Feminist TV lovers know the big ones. The Handmaid’s Tale. Fleabag. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The amount and diversity of excellent television with feminist themes has boomed with the rise of streaming services. But sometimes there’s too much choice, and amazing shows fall between the cracks. Today, I wanted to shine a light on some wonderful shows with strong female characters and great writing. So whether you feel like you’ve seen it all or just want to try something totally new, take a look at some of the shows below.
One Mississippi (Amazon Prime)
I don’t know how this wonderful little show slipped under the radar. Based on comedian Tig Notaro’s real life, this show follows her as she returns home to Mississippi from LA, following the death of her mother. What follows is culture shock and soul searching as Tig reconnects with her family and community. As you can probably guess, this show has its share of sorrow, but keeps an uplifting tone and plenty of laughs with Notaro’s dry humor and a sweet love story with her real life wife, Stephanie Allyne. If you enjoyed the fish-out-of-water plot and family themes of Schitt’s Creek, definitely give One Mississippi a shot.
Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung (Netflix)
Rookie Historian has something for everyone, from workplace comedy, to political drama, to screwball romance. Taking place in the early 1800s, the show follows an unconventional young woman, Goo Hae-ryung (Shin Se-kyung), who rejects marriage and the other sexist confines of her culture to become a historian for the royal court. There she uncovers a twenty-year old political secret that could change the fate of the nation, while also falling in love with the black sheep prince (Cha Eun-woo) who spends his time secretly writing cheesy romance novels. Shot on location at Changdeokgung Palace (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), with gorgeous costumes (and actors), Rookie Historian is eye-candy with substance.
Alias Grace (Netflix)
Margaret Atwood, the author of the iconic Handmaid’s Tale, also wrote the source material for Alias Grace. This Canadian miniseries fictionalizes a historic crime, in which two servants kill their employers. But how culpable was the teenage Irish maid, Grace (Sarah Gadon), and why did she do such a horrible thing? Fifteen years later, a male psychologist (Edward Holcraft), visits Grace in prison to determine her sanity and guilt. The brilliance of the story lies in Atwood’s empathetic but ambiguous writing. The truth remains elusive, but we come to understand the oppression working-class women faced in the 1800s. With beautiful direction (by Mary Harron of American Psycho) and incredible acting, this show brings history to life as a feminist crime thriller.
PEN15 hinges on a crazy but surprisingly successful premise: two women (Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle) play their thirteen-year-old selves in the early ’00s. Actual middle-schoolers play the rest of the cast. This leads to hilarious juxtaposition, while the girls struggle with both universal problems (popularity, sexuality, and racism) and issues very specific to that era (dodgy AOL chat rooms). Come for the nostalgia of gel pens and chokers, but stay for the delightfully awkward comedy and touching friendship of Maya and Anna. This unique comedy will be sure to charm you.
Bonfire of Destiny (Netflix)
If you liked the sumptuous historical costumes of Bridgerton (and the subsequent bodice-ripping), then Bonfire of Destiny might just scratch that period-piece itch. Unlike Bridgerton, this French drama steers away from the comedic but fully embraces romance. Based on a real-life tragedy, the series starts with a fire that kills many women at a charity bazaar in 1890s Paris. We then follow three very different women who survived the fire. The show explores the after effects of the fire, as it radically changes their lives and views of society. All women are oppressed by a male authority in some way and must take charge of their destiny. Despite the initial sorrow, this is an inspiring show with just the right amount of melodrama.
I hope something here piqued your interest! For more feminist TV recommendations, check out my list on women-friendly anime shows. And, as always, stay tuned to our Facebook page for upcoming classes on feminist media and art.