Friday 8 March 2019

5 Women-Led TV Shows You Need to Watch

Happy International Women’s Day to one and all! This day is about celebration. It’s kind of like Christmas. We should have International Women’s Day decorations. Too much? Maybe not. Anyway, in the festive spirit, I thought it would be cool to share some of my favourite TV shows, which happen to have women at their heart. 

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I don’t know about you, but I am always trying to improve the diversity of the media that I consume – whether that’s in terms of the characters, the messages, the modes or the genre. All the shows I’ve included, whilst still imperfect, will hopefully help any of you trying to do the same. I hope you like them and give them a try.

1. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Oh my. This show. Bloody hell, it’s so underrated. In fact, this show is one of the best things on TV at the moment, in my opinion, and is yet still somehow one of the least talked about. Why?? I don’t understand. Crazy Ex is a musical comedy satire show based around Rebecca Bunch as she moves from New York to West Covina, California after she meets her ex-boyfriend on the street. When I tell people that description they go ‘you WHAT??’. And I get it. The first episode is kind of a whirlwind. It’s ridiculous and out there and silly, but is one of the most poignant and topical TV shows there are. The whole basis of the show is to deconstruct the misogyny of the titular term ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ and the reasons behind particularly women’s behaviour, and it's well worth sticking through the admittedly very strange beginnings, as you will become super attached to all of these characters as you watch them grow.

So many topics are discussed in a really unique way – from abortion, periods and period sex, desexualizing women’s bodies, parenthood, sexuality, female friendships, female sexual pleasure and, most importantly, mental health. The list could honestly go on forever. I think I read somewhere that Crazy-Ex is the first TV show to include the word ‘clitoris.’ It seriously took that long?! (I may be wrong in this fact, don’t quote me on this.) The reason these issues and topics are discussed so well and so effectively is because they aren’t approached in a serious, preachy way. The songs and jokes of the show make them accessible and help us understand in another way. If anything, they’re catchy and can spread awareness and therefore help normalize them. Hell, I was humming the tune to ‘Period Sex’ whilst typing this. It’s a catchy tune. As a consequence, the light-hearted nature of the show means that the more serious moments even more impactful than they otherwise would have been, especially in the latter series as we see the effects of the events we have viewed previously. If you watch one of the shows on this list, watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. 

2. Jane the Virgin

Am I including this to get out some of my hype about the impending release of the last season of Jane the Virgin? Maybe. Probably. Yes.

You may end up noticing a pattern in this list. As much as I love a good drama and tragedy at times, what I really love is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And I feel like that is the telenovela genre summarized. I have never seen a telenovela before, and after seeing Jane the Virgin, I’m definitely going to try and keep an eye out for some more to watch. 

Jane the Virgin is self-aware, and whilst it does make fun of the genre, it does treat it with a lot of love and care, which transfers well to audiences who are unfamiliar with the format. 

The premise is that Jane, a virgin (bet you never guessed that at all), through a series of events, becomes pregnant (I’ll let you find out how), and chaos ensues.

One thing I love about this show is the fact that it switches so effortlessly between English and Spanish. As a pretty average white person, the only other languages spoken at home are minor bits of Welsh (normally as jokes or intermittent words, never for full on conversations as none of my fmily can speak it properly, despite me having been in the Welsh education until I was 15) or swear words in French or German my dad would teach my brother and I as kids. It’s great to see how this show portrays a bilingual family, and one who give so much pride to their heritage and their traditions. 

Yes, the love triangle trope may be problematic (especially when it comes to pitting women against each other), but I find that the more episodes I watched, the less the characters became caricatures. They all have their own character arcs, and learn new things throughout the series. You could be hating one character one episode and be rooting for them the next (I’m looking at you Petra). Love triangles grow and disappear and people evolve, as they do in real life. The Villenueva women are so supportive of each other, and it’s lovely to see healthy familial relationships, even if they can be strained at times, rather than estranged or manipulative parents who are so often the norm in television.  

When I started watching this show, we were in the aftermath of the 2016 US Election, and I couldn’t help feel like I should have watched it sooner. Many events and themes in the show are extremely relevant, but most prevalent is the treatment of Latinas. In particular, the threat of deportation is one which looms heavily over the series, cropping up every now and again in situations where you wouldn’t even have given it a second thought if it wasn't something that was a threat (like me, as said previously, being a pretty average white person).

