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Critics Pick the Best Female TV Directors — IndieWire Survey

Because we shouldn't have to wait for #FemaleFilmmakerFriday to celebrate amazing women directors.

Kimberly Peirce, Karyn Kusama, Ava Duvernay

Kimberly Peirce, Karyn Kusama, Ava Duvernay

Arthur Mola/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock, Doane Gregory/Fox Atomic/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock, John Milne/Silverhub/REX/Shutterstock

IWCriticsPick

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: In honor of the #FemaleFilmmakerFriday hashtag that was begun last week, which female TV director deserves recognition the most?

Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider

I try to go with gut reactions on these, and the first person who popped into my mind was Susanne Bier, director of 2016’s “The Night Manager.” One of the reasons I became so obsessed with that miniseries was because of Bier’s direction and the visual world she created. Everything looked like a Vogue spread (which isn’t surprising maybe given its cast), but it wasn’t just about the gilded pleasures of the super global elite. One of the most inspiring sequences was a nighttime display of “shock and awe” missiles that lit up the desert like fireworks. It was stunning in both its haunting power and its frightening implications. But equally as compelling was a scene that took place under dingy fluorescents, one that focused on a character quietly recounting why she finds the main villain so evil. This, too, was riveting.

Bier’s work in “The Night Manager” was the kind of thoughtful, sumptuous visual storytelling where dialogue isn’t even necessary to understand plot or the emotions of each character’s narrative. And while she is mostly known for her film work, this foray into TV was truly notable. Bier hasn’t returned for another series, which is a shame. To see her fully helm another mini, or some prestige-y new series would be heavenly.

June Thomas (@junethomas), Slate

I’m a huge fan of Agnieszka Holland movies such as “Europa Europa”; “Olivier, Olivier”; and “Julie Walking Home, Julie Walking Home.” (OK, the last one is really just “Julie Walking Home.”) Her TV credits are appropriately eclectic – there’ll be a “Cold Case” or a “Rosemary’s Baby” along with “The Wire” and “Treme” – but her visual style is always compelling. Her work stands out in all the right ways.

 

Tim Surette (@timsurette), TV.com

I want Michelle MacLaren to direct my life.

Caroline Framke (@carolineframke), Vox

Assuming that people are overwhelmingly (and rightfully) going to single out the stellar drama work from Reed Morano and Mimi Leder (with a side of Michelle MacLaren), I’m going to take this time to remind everyone that directing comedy is incredibly hard, and Pam Fryman makes it look anything but. Fryman is a true sitcom workhorse, having directed literally hundreds of episodes for shows like “Frasier,” “Just Shoot Me,” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Also, picking Fryman means I get to promote the second season of “One Day at a Time,” for which she directed six episodes (including the truly spectacular finale).

Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter

There are very few female TV directors who DON’T deserve more recognition. For purposes of ideal amplification, I’m not going to answer Lesli Linka Glatter, Mimi Leder and Michelle MacLaren, who have all been nominated for multiple directing Emmys. On the same grounds, I’m not going to answer Reed Morano, who won the directing Emmy last year for “The Handmaid’s Tale” and just premiered her second movie at Sundance. Let the record show that Glatter, Leder, Maclaren and Morano are all awesome and, in any other conversation, need more recognition. My point here is to recognize the under-recognized of the already under-recognized. So Patty Jenkins? Not under-recognized, relatively. Ava Duvernay? Not under-recognized, relatively.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by James Bridges/Green/Renzi/Independent Film Channel/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5865437a) Karyn Kusama Karyn Kusama - 2000 Green/Renzi/Independent Film Channel On/Off Set

Karyn Kusama

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Karyn Kusama has directed acclaimed and big budget features, but most folks on Film Twitter probably think of her work on “Aeon Flux” and not her more recent TV resume, which includes standouts like the remarkable “Halt and Catch Fire” finale and the standout “Billions” episode “Golden Frog Time,” so maybe she doesn’t need more recognition, just an appropriate amount of recognition for the career she actually has and not for one bad movie that was only barely her fault. And let’s look to a legion of other female “Halt and Catch Fire” directors, because few shows, especially few shows created by a pair of dudes, committed as fully to putting women behind the camera, including Kusama, Morano, Daisy von Sherler Mayer, Kimberly Peirce (probably not under-recognized, because of her film career), So Yong Kim and Tricia Brock.

