Top TV shows for feminists who want to watch TV without rage-barfing

It’s not easy to find explicitly feminist TV shows, but this year has definitely offered us some series that come close. As such, here are my favorites from 2015 — they aren’t all perfect in their feminism, but had at least feminist elements and/or subverted your run-of-the-mill malestream media. Enjoy!

Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones kicks ass. A troubled alcoholic who’s unable to trust anyone (for good reason), Jones’ super-power is super-strength, which she uses to rid the world of what is, essentially, an abusive man. Her nemesis, a man named Kilgrave (who is fittingly mocked by other characters for choosing such an unoriginal and obvious name), can control minds and used his power to force Jones to “love” him. After she managed to escape his mindfuckery and sexual abuse (Jones outright tells him the “sex” they had in their “relationship” was rape, seeing as she was not in the “relationship” voluntarily), Kilgrave dedicated his life to winning her back… by torturing and killing a bunch of other people. I wouldn’t recommend watching this show before bed if you have a, um, sensitive nature — it’s pretty violent and totally gave me nightmares about fighting off bad guys — but I did enjoy it nonetheless.

Broad City

I dare any dude who says women aren’t funny to watch Broad City. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson play best friends who work at the kind of shit jobs you should work at when you’re 23 and who don’t do all that much beyond hanging out, masturbating, and smoking weed. There are men around, but they are relatively unimportant, as the real love-relationship on this show is between Ilana and Abbi. I love that they are such flawed characters, and not in a cliched we-keep-choosing-the-wrong-men-woe-is-meee kinda way, but in a way that’s typically reserved for male characters: they’re slackers — lazy, slovenly, and kinda selfish. In many ways, they’re difficult to like, because, donchaknow, women are human and don’t have to be likable! A revolutionary idea, isn’t it? Oh, and here’s how Abbi and Illana respond when a dude says, “You girls are so pretty, you should smile,” to them on the street:

broad city

Perfect.

(Also, this relevant to nothing at all, but I related big time to the “Hashtag FOMO” episode — I party-chase so hard and it drives my friends/boyfriend nuts. I also gloat like crazy when we finally get to the winner-party: SEE!? Always follow me. Always.)

Season three is scheduled for release in 2016. YAAS QUEEEEN!

The Fall

Season two of The Fall became available for streaming on Netflix in 2015 and I binge-watched the whole thing in less than a week. Gillian Anderson stars as Stella Gibson, a senior Metropolitan Police Detective who is tasked with tracking down a psychosexual serial killer who stalks, tortures, and murders young, professional, successful women in Ireland (the reasons for his choice of victim is a form of feminist commentary, itself — they are women he wants to take down a notch, as it were). I know, I know — yet another show about sadists murdering naked women?? I’m sick of it too, but this one’s different. Gibson’s quotables are thrilling, in and of themselves:

“The basic human form is female. Maleness is a kind of birth defect.”

When a constable wants a press release to use the word “innocent” to describe the killer’s victims, she says:

“Let’s not refer to them as innocent… What if he kills a prostitute next or a woman walking home drunk, late at night, in a short skirt? Will they be in some way less innocent, therefore less deserving? Culpable? The media loves to divide women into virgins and vamps, angels or whores. Let’s not encourage them.”

Gibson is subjected to the kind of sexism expected from the male-dominated world of law enforcement but doesn’t let any of it slide. In one scene, she responds to a detective who tries to shame her for having a one-night stand with a cop (Gibson wasn’t looking for love, just sex) by saying:

“Man fucks woman. Subject: man; verb: fucks; object: woman. That’s OK. Woman fucks man. Woman: subject; man: object. That’s not so comfortable for you, is it?”

Gibson’s referencing of Margaret Atwood’s famous quote, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them,” sums up the show’s perspective solidly. Gibson doesn’t see the killer as a lone monster, she sees him as yet another product of a misogynist society: “Men like Spector are all too human… He’s not a monster. He’s just a man.”

The show is explicitly anti-men and names the problem outright which I’ll admit felt so surprising, as it reminded me how rare it is to hear the words “misogyny” and “male violence against women” uttered on TV.

the fall

This one was renewed for a third season, thank god. It seemed a little touch-and-go for a while there.

