Despite some sobering numbers released this summer, this TV year has nevertheless brought us a diverse, challenging, hilarious and often subversive slate of shows in an ever-expanding number of viewing platforms. With the caveat that a top-ten list is a very subjective thing, here are my favorite feminist TV offerings of 2015. Please feel free to add yours in the comments.
1) “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
The title of this hour-long CW comedy is off-putting in the extreme; no wonder it hasn’t garnered much of a following. Which is tragic, because once you start watching it, you realize Rachel Bloom is doing some unique, screwball, feminist stuff. “The title is meant to be a deconstruction of a stereotype, and the whole show is about deconstructing the boxes that we’re supposed to be put into,” she told Salon — when she was nominated for a Golden Globe! Let’s hope the network takes her nomination as a vote of confidence. I’m hoping the show sticks around long enough for a mass audience to discover what it’s missing.
2) “Marvel’s Jessica Jones”
Krysten Ritter (“Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23”) finally found the role she (and we) have been waiting for: the world-weary noir heroine at the center of this Marvel production for Netflix. Ostensibly a superhero story, this 13-episode series is actually a gutsy, disturbing portrayal of a woman coping with the trauma of being sexually and psychologically enslaved by a man (David Tennant) who, in a chillingly preening performance, manages to both caricature and embody the very worst of male privilege.
TV vet Marni Noxon teamed up with former “The Bachelor” producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro to bring us this dark comic gem about a very “Bachelor”-esque series, starring Shiri Appleby as a talented and internally tormented producer who hates herself for being so good at her job. (In a typically cynical move, the pilot has her wearing a “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” tee.) Surprising everyone by being on the Lifetime channel, this series quickly became a word-of-mouth cult classic.
Rob Delaney and Irish comic Sharon Horgan jointly created this Amazon series about a trysting couple who accidentally get pregnant and decide to go with it. Delaney, known mostly for his dirty, absurdist and unapologetically feminist Twitter feed, is one of the most delightful male characters I’ve seen on the small screen, and the proudly foul-mouthed Horgan crafts a realistically complicated portrayal of an independent, thirtysomething woman trying to cope with a radical life left-turn and a male partner who insists on being reliable and decent despite her recurring fears.
5) “Another Period”
This mashup of the Kardashians and “Downton Abbey” was the best thing about Comedy Central this year. As uber-wealthy Newport sisters Lillian and Beatrice, creators Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome have done a hilarious and masterful job of skewering not only our obsession with reality TV (and caste-clashing PBS fare), but also, most crucially and topically, the world’s real-life obscenely wealthy one-percenters.
6) “Difficult People”
Julie Klausner has been slowly gaining a comedy following since her hilarious romantic-exploits book, “I Don’t Care About Your Band,” and her four-year-old podcast, “How Was Your Week?” But she’s found a larger audience with a perfect comic foil, friend Billy Eichner (host of “Billy on the Street”), with whom she stars in this comedy about, seemingly, themselves: Two highly opinionated New Yorkers who simply can’t experience anything without keeping a running, bitingly caustic commentary.
Though it occasionally threatened to veer into “30 Rock, Part 2” territory, this smart, zingy comedy from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock found a star in Ellie Kemper, who’d long played memorable bit parts in films like “Bridesmaids” and “21 Jump Street.” The show manages to parlay a very dark premise — a woman who’d been rescued from years of imprisonment in a bunker — into a commentary on the ridiculousness (and often sexism) of New York life, via Kimmy’s landlord (Carol Kane), her employer (Jane Krakowski) and her roommate (Titus Burgess).
Shonda Rhimes’ latest venture brought us an indelible character in Viola Davis’ brilliant, bisexual criminal law professor of questionable morals, for which Davis became the first black woman to win an Emmy award for best actress in a drama — making headlines with an acceptance speech that referenced Harriet Tubman. “Let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” she told the audience. Let’s hope TV execs everywhere are listening.
No, it’s not new, but the third season of this Netflix favorite became a different animal than its predecessors, largely by focusing more on character development than on an overarching plot (though Piper’s prison-yard monologue about the righteousness of her dirty-panties business was one of the season’s most memorable moments). We saw the vulnerable Suzanne hone her erotica writing and find a potential love interest; Soso go from an annoying hippie snob to a depressive mess; Poussey slide into alcoholism; and, most wrenchingly, the problematic Pennsatucky become a rape victim at the hands of a new guard. It certainly wasn’t all good (can this show really still belong in award shows’ comedy category?), but it was never less than compelling.
10) “The Mindy Project”
Let’s consider “The Mindy Project” newly invented now that it’s moved to Hulu this year, and consider the audaciousness of what Kaling has done in recent episodes: Namely, attack the very thing that this show has set us all up to love, the Mindy-and-Danny romance. As my colleague Inkoo Kang has pointed out, Kaling has neatly undone all the rom-com buildup of the past seasons by having her fictional Mindy reexamine Danny this season as sexist, controlling and possibly not the Prince Charming she (and we) have always assumed he is. It’s a subversive move for Kaling and sets up the next season of her show to be potentially the best, and most feminist, yet.
Honorable mentions: “Inside Amy Schumer,” “Good Girls Revolt,” “Supergirl,” “Empire,” “Outlander,” “Broad City,” “Orphan Black,” “Transparent,” “Madam Secretary,” “Getting On,” “The Fosters,” “You’re the Worst” and “Veep.”