10 Shows By and About Women That You Should Be Watching

10 Shows By and About Women That You Should Be Watching

1. Insecure

What it's about: Issa (Issa Rae) and her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) navigate work, sex, and friendship as young black women in Los Angeles. 

Why you'll love it: Largely based on Rae's own web series Awkward Black Girl, Insecure confidently deals with issues of race, class, and gender while still being a comedy-- and a hilarious one at that. In offering a glimpse into the lived experiences of contemporary black women, the show is refreshing, unprecedented, and desperately needed. While Rae rarely gets overtly political, Insecure explores the black experience, follows complicated black women, and has mostly black writers-- all of these radical acts in today's current political climate. Issa and Molly defy every stereotype television has created for black women with ease. Rae's genius also extends to her choice of collaborators. She co-developed the show with Larry Wilmore and enlisted Melina Matsoukas (who's directed music videos for the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, and Solange) to direct the series' pilot. As the show's star, Rae is irresistible. Despite her magnetic smile and impressive freestyling skills, she's one of the most relatable female leads on television. By the end of the first episode, you'll wish Issa was your best friend. 

Where to watch it: HBOGo

2. Fleabag

What it's about: A young woman-- let's call her Fleabag-- deals with the aftermath of a personal loss while trying to maintain her relationships and face her own issues. 

Why you'll love it: That description was pretty vague right? That's because Fleabag's brilliance lies in its unexpectedness. Its profound, late-season twist adds immeasurable depth and complexity to a show that, on the surface, comes across as a crass and glib comedy about a swaggering, promiscuous twenty-something. Like InsecureFleabag is based on a project that actress and playwright Phoebe Waller-Bridge developed herself (a one-woman show of the same name), ensuring that Waller-Bridge's distinctive creative voice shapes the series. As both a writer and an actress, Waller-Bridge enraptures us, provoking laughs, tears, and the big gasp you'll make when everything comes together (you'll know what I mean). With only 6 half-hour episodes, I ripped through this show in one sitting, then watched it again the next day. In both content and form, Fleabag is a truly revolutionary show. It leaves no stone unturned, covering everything from mental illness and self-loathing to butt stuff, all from a thoroughly female perspective. In a fresh take on fourth-wall-breaking-asides, Fleabag overshares with us out of desperation and ropes the viewer into her world, whether we want to go or not. As she unearths herself before our eyes, Fleabag earns both our ire and our sympathy. She is flippant and tender, badass and vulnerable, comedy and tragedy. And best of all: Waller-Bridge makes it look easy.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

3. I Love Dick

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What it's about: When Chris (Kathryn Hahn) and her husband Sylvere (Griffin Dunne) relocate from New York City to a small Texas town, they become consumed with a hunky and mysterious professor named Dick (Kevin Bacon), straining their marriage and challenging their identities. 

Why you'll love it: I'm going to be real with you; I can't guarantee that you'll love I Love Dick. This show is unconventional, experimental, and not always successful in its risk-taking. But that's also what's so great about it-- it takes huge risks. With a roster of all female writers and directors, I Love Dick rejects television conventions and flips tired tropes on their heads. It doesn't shy away from nudity, sexual fantasy, or period blood. Instead, it presents all of the nuances of female sexuality loudly and vibrantly, with a confident sneer. In the lead role she finally deserves, Kathryn Hahn masterfully straddles the line between brilliance and insanity as she explores the mechanics of obsession, wanting neither our approval or affection. Its best most important episode, "A Short History of Weird Girls," is one of the most stunning pieces of television this year. This is for many reasons: its vignette-style format, its depiction of female sexual development, its inclusivity of subjects. But most of all, the episode strips itself bare before our eyes, removing any expectation of what women, sex, and television should be. I Love Dick is tricky and hard to pin down, vacillating between high art and jumbled pretension. But at its core is the frustration of every women who's been told to be more "ladylike."

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

4. Broad City

What it's about: Lovable but aimless goofballs Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) get into shenanigans in New York City between working dead-end jobs and smoking lots of pot.

