watched this season of The Handmaid's Tale. At this point, I'm not even asking for escapism, just that the next show I jump into not fill me with quite so many thoughts of hopelessness and dread. Which is why I am so looking forward to the new season of [checks notes], Mindhunter.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.