Friday, March 27, 2020
Alisa Zipursky

TV is an enormous part of my mental healthcare. My friends often remark how I'm always the first to have watched something, and there's rarely a show someone can recommend to me that I haven't already binged. It is a healthy escapism for me that helps me re-balance myself. I find it much more managable for me personally than reading, I find with reading my imagination has too much leeway and can take me places where I don't want to go. I also find that for me personally, when I am triggered when I am reading it bothers me so much more than when I am triggered by TV. So I wish I could tell you that I'm reading books all the time, like the East Coast liberal elitist intellectual that lives in my soul, but it simply isn't my truth.

TV has been such a good friend to me, but sometimes it does betray me. There are too many times to count where I've wished I could just google content warnings for shows for sexual violence, childhood sexual abuse and sexual trauma, and so this living list is my attempt to offer my warnings from what I've learned over time. If you have content warnings for shows not listed here that you'd like added to the list please let me know through my contact page!  If you'd like more content like this, I review TV shows every week in my Friday newsletter, which you can sign up for on my homepage!

Never Have I Ever on Netflix

Content warning: There is no mention of sexual violence or abuse. It does depict and discuss trauma, specifically the trauma of Devi's father dying..

Gif from Never Have I Ever of Devi saying, "later, skater."

Holy smokes am I grateful for Netflix releasing this latest Mindy Kaling show during quarantine. In the 10 episodes we follow highschooler Devi as she deals with the trauma of her father dying the year before while dealing with the usual highschool shit of overachieving, sex and messy friendships. This show is funny and witty and also has immense heart. I was delighted watching every moment of it and only wish there were 3 more seasons of it I could watch right now. A great quarantine show. The show depicts and discuss trauma, specifically the trauma of Devi's father dying. As someone who was first diagnosed with PTSD after her chosen father died, it did hit hard for me and I was in my feelings, but for me it was in a deep recognition way versus a traumatic response.

Unorthodox on Netflix

Content warning: There isn't any sexual violence, but there are a couple very uncomfortable scenes where you see our main characters have very painful sex because they are so ill-informed about sex education. It is consensual. If you're worried about the scenes you can just skip through them and you won't miss out on anything!

Photo of the lead woman from the show Unorthodox in a dress with a shaven head.

This is a 4-part show based on the real life story of a hasidic woman who leaves her community in Williamsburg to go to Berlin and find herself. I thought it was going to be a stone-cold-bummer, but luckily I was wrong and I adored it. I watched it all on Sunday and thought the storytelling was beautiful and interesting and deeply compelling. The acting is so great, every character is treated with care and it was just so damn good. 

Too Hot Too Handle on Netflix

Content warning: No mention of sexual violence, all sexual behavior was consensual. You definitely hear people of all genders objectifying others and having some complicated relationships with sex, but nothing traumatic.

Gif of Netflix's Too Hot too Handle of a woman drinking a glass of wine saying, "Are we gonna see a slap or a ksis or something?"

The premise of the show is simple: all these very horny sex-obsessed humans arrive at a retreat in Mexico where they think they're filming a paradise island situation only to learn that the show is actually about them not having sex or kissing, and if they do have any physical intimacy with someone then money is deducted from pooled reward. Can you feel your brain melting into liquid and slowly pouring out of your ears yet?

Was this show good? Was it bad? God, I don't know. It wasn't as fun as Love is Blind, namely because I don't think there's anyone to really like or root for on the show. I did find the show pretty harmless and definitely entertaining enough for these very particular times we are in. I tried not to think too much as I was watching it, and do recommend not considering the completely fucked up sexual politics the show is uplifting, namely that in order to be a "real" and meaningful person you need to abstain from sex, or there's a right amount of sex you should be having. You definitely hear people of all genders objectifying others and having some complicated relationships with sex, but nothing traumatic.  This show does not grapple with anything remotely heavy or meaningful, which for me, is a win.

Tiger King

Content warning: Everything. Intimate partner violence, violent misogyny, murder, stalking, suicide, emotional abuse, animal cruelty and on and on

Gif of Tiger King singing song "I saw a tiger."