Why you'll love it: Abbi and Ilana go beyond friendship goals. Their friendship is founded on unconditional support, boundless love, and maybe even a dash of genuine sexual attraction. They're hustling every hour of the day, finding fun along the way, and lighting up whenever there's a spare moment. Almost none of their escapades turn out as planned, but Abbi and Ilana find adventure where most of us would start crying in public. As co-creators, Jacobson and Glazer build the series around the friendship at the center of it, using improv-esque comedy and outlandish situations to get their characters into some of the zaniest rabbit holes in recent television comedy. Plus, Broad City the one of the first successful stoner-chick comedies, a welcome addition to the male-dominated repertoire of Pineapple Express and Cheech & Chong. More than anything, Abbi and Ilana are authentic. They say what they want ("Yaaaaas kween"), wear what they want (Ilana once styled a bike chain as a belt), and do what they want (smuggling a turd out of an apartment). Hijinks have never been more fun or creative than on Broad City

Where to watch it: Hulu

5. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

What it's about: Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) leaves her job as a successful New York City lawyer and moves to West Covina, California where her old summer camp crush Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) just happens to be living. 

Why you'll love it: Cards on the table: I love musicals. Like, I really love musicals. But even if you don't love musicals, it's easy to fall for this musical rom-com of a show. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a refreshing, creative, and, dare I say, fun exploration of mental illness. Co-creator and genius Rachel Bloom brilliantly weaves hilarious and smart musical numbers throughout the show, defying television convention and opening up endless creative possibilities. While most songs develop the characters or propel the plot, many also explore Rebecca's psyche. Through her performances, we go inside Rebecca's head as she rationalizes her decisions ("I'm A Good Person"), attempts to reassure herself ("I Have Friends"), and berates herself ("You Stupid Bitch"). While we gleefully hum along, we also bear witness to Rebecca's own self-sabotage, self-delusion, and self-destruction. Though Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is billed as a romantic comedy, the most interesting relationship on the show is between Rachel and her best friend and coworker Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin). Their friendship is tumultuous and turbulent, but ultimately one of the most profound and important depictions of female friendship on television. Plus, Donna Lynne Champlin has got some serious pipes. Even for those who aren't fans of musical theatre, there's no denying that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is churning out catchy songs, challenging depictions of mental illness, and upending television as we know it. 

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. Orange is the New Black

What it's about: When prissy Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) gets sent to prison, she must figure out where she fits into the social hierarchy of Lichfield. 

Why you'll love it: The best decision showrunner Jenji Kohan has made in the series' run has been shifting the focus of Orange is the New Black away from Piper. As the show progresses, more interesting and complicated inmates take center stage. In Lost-style flashbacks, we learn more about the women of Lichfield, among them standouts Susanne (Uzo Aduba), Poussay (Samira Wiley), and Red (Kate Mulgrew). Heart wrenching backstories like theirs humanize inmates, an especially crucial task in the era of mass incarceration. Many of the prisoners' stories also illustrate how the judicial system is ill-equipped to deal with the ambiguities of morality and how the justice system is rigged against poor people and people of color. The show is hard and heavy, but brief moments of hope, sparks of reliance, and our profound affection for the women of Lichfield make it hard to look away. These women, like all women, are kind and cruel, calculating and loving, ruthless and vulnerable. The show is revolutionary in that it allows women of color, older women, disabled women, and queer women to be complex and flawed and lovable. With a large and almost entirely female cast, Orange is the New Black gives an equal platform and equal dignity to women of all colors, ages, and sexualities, an important precedent for mass media moving forward. 

Where to watch it: Netflix
 

7. The Handmaid's Tale

What it's about: In the near future, religious extremists take over the government, separating Offred (Elizabeth Moss) from her family and forcing her to bare children for a wealthy family. 

Why you'll love it: There are already lots of think pieces about the eerie relevance of The Handmaid's Tale in today's political climate, especially with recent attacks on reproductive rights. But much of its brilliance in its firmly female perspective, among many other facets. Its incredible cinematography and cinematic scale set a precedent for television drama and utilize the medium to serially reinvent the novel upon which the show is based. The cast, anchored by incredible actresses, is crucial to the show's raw impact. Elizabeth Moss has brought to life some of the best female characters television has ever seen (see: Mad Men, Top of the Lake). As Offred, she masterfully brings to life the immense suffering and utter anguish of a woman stripped of her identity, freedom, and bodily autonomy. Along with her, OITNB alums Samira Wiley and Madeline Brewer give the best performances of their careers. But not all the women of Gilead are oppressed. Characters like Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) explore the role of complicity in the lives of privileged women. The show is a potent cautionary tale of political apathy and a grisly depiction of a dystopia that many women around the world call reality. With one of the most superb casts assembled on television today and eerily prophetic source material, The Handmaid's Tale is at once horrifying and enthralling, leaving you unable to look away. 

