HBO’s “Girls” and broadcast sitcoms like “The Mindy Project” and “The New Girl” push the envelope on female representations on television, but they aren’t the only ones in the game of bringing complicated depictions of women to your screen.
Online stories about women are quite rich as well and have been for years. A year after “lonelygirl15” rose to fame by giving geek boys their ultimate cam girl, Felicia Day’s “The Guild” delivered
a counter-punch: a serious awkward, geek girl, a trend that persists
today. Major networks put women at the center of genre stories, as NBC
did with “Gemini Division” and MTV did with “Valemont.” Indie creators build out niches: “Anyone But Me”‘s told the story of serious teen girls who were very seriously in love. “Awkward Black Girl” gave black women a complicated lead before “Scandal,” and with natural hair to boot.
And now that we have to wait a few months until Lena Dunham and friends are back on HBO, it’s the perfect time to catch up on the best in female-centric web series today. Here are 14 of the best.
True to its title, “Broad City” is
just that: Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the show’s creators, play
versions of themselves in a broad comedy about broads in the city. The
series explores everything from getting back into pot and competing with
boys to the specificities of living in New York, like the elusive
in-apartment washer/dryer and hassles of the commute. Anchoring the show
are Jacobson and Glazer, real-life friends whose chemistry shines
through. Glazer is a bit spunkier, Jacobson more reserved. The slight
contrast gives “Broad City” its lightness, and their kinship shines through as clearly as the girls on “Living Single” or “Sex and the City.”
Chloe and Zoe
These broads are not quite so endearing. Chloe and Zoë are the suburban
ne’er-do-wells to Abbi and Ilana urban adventurers. Chloe and Zoë,
played by creators Chloe Searcy and Zoë Worth, rarely try to hard, and
spend most of the series trying to find happiness in work and love
(mostly love). Of course, since “Chloe and Zoë”‘s a comedy, they mostly fail, and along the way there’s some collateral damage.
“East WillyB” is
a sitcom about the gentrification of Bushwick. Co-written by Julia Grob
and Yamin Segal, the show is anchored by Willy, a Puerto Rican owner of
bar in the neighborhood, but it co-stars Cece, Willy’s bartender and
one of few working-class lesbian Latinas on television. Cece is
no-bullshit, as bartenders tend to be, but the show’s first season
starts her on a journey to find her birth mother. “East WillyB” at its heart is about human vulnerability amidst uncontrollable tides of the market, friends and family. Can Cece find peace?
As Cece’s search for self leads to her to family, Farrah’s takes her to hip hop. “Famous Farrah” is
a spry comedy about an infectious disease researcher who is bored with
her life. Her boyfriend is nice, if a little dumb and crude. Her job is
fine, if dull (and under threat). After an unplanned night of
binge-drinking and strip-clubbing on her birthday, Farrah gets recruited
to join a hip hop group, Cake Boyz. An awkward nerd, Farrah can’t dance
or rap, at least not at first. Can she reinvent herself? “Famous Farrah” is unlike any show I’ve seen, and its diverse cast make it all the fresh.
F to 7th
With network executives out of the way, web series can explore
sharp stories like this comedic treatise of identity for Ingrid
Jungermann. Jungermann is best known at the co-creator of “The Slope” (with former partner Desiree Akhavan), a sitcom about “superficial homophobic lesbians.” “F to 7th” retains
that irreverence but asks a different questions: what does it mean to
be a woman? Specifically, a butch lesbian? Through interactions with
family (Amy Sedaris plays her sister) and friends (including Michael
Showalter, Gaby Hoffman and Ann Carr), Ingrid slowly learns who she is.
It all leads up to the superb finale, “Intersex,” in which she fucks
Reality TV thrives on putting women in unflattering situations. Think of the crassness of “The Bachelor” or the wave of “housewife” franchises on cable, from the Kardashian empire to the “Real Housewives” franchise. “Hotel Reject” flips
the script, showing what happens when two friends are kicked off a
competition show early and are left locked in a hotel with a hot
bodyguard. You might pity them — and I do, a little bit — but trust
funders Jacklyn and Jordan Jensen are no angels. It’s a specific kind of
person who goes on reality TV, and this pair are everything you might
expect: spoiled, insensitive and not too bright. Hilarious.
