In addition to reading and reviewing obscene amounts of books, we also obsess over multiple television shows, movies, video games, and all other manner of geekery. With that in mind, we needed to create ANOTHER list (we are list makers, yes we are) for our end of the year celebration. We give you our very own BEST OF THE REST (everything that isn’t a book).
I started thinking about this post a few weeks ago – about what I would include and how I’d frame it. After making a preliminary list of my favourite shows, one thing stood out: my favourite thing about the vast majority of those shows related to the women in them – the way they were written, the way they were represented, how awesome they were and how much I loved them. I didn’t decide then to make this a post exclusively to celebrate women in TV. No, it was not until the (awesome, heart-warming, life-changing and oh so important) season finale of Legend of Korra aired that I made that decision.
Here are the ladies I loved the most in 2014.
Rae: My Mad Fat Diary
A British comedy-drama that airs on Channel 4 based on the real-life diaries of 17 year-old Rae Earl who struggles with mental health and self-image problems. More than making it about those issues, the show depicts Rae’s growth and her relationships with a plethora of characters including her girlfriends and her mother.
The second season aired in 2014 and it saw Rae going to college and struggling to fit in as well as learning to cope with the loss one of her best friends by joining group therapy. This is a show that is full of heartbreak but also hilarious because of Rae’s dreams of sex and boys – which are so incredibly empowering. The best thing about this season was Rae’s first sexual experience which was not with someone she loved and how it was portrayed as ok, how it didn’t define her or her relationships and how she moved on after it. A third season is in the works and I can’t wait.
Viva, Amber, Holli, Saz: Some Girls
I binge-watched all three series of Some Girls (a BBC 3 show) and OMG this was mind-blowing good. Following four teenage best friends – Viva, Amber, Holli and Saz – the show focus on their lives and how they talk about everything – and that does include everything from boys and sex to school work and parents; from dressing up to playing football. It’s humorous, it’s heart-warming and above all, it is honest in its portrayal of teen girls in all of their diversity and idiosyncrasies.
The show has great stuff about traditional gender roles as well. For example Viva’s boyfriend Rocky is this street-smart yet adorable and nurturing guy who quits school to become a full time nanny. Viva’s stepmother is a PE teacher who coaches their football team and who is completely unsympathetic, un-empathic yet completely awesome female character exactly because of that.
Finally, the best part of season 3 was how Holli had three different boyfriends, becoming sexually active with all three of them. The show and her friends called her out because she was not truthful to the guys and never once was she slut shamed or made to feel ashamed of her sexuality.
I would call it Inbetweeners-with-girls except I don’t want to frame it like that. Plus, it is way better than Inbetweeners ever was.
Carol and Beth: The Walking Dead
Although Michonne is the most in-your-face badass character in The Walking Dead and Maggie the show’s heart and I love them both dearly, it is the show’s recent treatment of Beth and Carol that I loved the most about seasons 4 and 5.1.
Beth is the teenager who no one paid attention to until the show started to give her some more quality screen time – I loved the recent progression of her arc, especially those moments in the episode Still in which we realise how young she really is when all she wants to do is to have a freaking drink – and the amount of loss and grief she, like anybody else in the show, suffered.
And OMG, Carol’s arc in these two seasons has been magnificent. Her pragmatism and courage, the horrible decisions she has made and the fact that she keep going without losing it and I don’t even know how.
I think what gets to me about both these characters is how they fit that mostly silent, quiet strength that is often undeservedly disregarded as weakness. I hated to say goodbye to Beth at the end of season 5.1 but I hope we get to keep Carol for a long time.
Peggy and Joan: Mad Men
I love these two characters the most when it comes to Mad Men: for all that they have been through, for their relationship with each other and with other characters, for their ambition and incredible struggle to get where they want to be – something that no man in the show has even to think about. I can’t wait for the final season to see how the show will take them.
Scott and Bailey and Gill: Scott & Bailey
Scott & Bailey is a cop show (probably the best cop show on TV right now) that airs on ITV in England featuring partners and close friends Rachel Bailey and Janet Scott as well as (show-stealer) tough police chief Gill Murray. The show features a range of complex, good, competent, fallible, complicated female characters in positions of power. I can’t get over amazingly well acted, how incredibly affecting it is to these women running the show so completely. One of my favourite things about Scott and Bailey (above) is how Rachel is often caught up in physical struggles having to restrain the men she is arresting – how that physicality of the show is just…there, goes unremarked, because it’s part of the job she is trained to do. The fourth (and final, by the looks of it) series just ended and for my money, it was the best one to date.
