Some of the best series on TV right now also happen to be the most stressful. I think we all can agree that “The Bear,” the unexpected hit on Hulu via FX, was a revelation last year. More recently, Netflix’s “Beef” was groundbreaking and gripping. In its final season, “Barry” has turned into a master class for its comedic stars giving the dramatic turns of their careers, including Bill Hader, Henry Winkler and Stephen Root.
All three series are some of the most nerve-racking shows on television. Peak TV, meet Stress TV.
Hold on, I’m not going to dust off the tired “what’s comedy versus drama” debate. I feel like we lost that battle long ago when hourlong comedic dramas (or dramatic comedies) like “Ally McBeal” and “Desperate Housewives” won comedy Emmys. Shows like “Beef” and Peacock’s “Mrs. Davis” have avoided the debate entirely by instead entering the limited Emmy race. And that’s perhaps for the best — Although “Beef” would seemingly land otherwise in the comedy race and “Mrs. Davis” in the drama race… I think “Mrs. Davis” may be the most lighthearted of any of the shows I’ve mentioned so far (and not nearly as stressful, despite the fact that it’s about A.I., the thing that will probably put me out of a job in a few years._
And don’t get me wrong — I’m not criticizing these shows. I watch and appreciate them all. Although I’m not sure I need more stress in my life, it’s a credit to them that they make me feel so anxious.
There’s a reason why I’m on the edge of my seat: I’m really invested in the characters and their stories. On “The Bear,” I feel for Carmy, the grieving master chef (played with depth and nuance by Jeremy Allen White) who returns to Chicago to take over his late brother’s failing restaurant. I root for Ayo Edebiri’s Sydney, the young sous-chef who joins Carmy’s Italian beef restaurant in hopes of learning from the award-winning chef de cuisine — only to be disappointed by him.
But most of all, I get super nervous as the orders pile up, tensions rise and screaming begins in that tight Mr. Beef kitchen.
From Mr. Beef to “Beef,” who can’t relate to the road rage incident that leads Amy (Ali Wong) and Danny (Steven Yeun) into a back-and-forth battle that threatens to destroy their livelihoods? Danny is struggling to keep afloat as a contractor doing odd jobs to get by, while Amy is about to sell her business for millions — and can’t afford a hiccup. Right when you’re cheering for one, they do something despicable or dumb. Then the same thing happens on the other side. All along, you’re waiting for the shoe to drop — and as an Angeleno, I know very well that I’m just one angry incident in my car from landing in the same situation.
Meanwhile, there is also something to be said for the other end of the spectrum: The “Hug TV” trend that took off with “Ted Lasso” at the start of the pandemic, and now continues with “Shrinking” (also from “Lasso” creatives Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein) as the pandemic winds down.
I’ve thought a lot about how we’re all a bit more emotional these days after the past few years. I most definitely cry at the TV a lot more than I used to. “Shrinking” hit me in the feels as I’ve been thinking about the trauma we as a society just went through, and continue to try to recover from.
Star and executive producer Jason Segel agrees. “I think that where we have been left from the past couple of years is some sense that something that maybe we cannot name was taken from us unexpectedly — and we’re grieving that,” he recently told me. “And so, while the show is about literal loss, I think it taps into this feeling that we all have of, life can change in a heartbeat with no warning.”