Brian Rock is a social studies teacher in New Jersey. He's always interested in ways to do a better job of teaching civics.
Are you a political junky? If so, then there's nothing better than watching a movie or a show that has a plot based on politics. It's especially satisfying when the show does a good job of portraying what politics is like and you can learn something about the process.
Here's a list of seven shows that you should check out, if you haven't. There are some funny ones, some dark ones, and some lighthearted but serious ones. But they're all political and they're all fun to watch. Some of these shows are available to stream on Amazon or Netflix, but others you might have to go to Amazon and pay to download the episodes.
We'll start with The Mayor, because this is a new show and still actively airing new episodes. The Mayor is a new sitcom on ABC that airs on Tuesday nights after Blackish.
The plot revolves around Courtney Rose - a young rapper who is struggling in his music career and looking for a way to jump start it. He decides to run for Mayor to get some free publicity, but in a weird turn of events he ends up winning the race. He and his friends take over city hall and come to terms with what it means to govern a city.
In each episode, Mayor Courtney Rose and his staff deal with an issue facing the city - budget cuts, gentrification, providing social services. He has to navigate political relationships, including an obstructionist Council President and a manipulative Governor. Meanwhile, he's also a young man and has to figure out how to balance his public life and his private life.
Although the premise of the show is silly, it turns out to be a pretty accurate and insightful look at local politics. There are certainly some things that it exaggerates and gets wrong, but I would definitely recommend this to any teacher looking to engage his or her students around political issues. This lesson plan has some ideas for how to use The Mayor with your classes. It's relevant and students can relate to the main character. They'll learn about how government operates and you can guide some great discussions about essential themes in civics and government.
House of Cards
When House of Cards first came out, it was all anybody talked about if they were into politics. It was one of the first Netflix shows to drop an entire season on one day - allowing us to binge it immediately. The show has gone up and down a bit in its history, but it remains a solid show to watch if you're interested in politics and government.
As an American government teacher, a lot of people ask me - is this what politics is really like? And the answer is yes and no. The chances of Frank being as successful as he is and of all of these things happening to one person are pretty slim. And as the show goes on, it gets a little more outlandish. But a lot of the plot elements in the show are based on things that have actually happened at some point in U.S. history. Murder and corruption may not be common in D.C., but they're certainly not unheard of.
House of Cards has been back in the news recently because of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Kevin Spacey. The show was planning on winding down in the upcoming season anyway, and the creators decided to edit Kevin Spacey's character out of the final season.
House of Cards is a dark show, and it's certainly not as happy go-lucky as The Mayor. But you'll get a behind the scenes view of what working in Washington is like, and it'll certainly sate your appetite for political drama.
The West Wing
The West Wing is a classic television show about politics. It brought the phrase "POTUS" into the mainstream and gave a general audience a behind the scenes view of the Presidency.
The West Wing follows the political career of President Josiah Bartlett. There's domestic political drama, foreign relations problems, a re-election campaign, and the personal tragedy of him dealing with an illness. It's an emotional roller coaster over it's long running history, and once you get into it you'll be hooked.
The show is by award winner Aaron Sorkin. He does a great job of weaving a political drama together, and his portrayal of Washington, D.C. life is quite realistic. It lacks the exaggeration and extreme pessimism of House of Cards. But he may be guilty of being a bit too optimistic. In his desire to write a feel-good drama of sorts, some of the issues resolve in a way that is a little too good to be true. But it's still fun to watch.
Parks and Recreation
Parks and Rec is amazing. It's a comedy, and so it's clearly less realistic than some of the other shows on this list. But it does give you some insight into local government, and if you're a fan of The Office then you'll love Parks and Rec - it uses the same mock-umentary style.
The show is about the Parks and Recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana. Leslie Knope, the main character, is obsessive in her love of all things park, rec, and government. Meanwhile, her boss hates the idea of government. The juxtaposition of their philosophies and the clash of their personalities drives a lot of the drama in the show. The acting is superb, and you'll recognize some of the actors who starred in this show early in their career - like Aziz Ansari and Chris Pratt.
Unlike dramas like House of Cards and The West Wing, Parks and Rec is chopped up into nice bit-sized pieces like a sitcom. While it's certainly binge-worthy and you can waste a whole day watching the show, it's great for filling up little bits of time and taking short breaks from regular life. You'll love the characters once you get to know them, and you'll learn a thing or two about how a municipal agency like the Parks and Recreation Department operates.
The Wire isn't strictly a political drama. It actually starts off as a show about crime and it focuses on the drug trade and the police force of Baltimore. But as the show progresses, you begin to see how everything in the city - the police, the drug trade, the school system, the politicians, the union - are connected.
The show is gritty and a bit dark, but you'll quickly get lost in the story that it's telling. The first time I watched the show, I could hardly stop myself from just binging the whole thing straight through.
The first season focuses on the drug trade and the second season focuses on corruption at the docks. By the third season, you start to see greater involvement from the political class in the city, and the show starts to explore how a lot of these issues are political in nature. While the show itself isn't really appropriate for high school kids, it would be a great source to use for a discussion with a college class.
Even President Obama was a fan of The Wire...
Show Me a Hero
Show Me a Hero is a six part mini-series from the creators of The Wire. It keeps the same gritty feel and brings it to Yonkers, New York in the 1980's. It follows a young politician as he rises from the City Council to be Mayor. At the same time, the city is dealing with whether and how to desegregate subsidized housing within its borders.
This is based on a true story, and it does a wonderful job of bringing the city to life for the viewer. The Show is extremely relevant for today, and you'll notice a lot of similarities between some of the characters and politicians that we see on the news.
And this is a really great tool for teaching students about the reality of politics and the disconnect between politics and policy. You see the Mayor's stance change throughout the show, and you see how politicians take different tones when they're campaigning and when they're governing. The fact that it's based on a true story helps, too. Unlike House of Cards and The West Wing, you can't blame the creators for making the show too optimistic or pessimistic. It is what it is, because that's what happened.
Finally, we have Alpha House. This was one of Amazon's first original programs made for Amazon Prime subscribers. Unfortunately, it didn't last past the second season, but those first two seasons are definitely worth a watch.
The show is centered around four Congessmen who share a house in Washington, D.C., and it's based on a true story. The show played off of the news a lot, and you'll notice references to stories that were big a few years ago when the show came out.
Alpha House is simultaneously funny and insightful. It's a silly show that's definitely comedic, but it gives off a good political vibe that'll satisfy your craving for D.C. happenings. And it was good to see John Goodman in a show again.
If you're a Prime subscriber, you should check it out. For sure.
What do you think? Is there another show that should be on this list?
Drop a comment below and let us know. Feel free to share how you feel about these seven shows, too.
Jessie Watson from Wenatchee Washington on December 18, 2017:
That's going to be weird. Honestly, I don't think they could rewrite anything worth watching after that despite the circumstances. His monologues were works of art. Claire really isn't all that interesting without the dynamic of her bitter marriage to Frank.
Brian Rock (author) from New Jersey on December 18, 2017:
Yup. You might say that Spacey took method acting to a whole new level. But I'm glad they wrote him out of this season instead of just canceling the show.
Jessie Watson from Wenatchee Washington on December 14, 2017:
I'd say Spacey is doing pretty good maintaining character outside the show.