Ever since I first watched Thelma and Louise, I endlessly seek out films or shows that will depict female friendship in the same complex and flawed manner. Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion also set the bar for what should have followed but little changed until certain TV shows began to rewrite the way we saw these relationships – and gave us more of them on screen.
Orange is The New Black set a new standard in this genre on television. We got fearless, complicated and flawed characters like Piper, Poussey and Sophia. Women responded to them because they are what we want to see; groups of real and relatable groups of women supporting each other. And throughout TV history it’s largely been males who’ve ruled the roost; Mad Men, 24, Sopranos all had leading men while the women were on the sidelines or worse – reduced to disappointing stereotypes. While television has embraced the male antihero wholeheartedly, the women who exist alongside them are often vilified or dismissed as annoying, shrill, or unnecessary.
For a different side of empowering female friendships, see our pick of four great shows you can stream on Netflix now:
Inspired by the short-lived but beloved show from the 80s, GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling) tells the fictional story of Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), an out-of-work, struggling actress in 1980s Los Angeles who finds one last chance for stardom when she’s thrust into the glitter and spandex world of women’s wrestling. In addition to working with 12 Hollywood misfits, Ruth also has to compete with Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), a former soap actress who left the business to have a baby, only to be sucked back into work when her picture-perfect life starts to crumble. It has a brilliant ensemble cast, offers sharp commentary on gender and racial stereotypes and explores how women survive in hostile environments.
GRACE & FRANKIE
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin play Grace and Frankie, women in their 70s whose husbands, Robert and Sol, have left them to marry each other. Grace and Frankie start out as rivals, but both undergo personal reinvention, eventually becoming roommates, best friends and business partners. After The Golden Girls, I can think of no other TV show that focuses solely on glorious women older women or any woman over 70. But Grace And Frankie is a show that’s a taboo-breaker in the best possible sense. Sure, from the outset it’s a glossy US sitcom – yes, characters are rich and white, but they are also women going through very real issues that society shuns away from once you’re over 50. Brilliant and underrated.
THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
When a woman is rescued from a doomsday cult and lands in New York City, she must navigate a world she didn’t think even existed anymore. After finally escaping the underground bunker, we see Kimmy support her fellow captors adjust to life outside of captivity as well as help her wacky employer Jacqueline as she navigates her new found freedom after her recent divorce. One of Netflix’s hidden gems.
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
Now in its fifth season, Jenji Kohan’s critically acclaimed programme continues to touch on timely and relevant social themes from female friendships to relationships to issues of consent; not an easy task considering it’s set in the heightened reality of a prison. Despite this, it still manages to understand the genuine realities and specificity of female friendship in ways that make the women and their relationships meaningful, no matter their circumstances.