This is the most popular show on Netflix, and it's a crime ridden docu-series on the domestic tiger and private zoo nightmare in the United States. It is a series full of the worst humans being awful. I watched it, I'm not sure I'm glad I did. It is shocking and gripping which helps to distract, but it also is so depressing because these people are so awful. I'm not saying don't watch it, all I'm saying is I definitely want you to know what you're getting into, especially during this triggering time in the world.

But I have to offer every content warning under the sun, including: intimate partner violence, murder, violent misogyny, manipulative and psychologically abusive relationships of an older man praying on vulnerable young men and women in a sexualized way. We more or less watch someone commit suicide, there's stalking, there is so much hatred of women generally, WHAT ELSE, oh TONS of cruelty towards animals. There's more, but that's all that's coming to me right now.

Love is Blind on Netflix

Content warning: Gaslighting and emotional manipulation

Gif of Amber from "Love is Blind" saying "I'm engaged, y'all!"

We did it! Charlie and I watched Love is Blind in a two-day reality tv fever dream.  For those of you unfamilar, it's a reality TV show where a bunch of people meet one another in pods where they can't actually see each other, and after being sensory deprived in these voluntarily prisons they decide whether they want to get married never having seen one another. What's funny is that apparently Netflix had expected maybe one couple to result from the "experiment" but in fact, 6 couples left the pods engaged. I was hooked, I couldn't look away. Some of these people seem like good people. Most of them do not.  This show is bananas. It is both dumb and brilliant.  I feel conflicted. Certainly if you were unsure about the marriage industrial complex, this show really seals the deal of how fucked up we heterosexual people are about the institution of marriage. Charlie noted that he was delightfully surprised by how many hetero cis men were openly crying, and I agree that that was refreshing. And for anyone who has watched the show, I stan Cameron, and am into him and Lauren as a couple, and I think Jessica and Barnett both definitely voted for Trump. 

There is no mention of sexual violence or depiction of sexual violence. Every conversation around sex is very mindful of consent. What this show does have is people gaslighting one another and a fair amount of emotional manipulation happening in some of the relationships. Amber does describe a previous experience with a former boyfriend who coerced her into an abortion which is hella abusive.

CHEER on Netflix

Content warning: Disclosure of childhood sexual abuse

Gif of Jerry from Netflix's Cheer cheering.

God this show is so good, and it doesn't matter if you care at all about cheerleading, the way that Friday Night Lights didn't require you to care about football. We get the backstories of these white girls and gay black boys and the hardships they've endured that drive them to this insane sport and these students are so special and the storytelling is excellent. You will not believe the number of injuries we watch happen, and I thought football was bad when it comes to concussions, it looks like it has nothing on elite cheerleading. One girl casually noted that she just had her fifth concussion. One of the students endures a someone releasing nudes of her from when she was 16 onto the internet. In episode 5 La'Darius discloses that he experienced childhood sexual abuse and was harmed by an older boy.

Spinning Out on Netflix

Content warning: Every content warning under the sun!

Photo from Netflix's Spinning Out with the two leads dancing on the ice.

Spinning Out is a melodrama about two sisters and their fight to be world champion iceskaters. This show has every content warning I can think of, including that there is a constant threat of childhood sexual abuse that is ultimately confirmed by the end of the season, there is a very abusive parent, there are many graphic depicts of self-harm, and we watch a mother and daughter both intensely struggle with having bipolar. This show is drama 100% of the time without giving me any of the heart. I don't actually feel emotionally invested and connected to any of these characters, so it just feels intense without any real pay offs.  It feels like the writers room was just throwing every single thing they could think of at these characters. 

Everything's Going to Be Okay on Hulu

Content warning: Nuanced conversations around sexual consent, neurodivergence and ableism 

Promo poster for Hulu's Everything's Going to Be Okay tv Show.

For anyone who loved the show Please Like Me, we now have another show created by Josh Thomas, the adorable, clever Australian.  The show is about Josh's character moving from Australia to LA to take care of his two half sisters after the death of their father. It has Josh's signature wit, met with dark humor and a well of heart and compassion. There is something about this show that feels way less realistic than Please Like Me, but I find myself laughing and my heart full with each episode. In the first episode we do deal with a parent dying from cancer, and as someone who has had a parent die from cancer I didn't feel like it was exploitive or overly dramatic.

