Here at Rhyme et Reason, we like our TV shows: Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Dance Moms, Ringer, and Real Housewives come to mind. So, I’m going to add a few more shows to the list that I’ve recently started obsessing over and I think are worthy of watching on Sundays. (Feel free to disagree, dear reader, and comment below!) Get your remotes ready!
Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC (a.k.a. #Nerdland)
Melissa Harris-Perry is breaking all sorts of barriers on cable TV where mostly white male pundits, journalists and politicians dominate weekend political talk shows, and I love every minute of MHP. A tenured political science professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, Harris-Perry is the first black woman/scholar/feminist to solo-host a major news and politics show on a major network like MSNBC.
The result is two hours of intelligent, respectful and nuanced discussions on a range of topics from the presidential race to justice for Trayvon Martin, consumer ethics, bullying and faith and policy. Harris-Perry’s guests are as diverse as the array of topics so you’re guaranteed to not yell, “John McCain, AGAIN?!” in protest at the TV as I do when I see the previews for Meet the Press or Face the Nation. If you’re a bit of a politics and NPR junkie like I am, you’ll love MHP.
Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (8p.m., Sunday, on PBS; March 25-May 20)
I first saw Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on my PBS station back in 2006 when his series, “African-American Lives” aired, and I was immediately hooked as he delved deeply and respectfully into the histories of famous black Americans.
In “Finding Your Roots,” Gates – a Harvard professor and director of the W.E.B Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research – researches in pairs the genealogies of famous Americans from Barbara Walters to Rep. John Lewis, Newark Mayor Corey Booker, comedian Margaret Cho and musician John Legend, among others.
Gates doesn’t resort to the cheesiness of “Who Do You Think You Are?” on NBC. Instead, he tells their families’ stories with historical accuracy and rich context, sensitivity and honesty. Gates is at his finest when telling the history of African-Americans in this country and he uses DNA testing of each celebrity’s genetic code as a tool to trace their bloodlines when the paper trail goes cold. His African-American participants are often surprised to find out that they have varying amounts of European, African and Asian DNA, which therefore deconstructs the idea that racial categories are exclusive and purely biological. At the very least, “Finding Your Roots” proves that race and what makes someone “black” and “white,” (like gender), is socially constructed. (If you’re reading this, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., can you research my family’s history? Thanks!)
Long Island Medium (9p.m., Sunday, on TLC)
You didn’t think I’d forget some good ol’ reality TV, did you? And what better place (besides New Jersey) for an outsized reality TV personality than Long Island! The Long Island Medium is better known as Theresa Caputo, a psychic and medium, wife and mother of two children who lives somewhere on suburban Long Island. (My bet is on Nassau County.)
While skeptics pose questions about her self-proclaimed ability to speak to the dead, there’s something endearing about Caputo. Maybe it’s her intense energy, insecurities about her weight or how she spoils her adorable American bulldog, Petey, who’s the only one in her house who gets home-cooked meals. Or maybe it’s Caputo’s fearlessness in stopping her own workout at the gym to ask a complete stranger on the elliptical machine about her deceased parents because they were communicating with her.
Real or not, what stands out is Caputo’s desire to use her gift to help others ease the burden of their grief from losing a loved one, whether a spouse, child or parent. The stories of each person’s loss is touching, heartbreaking and hopeful. Watch at your own emotional risk, but don’t believe everything you see on TV.