Where to watch it: Hulu

8. Chewing Gum

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What it's about: Tracey (Michaela Coel) fumbles through life with the help of her friends and family as she desperately tries to cast off her religious upbringing and lose her virginity. 

Why you'll love it: You'll need subtitles to understand the thick cockney accents, but once you do, you'll be impressed with Michaela Coel's raunchy and sex-crazed comedic style. In a recent interview, Coel told The Guardian "I enjoy making people uncomfortable." And that she does. I won't overshare, but be prepared for lots of dildos, dick jokes, and talk of "bumholes." Tracey is unabashed in her desperate curiosity about all things sexual, and the strategy with which she approaches sexual achievement is wholly refreshing. Chewing Gum also gives us a glimpse at a side of British life that we often don't see. Set in the projects of London, Chewing Gum gives us a look at London that pasty shows like Sherlock ignore. Coel gives a face to Londoners of color and honors the hustle of the lower classes. With enviable confidence, Tracey drops us right in the middle of her rough and fast-talking world, and it's up to us to get used to it. We also get front seats for her sexual exploration, as she empties out all of her sexual pondering onto us and drags us into her cringe-worthy sexual encounters (at one point she vigorously sucks on her partner's nose). Its bubbling energy and sharp wit elevates Chewing Gum from a raunchy comedy to a roaring chronicle of a young black woman's sexual discovery. 

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Girls

What it's about: Hannah (Lena Duham) and her fellow twenty-something friends navigate life, love, and career in New York City. 

Why you'll love it: Okay, okay, I know you're probably rolling your eyes on this one, but hear me out. It is possible to watch and even enjoy problematic shows as long as we remain actively critical of them. Is Girls about a bunch of privileged, ungrateful white girls who live in New York City yet never encounter a person of color? Yes. Is pretty much every character annoying and painfully lacking in self-awareness? Yes. Are the nudity and depictions of sex as revolutionary as all the think pieces made them out to be? No. However, that doesn't disqualify Girls as a piece of art with merit. A lot of the girls' problems are exclusive to white, upper-class women. But as the series progresses, it also becomes more conscious of its role on television. Its portrayal of relationships, sex, career-building, and self-discovery is reflective of the experiences of an entire generation of young women struggling to find their place in the world. In its fifth and best season, the characters along with Dunham's writing evolve, and episodes like "Panic in New York" showcase her talent and solidify her place in television history. The eventual disintegration of their four-way friendship is one of the most honest and insightful portrayals of friendship television has ever seen. The show is messy and uncomfortable and sometimes hard-to-watch, but so is life as a young woman. 

Where to watch it: HBOGo

10. Transparent 

What it's about: Maura (Jeffry Tambor) and her family adjust to her transition as her ex-wife and children deal with their own emotional issues. 

Why you'll love it: Transparent explores the lives and experiences of women as well as the concept of womanhood in itself. Jill Soloway brings tenderness to television with her distinctively intimate cinematography and her mumble-core style dialogue. Dysfunctional doesn't even begin to cover the Pfeffermans, who collide and face off as they forge their identities, explore their sexualities, and adjust to Maura's transition. Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) becomes the woman she has always been and forges her own identify from scratch at 60. Aimless daughter Ali (Gaby Hoffman) is one of the show's most compelling characters, leading a lazy but authentic life filled with love affairs and feminist theory. She is unapologetically hairy and sexual at once. Her older sister Sarah (Amy Landecker) explores her bisexuality and kinkier desires while (poorly) caring for her children. Their mother Shelly (Judith Light) is more than meets the eye. The Pfefferman women are some of the most vulnerable women on television, stripped bare in every episode as they try and fail to find connection and meaning. Transparent allows cis and trans women to be equally complex and treats with equal dignity, tenderness, and kindness, setting an example for us all. 

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

 

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