In the 6th episode one of the daughters who has autism is drunk and has sex and her friends and family are questioning whether she was able to consent both because of the alcohol has well as because she has autism. The questions around ableism and sexual consent continue for the next couple episodes, and it actually feels like it is done in a way that is thoughtful and complex (if anyone who has autism has watched it and wants to share what they think I'd love to hear!). What is revealed is really how ill-equipped neurotypical people are to talking about sex and consent. I appreciated that it permits space to show the complexity of the issues.

The Politician on Netflix

Content warning: A lot of suicide

Gif from Netflix's The Politician with Ben Platt saying he is going to be the next president of the United States.

Netflix's new original series The Politician stars Ben Platt who is a national treasure. The show is a cross between a Wes Anderson film and the uber campy Election starring Reese Witherspoon. Let's cut to the chase: Find the clips of Ben Platt singing in the show, and you're great. You can listen to him singing here and here.  This show has a couple mentions of sexual violence but HOLY HELL IS THERE AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF SUICIDE AND SUICIDE-RELATED CONTENT.  So much. If, for any reason you aren't down for watching a show where suicide is a part of nearly every episode. 

Soundtrack on Netflix

Content warning: Depicts state-sponsored violence, grief and just the whole show is depressing

Promo poster for Netflix's "Soundtrack."

THIS SHOW IS A STONE-COLD BUMMER.  Poor Charlie would hear me for hours whine from our bedroom "God I fucking hate this show", knowing that it didn't matter how many times he suggested I simply stop watching it that I wouldn't stop watching until the season was complete. He gets me.

This show is the worst kind of melodrama, the one that tries to say something profound out about the world we live in, trying to touch upon the foster system, the criminal justice system, and racial justice. When really, the show is a soap operas, and good soap operas know not to attempt such complex and meaningful themes. It was a disaster. This show depressed me. It made me wish I didn't have the thing inside me that made me feel a need to complete a show that I hated watching.There was no mention of sexual violence, but there is a lot of other kinds of violence including state-sponsored. There's also a lot of story lines about grief. If you have to watch it, like I get it, that happens, and I am sorry.

Modern Love on Amazon

Content warning: Episdoe 6 has creepy depictions of a young woman with an old man with implications of a father figure, Episode 3 has a depiction of bipolar depression 

Gif of Modern Love on Amazon characters

I am a goober. I love rom-coms. I love cheesy soundtracks. I have seen every single episode of all 16 seasons of Grey's Anatomy and all I want is more.But this fucking show.  As the youth say: I can't. Episode 6 is literally called, "So, he looked like Dad." Three minutes in I stopped it and (moment of growth!) I didn't actually watch the rest of the episode.  Separately, My mom and sister watched it and assured me it was fucking creepy and I made the right decision.  The episode is the personification of one of my least favorite tropes about CSA survivors, "She has 'daddy issues'".

The other content warning I'd offer is for Anne Hathaway's episode 3 "Take me as I am, whoever I am" about having bipolar disorder. You see the character at the highest of the highs and lowest of lows, but as someone who doesn't have bipolar disorder but does have C-PTSD I really appreciated the episode (If you have bipolar disorder and want to share with me what you thought I'd love to hear!) This show is emotionally manipulative at best. At the last episode, I knew they wanted me to cry and they were trying to make me cry and damnit they made me cry and I was mad about it because it was so transparent and yet I couldn't resist the swelling music and the montages.  I hate this show, and if there were 5 more episodes I'd watch them right now. 

Outlander on Netflix

Content warning: So much sexual violence. Like, the most.

Early this week, I polled you all on my instagram stories. I asked whether you thought Outlander was a show with too much sexual violence for me. It's a show that I know so many women have loved and is famous for having a badass woman lead and super hot sex scenes. Here's what you had to say:

instagram poll that shows 100% of people think Outlander has too much sexual violence

.
Unanimous. Everyone in complete agreement that watching this show would be a terrible idea for me. And I watched it anyway. Why? I don't know, i thought I could just fast forward through all the sexual violence and enjoy everything else. I love a period drama with a leading lady and I needed escapism TV badly.