3. Grey’s Anatomy

For most of my first semester at uni, I was binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy. It was a kind of background noise to my introduction to university life. I love a good drama, and this show is one twist after the next. It’s really incredible at how many traumatic events happen in this hospital or to its staff even whilst they’re not there. With its 15thseason currently airing, the show is clearly loved by so many, and for good reason. The cast is perhaps the most diverse one that I have seen on TV, especially for one which began in the early 00s, and covers so many issues and topics (which should perhaps be expected from a show which has over 300 episodes). It is nevertheless portrayed through the focussed narrative of a straight, rich and able-bodied white woman, but I find it becomes more of an ensemble as the series progress. 

Based in Seattle Grace Hospital (I won’t reveal its new name because *SPOILERS*),  the show follows the lives of a new class of interns and their time training to become surgeons. The cast I think is quite equally weighted in terms of men and women, but the reason I’ve included it in this is because a) the title character is just so happens to be a woman - Ellen Pompeo we love you – and b) the experiences of women are put at the forefront of the narratives told by Grey’s. 

With the goddess that is Shonda Rhimes at the forefront of the team, the executive producers, producers and editors (from my limited research) seem to be either in the slight majority or incredibly close to being equal. The experience of women on this show is incredibly intersectional, and its response to #MeToo was totally unexpected and appreciated, and its effect on the characters is done so well. 

Also, there are some god damn amazing actors on Grey’s. Just take Sandra Oh as a reason to watch this show. Sandra freaking Oh. 

4. The Good Place

The Good Place is such a good concept, and it is delivered equally as well. We follow Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) as she awakens in the afterlife in an office room. Sat opposite heris Michael (Ted Danson), who greets her announces that she is in The Good Place, which is not really heaven but in vague terms is a kind of equivalent. It is a paradise. But does Eleanor really belong there?

I love the way it intertwines the philosophy and comedy – I freaking love learning while I’m being entertained! With its thirty-minute-long episodes, this show is so easy to slip into binging. However, due to the fact that it does have quite short episodes and seasons, it won’t take you as long as it would say, Grey’s Anatomy. This show is clever and ridiculous and clever at the same time and has some of the best plot twists on TV. Genuinely, think of a better plot twists than the ones in The Good Place, I dare you (okay there’s probably a couple but my god they’re good). 

The character development on this show also very well done. The questioning of who is really a good person and how can we be truly good is one which is pervasive throughout the whole of this series from the get go. No character is neglected in this show, even if some of the demons may seem a little caricature-ish at times. From the four main humans to Janet and Michael, each changes and evolves and is given a history and motives. 

I don’t want to discuss too much, in case I give away too much and spoil viewing it for any of you. I forget what’s a plot twist and what is not. Please watch it then get you friends to watch it and freak out with them about how good it is!

5. Grace and Frankie

It is rare that we see shows dedicated to the lives of older women, and this show does it so well. I think this show is hilarious – something my family definitely didn’t agree on when I made them watch the first episode, and to be fair, the first episode is sadder as it sets the scene for the comedy to follow. The first episode follows Grace and Frankie as they are thrown into the same boat as their husbands (long-time law partners) announce that they are in love and are leaving them for each other. Being the only ones who can understand what they are going through, the two women are begrudgingly brought together despite their best efforts to stay away from each other. 

The two central actors, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are icons, and have been for many years. They are proud feminists and this shines through in their show.

I have never seen anyone talk so candidly about vibrators, and think that it’s incredible the way the show doesn’t deny older women of their sexuality. It may be shocking to begin with (especially to some of the characters they try to sell them to and their family members), but by broaching such a topic as masturbation so candidly and among older characters, is groundbreaking. It pushes the stereotypes we have of older women, and represents them in a way that is probably more accurate.  I have never laughed so hard at a TV show as I have at the end of season 3. Even as a young person, I could identify with various characters (including their children), if only for the female friendship which takes centre stage. My friends are the loves of my life, and there is something so universal about a genuinely caring friendship that will never get me to not love a TV show. Friendships can often define us more than our romantic relationships, and that is something which is portrayed by this show. But maybe that’s a blog post for another day.

I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed by the fourth season. I had loved the first three so much, and then suddenly it seemed to change slightly. I don’t know exactly how. It did seem that the women were becoming more frail and incapable of taking care of themselves, whilst the men were being more adventurous and daring – a message which I think is a tad problematic. I haven’t seen the latest season and I’m not sure I want to, but I think I may rewatch the first three seasons to remind me of why I love this show so much and then give it a shot.

I hope you have enjoyed my feminist TV show recommendations, and that at least one of these shows suits your tastes. Have a great International Women’s Day everyone!

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