This is a list of women-in-television-related things I am thankful for this year.
Grey’s Anatomy has been around for a decade, and it is still one of the most diverse shows on television. It is a show that celebrates powerful women of all colors, sexualities, and sizes. It still manages to move me and make me laugh, even without Cristina Yang in it. And its success has been the inspiration for…
Ensemble shows featuring strong female characters, such as “Orange is the New Black,” “Transparent” and “American Horror Story.” The latter features an ensemble cast full of some of the best actresses on television: Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, etc. The first two shows also represent a new way of making television…
Netflix and Amazon Prime are two non-networks that have been outdoing the traditional networks with democratic, better-than-Nielsen data collecting that demonstrated that shows like “Grey’s” were popular. This brought us the great OITNB on Netflix and “Transparent” on Amazon, two of the best series of the last few years. These shows don’t only highlight interesting depictions of strong, layered women, but they also give a stage to women of different races, social class and gender identities. Two of the best depictions of trans women we have ever seen are on these shows: Sophia on OITNB and Maura on “Transparent.” So I say, yay to pushing the envelope even further! Also, it seems that Netflix can be credited with another important contribution to American television: bringing
Sally Wainwright across the pond and introducing her to American audiences. Sure, “Last Tango in Halifax” had been showing on PBS, and some areas in the country had discovered the greatness that is “Scott and Bailey” on their local channels. But it was the wisdom of the Netflix people to import one of the best shows in television history, “Happy Valley,” into American living rooms (or portable devices). I will talk about Wainwright at length in next week’s post (this will also give you all an opportunity to binge on all three of these shows between now and next Thursday). Wainwright is the best and most prolific, it seems, new television writer Great Britain has produced in years, but hers are just a few examples of many excellent
British Series. From “The Fall” to “Downton Abbey,” from “Chasing Shadows” to “The Paradise,” and from “The Crimson Field” to “Broadchurch,” British television has been showcasing some of the best, most realistic, most compelling female characters on television. This is only fitting, since the Brits were the ones who gave us one of, if not the absolute, first strong anti-heroine in the form of DCI Jane Tennison on the fantastic series “Prime Suspect” (which also gave us the gift of Helen Mirren on our television screens). British television has not only succeeded in showing excellent depictions of women, but it consistently casts more real-looking women, who are allowed to age without plastic surgery and who are oftentimes shot in more realistic, if less flattering, light. Speaking of foreign shows, the Australians have been blowing our minds as well with their latest woman prison drama
Wentworth, which, as I like to say, makes OITNB seem like a sitcom. “Wentworth,” which will also be discussed at length in an upcoming post, is a dark, disturbing, nerve-wrecking, yet oftentimes heartwarming, show about the lives of female prisoners and the people in charge of their safety. Where the show especially outdoes OITNB is in the depiction of the wardens, who are just as fascinating as the prisoners. This type of depiction is something that American cable networks have been slowly catching up on, but on the basic networks, the closest complexity (yet never with such darkness) can be found on
CBS Sunday Shows, “Madam Secretary” and “The Good Wife,” where finally women don’t have to overcome any gender-specific-obstacle or battle any female-related-odds. They can simply be powerful, intelligent women, who are appreciated by their peers and mates and do excellent work. These women can do their jobs not despite being women, but with the help of every inch of the edge that womanhood offers. A show that really deals with the darkest side of what it means to be a woman in a testosterone-filled world is
Law & Order: SVU, which even in its 16th year is still one of the most important shows on television. The show continues to shed light on subjects that sadly remain almost as controversial as they were decades ago, such as sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence. Episodes “ripped from the headlines” allow for a discussion that oftentimes doesn’t take place in traditional news media and give a platform to voices that are often drowned out or squelched. Even though Olivia Benson still doesn’t have a female friend, at least this year Mariska Hargitay got her best friend as her Wednesday running mate,
Debra Messing, in her best role yet as Laura Diamond in “The Mysteries of Laura.” Though I adored Grace in “Will and Grace, apparently, most people think Grace was the least interesting, funny or likable character of the four principles. Personally, I thought that was Will! But that was in the past, and we now have a brand new character, who gives one of our favorite funny ladies the opportunity to show just how funny, endearing, edgy and likable she can be. Laura is television’s version of Gracie Hart from “Miss Congeniality.” And I don’t know one person who does not love “Miss Congeniality!” While we’re on Wednesday, another show is due some gratitude.