Kusama and Peirce fit into the category of women who have started with acclaimed features and then seen work dry up in movies before doing great TV work and you could also include Agnieszka Holland, Kat Candler, Nicole Kassell. I always single out Victoria Mahoney for lists like this, since her record is fantastic even if I’m blaming just about everybody associated with Netflix’s “Gypsy” for “Gypsy,” but Mahoney is finally started to get those long-overdue pilot gigs, proving that if you’re good enough at something for long enough, eventually sometimes Hollywood will pay attention.

It’s embarrassing that “Fargo” reached its third season without a single female director, but Dearbhla Walsh directed a pair of key episodes and did it spectacularly. Kari Skogland, who will direct the plurality of the second “Handmaid’s Tale” season, has done diverse and interesting work, generally in terrain TV and movies have typically described as “masculine.” I always like to salute Steph Green, whose 2016/2017 directing slate included standout episodes of “Billions,” “American Crime,” “Bates Motel,” “Scandal,” and “Preacher.” Or really just look to “Queen Sugar,” which has been directed entirely by women. Julie Dash directed two episodes of “Queen Sugar.” JULIE DASH. Sorry. There’s no one answer to this question because the solution isn’t to amplify one name. Or two names. I’m only listing people who have directed GREAT episodes of TV shows that I love and I haven’t gotten to people like Roxann Dawson, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Minkie Spiro, Larysa Kondracki, Jennifer Getzinger or Allison Liddi-Brown. Let’s say all their names and let’s not set up a competition between them for “recognition.” #FemaleFilmmakerFriday

Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire

Roxann Dawson

Roxann Dawson

Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

In my ongoing quest to pick options that might not be the most obvious (though c’mon, if Reed Morano, Lesli Linka Glatter, and Mimi Leder don’t get mentioned at least three times this week I don’t know what any of us are doing here) I want to shout a director I first became familiar with not because of her directing, but because of her acting: specifically, her starring role on “Star Trek: Voyager.” Roxann Dawson played the fiery B’Elanna Torres on that show for seven years, but has since transitioned into finding steady work as a director of episodic television, and her resume is damn impressive: Just in the last year, she helmed two episodes of “House of Cards,” two episodes of “Chance,” and episodes of “Runaways” and “The Chi.” Next up, per IMDB, is “The Americans” (the second episode she’ll direct for that series) and if you dig back further you’ll find a great mix of series, including “The Path,” “Aquarius,” “Bates Motel,” “Scandal,” and “Treme.” I was a big Torres fan during the “Voyager” days, but beyond that I’ve become an admirer of her steady but exciting career, and have always wanted to interview her about what it’s like to be a working director on her level. Roxann, call me! We would have a very nice chat.

Megan Vick (@MeggoInc), TVGuide.com

The answer is Reed Morano. There are few television directors, male or female, with as distinctive a signature as Reed. You can always tell it’s her by the pop of color and the expert use of a close-up. I first heard of her after she was the director of photography on the Daniel Radcliffe film “Kill Your Darlings.” Come to find out she was also behind the camera for some of the best slo-mo dance scenes in “Looking” and also left her imprint on Beyonce’s “Lemonade.” Of course, directing wise she’s best known for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” directing the series’ first three episodes and setting the visual palette for the most talked about (and arguably the most important) show of 2017. That work deservedly earned her an Emmy, but trust that her trophy collection is only just getting started.

Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx

My first impulse when reading this question was to name Michelle MacLaren and be done with it. She directed more episodes of “Breaking Bad” — perhaps the best-directed show ever made — than anyone else, and her episodes (“4 Days Out,” “One Minute,” “To’hajiilee”) were always visual marvels and incredible acting showcases. She’s the only woman who’s been allowed in the directorial boys club of “Game of Thrones,” and done very well there, as well as on freelance stints on many other of the best dramas of recent vintage, like “The Leftovers” or “Breaking Bad’s” spinoff, “Better Call Saul.” And as the lead director on “The Deuce,” she not only captured the utter seediness of early ’70s Times Square, but managed to come up with a visual language for a series about porn that kept it from feeling like porn itself.

