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A feminist’s guide to summer TV

August 13, 2014
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August 13, 2014

It’s a good summer for strong women on American TV. While some of the great female-centered shows across genres—The Good Wife, and Parks and Recreation, for examplewon’t be back until fall, several US networks are offering new shows anchored by women as main characters. And even better, the genius of those central female characters isn’t inevitably accompanied by ill-treated mental instability (we’re looking at you, The Killing and Homeland).

Here’s a selection of summer viewing for the discerning feminist TV addict, by genre (and based on episodes aired or released so far):

Adventure: Outlander

Starz offers an answer to Game of Thrones, bringing the bestselling series by Diana Gabaldon to the small screen. But unlike Game of Thrones, its women are not portrayed as naked props or rape victims. At its center is an English woman who falls back in time, from just after World War II to 1700s Scotland. Only the pilot has aired, but already the show’s protagonist has demonstrated that she is an equal partner in her marriage and is capable of saving men’s lives. Starz is hoping this will be the show that brings the cable network out from the shadows of HBO and Showtime—and it’s already off to a good start after its pilot, the most popular series premiere in the network’s history.

Comedy: Garfunkel and Oates

The comedy singing duo Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci have been belting out hilarious songs together for a while, and now they have an IFC comedy show that’s Flight of the Conchords meets Broad City, set in Los Angeles. In one episode, the pair see how long they can each date a man without saying a word (Spoiler: it’s a pretty long time). Lindhome and Micucci represent a millennial sort of feminism, and the jokes make a pretty strong point about the role women are expected to play in a relationship. They’re also very funny.

Thriller: The Honorable Woman

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in this BBC and Sundance TV miniseries is an Anglo-Israeli woman who inherits her father’s arms business. It debuted last week in the US and on July 3 in the UK, and it has received glowing reviews for Gyllenhaal’s performance and the depth of her character. Though it may run the risk of being another story about the Middle East told by Westerners, praise for the complexity of the story suggests that it avoids this trap (which FX’s Tyrant fell right into).

Sci-fi: Extant

CBS put Halle Berry at the center of a sci-fi show, running for one season this summer. One of the first things we learn about the brilliant astronaut she plays is that she doesn’t make mistakes in her job. Her husband, so far at least, supports her career and is pretty clearly the primary caretaker for their son—refreshing to see in a husband character.

To binge: Orange is the New Black

This is the only show on the list that’s not new this summer, but it’s also arguably the best—and not just for its feminist sensibilities. Netflix released all 13 episodes of the second season last month. The show explores race, gender and sexual orientation within the context of a damaged criminal justice system, while remaining extremely entertaining and character-driven. It earned the first Emmy nomination for an openly transgender person, Laverne Cox.

For the kids: Girl Meets World

Your kid—whatever their gender—can get an early start on a feminist outlook with the Disney Channel’s remake of the 90s hit coming-of-age sitcom Boy Meets World. This iteration follows Riley—the daughter of Boy Meets World couple Cory and Topanga—and her rebellious (or as rebellious as a Disney character can be) best friend. It hews closely to Disney’s cookie cutter, morality-based plot lines, with occasional swooning over boys, but at the center of the show are two strong yet different young women with their own sets of values and backstories. Women can be main characters, and kids should know that from a young age.

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