During a recent appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Samantha Bee slayed us all with a simple and humble joke about becoming the only woman on television currently hosting a late night talk show: “I didn’t even know women could talk!”
The joke comes rooted in the way so very much of the discussion about her new talk show for TBS, “Full Frontal,” revolves not around her stellar comedy chops but her “Chamber of Secrets” (just one of the many euphemisms Bee and Colbert tossed around for her feminine bits). Bee’s handling this media focus with an impressive level of grace. But because we can’t seem to escape this discussion, let’s get real about it. Listen up, everybody: There are an awful lot of things that women can do on television these days — and do awfully well, while they’re at it.
So, for those who need a refresher course on just what a woman on television is capable of, we’re happy to help with the below. And for those who don’t need it, consider this a celebration.
Be The Best Definition of Bros, Like On “Broad City”
There might never be a platonic love story more pure, or true, than that between Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) on Comedy Central’s “Broad City.” As two girls given free reign to misbehave their way across New York City, continually what saves them is their mutual bond. “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” isn’t something that should necessarily be considered a universal hard truth, but there is a special place in heaven created when female friendship is grown and nurtured at the expense of everything else. And we touch that heaven with every episode of “Broad City.”
Be Leaders, Like on “Parks and Recreation”
Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and the rest of her Pawnee clan have been off television for almost a year or so, but God — especially as the 2016 presidential campaign heats up — it’s so lovely to remember the way that a fictional city official could inspire us more than any real political candidate did; because it’s so hard to find a politician who actually feels like someone who doesn’t want power, but actually wants to lead us towards the greater good.
Be Superheroes, Like on “Jessica Jones,” “Agent Carter” and “Supergirl”
Here’s what’s fun right now about the lady superheroes currently on television: They’re all so different. Kara Danvers’ (Melissa Benoist) ability to fly comes with a side order of pep and optimism. Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) might have superstrength, but she’s also struggling with some hardcore PTSD and a totally normal and non-problematic relationship with alcohol and sex. Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) doesn’t have superpowers, but she makes up for it with an incredible range of skills and an incredible collection of hats. What matters is that they’re all genre heroes in a field that for decades was dominated by men. All of their stories are so different, which makes them so exciting.
Be (Hilariously) Vulgar, Like on “Veep”
Oh, the ability to sling a perfect vicious F-bomb — especially in the middle of a tirade that Paddy Chayefsky would have been proud to write! It seems like that happens nearly every other week on “Veep,” and it’s mostly thanks to the show’s women. Does Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s past as the PG-13-rated Elaine of “Seinfeld” or Anna Chlumsky’s secret origins as the G-rated “My Girl” make their vulgarity all the more delicious? Nah. It’s really just that they’re so, so good with the swears.
Be the Boss, Like on “30 Rock”
“Star Wars”-loving, sexually repressed and fundamentally pessimistic, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) was a complicated woman whose personal life fluctuated in and out of disaster status on a semi-regular basis. One place she never struggled: the writer’s room, where she ruled like a full-on boss. “TGS Starring Tracy Jordan” wasn’t perhaps NBC’s most successful program (I mean, certainly it was no “MILF Island”) but Liz Lemon got the job done, week after week. If you’ve read “Bossypants,” you’ll know that Fey would be the first to say that making television is not the hardest job on the planet. (She ranks “coal miner” as a tougher gig.) But her television alterego still pulled off a difficult feat on a (semi-)regular basis.
Be the Funniest Person in the Room, Like on “Angie Tribeca”
Rashida Jones has maybe the hardest job on television right now: making her work as straight man badass cop Angie Tribeca look effortless. The only reason we know it isn’t is because “Tribeca” is so very funny, and so much of it depends on Jones selling some terrible puns like they’re the grittiest lines of dialogue David Simon ever wrote.
Be the Brains of the Operation, Like on “The X-Files”
One of the great tragedies of “The X-Files” is that Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is usually wrong about whatever mystery she and her partner Mulder (David Duchovny) are investigating. The reason it’s a tragedy? She’s the one who actually does all the work, bringing reason and common sense to Mulder’s craziest theories, eventually helping them find the real truth. Mulder lets his passions guide his quest. Scully’s the one who keeps that quest from going totally off the rails. Occasionally, he remembers to thank her for that. But no matter what, she’ll keep things running.
Be a Freaking Badass, Like on “Homeland”
We’re blessed to live in a TV era that features plenty of strong, complicated women, but Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) might be the reigning queen of badassery under pressure. The way Carrie has suffered and struggled over the last five seasons of “Homeland” is something to admire, if only because she has never stopped being the fiercest woman on television — ready to tear up the world to save it.
Be Supported (Not the Supporter), Like on “Friday Night Lights”
[Spoilers for the series finale of “Friday Night Lights”] When we first met Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), known forever to us as the loyal and dedicated Coach’s Wife, she and Coach Taylor had just moved to Dillon, Texas after many such moves made so that Coach could pursue his dreams. But at the end of the series, Coach’s Wife got an incredible job offer that would take them away from the world of Texas football… and because Coach and Coach’s Wife have one of the greatest marriages in television history, he agreed to help her dreams come true this time. It’s not just that Coach was man enough to put his wife first. It’s that Coach’s Wife was strong enough to ask him for that support. She taught us not to expect to get what we need out of life. Sometimes, you have to go for it.
Be Funnier Than Fallon, Like on “Full Frontal”
We’re waiting until we’ve seen a few more episodes before we fully review Samantha Bee’s brand new talk show, but after watching the premiere we’re pretty on board. Politically focused, Bee put up a show rich with sick and also hilarious burns directed at every presidential candidate in the race, including a short Werner Herzog-style documentary that tore the stuffing out of Jeb Bush. We are here for this, and for more of it to come.
Note: Zack Sharf and Ben Travers were valuable contributors to this list.