TV’s golden age for women

SlateJuly 24, 2013 

Netflix

From left, Danielle Brooks as Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson, Taylor Shilling as Piper, Vicky Jeudy as Janae Watson, and Samira Wiley as Poussey in "Orange is the New Black Season."

COURTESY OF PAUL SCHIRALDI — Paul Schiraldi Photography

— – It’s common wisdom in the entertainment business that women will happily consume and enjoy fictions about both men and women, but most men only enjoy fictions about other men.

Having recently finished watching and loving Netflix’s new series “Orange Is the New Black,” about life inside a minimum security women’s prison, it occurred to me that this may be the first time in my memory that TV has offered me so many high-quality shows about women.

“Orange,” which follows a Smith graduate as she serves time for transporting drug money a decade ago, may showcase the greatest number of substantial parts for women of all ages and races ever assembled. By rough count there are 20-some women with distinct characterizations, motivations and personalities, almost all of whom are as – if not more – interesting than the lead character, the blond Piper Chapman.

It had already been a tremendous year for female characters, many of them appearing in shows created by women. (“Orange” was created by “Weeds’ ” Jenji Kohan.) Jane Campion’s outstanding mini-series “Top of the Lake” gave Elisabeth Moss – aka “Mad Men’s” Peggy – the chance to play a traumatized detective in a perverse New Zealand town. Shonda Rhimes’ buzzy, audacious “Scandal” has given us Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), the crisis-managing superwoman. Jess Day grows further out of just being adorkable with every episode of Liz Meriwether’s “New Girl.” And Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath continues to be a convenient symbol of any and everything having to do with 20-something womanhood – but that’s because “Girls” continues to be a rich, rewarding series.

Perhaps owing to how exhausted and cliched male antiheroes have become, knotty, complex female characters are also leading shows created by men.

BBC America’s unexpectedly awesome “Orphan Black” would be better titled “Tatiana Maslany Puts on an Acting Clinic.” As “The Americans’ ” Elizabeth Jennings, Keri Russell has thrown over sweet Felicity to embody a woman much icier, nastier and more traumatized. The two American dramas based on Scandinavian series – “The Killing” and “The Bridge” – star strange and damaged female detectives. The two moms raising five kids together on ABC Family’s “The Fosters” star in a PG show that’s calmly and sweetly more matter-of-fact about gender, race and sexuality than most of cable.

And it’s only July! Carrie Mathison (“Homeland”) won’t be back for two more months.

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