For the past week, I’ve been binge-watching UnREAL, a show co-created by a woman, and which stars a plethora of strong female protagonists. The lead is the producer of the fictional reality show “Everlasting”, Rachel Goldberg, who struggles with both her own mental health and the health of others as she works to construct loose footage into watchable episodes. It occurs to me that I’m not thinking twice about identifying with a female protagonist. Rachel and I don’t share any obvious traits, but there’s no gap I have to bridge to empathize with her. When I think back, I realize this is the case throughout most of my life. Many of my favourite shows star women: 30 Rock, Inside Amy Schumer, Veep, Transparent, Gilmore Girls, Girls, and more recently Lady Dynamite.
Never before have there been so many female protagonists on television. Off the top of my head, these are the shows currently on the air that star women: UnREAL, Orange Is the New Black, Jane the Virgin, Scream, Inside Amy Schumer, Girls, The Mindy Project, Veep, Transparent, Orphan Black, Chelsea, (I’d argue) Game of Thrones, Broad City, Once Upon A Time, How To Get Away With Murder, Gilmore Girls is returning, The 100, and Catastrophe. These shows span genre, allow their protagonists unique strengths and flows, and therefore affords them range. It’s never been as clear as it is now that audiences and studios have been losing out on great art. The real watershed moment came around the turn of the millennium. I say this thinking of two now-classic additions to the SNL cast: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who not only became two of the most beloved hosts of “Weekend Update” but went on to helm some of the most critically acclaimed comedy series of the last decade.
For the first time I can remember, I’m drawn to articles about women rather than men. They’re involving themselves with more interesting projects. They’re challenging themselves. A silver lining to their late entry into major roles on television is there’s a lot of ground to cover in originality. Men have been given so many opportunities over the last sixty years in television that it’s hard to see a truly original character, but far and few between were female-driven TV series until the last 15 years, which means there’s a better chance we’ll see a plot or a career we’ve never seen before.
I think millennials are predisposed to feel comfortable with what past generations weren’t. It’s an evolution in empathy. To be more specific, we now are getting mouthfuls of what people decades ago only tasted with shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show or I Love Lucy.
This previously untapped market of creativity marks a new era in television, one that’s more diverse and therefore more interesting. Millennials have not only embraced different ways to experience television, like streaming, but they’ve embraced the new artists that have come with it. There is no downside to this era. It will grow, and we will benefit as it grows. Jill Soloway, the creator of Transparent and writer-director behind Afternoon Delight, another Kathryn Hahn collaboration, is an example of this. Despite the fact that she’s behind the scenes, she’s forging an avenue for other women to walk and bring with them their own personal stories. Another example would be Sharon Horgan, co-creator and star of Catastrophe. She’s also responsible for three other well-received British comedies, including Pulling.
Proof of diversity in show business came by way of The Hollywood Reporter two days ago, when they released a list of pilots both rejected and picked up by different studios. In it is a significant amount of distinct material. Of course, shows starring white men and their busty white wives will never cease to exist, because King of Queens made just a little too much money during its run, but the percentage of complex female leads is creeping up, and the more Rachel Goldbergs there are in favour of Doug Heffernans, the better.
This article was written by Alex Southey, a writer for dusk magazine.