While shows like Last Week Tonight and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee have brilliantly redefined political journalism, they mostly preach to a liberal choir. Your cousin who voted for Trump isn’t watching John Oliver — but he might watch a sci-fi or fantasy show. If that person isn’t willing to give thought to immigration and women’s rights in the real world, they might be informed by these issues via sci-fi or fantasy.
The year ahead will be hard for everyone. America has a president who disparages free press and half the country’s basic rights, xenophobia reigns in Britain and Europe, and misinformation is everywhere. In such a frightening political climate, science fiction and fantasy are more important than ever. These genres help us digest real-world upheavals in fictional ways, and they help people with different ideologies find common ground. Here are four upcoming sci-fi and fantasy shows that will contribute to these conversations.
1. The Handmaid’s Tale
Women are living in a rat’s maze in which there’s a dead end down every path they turn seeking basic health care. At the top level, America has a man in the White House who brags about sexually assaulting women. On a health care level, it can be difficult to get an abortion depending on where you live. Ohio recently signed a bill banning the practice of abortion after 20 weeks, while Texas is making the process more difficult with mandatory cremations and burials for fetuses. It’s all enough to make you want to scream into a paper bag for eternity or march on Washington, especially if your Trump supporter cousin doesn’t see what the big deal is. Want him to get it? Sit him down in front of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The classic Margaret Atwood novel, which depicts a future America in which women have no rights, is coming to Hulu in April. It’s a compelling story filled with secrets and intrigue, and no other sci-fi story better explores female autonomy. There’s a reason this has lasted since the 1980s. Elizabeth Moss’s Offred will take viewers on her journey and force them to consider these issues through a fictional lens.
2. American Gods
America has more mass shootings than any other country in the world. Not allowing mentally unstable people to access guns is basic common sense, and still the Senate can’t get its shit together to change this. If you’re a human person, this is endlessly horrifying. But when Neil Gaiman’s fantasy magnum opus American Gods comes to the small screen at last, weaving its strange and excellently cast magic, it will also explore the topic of gun control. This is because Neil Gaiman created a new god Vulcan, god of guns, solely for the TV show.
Gun control aside, American Gods is also a narrative about immigration. While its primary plot involves an ex-con going on a road trip with Ian McShane — which is reason enough to watch — its sub-plots follow the gods and mythical creatures from a variety of cultures after they’ve migrated and lived in a land that has come to meet them with indifference. For people in the real world who don’t live in areas that allow them to brush elbows with immigrants every day, this show will provide fictional characters to empathize with. This could have a real-world impact on xenophobia, as talking to bigots has been scientifically proven to temporarily cure bigotry.
America’s prisons are absurdly overcrowded in part because incarceration has become the solution for dealing with metal illness. Policymakers have no idea how to handle mental health, and there is a dearth of information about it. Marvel’s Legion puts a superhero spin on the subject as its protagonist slowly learns that his schizophrenia is not what it appears to be. In tying mental illness together with the reigning king of pop culture — the superhero narrative — this show will keep the conversation in the spotlight.
4. The 100
Climate change is the single biggest threat facing the world today, and yet much like with gun control, the world can’t get its shit together and accept that it is not — or at least should not be — a partisan issue. Infighting and politics continuously impede efforts to combat this crisis. The CW’s dystopian drama The 100 has had its ups and downs writing-wise, particularly in its uneven third season, but by the finale it set up a truly provocative premise for the upcoming fourth season. While many shows indirectly approach climate change, The 100 is making it the direct threat to its world and characters. This show does not fuck around.
Donald Trump’s election spawned a thousand think pieces on the divided state of the world. On elites versus the working class, on men versus women, on hate versus love. USA’s Colony features a future Los Angeles that’s strictly divided and overseen by a fascist military rule. Fighting fascism is pretty relevant right now.
2017 will be a deeply strange year. With a reality star in the White House who supports conspiracy theories and fake news, boundaries will further break down between real and fake news, but also between politicians and entertainers. The bright side in all this is that there has never been a better time for entertainment to step up and make meaningful political commentary, and the shows of 2017 are poised to meet that challenge head-on.