What’s A Feminist to Watch on TV These Days?

As the election season winds down and the last debate is finally over, what shows should make it onto a feminist tv list? And what is a feminist tv list anyways?


Evaluating a Show for the Feminist TV List
My criteria* include considerations of whether it is: (a) made by women or featuring women who inspire me, (b) shattering ceilings or at least pointing them out, (c) bringing the fun factor, and (d) bringing the pretty factor.  It’s not exactly the Bechdel test, but there is probably quite a bit of overlap between the two.

Not every show is going to meet all these criteria, but in my experience I usually need 3 out of the 4 to get truly hooked.  In fact, I think the criteria above best measures shows that will worm themselves into a feminist’s brain — whether or not we want them to.  Buyer beware.  In fact, shows that I probably wouldn’t otherwise enjoy but mysteriously manage to pull me in happen to do pretty well on this metric.  The best example I can think of was Rizzoli and Isles.  Critics would say that the show was terrible, and it was.  Just awful.  But I loved it all 7 seasons of it.

And hey, guess what?  It was developed by a woman, based on books written by another woman.  It featured two female characters who were pretty impressive (Isles was the big boss in her job) but also taking on tricky things like single parenting, relationships with moms, mixing careers with relationships and such.  Again. Make no mistake, the show was not good, nor was it particularly pretty to look at.  But I watched it religiously and felt my mind sigh a little relief “ahhhh” whenever it was on.

2016 Shows Making the Cut
Which brings us to the present.  What shows make the feminist tv cut?  

Queen Sugar is high on my list.  Created by the incredible Ava DuVernay (I’m totally a fangirl), based off of a book by Natalie Baszile, acted beautifully by the whole case but especially Rutina Wesley.  And it is so so SO pretty.  The first two episodes, which DuVernay directed, are even more exquisite — shot for shot — than her fantastic work on Selma.  It’s not fun tv by a long shot.  It is pointing out all sorts of ceilings and having all sorts of painful conversations.  But it is so worth it. And, bonus, it’s actually good tv.  3 out of 4.

In a totally different direction, I also find myself drawn to The Last Man on Earth in the not necessarily good but still addictive way.  Yes, I know; it stars Will Forte, who has made some questionable/offensive choices on the race and gender lines in other venues.  BUT, it also stars Kristen Schall and Mary “I’m an outspoken feminist” Steenburgen!  And, the show is doing interesting work exploring gender — especially constructions of masculinity — in its apocalyptic world.  For example, in the most recent episodes, the gun-toting axe-wielding weapons enthusiast establishing perimeters to protect the beleaguered group is a woman (January Jones), and the person suffering from an emotional crisis over the implications of almost killing someone is a man (Mel Rodriguez).  It isn’t talking about gender, but it is taking it on.  It isn’t particularly pretty, but it isn’t reality-tv ugly either.  So 3 out of 4.

Although we’re only two episodes in, Insecure is also looking good for holding a spot on the regular rotation.  Made by Issa Rae!  Bringing the fun factor in spades (her rap about broken p***y killed me).  Shot in interesting ways (I continue to love her interactions with herself in the mirror).  I’m so excited to see where it goes, because we already have at least 3 out of 4 criteria hit.  I’m afraid I’m about to be hooked.

So those are my top 3 feminist tv shows right now.  What are you watching that makes the grade?

*And, obviously, if it’s made by Joss Whedon, it automatically makes my list.  Alas, he is not blessing us with his TV at the moment.

Katherine Kimpel

Kate Kimpel is the Senior Editor of Shattering the Ceiling and is also an accomplished civil rights lawyer. She represents women and people of color in discrimination cases (and other kinds of employment and civil rights matters).  When not lawyering, she likely is bragging about her hound dog Ulysses, inventing cocktails to serve at her next dinner party, or convincing her husband to watch reruns of a Joss Whedon television show (any of them will do). 

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