What happened? THIS SHOW HAS MORE SEXUAL VIOLENCE THAN GAME OF THRONES MY GOD. I'd just press the skip ahead button over and over and over again and the scene would STILL be going on. There's sexual violence against women, there's sexual violence against men, there's the threat of sexual violence constantly and good lord do they take their damn time with these scenes. Even in pressing fast forward I saw things I didn't want to see. Beyond the violence, I watched the characters deal with the lasting effects of the sexual trauma, which is in many ways worse.

Big Little Lies on HBO

Content warning: Sexual violence, domestic violence and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from sexual violence

Gif from HBO's Big Little Lies where the five main women characters are standing in ridiculous costumes while holding up numbers during a police lineup.

I'm going to be real upfront about this: Big Little Lies has more content around sexual violence than any other show I've watched. So, if you don't want to go down that road, I very much appreciate that. I've watched, and continued to love, Big Little Lies because its portrayal of sexual violence and trauma ring so real and true to me. The way Shailene Woodley's character showed what it was like to live with her PTSD last season and now in this season with Nicole Kidman's character, felt very true, complex and understated in a way I so appreciate. Unlike Game of Thornes, this show never feels like it tries to exploit or sensationalize sexual violence, instead it centers the emotions of the people enduring it. 

In particular, I've appreciated how they keep showing Nicole Kidman's husband this season in flashback and nightmares and visions, because that is what trauma lives. Trauma lives in our minds and our bodies so far beyond the initial violence. We feel complicated things about our trauma, internalized shame and blame, questioning ourselves whether it was really "that bad", and understanding that love complicates our pain so much. I also appreciate how, in another show, we might think that the women would have been bonded by the end of last season and now they'd be a tight group. Instead, we see five women experience trauma completely differently from one another, and that at its core, trauma can be deeply isolating. It shows that one person's coping with trauma can be in direct conflict with another person's coping, and that is what family-based trauma looks like to me. So this isn't like, an endorsement. Don't watch it if your gut tells you it isn't for you right now. I just wanted to share how surprised I've been by the careful consideration the show has taken, and that's what keeps me watching.

Poldark on Amazon

Content warning: Season 3: Marital rape storyline throughout the season

Demelza from Poldark with her red hair blowing in the wind and winking with a sneaky smile.

Here's the theme of Poldark: Life is hard. The show a soapy period drama in Cornwall, England and shit just seems hard all the time. There are mines, life in the mines is HARD, life without modern medicine is HARD, love triangles are HARD. Life is hard, man. WHAT ELSE? There is a bombass female lead Demelza and I could watch her forever. There's great sexual chemistry between so many characters on the show. It takes place on some cliffs in the UK and you're like how do you guys not fall off the cliffs to your death like all the time? 

As for sexual violence, in the first two seasons, the only thing to note is that in season 2 episode 8 Poldark pushes a woman on a bed after she says no his sexual advances. The show didn't intend for it to read as sexual assault, they meant it to be passionate and complicated, but if you watch it you'll be like umm that's not right. The storyline of sexual violence really comes in Season 3 with the character of Morwenna, where we watch for an entire season her being sexually assaulted by her husband, and then Season 4 she is traumatized and struggling to heal. The whole thing plays exclusively as a plot device and to show her love interest as a noble and wonderful man kind of "saving" her from her abusive husband. HARD PASS on the entire storyline. 

This Way Up on Hulu

Content warning: Suicide survivor, alcoholism relapsing

Promo poster of Hulu's "This Way Up"

I don't really know how I stumbled upon this show but I am so glad I did. It is short, sweet, funny and very smart. Written and staring Aisling Bea you really get the sense that this is the exact show she wanted to make and how awesome women-run narratives can be. Also, Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe also stars in the show and helped create it, so anyone into that show will love this.

The premise is that Aisling's character has a nervous breakdown and has been treated in an in-patient facility and when we meet her she's just leaving the treatment center and trying to re-integrate back into her life. I know it sounds like it'd be a bummer but it really isn't. It is thoughtful and complicated and I personally love to see a depiction of mental illness that includes a woman who is vibrant and funny and loving and also has to deal with mental illness. I laughed aloud repeatedly, and I will say this show is ultimately one that is simultaneously optimistic and honest. If you liked Please Like Me or Fleabag this show is a no-brainer for you! There is a great deal of conversation about mental illness, including that the main character before we meet her survived a suicidal episode. We never see it or hear a lot about it, just mention that it happened and that it was really traumatic for her family. The show also deals with alcoholism and depicts a character relapsing.

