10 Social Issue TV Shows That Everyone Should Watch at Least Once

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Some TV shows have whimsical plots that are meant to make you laugh, some shows deal with harsh content that makes you think on your own life, and there are a few that send you on an emotional roller coaster by putting characters through tragic experiences. Regardless of which purpose a series serves, the overall goal of the writers, directors, and actors is to make an impression on people. Now, with all that has happened in our world throughout history, many TV shows are grounding their plots in social issues to make an impression on audiences and take a stance on a particular topic.

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From talking about diet culture and how our food has such an effect on our bodies to much darker tales that make audiences realize just how monstrous people can be towards one another, there is a lot to say when it comes to how everyone participates in our rapidly growing world. The list below consists of 10 incredible TV shows that all target a social issue we each have either personally experienced, are aware of, or, in some cases, inadvertently contribute to. Some deal with a documentary style, and others have characters that portray real-life individuals or just the everyday person.

No matter the case, all 10 are worthy of a deeper conversation that people in the world need to have with one another. Here are 10 social issue TV shows that everyone needs to watch at least once.

10 When They See Us (2019)

In 2019, Netflix released the four-part miniseries, When They See Us, based on the horrible events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case. In short, a woman was attacked and assaulted while out for a run in Central Park. Five young Black and Latino boys were brought in for questioning because they had been in the park as well — along with dozens of other teenagers and kids who were simply goofing off. Through illegal and horrible methods, the police and prosecutors pinned the crime on them. Years passed by before each of the young men was finally found innocent and released.

Racism, Police Brutality, & a Corrupt Justice System

When They See Us is brutal and heartbreaking, but it is a story that everyone needs to know about. People need to see how racism and police brutality are not a new social issue by any means. The fact that the justice system fails Black and brown children every single day is enough to make you want to throw up, and this miniseries painfully depicts how low cops and people with power are willing to go to close a case. Streamon Netflix

9 Black Mirror (2011-Present)

The British anthology series Black Mirror knows no bounds when it comes to commenting on any and every social issue it can find in our world. Primarily, the show focuses on how technology has been able to corrupt our society to a point of no return, but with social media, funny videos, and entertaining series and films, most people turn a blind eye to how much damage has been done. This Netflix show takes things to the extreme, but that is the point, because people begin talking about these harsher realities through the “safety net” of the show.

Advanced Technology Breeds Morally Corrupt People

The main social issue at hand in this dark series is humanity’s reliance on technology and how corrupt people are able to manipulate others and situations through the use of advanced technology. Several of the episodes have a sci-fi or supernatural aspect to them, so people tend to just enjoy the unique plots and concepts. However, there are several episodes that are too realistic and seem highly feasible within the next couple of decades. Stream on Netflix

8 Maid (2021)

maid

Margaret Qualley gives an incredible performance in Maid as Alex, a young mother who does everything in her power to leave an abusive relationship and make something of herself. Alex has to figure out where to live, how to deal with her own dysfunctional family, and most importantly, how to earn money so that she and her daughter can move on with their lives. Absolutely nothing is black or white in this miniseries, and it is all too relatable for many young women out there.

Abuse, Escape, & Revinventing Oneself

Mental illness, addiction, abuse, and domestic violence are just a few of the social issues touched upon in Maid. The Netflix series is tragic and beautiful all at the same time, and it is a real eye-opener when it comes to proving how not everything (or everyone) can easily be labeled “good” or “bad.” For many, there is often a frustrating middle ground. Stream on Netflix

7 Down to Earth With Zac Efron

After just a few months into the pandemic, people were able to live vicariously through Zac Efron and his colleague, Darin Olien, as they traveled the world and got to know how other people live in Down to Earth with Zac Efron. Through two seasons, the pair traveled to France, Puerto Rico, London, Peru, Iceland, Australia, and many other places while getting to know how other countries are ahead of our own in many ways and how people embrace a certain richness of life.

Travel, Lifestyles, & Eye-Opening Changes

This is a lighthearted documentary that touches on some deep issues in a whimsical and honest way. Seeing the High School Musical heartthrob become someone who is able to bring attention to the way we live, eat, and think about our own livelihoods is nothing short of incredible. By the end of each episode, you will be inspired to make a change in either the world or just your own household. Stream on Netflix

Related: 20 Best TV Miniseries You Can Watch Right Now

6 Squid Game (2021)

Squid Game Poster
Squid Game

Release Date
September 17, 2021

Cast
Lee Jung-jae , Kim Joo-ryoung , Park Hae-soo , Wi Ha-joon

Squid Game took the world by storm in 2021 as it showed how everyday people can become lethal killers and throw away their morals when put in desperate situations. The series primarily follows Seong Gi-hun, a middle-aged man with quite a bit of debt, as he enters into a deadly competition with 455 other players, who are also in debt. Only one person will come out on top (and alive) and receive the prize money. However, people have to ask themselves if the winnings are worth the lives of their competition.

