Five TV Shows To Be Thankful For On Thanksgiving

We live in stressful times right now and while I enjoy a challenging and dark drama as much as the next nihilist, there are times when you just want to watch some television that washes over you like a warm summer breeze. Television that is free from snark and almost guaranteed to wrap you up in their innocent joy like a warm blanket.

Here are five television shows and specials I've been watching when I need to stop worrying about the future for a few minutes. It's a cliche to say that television is an escape. But when I watch these shows, I feel just a bit less like I'm living through an unpredictable pandemic. In a year where it can feel as if all of the joy has been sucked out of the world, these shows are a palate cleanser for your soul.

1) Voices Of Fire (Netflix)
I don't know the definition of "Grace" is, but I know what it feels like to receive it.

Maybe eight years ago, I was at the lowest point of my life. I had been laid off three times in less than two years and there wasn't one aspect of my life that wasn't a dumpster fire. My marriage was collapsing under the weight of all the stress and I had a young autistic son who needed help I couldn't give him. I was lost and feeling simultaneously as if I were carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders while also being a failure and a fraud. One night I was driving home, dreading seeing my wife's disappointed face. And as I was driving, I realized I had to go to the bathroom and when I noticed some people walking into a small church, I stopped to use their facilities. 

It turned out the people were there for a meeting they jokingly called the "Broken Person's Club." It was set up essentially like an AA meeting. A group of people sitting in a circle talking about their lives, their hopes, their failures. Some of the group did have addiction problems, but there was also an elderly woman who was just lonely and a former pastor at the church who had lost his faith when his wife died following a long bout with cancer. All of them were "broken" in some way and they gathered twice a week for some fellowship, sharing of stories and unconditional support of each other. They convinced me to stay and I soon became a regular.

I found Grace, even if I can't quite describe what it is. And that feeling of Grace is the underpinning of this six-episode series that premiered last year on Netflix. At first glance the premise of Voices Of Fire sounds a bit like a Gospel-oriented American Idol rip-off. Bishop Ezekiel Williams - the uncle of Pharrell Williams - has assembled a group of the gospel heavyweights in the Hampton Roads area and hopes to put together what he dreams will be one of the best gospel choirs in the country. And they'll do it by mixing singers who have grown up in the church with people who don't know gospel music, but have the voice and personality to be part of a larger plan.

More than 3,000 people entered to be part of the choir and several hundred were brought in for auditions. And as these hopefuls sing for their chance, it's quickly apparent that this show isn't an American Idol clone. While that show can often seem wrapped up in the celebrity of the judges and the ambition of all of those Kelly Clarkson wannabes, the hopeful participants of Voices Of Fire aren't expecting to become stars by participating. They're looking for a way to find musical redemption, an opportunity to find themselves in a larger purpose. Early on, one singer begins haltingly singing and as she does tears begin streaming down her face. And that emotion sets the stage for a series of personal stories that frame the audition process and the preparation for the choir's public debut at a large theater.

Voices Of Fire is a gospel show, but it isn't infused with modern-day religion or politics. If you believe, you'll see the series in a way that will reaffirm your belief that God changes lives on a daily basis. And if you don't believe or have non-Christian beliefs, you'll be lifted up by the unbridled joy that is interwoven into nearly every scene of the show.

2) "Escape To The Country" (IMDb TV, Dabl)
I know the long-running House Hunters series is amazingly popular, but I find that a little of the show goes a long way. Every episode is structured and plays out in the same way, whether it takes place in San Diego or a small town in Spain. The house hunters are often clueless and for a lack of a better description - so American. 

"Escape To The Country" has been airing on BBC One during the day for twenty seasons and it is everything you love about British reality shows. The current iteration of the show follows a couple who are looking for a place away from the hustle and bustle of the city. One of the show's rotating hosts give the couple of two places they chose from reality listings as well as one "mystery pick" the hosts thinks they might like despite having some disqualifying feature.

Aside from the gentle tone of the show, getting the chance to see some of the rural beauty of the U.K. is one of the show's biggest treats. The couples explore the area around each potential home and you get a real sense of what it might be like to live in that secluded community. It's also fascinating to see these classic country homes, some of them hundreds of years old. They are often quirky & distinctive to the point of unsettling. But unlike the American couples of "House Hunters," these potential home buyers aren't looking at the old homes and complaining that the prefer an open concept in the kitchen.

I wish IMDb TV had more than a single season of the show, but you can also see additional seasons on the over-the-air digital lifestyle network Dabl.

3) "Phineas & Ferb: May The Ferb Be With You" (Disney+)
TV crossover episodes or ones that mash together a couple of familiar franchises are often more interesting in theory than when the finalized version hits the screen. It's difficult to find the right balance between the characters and to keep the best aspects of each show intact while still fully integrating everything together. This special is a parallel telling of many of the events from the original "Star Wars" films, using a combination of familiar "Star Wars" characters as well as all of the "Phineas and Ferb" favorites. The result is a show that plays less like a promotional stunt and more like what the film might have looked like if it had been originally produced by Disney as an animated film.

