I’ll admit, I’ve been doing a lot of binge-watching this winter. I watched seven entire shows in the month of January alone, and that doesn’t count the dozens of movies and documentaries I watched in addition to that. I don’t claim to know what heaven is like, but heaven on earth is a day off, a snowstorm outside, a frozen pizza in the oven, and a great show to binge on.
I’ve started keeping track of what I watch just to feel some measure of productivity (“Look Mom, I completed another show!”) and I realized that everything I’ve been watching lately has been about messy (or messed up) women.
What exactly do I mean by “messy?” Well, for starters, I mostly mean women who don’t totally have their shit together, women who are in transition or recovering from some sort of recent setback, women who are figuring it out through many trials and much error. Some make it look easier (or more funny) than others, but all have been a comfort, of sort, as I encounter my own setbacks and transitions. So whether you want to feel better about yourself or just need a good laugh, here are six shows to consider.
First off is SMILF, which stands for something I can’t type (Single Mother I’d Like to…), and is about Bridget, a single mother in Boston struggling to make ends meet while raising a toddler. She’s also trying to come to terms with her baby daddy’s new girlfriend, her irascible and overbearing mother (played by Rosie O’Donnell), her failed basketball career, and the abuse she once suffered from her biological father. The content is heavy, but the delivery is comedic, and the show feels different than anything else on TV right now (for all the movies and shows there are about tough men from Southie Boston, there are none about women). What’s also exciting is that the show was created, written, and directed by its star, Frankie Shaw, who loosely based the story on her own life. (If that’s not enough, Samara Weaving and Connie Britton have supporting roles and are consistently hilarious).
Next up is Broad City, now in it’s fourth season, which is a comedy about two young women navigating life as millennials in New York City. Abbi and Ilana (played by real life friends and comedians Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer) are still broke, still smoke a lot of weed, and still struggle to hold down jobs, but there’s a new obstacle on the horizon—Trump. When Hillary Clinton herself made a cameo in Season 3, the hope was that she would be the next president. The duo (who are also the show’s creators, writers, and sometimes directors), were forced to do some major rewrites to accommodate the change of events, and hilariously bleep out every mention of Trump as if it’s a dirty word. Cameos include Jane Curtain, Shania Twain, RuPaul, Fran Drescher, and Wanda Sykes, as well as returning supporting favorites like Hannibal Burress and Paul W. Downs. The ladies are as raunchy and endearing as ever, and every episode will leave you in a better mood than when you started.
For another look at New York City, check out She’s Gotta Have It, a feminist remake of the 1986 film of the same name. Director Spike Lee felt that his heroine, Nola Darling, deserved to have her story retold with a more modern sensibility. Nola is a twenty-something artist trying to make it big while also juggling relationships with three very different men: a boyish bike courier, a married businessman, and a narcissistic model. Her desire to have her cake and eat it too doesn’t come without complications, but that never lessens her determination to live her life on her own terms.
Perhaps my favorite discovery this new year was Search Party, a whodunnit with an ensemble cast that’s surprising, dark, and hilarious. The show’s protagonist, Dory, finds life after college dull and directionless — she’s stuck in a dead-end relationship with her pushover boyfriend Drew, suffocated by her self-involved friends, and bored with her job as an assistant to a rich housewife. When she sees a missing poster for a girl she knew in college, it’s just the intrigue she needs to get out of her rut. But what starts out as casual curiosity turns into obsession, and soon she and her friends are involved in a case that’s way over their heads. The dialogue is hilarious, the character arcs nuanced and realistic, and the fashion excellent. Need further persuading? I watched all 20 episodes in two days.
If you find yourself needing a break from New York City, check out Netflix’s Love, a snarky rom-com produced by Judd Apatow. Set in sunny LA, its protagonist Mickey is anything but cheerful. She’s a self-admitted alcoholic, drug addict, and sex-addict, who delights in making others as miserable as she is. When she meets nerdy, earnest, Midwesterner Gus, love is the last thing on her mind. But as the two slowly form a tentative friendship, Mickey starts to realize that Gus might be exactly what her life needs. Despite being obnoxious and self-absorbed, both leads (Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust) excel at making you like them in spite of yourself, and the show itself is a hilarious look at life in Los Angeles for those who aren’t among the rich and famous.
And finally, head back to New York City and check out The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a period piece set in the late 1950’s. Miriam “Midge” Maisel seemingly has it all — rich parents, rich in-laws, two perfect children, a doting husband, a lavish penthouse, an enviable figure, and the esteem of the local rabbi — that is, until her husband informs her that he’s leaving her for his secretary. Midge handles the announcement by getting plastered and wandering into a beatnik comedy club, where she delivers a hilarious impromptu monologue and ends up flashing the audience. Once sober, she’s horrified, but her antics catch the attention of a bartender and would-be manager who thinks she has a real future in stand-up. Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino (the woman behind Gilmore Girls), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is similarly powered by witty, hilarious dialogue, and sassy female leads. Rachel Brosnahan as Midge is my favorite new TV character of the past five years (she already won a Golden Globe for Best Actress) and an absolute delight in every scene. Thankfully, the series has already been renewed for a second season.
Here’s to hoping that these shows provide you with as much laughter, comfort, and entertainment as they did for me. March can be a slog, but these messy TV heroines will make it a little less bleak.
By Rachel Woldum