Popular culture and TV series have played an important role in perpetuating and reinforcing ideas, practices and beliefs, that define our daily lives. Most stereotypes that plague our society till date have been ingrained through the use of TV series. 2019 has been a year that has seen a lot of feminist content that has resulted in puncturing toxic narratives around masculinity, romance, friendships, and much more. Below is a list of some of the best feminist series of the year.
1. Dead To Me
A trauma-comedy, Dead to Me starts off as a show about two grieving women trying to cope with the loss of their husbands. Beginning as mere acquaintances at a support group, their bond evolves into friendship as they face challenges of ranging from infertility to parenting. Apart from shattering the stereotypes that are associated with female friendships, the show also offers a fresh perspective into unravelling emotions of anger, frustration, and grief—all from a woman’s lens. Owing to its excellent writing, Dead To Me celebrates women as complex, nuanced characters. In one of the interviews, it was revealed that the team of every episode had either a woman, or a gay man as the director. The several women in its line of directors and writers have made sure that the characters in the show contest fitting into the shallow binaries of mere ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
2. Sex Education
With characters in their teens, Sex Education taps into an arena that is rarely talked about- adolescent sexuality. The protagonist, Otis, begins to provide sex-therapy to his fellows in high school only to embark upon a journey that encounters issues of self-esteem, consent, bullying, peer-pressure, and much more among the people of his age. Every episode deals with a different issue in an attempt to normalise the narrative of sex-positivity among adolescents. A wide range of characters representing the LGBTQIA+ community makes the show much more inclusive. These characters aren’t just tokenised for their sexuality, they are well-developed and go much more beyond than the stereotypical ‘non-hetero’ friend. The show highlights the need for creating a space for adolescents that is sex-positive and non-heteronormative.
Directed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who is also the protagonist of the show), Fleabag revolves around a woman who owns her narrative. The show goes about exploring emotions of confusion, frustration, anger, disgust, and everything an ‘ideal’ woman isn’t supposed to feel. Waller-Bridge often breaks the fourth wall in the show to provide monologues to the audience throughout. In 2019, the second season of the show was released which was received with as much applause (if not more) than the first one. Through its phenomenal feminist writing and direction, the show defies the male gaze and provides its audience with a world that deals with the life of a single woman-with all the clumsy, messy, emotional aspects in all its glory.
4. Marvellous Mrs. Maisel
With a fancy lifestyle, a man who loves her, and a financially well-off family, Miriam Maisel had everything that a woman is told to aspire for. The show addresses what happens once the ‘perfect’ life of this woman is shattered. When her marriage falls apart due to her husband leaving, Miriam begins her journey of self-rediscovery. Having a knack for comedy, she pursues stand-up and flourishes in the field. The show challenged pertinent patriarchal issues ranging from conventional career choices for women to family structures. The writing is vocal in contesting everyday institutionalised sexism and stands as a bastion of feminist values. The show released its third season in 2019, and has been renewed for a fourth season as well.
5. Made In Heaven
One of the most famous Indian TV-series of 2019, directed by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, Made in Heaven re-conceptualises the idea of a ‘big fat Indian wedding’ by looking at it from a feminist lens. The story is about two wedding planners who go about arranging wedding ceremonies for different families. Every episode deals with a new wedding and brings about issues like party politics, sexism, honour killings, and much more. Through its bold writing, the show unravels the problems of homophobia, dowry and class that are faced in every wedding—pushing one to question the institution of marriage itself.
6. The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale is a show by Bruce Miller, based upon a novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood. The show is an American dystopian-drama series revolving around the subjugation of women. It is set in a totalitarian state wherein women are forced into reproduction and their value is reduced to their wombs. In 2019, the show released its third season, and has been renewed for a fourth. The show has been awarded for its excellent writing, direction, and acting by everyone. It received several awards like the Primetime Emmys and the Golden Globe Awards.
7. Good Omens
Directed by Douglas Makinnon, Good Omens, based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It is a mini-series revolving around an angel, and a demon in their attempts to prevent the battle between Hell and Heaven. The two characters share a relationship that defies heteronormative standards. Through its intelligent writing, the show presents an evolution of their relationship that has subtle queer undertones, although the show doesn’t explicitly put any labels on it.
8. Tuca & Bertie
An animated cartoon series, Tuca and Bertie, is created by cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt. It explores the friendship between two women in their thirties as they begin to live in the same apartment. By showing two thirty-year-old women trying to figure out their lives, the show breaks the stereotype for women of having to ‘settle down’ as soon as possible. Moreover, the show deals with issues of child sexual abuse and harassment with utmost sensibility and clears the stigma around ‘unusual’ career options such as sex work. The TV series was released in May 2019 and since then has received critical acclaim from all over the world.
9. The Good Place
The Good Place is a comedy-fantasy TV series created by Michael Schur. The protagonist, Eleanor Shellstrop, wakes up in the after-life only to realise that she’s in a Heaven-like utopia. A little later she finds out that she’s been mistakenly put into heaven. The show revolves around her attempts to prevent everyone from knowing the truth to avoid going to Hell. The cast of the show is diverse-from racial diversity to sexual-these characters are well developed with extraordinary character arcs. Through its heavy use of philosophical concepts of ethics and morality, the show offers explanations to what constitutes a good place, and what makes a good person.
Written by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, Unbelievable is a miniseries about rapes in Washington and Colorado. The show is a portrayal of what happens when women occupy traditionally masculine spaces: as bosses, employees, detectives, and/or victims. It is a reminder of the kinds of challenges and barriers every woman has to face when they try to speak up. The show has received critical acclaims worldwide due to its bold depiction of the grim realities surrounding rape cases. Whose narrative is believed? Whose voices are heard?—the show answers it all through its excellent portrayal of power dynamics and gender.
The massive increase in the number of TV series that are feminist in nature is representative of progress towards a world that is inclusive and equal. There are heaps to cover even now, especially when it comes to television content in local and regional languages, however, with the increasing audience support towards feminist content, the future of television content seems bright. The stellar feminist content of 2019 has set the benchmark for the following years, and higher hopes from 2020 in terms of inclusive and representative TV content.
This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to this list are welcome in the comments section.
Featured Image Source: BT TV