Sansa and Brienne: A Game of Thrones
A Game of Thrones is not a show without many flaws. The tendency to male-gaze, the pointless graphic violence-porn the show often indulges itself in and the whole white saviour plotline surrounding Daenerys are amongst some of the more problematic aspects of the show. But on the positive side it also excels in writing some of its female characters – and the latest season was all about Sansa and Brienne for me. Sansa’s arc from the start of the show has been an incredible progression of someone willing to adapt at any cost; she is all about calculating, diplomatic survival in any way she can, by using the tools she has available to her. Anne Perry at Pornokitsch wrote an incredible essay about Sansa: We Are Sansa is well worth a read.
Meanwhile, Brienne has starred in what was hands-down the one of the most exhilarating moments in my TV this year: the fight scene between Brienne and The Hound in the last episode of the season was incredible because of how physical it was and how both female and male characters thought on equal terms. AND SHE BEAT HIM. It was such a powerful scene it made me cry.
Parker and Sophie: Leverage
I know, I know. I am way late with this. I finally (binge) watched Leverage this year and surprising no-one, my favourite things about it were the overall dynamics between the characters and the two main female characters Sophie and Parker. I loved how different from one another they were, perfectly embodied counterpoints: Sophie the melodic, ever-changing drifter and Parker the blunt, spitfire thief. One of the best things about the show was how it portrayed these differences and how the characters evolved through the series – especially Parker who often saw Sophie as mentor and friend. To see Parker reach the point she reached by the time the series ended and to end up in the position of fucking MASTERMIND was just too good.
Poussey and Taystee: Orange is the New Black
Obviously, I couldn’t talk about TV shows and female characters and not mention Orange is the New Black. In a show that completely surrenders and allows itself to be all about the female gaze and their stories and narratives in all shapes and forms, it’s hard to pick just one story or just one female character. However, I will do just that because for me, season two of OISTN was all about Poussey: from her backstory to the present storyline within the prison, this character (and my heart) went through the wringer more than anybody else this season.
Cosima, Sarah, Helena and Alison: Orphan Black
Orphan Black is that type of show that hits all my sweet spots: great storytelling, twisterific plotlines and incredible characters. The latter are all clones played by the same actress with such talent that you even forget they are not played by multiple people. Season 2 saw more of the twists, more of that incredible tension and a lot more of the characters. But this year, Helena and Alison in particular, were my favourites.
Korra, Asami, Jinora and all the Beifongs: The Legend of Korra
After seasons 1 and 2 made the Airing of Grievances last year, I did not expect anything from seasons 3 and 4 of Legend of Korra, much less that they would take the show to the top of my favourite things about 2014. But everything changed when
the fire Nation attacked season 3 started.
Seasons 3 and 4 were (almost) everything I ever wanted from Legend of Korra: characters had real arcs, storylines were followed through, villains became more nuanced and interesting, Bolin became much more of a bearable character and then there was the season finale. Granted that the political background of the series was never truly explored with the depth it deserved (I will always blame this on the fact that the seasons were always so short) but there were so many things in the last two seasons that were so amazing!
– Jinora becoming an airbending master complete with tattoos and everything
– new airbenders from all around the world
– the Beifongs as a powerful and extremely complicated family
– Toph (arguably the most amazing character of this entire franchise) IS STILL AROUND and kicking ass
– interesting three-dimensional villains including the amazing Kuvira in season 4.
And finally, Korra’s arc as the Avatar, dealing with the complications of holding so much power and grappling with PTSD for the entire final season culminating with her becoming a better person and leader and then walking into the spirit world with best friend-turned girlfriend Asami was everything I wanted and didn’t dare hope for.
The ending of Korra hit me with the strength of a thousand supernovas for everything that it was and for everything that it meant: here you have a bisexual woman of colour and she is the MOST POWERFUL HUMAN IN THE WORLD. I spent days after it aired crying every time I thought of it. I don’t think I could ever capture the essence of how powerful this was so I will leave this link to the show’s creator Bryan Konietzko’s post about the finale. It is one of the most incredible things I have ever read written by a creator.