10 Inspirational TV Shows to Watch Now

Updated May 27, 2024 • Staff

Inspiration isn't one of the usual feelings that one assumes a television series can sustain. We're used to TV delivering a steady stream of laughs, drama, or thrills week after week, with those powerful moments of triumph and hope sprinkled only on occasion. But we think there are some shows out there that feel motivational just by existing: these are series that might keep you in a state of wonder, or have its characters constantly defy the odds, or just have love and kindness at their very center. For these lesser-known but highly recommended shows, inspiration doesn't have to be saved until the finale.

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10.

Trying

Trying is a realistic but charming take on couples venturing to build a life and stable future for themselves. Heavy themes are tackled here, like infertility, infidelity, and parenthood, but the immensely likable couple that is Nikki and Jase guide us through the murky ups and downs of them all. Their heart and humor aren’t just comforting to watch, they're also inspiring in a TV age obsessed with heavy dramatics. Like Ted Lasso, Abbott Elementary, and other well-meaning shows like it, Trying is a bit of lighthearted fare that we’d do well to indulge in every now and then.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Esther Smith, Imelda Staunton, Oliver Chris, Ophelia Lovibond, Rafe Spall
Rating: TV-14
9.

Searching for Soul Food

Fresh and fast-paced, Searching for Soul Food is a love letter to the titular cuisine. Known as one of America’s cuisines, soul food has been brought and developed around the world as a means for their own survival and the preservation of their cultures. Chef Alisa Reynolds enthusiastically introduces the viewers to the cuisine, digging deep (sometimes literally) into its roots and the resulting dishes. While the show sometimes gives speedy infodumps about the food, Reynolds infuses some sense of warmth and liveliness that makes the facts highly engaging. It’s clear that Reynolds and the team serve each episode with sincere love and respect for the cultures presented here.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Documentary, Reality
Director: Rodney Lucas
Rating: TV-14

Free Watching Options:

Watch Searching for Soul Food on Hulu for free
8.

The Baby-Sitters Club

Vibrant and quirky in a way that always rings true for its plucky protagonists, this abruptly cancelled children's series embodies the optimism and empathetic spirit that we should all hope to gain from the younger generations. By starting their own neighborhood business, the core characters of The Baby-Sitters Club (played with undeniable star power and chemistry by its young ensemble) learn how to bring joy and healing to others while facing everything from discrimination and generational trauma to their own imperfect family lives. Behind the club's humorous, sugarcoated antics is a real sense of helplessness that each character struggles with—forging ahead and doing whatever they can to fix things that they've been told are out of their control. It's an unexpectedly touching gem of a show that proves kids' entertainment can be truly beautiful.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family, Kids
Actor: Alicia Silverstone, Anais Lee, Aya Furukawa, Jessica Elaina Eason, Kyndra Sanchez, Malia Baker, Marc Evan Jackson, Mark Feuerstein, Momona Tamada, Shay Rudolph, Sophie Grace, Vivian Watson, Xochitl Gomez
Rating: PG
7.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

After struggling to recapture the magic of the first few Star Trek series for the better part of two decades, the franchise has finally returned to its original formula of self-contained space adventures, progressive politics, and an unabashedly hopeful tone—all to magnificent results. Strange New Worlds is classic Trek in every sense: from its truly out-there, '60s-style sci-fi stories; to its warm sense of humor; to its welcome focus on sentiment and emotion even amid large battles and dangerous situations. The series accomplishes all of this while keeping every member of its crew unique and charismatic, crafting powerful character moments for them even in the thick of things—elevated by uniformly brilliant performances from its cast, led by a commanding Anson Mount. It's Star Trek for old and new fans alike, and a great reminder of the distinct strengths of episodic TV.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Science Fiction
Actor: Anson Mount, Babs Olusanmokun, Celia Rose Gooding, Christina Chong, Ethan Peck, Jess Bush, Melissa Navia, Rebecca Romijn
6.

Barakamon

Featuring almost no external conflict for its protagonist to face, this story of a young, ill-tempered calligraphy artist—sent to recollect himself at an island community—makes the private process of soul-searching as inspiring as it is cathartic. It's a series that understands how one's art is informed almost subliminally by the smallest observations and interactions, transforming the act of personal expression into a tribute to the people and places who give this expression real weight. So even if Barakamon spends most of its time on quaint, everyday experiences without any heightened drama, you get the sense that something significant is shifting within Seishu with every day that passes. It's a warm, beautiful anime about some of the biggest existential questions, delivered in a modest, good-humored way.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family
Actor: Atsushi Ono, Daisuke Ono, Fumihiko Tachiki, Junichi Suwabe, Koki Uchiyama, Megumi Han, Nozomi Furuki, Rina Endou, Rumi Okubo, Suzuko Hara, Tanuki Sugino, Yoshino Takamori, Yuki Kaji
5.

Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire

Undeniably breathtaking animation meets uncomplicated narratives and breathes life into this 10-episode speculative anthology. These rich stories take the sci-fi genre and unfurl a multitude of possibilities for a futuristic Africa. Although the episodes are short, there are more hits than misses as the focus on succinct stories creates a net positive viewing experience. Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire boasts an explosive variety of animation styles that make simple yet heartfelt stories shine. The transition from high-action vibrant stories like Mkhuzi: The Spirit Racer to the dark, terrifying visuals of Surf Sangoma in the first half displays the amazing talent of Africa's filmmakers. 

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Action & Adventure, Animation, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Actor: Florence Kasumba, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Kehinde Bankole, Pearl Thusi

Free Watching Options:

Watch Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire on Hulu for free
4.

Betty

This spiritual sequel to director Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen gives that movie’s characters a fresh slate but retains all of its gentle empathy and dreamy vibes. Revolving around a diverse group of girl skaters in NYC — the real streets of which the show is shot on — Betty sensitively explores the usual facets of teen dramas (love, drugs, identity, friendship) without ever breaking into the melodrama that often colors the genre. Amidst all of the freewheeling skate montages and killer tunes, there are (unfortunately) relatable issues like sexual assault and emotional manipulation getting thoughtful — and, crucially — empowering treatment from the young cast. In the show’s lighter moments, the girls' authentic chemistry shines through in the frequently improvised dialogue, which gives the show both a warm, inviting feel and a number of standout comedy moments (often courtesy of Nina Moran’s stoner girl Kirt). With six half-hour episodes per season (of which there are a much-too-short two), Betty covers admirably diverse ground while retaining a gorgeous hang-out vibe that makes it an addictive — even healing — watch.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Ajani Russell, Dede Lovelace, Kabrina Adams, Nina Moran, Rachelle Vinberg
Rating: TV-MA
3.

As We See It

As We See It centers on the perspectives of its three leads: Jack, Violet, and Harrison, twenty-something roommates who happen to be on the autism spectrum. Along with their caretaker Mandy and a small but loving group of friends and family, they embark on a journey of self-improvement that is sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking, but always funny and kind.

Despite zeroing in on a very specific disorder, the struggles and accomplishments of As We See It's characters feel universal and wholly relatable. The nuanced and refreshingly humane characterizations, along with an impressive balance of comedy and drama, are what make As We See It truly special. It is an underrated, enjoyable gem of a show, and quite digestible too since it only runs for eight episodes. 

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Albert Rutecki, Angela Fornero, Chris Pang, David Futernick, Jennifer Lyons, Joe Mantegna, Naomi Rubin, Rick Glassman, Sosie Bacon, Sue Ann Pien, Tal Anderson
Rating: 16

Free Watching Options:

Watch As We See It on Amazon Prime for free
2.

Abbott Elementary

Abbot Elementary is a mockumentary that follows a group of well-meaning but cash-strapped teachers trying to make their school a better place. The premise sounds simple enough, but the show's big heart and sharp observations about the rotting U.S. education system make it a breath of fresh air in the sitcom world. Abbot Elementary's characters are funny and likable, while also being fearless, defined, and nuanced. 

The show manages to do the seemingly impossible: genuinely and lightheartedly uplift the people it represents. It shines some much-needed light on the public service these undervalued teachers provide, without ever sounding too preachy or patronizing: an impressive feat for such a progressive show.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Comedy
Actor: Chris Perfetti, Janelle James, Lisa Ann Walter, Quinta Brunson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tyler James Williams, William Stanford Davis
Rating: TV-PG

Free Watching Options:

Watch Abbott Elementary on Hulu for free
1.

Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth is set in a post-apocalyptic America, where the population has been ravaged by a mysterious virus and the new generation of humans has evolved into animal hybrids. The circumstances are bleak and the things people do to survive even more so. Driven by fear and grief, they both isolate and attack in moves that are eerily reminiscent of the early days of our own pandemic. Sweet Tooth is a robust adventure story then, gritty and reflective and tragic, but it’s also incredibly sweet.

We’re introduced to a myriad of characters, each of them with their own arc, but we mostly follow Gus (Christian Convery), a nine-year-old human-deer hybrid who has yet to be disillusioned by the human race. Gus grounds the story’s many flights of fancy, and along with the other main characters, he gives us timely reminders of the importance of kindness and humaneness without ever being too corny. And to the show’s serious credit, no one plot line overpowers the other; instead, all feel just as vital to the larger story of survival that’s being told. 

The blend of these tales is lovely, the world-building is imaginative, and the technical aspects of it—the color, the costuming, and the cinematography—are all beautiful. Ultimately, Sweet Tooth is a packed a show wrapped in gorgeous layers, sure to delight even the most casual of viewers. 

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Actor: Adeel Akhtar, Aliza Vellani, Christian Convery, Dania Ramirez, James Brolin, Nonso Anozie, Stefania LaVie Owen
Rating: TV-14

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