Netflix: No. 1 for All Your Feminist TV Needs
As our quarantine continues (stay home and/or masked and six-feet back, people), we’ve determined that Netflix is doing the best out of all the streaming services to keep us entertained during these trying times, which, I’m sure you’ve heard, are unprecedented.
Not only is #Netflix providing us with excellent programming featuring strong female characters, but a lot of it is written, directed and/or produced by women. Also, their series clock in at only 10 episodes long, and though some suffer from streamer bloat, they’re easy to binge.
1. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend
If you’re already a fan of the goofy, sweet, often LOL sitcom about a woman who remains ever optimistic even after spending much of her life as a prisoner in an underground bunker, you’ll no doubt get a kick out of this extremely clever take on the choose-your-own-adventure format that furthers her story along. And even if you’ve never seen the show before, it’s easy to jump in and be hella entertained. The cast is stellar from top to bottom, with Ellie Kemper leading the way and Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski providing excellent support.
To help you along, I’ve called out what I think are some of the funniest choices. First off, Netflix knows that you always skip the intro. So skip the intro! Surprise, you can’t! You just get a longer version of one of the best theme songs ever recorded. You’ll next get your choice of wedding dresses. Pick the fun one, definitely. Let Titus nap, do all three of the Frederick choices (wedding planning, reading the book, making out) and all three of the phone calls. The Reverend (a hilarious Jon Hamm) should definitely escape using karate.
Pick Uber for Kimmy and Titus (twice in a row), then enjoy an excellent cover of the classic “Freebird," as opposed to a made-up song. Make sure Kimmy babysits, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the best Titus bits. If Jacqueline chooses to complain about the costume rather than the script, the result includes a great cameo by SNL’s Heidi Gardner. When the second food table shows up, Titus should most definitely ignore it, leading to the conclusion of his great storyline. Finally, if you kill the Reverend three times, you’ll get a special bit set in Hell.
In addition to all the zaniness, the special's format works really well within the theme of the entire series -- that Kimmy chooses to do the right thing, even when it's fudging hard. And when you make an out-of-character choice for her, you get called on it.
This is Femme Critic’s fave of the pandemic so far, and it’s co-written by show creator Tina Fey (along with Robert Carlock, Sam Means and Meredith Scardino) and directed by Claire Scanlon (Set It Up, The Office). Fey again proves to be one of the sharpest comic minds ever to exist on Planet Earth. Feel free to fight me on that. But first, watch this highly-entertaining special.
2. Never Have I Ever
Speaking of awesome female showrunners, Mindy Kaling created this killer single-camera sitcom about a current-day Indian teen living in the San Fernando Valley. With the main character Devi played by impressive newbie Maitreyi (pronounced My-tray-ee) Ramakrishnan and hilariously narrated by John McEnroe, Never Have I Ever kicks off with Devi determined to slay it as a high-school sophomore, after suffering a dual trauma that robbed her of a successful freshman year.
The overachiever is plagued by problems with her Tiger Mom, her friends, a rival AP student and her crush on the coolest guy at school, but she’s also really ballsy, making her a delightful anti-hero. Her Indian culture is front and center too, which adds a really interesting new spin to the proceedings. Kaling is said to have loosely based this on her own experience, though it’s set in the present. Oh, and #FemmeCritic fave #NiecyNash recurs as Devi’s therapist, which is always a bonus.
One of the main keys to any successful sitcom is its supporting characters, and this one has several sharply-defined and surprising storylines that emerge from its excellent ensemble.
I’d call this one a mix of Awkwafina’s Nora From Queens, Fresh Off the Boat, My So-Called Life and Freaks & Geeks. It’s excellent, and an easy binge.
3. Dead to Me
The second season picks up immediately after the first one, which makes for some confusing catch-up, but the rhythm soon returns to this well-written dramedy about the ever-evolving relationship between L.A. realtor, mom and widow Jen (Christina Applegate) and the troubled Judy (Linda Cardellini), the out-there nursing home worker Jen meets after her husband is killed in a hit-and-run.
The show is ostensibly a thriller, though some of the twists that keep the story moving are pretty far-fetched. But the personal dynamics between the two main characters (both known for their questionable choices) are fascinating, and the acting is aces. And Femme Critic is here for any show that delves into female friendship. Creator / showrunner Liz Friedman walks the walk with nine out of 10 episodes written by women, and all 10 are female-directed.
Set in post-WWII L.A., this drama about a group of young hopefuls breaking into show biz stars several of showrunner Ryan Murphy’s regulars (Dylan McDermott, Patti LuPone, Darren Criss), while adding some winning new faces (Laura Harrier, Jeremy Pope) and established stars (Jim Parsons, Holland Taylor). The show delves into the diversity issues of the time, though not always convincingly (check out this Hollywood Reporter review by Inkoo Kang).
Exec produced by Janet Mock (Pose), it’s handsomely made and really immerses you in that ‘40s glamour -- but it’s sugar-coated ending and lack of development for the young female characters keep it from really soaring. And its particular brand of historical revisionism is not nearly as successful or satisfying as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
It's highly watchable, though, as Ryan Murphy shows (American Horror Story, Glee, Pose, Nip/Tuck, etc.) usually are, and I’d definitely recommend it as a completist. A special shout out goes to Michelle Krusiec for her amazing performance as Asian-American trailblazer Anna May Wong.