The past few years have seen a massive influx of “feel-good” television. I’m not going to waste your time by listing all of the horrible things going on in the world, since we all know that times are tough. But during moments of strife, television becomes a source of escapism. And funny sitcoms that skew toward positivity—shows like Ted Lasso and Abbott Elementary—have become wildly popular since 2020. While their success could simply be attributed to the fact that they’re good shows, it’s clear they also offer an opportunity to run away to an idyllic world, where conflict is resolved in under 45 minutes. The Apple TV+ original series Trying takes each element from those feel good-television shows, and turns it into gold.
The series follows British couple Nikki (Esther Smith) and Jason (Rafe Spall), on their journey to adopt a child. Adoption is not a breezy subject—it’s a real-life, emotional, and difficult process that countless people go through, often unsuccessfully. So how does a series about such a sensitive and exhausting topic remain so light, so full of joy and optimism? Trying manages to understand itself in a way that sets it apart from other shows: it embraces its own charm, and is self-aware about the idealized world it has created. As much as Nikki and Jason struggle, they have a supporting cast of characters, both friends and family, who are there to support them through it all.
Trying can feel a bit saccharine at times—Nikki and Jason receive bad news about the adoption process and all of a sudden, the folksy score comes rushing in. Their community gathers around them for support nearly every episode, pouring out endless love for the couple. If this doesn’t sound like real life, that’s because it isn’t supposed to be. Trying is grounded in a positive kind of reality, one in which people don’t see and expect the worst in others. If Trying comes off as a little too sweet, it isn’t a fault of the show—it’s a sign of hope for our characters, and a reminder that television doesn’t have to be dark and upsetting to evoke emotion within the viewer.
But it’s by no means all love and happiness for Trying’s characters. Something the series does best is balance emotion and struggle in a way that keeps the audience wanting more, without making us too anxious about the characters’ fates. It’s also extremely funny, and never relies on lazy humor or capitalizes on hardship for comedy. The show’s first two seasons focused primarily on Nikki and Jason’s adoption journey. Season 3, which ended this summer, saw the couple dive headfirst into being new parents as they were approved for adoption. Nikki and Jason’s parents, their friends, and entire families rally around them, and this (extremely quirky) group of supporting characters makes the Trying world feel fully visualized and lived-in. Spall is endlessly charming, while Smith plays Nikki with extreme nuance (and yes, more charm,) making it not only easy to root for them, but impossible to avoid cheering right along with them when they triumph.
During an era of television when dark and grim or overly chliché and sentimental options abound, Trying makes the case for true feel-good TV. Yes, the protagonists solve their problems in ways that may not apply to the real world, and there is a bit of television magic when their issues work out with little to no consequence—but isn’t that the point of a show that takes you somewhere outside reality? In Trying, conflict is embraced in a hopeful way that makes the show a must-watch.