By Susie Moloney
Television, you’re great. You’re really, really great. You provide us with entertainment, distraction, information, and most importantly, you offer us a window on the world. The last 20 years, you’ve been on a self-improvement kick that has been nothing short of fantastic! You’ve gotten more colorful, more representative, more real.
In the last two decades, women have gone from co-star to star, from TV mom perpetually holding a dish towel, to Congress, CEO, clone, and Commander. You’re great! You’re getting better all the time! It's great what you’re doing! And television, we love you, and we hate to say it, but that window on the world still needs a little washing.
There might be fewer Roseannes on television today, but there are also fewer stay-at-home TV moms. That's some real life.
Women continue to break ground in general on television—even breaking out of co-star status in the traditionally male genres of espionage and sci-fi. This fall, Maggie Gyllenhaal will star in the thriller, "The Honorable Woman," based on the BBC drama of the same name. The hugely popular "Orphan Black," starring Tatiana Maslany as one of a series of clones, was renewed for next season. Sister Clones beats "Sister Wives" every time.
It’s getting real in the 2014-15 television season. Again, there’s more to watch this year than last year, and last year was a pretty damn good year for women on television. But let’s compare the present to the past to see how far we have come.
Running the World
The Fall 2014-15 season sees us continuing our love affair with politics, with "Scandal," "Veep," and "House of Cards" all returning. Now the highly anticipated "Madame Secretary"can be added to the list. Starring Tea Leoni as the US Secretary of State, she does battle at work and at home. Now we have a female VP and a Secretary of State; can a new show called "Mrs. President" be far behind?
Lady Politicos, 20 Years Ago:
We had "Women of the House," starring Delta Burke as a widow taking over her dead husband’s seat in Congress. Meh. It was a start.
10 Years Ago:
Over the run of "The West Wing," both Press Secretaries of the White House were women (Alison Janey and Kristen Chenowith), and Stockard Channing played the First Lady with big voice. Also, didn’t Marge Simpson run for City Council on "The Simpsons"? Good enough.
1994: We weren't running the world: "The Nanny," "Models, Inc."
2004: We seemed to be ruining the world: "The Swan," "Wife Swap," "The Simple Life," and (omg) "Stacked"
The Second Shift
Nearly all the current shows with female leads or female ensemble involve an element of the work-home battle, except for those shows, both new and returning, which feature childless leads, like "Girls," "Big Bang Theory," "The Mindy Project," "Parks and Recreation,"and a new show, "Bad Judge," sure to be a favorite among the anti-heroine set. That said, there are still a significant number of shows that feature female leads doing double-duty at the office (or hospital, school, restaurant, city hall, etc.) and returning home to cook and do laundry. Chief among these is poor Claire Dunphy of "Modern Family," rarely seen without some chore in hand, despite being groomed to take over the family business; Joan Watson of "Elementary," played by the exceptional Lucy Liu, always seems to get the take-out, even "Madam Secretary"—which looks really good—shows the character shoveling shit out of the barn in the trailer.
Working Inside the Home, 20 Years Ago:
Murphy Brown dared to have a baby out of wedlock, and US Vice President Dan Quayle threw a tiny hissy fit over it. But Roseanne and Dan Connor tag-teamed everything but the cooking.
10 Years Ago:
"That 70's Show" rarely showed Kitty Forman out of the kitchen, but as a nurse, she was the sole breadwinner for a couple of seasons.
1994: Did she even have a job?: "Married…With Children"
2004: We can't even do THAT right: "Supernanny," "Nanny 911"
It’s Still the Boob (and Bum) Tube
Nudity has never been so prevalent on television, not since twisting our head to the right, to the left, to the right, trying to see the sex on that blocked cable channel back in the 80s. Now it’s the main event every Sunday night with "Girls," "Game of Thrones," "Boardwalk Empire," "True Blood," "Mad Men," "Orange Is the New Black," "Masters of Sex," "House of Cards," and the borderline pornographic "Californication" to name only a few. The major nudity is still mostly female, and mostly breasts. There’s a lot of man-ass, but so little full frontal male nudity, that the folks at College Humor did a video featuring female viewers of HBO, asking for more dong shots (yes!). We might know more about the brilliant Lena Dunham’s body than we know about our own, but shots of Adam’s Little Adam are few (although we’ve seen some egregious use of it).