Master of None

Master of None
Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe in Master of None

Aziz Ansari surprised me with his ability to keep his show PC and funny at the same time. And not just “PC,” but overtly critical of racism and sexism. He made a huge effort to avoid cliches and, through his dating efforts and foibles, comments on the superficial and inconsiderate way many heterosexual men treat women. The cast is diverse (Lena Waithe’s character shows us that, yes, men can be friends with women! Even women they aren’t trying to sleep with), exploring cultural experiences that are quite common — the experience of immigrants, for example — but often ignored by mainstream media. (Also, Ansari and I share a similar taste in music and including my hip hop favorites on your soundtrack will win me over every time.)

UnREAL

Rachel and Quinn in UnREAL.
Rachel and Quinn in UnREAL.

This show was unexpectedly good. The premise sounds a bit flaky — a show about The Bachelor-style reality TV — but I found the soapy style addictive (Drama! Love interests! Drugs! Affairs! Secrets!) and the commentary on the extreme sexism that supports these kinds of reality shows refreshing. The main character, Rachel, is a producer on the fictional show, Everlasting, and is trying to avoid yet another mental breakdown due to her ethics being constantly at odds with her work. She is never made up or sexed up but is very good at her job, for which she’s allowed to dress as a normal human being would, in such a position: in t-shirts, jeans, and comfortable sneakers. Despite the many romantic entanglements featured in the plot, the show ends by showing the audience that the real romance is not a heterosexual (or even sexual) one, but the one between Rachel and her tough-as-nails boss/friend, Quinn, who puts her own career above any and every man in her life.

It was picked up for a second season, too!

Inside Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer - 12 Angry Men

I’ll admit that this is not always my favorite show… Amy Schumer is liberal and often strikes me as someone who’s trying too hard to be one of the cool girls — so down with prostitution and porn and, I don’t know, like queer stuff guyyyyssss! So while I often cringe at her interview segments (I just don’t think “Amy Goes Deep” is interesting, funny, or really brings much to the show…), I think her stand up and her skits can be pretty great. Her “12 Angry Men” parody, wherein a jury of 12 men discuss whether or not she is “hot enough to be on television” was genius as was her “Last Fuckable Day” skit that comments on how women in Hollywood are treated when they age out of “fuckability.” The feminism is there and the humour is there, though it can be hit and miss at times.

Veep

God I love Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The fourth season of Veep aired this year and did not disappoint. Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, the incredibly unlikeable, self-absorbed, mean (but hilarious) Vice President (who then becomes President) of the United States. She and all of Veep’s characters swear like crazy, which, naturally, thrills me. (Potty-mouths unite!) This show is certainly matriarchal and, because of its focus on the female VP, is able to address what it means to be a woman in a position of political power. Satire at it’s best, Veep has been renewed for a fifth season, yaaaaay.

 

Show Me a Hero

Oh man, this is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Like, ever. Written by David Simon and journalist William F. Zorzi, of The Wire fame, Show Me a Hero tells the real story of how a desegregation order mandating 200 units of pubic housing be built in be built in the affluent, mostly white, east side of Yonkers, N.Y. impacts the municipal government, constituents, and the young mayor at the time, Mike Wasicsko. Sound boring? It’s not. The show addresses issues of race and class, as the white middle class residents protest vehemently against the prospect of having to share their neighbourhood with lower class, mostly black, residents. I’ll be honest, I totally fell in love with Wasicsko (in large part due to the scene where he puts Hungry Heart on the jukebox and dances back to his table — you’ll know what I mean when you see it) and was torn to pieces by the way the six-part miniseries (and real-life story!) ended. I won’t spoiler you and will also warn you not to spoiler yourself, as I did, by Googling Wasicsko or the show/book, written in 1999, by telling you what happens, so that’s just my vague warning to hold your heart close to you — I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe at the end.This show will break your heart for sure — it took me weeks to recover — but it’s worth it, I promise. It’s incredibly interesting, engaging, complex, and poignant.

Honourable mentions: Louie (not feminist but brutally honest and fucking brilliant), Mad Men (its feminism is debateable but it was such a well-done show that certainly included a critique of the sexism that was rife during that time), Bob’s Burgers (never not the fuckin best #Tina4lyfe), and Girls (I still love this show — sorrynotsorry).

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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