The best feminist shows on TV right now

In want of meaningful dialogue and depictions of women who might actually exist in real life? There is always the glory of the small screen. For your viewing pleasure, I’ve taken the liberty of detailing five TV series that seem to me to be explicitly feminist in intent, and which may not be on your radar yet. As Awkward's wonderfully bitchy Sadie Saxton might say, "You’re welcome".

1. Nashville

Cooking show

I cannot recommend this show highly enough. A powerhouse of female talent, it tells the story of musicians making their way in the mother ship of country music - Nashville, Tennessee. Created by Callie Khouri (writer of Thelma and Louise) and starring Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) and Hayden Pannattiere (Heroes), it’s characterised primarily by the rich storylines it provides for its female characters. In the deft hands of Khouri, her characters are complicated, determined, occasionally vulnerable but always, always in charge of their own destinies. Although Britton’s Rayna James and Pannatierre’s Juliette Barnes are initially set up as rivals, their mutual distrust never veers into the kind of boring, petty female jealousy usually ascribed to women as an innate characteristic. Bonus points for featuring Connie Britton’s Hair.

 

2. Masters of Sex

 

Okay, so the adaptation of Thomas Maier’s biography of William Masters and Virginia Johnson probably takes some liberties with the truth. But they’re liberties I’m prepared to forgive because the result is a beautifully crafted, sensitive portrayal of a decade struggling with its own conservative mores. In the 1950s, obstetrician William Masters and his research assistant Virginia Johnson pioneered a study into the body’s physiological response to sex. Their research radically confronted the ideas people held about sex. But it’s the stellar writing and directing of Masters of Sex which truly makes it a feminist text. Lizzy Caplan’s Virginia Johnson is a single mother with academic ambitions who also freely embraces her sexuality in ways women weren’t supposed to at the time (and still aren’t, according to some of the morality police). Developed by Michelle Ashford (who also serves as one of the series’ executive producers), its ensemble of multi-dimensional 1950s women is further proof that if you want interesting female characters in your show, you better have some women in the writing and production teams.

 

3. New Girl

Zooey Deschanel has been the butt of more than her fair share of jokes. I’ve made some myself in the past, so irritated was I by the nauseating ‘adorkable’ campaign that heralded the arrival of New Girl. And then I watched the show and realised that I’d been behaving like a judgmental ass. New Girl is a breath of fresh air in a sitcom factory that rarely treats women like people. Deschanel’s Jess Day might be pitched as a fey ‘dork’ who just happens to be stunning (what a coincidence!) but she’s so much more than that. Yes, she’s dorky. She’s also smart and funny and sexually open minded in a way that clearly connotes her own agency. Again, I put this down to the crew behind the show. Creator Elizabeth Meriweather is also New Girl’s showrunner, and half of the show’s writing team are women. Also, SCHMIDT.

4. True Detective

Cooking show

An odd inclusion perhaps, but three episodes in and I’m floored by how a show that’s ostensibly about two men can have such interesting things to say about women. If you haven’t heard of True Detective yet, consider this your wake up call. Atmospheric and swampy, it’s about the 17 year hunt for a serial killer in the depths of Louisiana. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are revelations in their roles as the Detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart investigating the brutal, sexualised murders of young local women, most of whom appear to come from poor backgrounds. The show makes no bones about critiquing the double standards faced by men and women; women are portrayed as having to make it in a chauvinistic world where men call the shots and women are subject to their whims.

When Harrelson’s Martin chastises a female brothel owner for having an underage teenage runaway on her books, she chastises him right back. “Such holy bullshit from you,” she sneers. “It’s a woman’s body, ain’t it? A woman’s choice. Girls walk this earth all the time, screwin’ for free. Why is it you add business to the mix and boys like you can’t stand the thought? I’ll tell you. It’s ‘cause suddenly you don’t own it the way you thought you did.” Later, the married Martin breaks into the house of his secret girlfriend after she breaks up with him and assaults her half naked date, demanding to know whether or not she ‘sucked his cock’. True Detective might be about two men on the hunt for a serial killer - but it’s also about the way women are tormented and commodified by men, even the ones who are supposed to be the good guys.

 

5. Orange Is The New Black


I’ll give you three reasons why Jenji Kohan’s show has to be on your must-watch list, if you haven’t discovered it already. Laverne Cox, Samira Wiley and Uzo Aduba. That’s all you need to know. Season 2’s release date is ‘imminent’ according to sources.

 

13 comments

  • Love Schmidt!

    Commenter
    Bob
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    February 07, 2014, 10:16AM
    • I've unfortunately missed the first part of True Detective and I'm kicking myself.

      I did watch all of the first season of 'Masters of Sex' and it's a well put together show. I thought the interaction between Virgina and Dr. Lillian DePaul was really interesting. A woman that was struggling to be taken seriously as a Dr and her feelings towards an attractive woman that she doesn't feel has the right to be where she is.

      Commenter
      Ripley
      Location
      Hunting Aliens
      Date and time
      February 07, 2014, 10:18AM
      • No Legends Football League?

        A sport that shows women can do anything by playing one of, if not the most brutal of all contact sports and has gotten female sports onto commercial TV should have made the list.

        Commenter
        Silky Johnson
        Date and time
        February 07, 2014, 10:21AM
        • Troll alert.

          Commenter
          JJ
          Date and time
          February 07, 2014, 3:16PM
      • not on currently - but what aboout Miss Phyrne Fisher ?

        Commenter
        FAN
        Date and time
        February 07, 2014, 11:15AM
        • If you are not including Borgen you are not serious.

          This series is about a Danish female PM who is warm smart compassionate and tough - with a complicated family life and the dexterity to manage it all and still run rings around her opposition.

          Sort of a Scandinavian version of the West Wing with a woman really running the show - pretty inspiring stuff.

          Commenter
          arathorn357
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          February 07, 2014, 12:32PM
          • While it has a fair bit of misogyny, Mad Men's two lead female characters (Peggy and Joan) are probably stronger candidates than many of the female characters on this list.

            Commenter
            ST
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            February 07, 2014, 12:35PM
            • Unless you've seen all of the episodes available of every show listed here, you can't really make that argument. Besides, why does it have to be a competition? Why can't Peggy and Joan be amazing female characters AND the shows on this list also boast complex women? We don't have to choose.

              Commenter
              Clementine Ford
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              February 07, 2014, 2:28PM
          • I've just started Masters and when that's done I want to watch Orange is.

            I found this season of AHS (coven) to be really good because all of the main characters are strong women in all their (sometimes problematic) glory. Although over all it wasn't my favorite season I enjoyed the boost in kick ass women (especially the addition of WOC).

            Orphan Black is another good one and Lost Girl although they're both cliche and dorky in their own special ways.
            Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries for the local productions and many of the story lines in Redfern Now have quite strong feminist undertones.

            Commenter
            Sarah-ji-h
            Date and time
            February 07, 2014, 1:01PM
            • I agree. American Horror Story is a great series with some really strong female leads. Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett and Sarah Paulson were all amazing, as were the rest of the mostly female cast. Lost Girl is also good (if cheesy) but it is an acquired taste.

              Commenter
              JJ
              Date and time
              February 07, 2014, 3:19PM

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