Bums and Boobs, 20 Years Ago:
On "NYPD Blue," Andy Sipowicz’s butt made a post-shower appearance during primetime network television, and the water cooler talk went crazy.
10 Years Ago:
No boobs, just some commando: Ross and Rachel were getting it on, but only in our minds.
Pretty sure it’s always going to be Adam Driver’s character on "Girls" spray-painting that girl from Roswell. And probably "Californication."
Ha Ha, We’re So Fricken Funny
Funny women have always had a place in the hearts and televisions of the masses. Lucille Ball, Kaye Ballard, Eve Arden, Phyllis Diller, Mary Tyler Moore, and Roseanne Barr with every season of television since it started—and radio before that—broke a little bit of the myth that women aren’t funny. The last ten years has proved to be a new Golden Age of female comedy, and this year we could take the title of Funniest Shit on TV. Comedy Central has brilliantly renewed the hilarious "Inside Amy Schumer" and has added a couple of new shows to email home about, "Another Period" and "Idiotsitter," the latter being about a cash-strapped student hired to babysit the wild child daughter of a wealthy family.
We’ve Always Been the Funny One, 20 Years Ago:
A high point was reached in the ensemble comedy when Mindy Kaling was on "The Office," Edna Krabapple on "The Simpsons," Marilyn Whirlwind giving Joel the thinks on "Northern Exposure," and "Grace Under Fire" and "Roseanne"—the universe’s answer to "Models, Inc." and "Melrose Place."
10 Years Ago:
Her development was never truly arrested: Lucille Bluth. Just. Lucille. Bluth.
"The 5 Mrs. Buccanans," a whole show about women hating each other, and "Extreme Makeover," a whole show about everyone hating each other and the way they look.
Women are half the population, and Nielson Media Research reported in 2012 that women watch about 40 minutes more television per day than men do. Perhaps the powers that be have caught on to what we’d like to see. To keep the current trends happening, we have to watch the shows about us, fascinating characters that we are.These moves toward reality and real hilarity are getting even better. When summer is over, there will be lots of television to look forward to.
Recommended New Viewing for the 2014-15 Television Season:
"Madam Secretary," Tia Leoni (CBS): The imminently watchable Tia Leoni stars in this hour-long drama about a newly appointed Secretary of Sate. Leoni hasn't had a decent role since 2004's "Spanglish." "Madam Secretary" could be her "House of Cards" moment.
"Another Period," Nataha Leggero, Riki Lindho (Comedy Central): Best known for her stand-up, Leggero and Lindho star as wealthy and useless sisters in this spoof of reality television as cameras follow two spoiled heiresses in the Victorian times.
"Welcome to Sweden," Lena Olin (NBC): From executive producer Amy Poehler, you know this story of a guy who follows his girlfriend to Sweden when she gets a killer job back home is going to be a hilarious take on the classic fish out of water—this time the ocean changes because of her, not him.
"Working the Engels," Andrea Martin (NBC): You almost need to say nothing more than "Andrea Martin," but in case that's not enough (heathen), then the story of a widow trying to keep her dead husband's law practice afloat, even though she doesn't practise law, should be all you need to know.
"Reign," Adelaide Kane (CW): This costume drama stars Kane as Mary, Queen of Scots, the original manipulator of men and kingdoms. While we know how it all turns out, let's hope for the best.
"The Honorable Woman," Maggie Gyllenhaal (BBC 2, Sundance Channel): This spy-thriller mini-series stars Gyllenhaal as the daughter of an arms procurer who takes over her father's business.
"The Roosevelts: An Intimate History," (PBS): History that you should watch because Eleanor Roosevelt is the mother of us all.
"Bad Judge," Kate Walsh, (NBC): Woman behaving badly comedy, that pits a hard-partying judge against an eight year old boy. Executive produced by Will Ferrell.
And of course, "Sharknado: The Second One." Ain't nothin' wrong with that.
Other Photo Credits: Madam Secretary, CBS; Roseanne, ABC; The Honorable Woman, HBO; The Mindy Project, FOX; Inside Amy Schumer, Comedy Central.