Veronica Mars on Hulu

Content Warning: Sexual trauma

Gif from Veronica Mars of Kristen Bell giving the middle finger and then pretending her middle finger is lipstick.

I have been so late to the Veronica Mars party. How late? Well, it started in 2004. The show had a cult following and is very the OC meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer without any supernatural stuff. But now all the seasons are on Hulu, so this is what I'm doing with my life. Kristen Bell is badass, sarcastic, self-realized high school student who is a private investigator and takes no shit from anyone. Also, FROSTED TIPS! PUCA SHELLS! All that moody OC MUSIC!

I wanted to write about this because I think the show is totally bitchin, but it does have a lot of sexual violence content. In the first episode we learn Veronica had been roofied at a party and sexually assaulted (we don't see it happen). The entire season is centered around her trying to find out who raped her. We also have her casework sometimes deal with sexual violence survivors. In an episode I recently watched there was a teacher committing statutory rape. I never personally felt triggered, I think in part because the show centers Veronica's emotions and internal life, but definitely think everyone deserves a heads up on it. 

Killing Eve on Hulu 

Content warning: A ton of murder. Violence that has a sexual undertone.

Killing eve gif with Sandra Oh saying, "If anyone says it was murder on the dancefloor, I will throw them out the window."

This show is is really violent for me!  I don't do thrillers, psychological dramas, or murder mystery things so whoa this is out of my wheelhouse. How did I come to watch the 8 episode season of a show about a bananas murderous woman and the woman obsessed with her?  It's because of Sandra Oh and her glorious hair and incredible acting. Was this show hella creepy? Yes. Did it bother me? Surprisingly no. As Charlie pointed out, all the women are smarter than all the men all the time, so I clearly like that part.  And it's created by Pheobe Waller Bridge (Fleabag) so everything toes the line of super dark, but then surprising moments of humor and irony and lightness.

Let's talk violence. There is a ton of violence in this show, mostly murder. A lot of murder. There sexual violence depicted in the show is that the killer more than once cuts off the genitals of a man, which you do not see. There is no sexual violence, but there is a sexual component to the cat and mouse game between Sandra Oh and her, and it's clear that there's a great deal of sexual tension and lust between them. I personally did not find anything triggering, but I could see how if you had been harmed by a sociopath this would be super triggering.

The Witcher on Netflix

Content warning: Mention of sexual violence, WAY less sexual violence than Game of Thrones

Gif from Netflix's The Witcher, a character in armor and she's screaming for beer.

I am surprised I watched The Witcher. First of all, the trailer made it look scary and I don't fuck with scary, second of all, it is hella fantasy which, aside from Game of Thrones, I'm not super into. But Charlie and I gave this show a chance and it really surprised me. I had heard it being called the next Game of Thrones, but to me, it shows what Game of Thrones actually could've been if any women had been decision-makers on that show. 

The Witcher's head writers and showrunners are women, and as a result, we do not see rape relied upon as a plot device or source of drama. We have many women characters who are self-possessed and complex. There is one story line in the first or second episode that does reference a woman surviving rape, and, separately, some gratuitous female nudity, but it feels like nearly nothing in comparison to GOT. It isn't that the show is feminist, it's more that it just doesn't make me feel like I have to leave my feminism outside while I watch it, and I personally did not identify any sexual violence triggers. What would've been super cool is if rape or misogyny of the subjugation of women didn't exist at all in these fantasy shows. It will never cease to amaze me that fantasy world creators can imagine dragons and demons but not a world beyond medieval gender relations. You know, because we have to stay true to history? 

You on Netflix

Content warning: Stalking, gender-based violence, abuse

Gif of lead character from Netflix's "You" waving creepily.

This is a show about a guy who is a creepy murderous violent stalker, full of violence, abusive behavior, and terrible people doing terrible things. And I watched 10 episodes. Why? It's everything I hate in a show: it's a thriller, so violent, and has men being so creepy and awful to women. I kept shouting at Charlie, who, to his credit, did not watch the show with me and encouraged me to turn it off at every opportunity, "WHY AM I DOING THIS TO MYSELF?". Well, now I know what I'll be talking about in therapy this week. I chose not to watch the second season of the show, which was definitely the right decision for me.

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