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The Best TV Shows and Moments of 2014: Comics, Convicts, and Curmudgeons

The Best TV Shows and Moments of 2014: Comics, Convicts, and Curmudgeons

Women and Hollywood’s end-of-year coverage includes our “Best Women-Directed Documentaries of 2014 (That We Managed to See)” and Best Women-Directed Films of 2014 lists, with much more to come in the next few days. 

It was a wild year in TV, and somewhat bottom-of-the-barrel in certain regards. You know the networks are grasping at straws when they pay a guy to try to get eaten by a giant snake. In my woman-centric purview, though, there’s really been a lot to like in 2014. Women in comedy, particularly, have had a great year; so has the ever-expanding roster of new networks, yielding shows on Starz and Amazon Prime that might not have passed muster with a more traditional channel.

Here are ten of my favorite things about women and TV this year. Please let me know what yours are in the comments.

The Outlander Wedding

The Very Special Wedding Episode has become a mainstay in TV. It’s often used to signify a happy ending, or a woman getting the thing she’s always wanted most in life (the husband, or the big white dress). Outlander, though, turned the tradition on its head, when Claire (Catriona Balfe) was forced to marry Jamie (Sam Heughan) to keep her out of the clutches of British troops. She spent the days beforehand getting drunk to drown her misgivings, while Jamie insisted on arranging a proper wedding, a dress, and a ring. When it came to the bedroom, he lost his virginity to her, and she realized she’d married a hottie who was also a mensch.

Jessica Williams’ Catcalling Coverage

At 25, Jessica Williams is a lot younger and hipper than her boss, not to mention most of her fellow Daily Show correspondents. But she’s also dug into some issues in a personal way, particularly the issue of young women being preyed on by men. She’s done at least two fantastic segments on catcalling, and it doesn’t look like she’ll be running out of things to say anytime soon.

The Mindy Project: The “I Slipped” episode

The winning evolution of Mindy Kaling’s sitcom is largely due to the increasingly prevalent Chris Messina, whose character Mindy Lahiri is now dating seriously. I like that, although fictional Mindy has always been obsessed with love and romance, she hasn’t changed her personality a bit to be with Danny – and, in fact, he loves her for who she is. (When she downs two steaks in one sitting, for example, he’s turned on). In “I Slipped,” she took on the issue of anal sex, hardly a norm in sitcom fare, and made high comedy out of it.

Doctor Who Making the Master a Woman

As a feminist, it’s sometimes hard to defend my love of Doctor Who, a show that, for all its futuristic trappings, often seems to be trapped in a 1950s mindset. The latest Doctor incarnation was not, as many hoped, a woman, but Scottish actor Peter Capaldi (who has admittedly been doing a very capable job with the part). Still, perhaps showrunner Steven Moffat knew he had to change with the times; his big reveal in the two-part season finale was that the Doctor’s nemesis had returned — and that he was now a she. (Seeing as how the Master is also a Time Lord, Moffat’s gender change is tantamount to admitting there are no plot impediments to our hero one day also regenerating as a woman.)

Jill Soloway’s Transparent

Soloway, a feminist director whose father came out as trans, has created a show that’s the first of its kind, in which Jeffrey Tambor plays a family patriarch-turned-matriarch who decides to similarly come out to his family. What’s more, Soloway deliberately hired trans actors and crew, as well as a trans consultant to help her more accurately represent the show’s issues – and a fantastic supporting cast including Gaby Hoffman, Melora Hardin, and Carrie Brownstein.

Game of Thrones: Brienne vs. The Hound

HBO’s adaptation of the George R. R. Martin series has taken a lot of heat, and rightly so, for amping up the story’s level of misogyny. But it has done right by one of my favorite characters from the series, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), a giant of a woman who wants to be a knight instead of a lady. This swordfight saw her facing off against a man known to be a master fighter. I like the idea that gender doesn’t play a role in her knock-down, drag-out brawl with the Hound.

Orange is the New Black: Lorraine Toussaint as Vee

It’s hard to pick a star out of the stellar ensemble cast comprising Orange is the New Black, but Toussaint’s villain, Vee, made the show’s second season deliciously torturous. An ice-cold drug dealer who was also a maternal figure for Taystee, her Vee was so good at being contrite that it was almost possible, as a viewer, to believe her lies. At least I did. At first.

Broad City

Comedy Central is the place a million sketch comedy shows have come to live briefly and then fade away, so it’s hard to know what will hit and what won’t. But Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s fearless ode to being young, irrepressible, and stoned in New York City is the kind of show that comes along incredibly rarely. It makes Girls look utterly removed from the city — and normal twentysomething life — in comparison.

HBO’s Olive Kitteridge

Frances McDormand was instrumental in bringing the adaptation of the Elizabeth Strout novel to the screen, and her protagonist is the role of a lifetime. Olive is the sort of character you just don’t see much of onscreen, whether on TV or the movies. Her unvarnished truth-telling, combined with an admitted tendency toward depression, make her one of the least lovable characters ever (a frequent sticking point for women in the industry: make your character more likable!). It was a brave project, done right by McDormand and director Lisa Cholodenko.

Inside Amy Schumer: the video game sketch

The second season of Amy Schumer’s show got a little edgier as its confidence grew. My favorite was this skit about women in the military and war video games, which is as depressingly true as it is funny. Also worthy of note: regular appearances by bawdy singer Bridget Everett, who’s a cult favorite in the downtown New York cabaret scene for her outrageous shows.

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