Speaking of the Kardashians, don’t you find it boring how all three
sisters are glamazons focused on marriage and children? I do. So did
Fawzia Mirza, who created “Kam Kardashian,” a comedy about the hard-partying butch Kardashian sister you’ve never heard of. Kam drinks too much and hustles too hard. “Kam Kardashian,” now airing its second season, is an assured attack on the impulse to mainstream in straight and gay culture. For that, it’s right on time.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
Much has been written about Issa Rae’s “Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” whose second season wrapped up a few weeks ago. Awkward Black Girl was
not the first series to explore the intersections of race and gender,
but it grabbed the most attention for its sharp-tongued take how black
women navigate love, friends and the workplace.
My Gimpy Life
characters have ruled television, but cable and web distribution has
opened up spaces for stories about the hopes and struggles of disabled
individuals. On the web, the most notable of these may be “My Gimpy Life,” created by “Guild” actor Teal Sherer. “My Gimpy Life” follows Teal’s life as an actor, dealing with discrimination, both interpersonal and structural. “My Gimpy Life” puts the audience in her shoes.
The N&N Files
Frustrated with the gay vague of “Rizzoli & Isles”? Lesbians
have been taking television to the web for years, as networks chase the
more marketable gay male demographic. Earlier web series “Anyone But Me” and “Venice” have proved lesbians are eager for soaps that speak to them. Most recently, tello films, a small but self-sustaining
subscription-based lesbian video network, is doing the unprecedented
and reviving a series whose pilot UPN declined to pick up in 2004. “Nikki & Nora” creator
Nancylee Myatt got back the rights to her characters, two lesbian cops
in the New Orleans Police Department, from Warner Bros. and tello
stepped in to executive produce and distribute the show. The team has
raised over $30,000 of their $50,000 goal on Indiegogo, mostly from the series’ cult fan base, who’ve been writing fan fic of the show for years.
Dynamic duos are all the rage online, and “Squaresville”‘s nerdy
teens are among the most endearing. Zelda and Esther are stuck in the
lame suburbs trying to entertain themselves while not screwing up too
bad. The first season saw Zelda fall for a “bad boy” who challenged her
perceptions of high school and the world, while Esther, in a rare move
for American television, questioned her sexuality. “Squaresville”‘s storytelling is relaxed and steady. It’s never in a rush for a punchline. The award-winning show has picked up the torch from “The Guild,” that classic web series about a geek and her friends.
Transgendered persons are woefully underrepresented on television, but this Canadian series aims to change that. “The Switch” starts
when Sü is fired from her job after revealing to her colleagues she was
transitioning from male to female. When she gets home she realizes her
apartment is under renovation. Her life thrown upside down, Sü will
inevitably — and comically! — struggle to find balance and peace in an
The Unwritten Rules
The workplace isn’t also friendly to Racey in “The Unwritten Rules.” Starring “Pariah”‘s Aasha Davis, “The Unwritten Rules” wrings
humor from everyday discrimination. Racey starts the series as a new
employee in a predominantly white workplace, and has to deflect, with
charm of course, numerous questions and quips about her hair and
personal life. Davis narrates the show and, like in “Awkward Black Girl,” gives the viewer insight into how a black woman might react to some of the shit white people say.
Very Mary Kate
Work is not a problem for Mary-Kate Olsen. Created by comedic actor Elaine Carroll, “Very Mary Kate” started
indie and moved to College Humor, where it regularly mocks the
out-of-touch, drug-addled, slacker tendencies of wealthy star and
entrepreneur. Throughout the show Mary-Kate hits on her bodyguard, fails
at school, gets lost in the desert and falls asleep — a lot. Ashley
makes appearances. Spoiled rich women are no stranger to television, but
ABC wouldn’t dare green light this show, for fear of the Olsen wrath.
Luckily, College Humor has no such concern.