The second season of The Crown jumps right back into the domestic drama and historical intrigue that render a fascinating sketch of Queen Elizabeth II in her early years. With the same beautiful sets and costumes, the series offers striking character studies and insights into many of Buckingham Palace’s inhabitants—the Queen herself, Prince Philip, Princess Margaret, Prince Charles—juxtaposed against dramatic interpretations of some of the defining moments of the mid-twentieth-century, in a way that feels simultaneously grand and intimate.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
For most of her life, Miriam Maisel has accomplished everything she put her mind to: she’s Bryn-Mawr educated, married with two children and living in a classic-six on the Upper West Side. The Rabbi has even agreed to come for Yom Kippur dinner. So it comes as quite a shock to Miriam when her husband unceremoniously announces that he is leaving her for his secretary. This, at first, feels like a setback. But it turns out that Miriam’s husband was kind of a zero, and, suddenly free of the trappings of being the perfect wife, Miriam comes to life. It’s an unlikely premise: a 1950’s housewife, left by her husband, becomes a standup comic. But it’s not a fact-checking kind of show, and the marvel is in the sharp-witted plucky heroine who, using some seriously filthy language, subverts some of the inane ideas about the way women are expected to behave. If for no other reason, watch it for the montage of Miriam waking up before her husband in order to undergo an extensive beauty regimen, only to slip back into bed before his alarm goes off. What? I woke up like this.
It’s hard to talk about Insecure without mentioning that one of the things that makes it different is that its main characters represent a significantly underrepresented demographic on television. What truly sets it apart, however, is that the characters are so richly drawn that it would be misleading to reduce them to a single categorization. Insecure depicts the experiences of Issa and Molly, two black women in their late 20s, navigating careers, relationships and adulthood. Part of what makes these stories feel so authentic is that the show takes no pains to translate the experience of being black or being a woman. In fact, not only is the show unconcerned with catering to a demographic that is dissimilar from its creator or characters, it has also freed itself of the burden of creating characters that fit the strong black woman trope. Issa and Molly are by no means underachievers, but they, like so many of us, are just trying to make some sense of where they stand at work and in their relationships. In a particularly timely storyline, Molly, a lawyer who works at a corporate law firm, discovers that she is being paid far less than a white male colleague with the same years of experience and job title. This revelation is particularly stinging because work was the area of Molly’s life where things were going right. Yet, for all her success, race and gender seem to present an insurmountable hurdle. As viewers, we want for the problem to be fixed, the injustice remedied. That the show declines to provide us with a neat resolution speaks to what makes Insecure important.
This powerful documentary executes a remarkable bait-and-switch: after drawing in viewers by promising a true-crime look into the unsolved murder of a nun in 1960’s Baltimore, it turns into a stunning exposé of sexual abuse and a portrait of a community torn apart and brought together by a history of concealed violence. Foregrounding women’s voices, the documentary offers the requisite twists and turns while also providing the space to digest the women’s revelations and to follow the consequences of their decisions to finally come forward.
For the uninitiated, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is an hour-long musical dramedy about Rebecca Bunch, a young lawyer who impulsively abandons her high-powered job in New York in order to follow a long-ago ex-boyfriend from summer camp to an unremarkable California suburb. In its third season the show continues its simultaneous reverence and subversion of romantic comedies, while adding a nuanced exploration of mental illness – taking apart the “crazy” in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Notably, the lyrics of the Season 3 opening credits highlight the mixed messages we’re sent about the word “crazy” when it is used to describe women: “You do/you don’t want to be crazy,” “To clarify, yes/no on the crazy. We hope this helps.” It is exactly this treatment of dualities that makes the show so impactful. In balancing a commitment to drawing its characters as concurrently outrageous and earnest, with comical yet insightful commentary on gender stereotyping—not to mention the musical interludes along the way—the show manages to strike that rare blend of hysterical and heartbreaking.
Close on the heels of the exquisite Handmaid’s Tale, this prescient Margaret Atwood adaptation derives its plot from the true story of Grace Marks, a woman convicted of a double murder of which she claimed to have no memory. The narrative is framed through interviews with a psychologist as he attempts to disentangle whether she is murderess or amnesiac, villain or victim. Through this framing, Grace tells her own story—from her embattled youth to her adolescence in service up to the murders themselves—enabling the show to deftly explore the nature of narrative, the nuances of female storytelling, the ubiquity of violence against women, and ultimately, the meaning of justice.
Showing a year in the life of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson—a name she gives herself in an act of teenage self-determination—Lady Bird has been hailed by critics as one of the most realistic and insightful depictions of female adolescence to hit the screen. The film treats with humor and heart Lady Bird’s attempt to find herself in extracurriculars and boyfriends, her work navigating barriers of socio-economic class, and, most powerfully, her complex, combative, and ultimately loving relationship with her mother.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards follows a mother’s fight for justice for her murdered daughter, as she posts three controversial billboards calling out the local police for their inability to solve the crime. Somehow both a community drama and a black comedy, the film takes the time to get to know all the people involved, and offers a topical look at sexual violence and the criminal justice system.
TED Talk: “How we can end sexual harassment at work”
One of the women at the forefront of the recent fight against sexual harassment in media, Gretchen Carlson speaks about her experiences enduring sexual harassment and the plethora of gutting stories she’s heard from other women. She offers three suggestions to end sexual harassment in the workplace going forward: turn bystanders into allies, raise awareness of the limitations of mandatory arbitration clauses, and finally, “be fierce.”
TED Talk: “Why I’m done trying to be man enough”
In this TED talk, Justin Baldoni of Jane the Virgin uses his reputation as a hunky leading man to explore the ways in which masculinity and patriarchy constrict and harm men as well as women. Discussing his experiences trying to be “man enough” and his newfound appreciation of the power of vulnerability, he challenges men to redefine the meaning of “strength, bravery, [and] toughness” and to truly listen to the women in their lives.