Tom Perrotta, Mimi Leder, Damon Lindelof

Tom Perrotta, Mimi Leder, Damon Lindelof

Bumphre/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock

But then I thought about the role that Mimi Leder (already a Hall of Fame director for her work in the early days of “ER,” including two of that show’s greatest episodes in “Blizzard” and “Love’s Labor Lost”) played in helping “The Leftovers” find itself in the middle of Season 1 and become an all-time classic itself, and my answer became trickier. And then I expanded it to half-hours, and realized the embarrassment of riches there, from Jill Soloway’s beautiful and intimate work on “Transparent” to the always-reliable multi-cam work of Pamela Fryman, who helmed nearly all of “How I Met Your Mother’s” 200-plus episodes and is a “One Day at a Time” go-to director, including this new season’s remarkable, monologue-heavy finale. And I’ve barely even scratched the surface of what I’m sure is Dan Fienberg’s usual exhaustive list.

If I’ve got to pick one, it’s probably MacLaren. Or is it Leder? Dammit! Don’t make me choose!

April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics

Erggh! So many great female directors working in TV. For sheer tenacity in a women-light business above the line, I vote for Tricia Brock who also wrote a few favorite episodes of the first iteration of “Twin Peaks,” coincidentally one of which was directed by my next TV director pick, Leslie Linka Glatter. If my Boston accent slips she’s “Leslie Linker-Glattah…”

But Brock has covered it all in TV, from premium cable (“Girls,” “The L Word,” “The Big C,” “Silicon Valley”) and streaming (“Mozart in the Jungle,” “The Killing”) to staples on broadcast like ABC’s “Pushing Daisies” to NBC’s “30 Rock,” “Community,” to WGN’s “Salem.” Her CV is tight.

And speaking of Lesli Linka Glatter, she’s a directorial beast (in the best sense) with great feature film work on top of her TV experience, from iconic little chestnuts like “Freaks and Geeks,” “Twin Peaks,” “Mad Men,” “NYPD Blue,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Heroes”, “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The West Wing,” plus genre nuggets like “True Blood” and “The Walking Dead,” and critical faves such as “The Newsroom,” “Masters Of Sex,” “Justified,” “The Leftovers” and “Homeland.” That’s a hard act to follow. I wonder if she hates going to Boston (heh).

Of late, a favorite new director showed her stuff in “Room 104” with the Duplass brothers, Megan Griffiths, who I was fortunate to interview really shined with a minimal cast and spare production and set. I admired how she made a such a poignant piece between two female MMA fighters- it was a standout episode in the entire series.

Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire

Having already written extensively about the directing prowess of Mimi Leder, Michelle MacLaren, and Pamela Adlon, I’ll instead highlight a requisite name on the lengthy list of best TV directors: Beth McCarthy-Miller. With 10 Emmy nominations under her belt — not to mention 11 years and 218 episodes of “Saturday Night Live” — one could argue McCarthy-Miller is a widely recognized talent in the industry, and you’d be right. But if we’re talking about who deserves recognition the most, it’s hard to say McCarthy-Miller doesn’t deserve her time on stage. To put it bluntly, her work cannot be overvalued. She’s been behind episodes of the last decade’s best shows: “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Modern Family,” “Veep,” “Community,” “Black-ish,” “”Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and she’s already helmed four episodes set for 2018, including the “LA to Vegas” entry that brought together Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney. That alone would make her an instrumental piece of television history, but she’s iconic on her own, and that she hasn’t won an Emmy yet is a travesty unto itself. [Editor’s Note: Mimi Leder just joined Twitter, so do yourself a favor and click follow!]

Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*

A: “Baskets,” “The Good Place,” and “One Day at a Time” (two votes each)

Other contenders: “The Alienist,” “Blue Planet II,” “Star Trek: Discovery,” “Vera”

*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.

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