Financial Desperation Leads to Corrupt Decisions

Almost everyone can understand what it is like to be in a financial pinch, but to consciously agree to enter into deadly games to try to get out of it is completely wild. Squid Game takes the “us versus them” stance to the extreme, where rich individuals are delighted to watch poor people literally risk their lives to get themselves out of debt. It’s a truly disgusting concept, but it’s told in such a fascinating way. Stream on Netflix

5 Euphoria (2019-Present)

Euphoria
Euphoria

Release Date
2019-00-00

Seasons
2

Euphoria is the ultimate teen show when it comes to truly depicting the rather complicated lives of teenagers in this day and age. Many critics and fans may want to believe that the things in this series are exaggerated and a bit out of control, but sadly, a lot of these storylines happen each and every day in our own world. Drug addiction, abuse in every form, and struggling with one’s identity are what teenagers today face on a daily basis — whether it is direct or indirect changes in a case by case situation.

Addiction, Toxic Relationships, & Unfortunate Realities

Everyone should watch this HBO series at some point — preferably when they are mature enough to see graphic and shocking content and can have a conversation about it — because it does not shy away from harsh realities. People often want to tell kids that their problems don’t matter or aren’t big enough yet to mean much, but in all honesty, these social issues are something people struggle with every day, regardless of age. Stream on Max

4 The Fosters (2013-2018)

Nuclear families and the standard “American dream” — with the house, yard, and white picket fence — are becoming a thing of the past as more people are embracing different living situations and family styles. The Fosters is a perfect example of what it is like to have a multiracial blended family working against all odds. Each family member deals with their own battles in their own ways, but in the end, they all realize how important it is to have family to lean on and love.

LGBTQ+ Representation, Abuse, & Social Activism

Love, loss, heartache, and trying to figure out what it actually means to be an individual within such a large family are just a few of the social issues and themes explored throughout the five seasons of The Fosters. The children within the family remind audiences what it is like to be young and spirited, but they also prove that justice can be served in many ways when the one pursuing it is relentless and determined. Stream on Hulu

Related: 20 All-Time Best Gay Characters in TV History

3 Black-ish (2014-2022)

2014 was just a decade ago, yet Kenya Barris still felt like he was taking a risk by putting out Black-ish. The sitcom features an upper-middle class Black family of six, who all question their own racial identities at one point or another while they live in a predominantly white area. While sitcoms typically make you laugh and giggle, this particular one will also hit on every socially relevant issue it can when it comes to describing how African Americans struggle to establish and hold onto Black culture in America.

Racism and Black Culture Collide

Family members struggling to figure out how to navigate certain problems is not a new concept by any means, but when race is involved, audiences can become a bit uncomfortable. Happily, that is precisely the point in Black-ish. Social issues like racism, identity, and police brutality are heavy-handed throughout this series. Stream on Disney+ and Hulu

2 Inventing Anna (2022)

Julia Garner as Anna Delvey on trial in Inventing Anna
Netflix

Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder, is no stranger to creating elaborate and complex women characters. However, with Inventing Anna, all she needed to do was take a look at how a very real (and very manipulative) young woman named Anna Sorokin managed to con banks, businessmen, and elite socialites out of millions of dollars.

Eat the Rich Before They Eat You (Metaphorically, Of Course)

Most people make an honest living and have a family they love along with a few good friends. This sounds like a fantastic life to the majority, but there are some people out there who want fame, money, power, and status. Anna Sorokin was one of these people. This Netflix miniseries dives into the lavish lifestyle to which few people are privy, where one intelligent young woman was actually able to steal money, clothes, trips, and so much more from those around her before rightfully landing herself in prison. Stream on Netflix

1 Social Distance (2020)

Three different parties on a Zoom call
Netflix

When the whole world shut down at the beginning of 2020, Hilary Weisman Graham realized history was being made, and she decided to create an anthology series to document it all. Social Distance depicts eight different scenarios where people are at home, they feel isolated, and they have to come to terms with their “new normal.” The series reminds us what we all went through on some level during the Covid-19 pandemic, and it shows just how important it is to connect with loved ones and those around you.

Covid-19 Pandemic, Isolation, & the Black Lives Matter Movement

The series is a bit on the nose, and while many people may feel they don’t need to watch a show that they personally (and recently) experienced, down the road, this is going to be a real eye-opener for audiences. From staying indoors and facing harsh truths to seeing how the public dealt with a historical social movement in real time, this is definitely a series worth watching. Stream on Netflix

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