Nashville has been slowly but surely taking its place in the high ranks of my favorite shows that unapologetically empowers women. Country star Rayna Jaymes (the remarkable and delightful Connie Britton) is one of the most powerful women on television because she doesn’t even try to be. She is who she is, and goes after what she wants. She will not be made to feel guilty or insecure, and she is still a loving, compassionate person, who is a kind mother and a kind friend to her female colleagues. The transformation of her relationship with Hayden Panettiere’s character, Juliette Barnes, the young country star who started out as her competition and ended up her protégé, is a depiction of sisterhood rarely seen on television. Barns herself has grown so much on the show. This is no wonder, when you consider that the creator of the show, Callie Khouri, has given us one of the greatest depictions of female friendships of all times, “Thelma & Louise.” It is always so great when characters are allowed to grow on a show. And no one has done the job of growing on a show better than
Lily on “Modern Family.” Seriously, people, this girl, who started off as a lethargic baby who barely opened her eyes (different actresses), might just turn out to be the most interesting comedic actress of the next generation. Lily is only 7 years old, and her understanding of sarcasm is already at levels most adults never reach. She is a phenomenal little actress, with impeccable comedic timing and a natural understanding of what she was obviously born to do. She makes me laugh, and just as often, she makes my jaw drop in awe. Lily is just starting her career in comedy, while Lisa Kudrow’s
Valerie Cherish is staging a comeback in “The Comeback.” The reason I am grateful that Valerie got to return to our screens after a ten years absence is because she moves me in ways that I’ve never been moved by a television character. Valerie is so moving because she is so real. She is an older actress, a has-been, who is trying to regain her lost career by doing a reality TV show, which follows her comeback in a tiny role on a new sitcom. The sad thing is that Valerie is a really good comedian. But she is brushed aside in favor of young, hot, far less experienced actresses. We follow Valerie as she tries to maintain her dignity while battling the very real obstacles actresses have to deal with behind the scenes of this world called show business.
Because as much progress as we have made with images of women on television, women still have to struggle to make it in television, both in front of the camera and behind it. The industry is dominated by men, and the standard they have created for actresses’ looks, age, size and race is constantly put ahead of talent, intelligence, experience and skill. And behind the scenes, women’s stories are still rarely written and directed by women.
So this Thanksgiving, let’s not just give thanks for all we’ve achieved onscreen, but demand that those achievements extend to women behind the scenes.
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious of the Season:
“Madam Secretary” is officially my favorite new show. I am completely enthralled by Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord and her sidekick, Nadine (Bebe Neuwirth). The show is so well-written, and Tea Leoni has just been rocking my world.
This week’s episode had Elizabeth and Nadine working to correct an injustice done to a State Deparment’s employee due to her single marital status. It showed Elizabeth gently confronting her young and unforgivingly idealistic daughter. And it had Nadine joining Elizabeth in the search to uncover the truth about the death of the former Secretary of State, who was also Nadine’s lover.
This women-working-together-to-better-the-world-and-help-each-other thing is so rare on television that when it happens, and when it is done as well as it is done on “Madam Secretary,” one—or rather, I—cannot help but shout, hallelujah!
‘Tis the Season for…”
…the dreaded, hated mid-season finales, which are happening as we speak! Almost all of our fall shows are taking two months off! Thank goodness for summer shows, which are now employed in the half-season form as well, that fill in during the holiday season. Welcome back, “Major Crimes,” “The Fosters,” “Covert Affairs,” et al.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!