Do TV honchos finally get that women watch TV? No more dumb comedies about dads this season. (Although dumb comedies never seem to go away.) But this season, for the first time in recent history (possibly ever), each broadcast network has at least one night where the majority of the line-up have shows with lead women characters.
ABC has its Shonda Rhimes night, which is Thursdays. Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and the new How To Get Away With Murder with Viola Davis (more on that later.)
NBC Wednesdays has the new Debra Messing show, The Mysteries of Laura, Law & Order: SVU with Mariska Hargitay, and at 10 p.m., Chicago P.D. with Sophia Bush. Considering it’s NBC, I’m not sure how quality any of these shows are, but at least they’re all starring women and the women play detectives or cops. (I will give NBC credit for advertising those shows as such.)
And CBS Sunday nights now have the new show, Madam Secretary (starring Tea Leoni, as secretary of state) and the veteran legal drama, The Good Wife.
Although The Good Wife is in its sixth season, it, much like Mad Men, always seems to reinvent itself in ways which continue to make it interesting and its characters compelling rather than tired tropes. Last season, Josh Charles, who played one of Lockhart Gardner’s founders and Alicia’s off and on again flame, wanted to depart the show. Rather than simply writing off his character, the showrunners, Michelle and Robert King, decided to kill the character off in a dramatic fashion. With the departure of Will, the show has really put its female characters in the spotlight, including the oft under used Diane Lockhart, played in glorious fashion and yet restraint by Christine Baranski.
However, my favorite character on the show remains Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi), the private investigator who works for Lockhart Gardner. I love seeing Kalinda pop up in whatever context, but after doing a little digging, I realized that fans of the character were complaining because she hasn’t shared a scene with the main character, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), in 32 episodes. That’s a full season and 10 episodes, Kings.
The great thing about Kalinda, besides her badassery, is that her ethnic background and sexuality make her a rarity on network television, but these characteristics aren’t her character. In fact, it’s unclear what the exact background is for Kalinda. Panjabi is of Indian descent. She was born in England, but spent portions of her childhood in Mumbai. With Kalinda, it’s never discussed. This works for her character, as she’s mysterious and that is part of her allure, but it’s also nice not to have her Indian heritage be a plot point in the show. The same with her sexuality. Kalinda’s slept with both women and men, but she’s never had a conversation with another character about whether she labels herself as bisexual or gay or another option. (It deserves to be pointed out that if in fact Kalinda is bisexual, she would be the first character on network television to be so.)
Kalinda is a character that really merits her own spin-off, but if that happened, you can basically guarantee that she wouldn’t be so mysterious anymore.
As for Madam Secretary, even though it’s getting more viewers than The Good Wife (15 million to TGW’s 10 million), it’s not nearly as well-written or acted. While The Good Wife is subtle, Madam Secretary is bland. It should be good. It’s got handsome Tim Daly playing the cute professor husband, Sebastian Arcelus (House of Cards) as part of the Secretary’s staff, and Bebe Neuwirth being sassy!
But back to How To Get Away With Murder. I’ve never stuck around on a Shonda show longer than a season and a half (Grey’s Anatomy), so I’m holding my breath to see how long I can handle this one. However, Shonda Rhimes deserves a lot of credit for making her shows ethnically diverse. Out of the five first year law students on Murder, we’ve got two African Americans, one possible Latina, and two white dudes, one of whom we find out in the pilot is gay or possibly bisexual.
And I LOVE Viola Davis in general, so this may make Murder harder to quit. The first episode was fast-paced and was throwing an almost overwhelming amount of information at you, which coincidentally, is what I like in a pilot. (The Good Wife has one of the best.)
Speaking of The Good Wife, Annalise Keating is the complete opposite of Alicia Florrick. At the end of the first episode, the audience learns that Keating will do anything to win a case, even if that means convincing someone to lie on the stand.
As is typical of Shonda shows, all the side-long glances and multiple romantic partners are already in place, so expect this show to get soapy pretty fast. (Keating has a boyfriend. Her male colleague at her law firm likes to sleep with law students. Paris Gellar–er, Liza Weil–is sleeping with Keating’s husband. Keating’s husband may have been sleeping with his missing, now dead, student. See what I mean?)
If you can’t exactly trust in Shonda, trust in Viola Davis to make this role a-freaking-mazing.