Phineas and Ferb are youngsters on the desert planet Tatooine and they're friends with Luke, who seems to spend a lot of time gazing off into the distance. Any worries "Phineas and Ferb" fans might have about the special will likely end early on when they hear the duo singing "We love Tattooine," a hilarious number that somehow manages to be catchy while still referencing a basket full of familiar movie facts.

I won't spoil the film by talking too much about the plot. But Candace is there (aided by Baljeet and Buford) as a junior stormtrooper trying to "bust" the rebels. Isabella is the captain of the Centennial Chihuahua and she also happens to have a rivalry going with Hans Solo. And let's not forget Darth Doofenshmirtz, who claims to have come up with the original plans for the Death Star. Although he had originally planned for it to be a handheld nutcracker.

"Phineas And Ferb Star Wars" retains the best of "Phineas And Ferb" while including an impressively funny collection of "Star Wars" references, inside jokes and facts that only a hardcore fan might catch. Two of my favorites include a mention of the hated Jar Jar Binks ("You can't blame him, he's been retired for like, 20 years"), to a nod from a scene in the original movie where a man falls out of the bottom of the Death Star. It's all good fun and  the jokes are respectful of both properties while still tweaking the expectations of fans.

The "Star Wars" universe isn't known for being particularly funny, but "May The Ferb Be With You" is an illustration of why there should be more of these very funny romps through the canon. It's a blast to watch and that damn earcandy of a tune "We Love Tatooine" will be stuck in your mind for days.

4) Good Timing With Jo Firestone (Peacock)
I did stand-up for about decade, through the 1980s into the 1990s. I turned into a pretty good comic along the way, but even when I was terrible I loved the magic that came with making people laugh. I haven't been onstage in close to 30 years, but I still find myself writing jokes for an act I'll probably never do. I've even seriously considered doing an open mike or two, just to see if an old guy can get laughs from a room full of strangers half my age.

I say all this because I know firsthand the magic that comes from a good joke. Or even a not so good one. Laughter is one of the qualities that makes us human and it connects the comedian and the audience in an almost spiritual way. A lot of modern comedy seems so obsessed with breaking boundaries and speaking truth that many comedians forget the most important thing: the way that seeing someone's smile or hearing them unexpectedly laugh can lift your soul. 2021 is a complicated time and there's something to be said for comedy that's free of everything but the joy of laughter and losing yourself for a few minutes in the moment.

Comic and actress Jo Firestone began teaching a comedy class to a group of seniors last year and when the pandemic broke, she moved it over to Zoom. The students range in age from 66 to 88 and while a couple of them have some tangential connection to show business (one woman sold jokes to Joan Rivers for $10 a piece), the majority of them were just doing the class as a distraction. When the pandemic slowed down earlier this year, the class met in person and ultimately everyone performed a short set in front of a live audience.

Good Timing With Jo Firestone splits its 50-minute running time into three different parts, although there is some overlap between the segments. There is a look at the group in-person classes, as Firestone throws out subject ideas and guides the often raucous conversation (and anyone who think seniors are mostly prudes should watch the back-and-forth about a pussy joke). Firestone also does one-on-one interviews, where she is able to explore the senior's lives and experiences a bit. And the final hunk of the special is devoted to the performances.

The performances take place in a theater at 2pm and as you might expect, the quality of the comedy doesn't generally rise to the level of the average open-mike night at any comedy club. But that isn't the point. The performances are engaging, sweet and sometimes unpredictable (one guy shows up nearly naked). There's a joyful earnestness to the event that just puts a smile on your face. These are not people who have illusions about having a comedy career or changing the world. They are just there for the companionship and the laughter. It's infectious and a reminder of what comedy can be.

5) "Saved By The Barn" (Animal Planet/Discovery+)
You know a show is worth watching when it gets you to care about a subject that you wouldn't ordinarily give a second thought. I can honestly admit that I don't think I ever considered the possibility that there are sanctuaries for rescued farm animals. And yet that's the premise of "Saved By The Barn" and from the first episode I've been all in.

The show centers around the story of Dan McKernan, who picked up from his six-figure tech job in Austin, TX and left it all behind to take over his family’s 140-year-old farm in Michigan and transform it into the "Barn Sanctuary." There aren't any big confrontations on the show and often the storyline is along the lines of "we have to put sunscreen on the ears of our rescue pigs." But McKernan and his staff are so earnest and the animals so cute and compelling that you won't mind the lack of action. Instead, you'll just binge a bunch of episodes of the show, letting the good vibrations roll over you like a warm ocean breeze.

Is there a show that I missed? Do you have a go-to TV show for those times when you need to escape? Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll do a follow-up piece featuring some of your choices.

Last modified on Thursday, 25 November 2021 12:51