Mandel Maven's Nest TV Remote Patrol:
Hall of Dames

Julianna Margulies: “But we're so lucky. First of all, roles written for women are so much more complex on television. The film world is becoming quite flimsy for women. It's so lovely having been doing this since I was quite young, and now to see all these movie stars wanting to do TV … there's no real differentiation anymore, except to say you have a steady job. That feels so good.”

In THR Roundtable: The Good Wife's Julianna Margulies, 47; Homeland’s Claire Danes, 35; Mad Men’s Jessica Pare, 33; The Americans' Keri Russell, 38; American Horror Story's Sarah Paulson, 38; and Bates Motel's Vera Farmiga, 40; by Matthew Belloni and Stacey Wilson, 5/21/2014.



I was coming out of my May History Reading Group meeting in Gossip Girl Land of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where there's one apartment per floor. In the elevator is a young woman in a short bright green silk dress, heavily made up. With compliments, I ask what school she goes to: "Horace Mann", like our host's grandchildren. Where is she going? "To the prom. At the Pierre." I pretend to take her photo for the Gossip Girl fictional blog and say "XOXO!". She sneers at the mention of the show and haughtily distinguishes herself from those characters -- thereby finding the truth in the fiction: "I’m going to Princeton. Not NYU." Ah, not to my alma mater, so I congratulated her that she's just like Sonia [Sotomayor]. (5/29/2010)

”We go around and around, talking about individual characters and the missteps of particular shows. We wonder why women are too often depicted as nags, flunkies or side salads. We wonder why women often get less to do, have less to say and so often feel the impulse to take off their shirts. We wonder why people of color aren't often depicted with compelling emotional lives or as complicated characters. We wonder why non-white men and women are hardly ever the protagonists. If the dictum of good writing is ‘write what you know,’ what do women and people of color know? What dreams and nightmares do they have? What are their battles and fantasies? What stories aren't we hearing from them?”
---Maureen Ryan in “Who Creates Drama At HBO? Very Few Women Or People Of Color”, Huffington Post, 3/6/2014

Lilith Watch: Critical Guide to Jewish Women on TV and in the Flicks

Here's my recent fave women on TV of Nora Lee Mandel – but I’m way behind! (all times Eastern):

The Affair (on Showtime, 3 seasons on DVD) I’ve been a fan of Dominic West since the first episode ofThe Wire, and I’ve hardly missed any TV show or movie he’s been in, and it’s certainly nothing new for him to play the rogueish urban adulterer “Noah Solloway”, as well as it’s nice to see Joshua Jackson in what might be his first serious, non-genre, adult TV dramatic role. But the revelation here is Ruth Wilson as “Alison Bailey”, living up to what I’ve read about her theater work, and way beyond her crafty psychopathic serial killer nemesis in Luther. In each episode she plays two versions of her character, as each is a “Part 1 – Noah” – where she, the townie, is a sensual seductress initiating risky behavior, and “Part 2 – Allison” where she is still in emotionally-stunted mourning from the death of her 4-year-old son 2 years earlier and is stultified by practically living with her in-laws and participating in their family businesses, legal and not. More sympathetic than the usual home-breaker, she also plays a mysterious 3rd version – sometime in the future when she’s interrogated by a police detective for a crime that’s only gradually revealed as a murder, where she is a sophisticated city resident with a young child. In all 3 permutations, you can’t keep your eyes off of her. As befits a series co-created by a woman, Sarah Treem, the jilted wife, “Helen Solloway” (played by Maura Tierney) is no nag, and even with 4 (!) children is still slim and sexy. But I’m behind a season I think. (updated 1/28/2018)

American Horror Story (FX, 6 seasons on DVD) Ryan Murphy’s annual, occasionally inter-connected mini-series gradually turned into a showcase for strong actresses, particularly after the 1st season’s Murder House, into S2’s Asylum, including Franka Potente as”Anne Frank”, but even more establishing a virtual repertory company of Frances Conroy, Taissa Farmiga, Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, and that expanded with S3’s Coven to include Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, and Gabourey Sidibe, who reveled in S4’s: Freak Show. Each was able to stretch into full-blown, even outrageous characters not seen on TV before. But Season 6’s Roanoke was almost unwatchable violent nonsense, despite very strong women characters flashing back and forward in a bloody reality TV satire. Season 7” “Cult” was awful! (updated 1/28/2018)

Atlanta (FX, 1st season on DVD) For all the acclaim piled on this very African-American series, and on its male co-creators Donald Glover, the star as “Earnest ‘Earn’ Marks” the manager for his cousin the rapper, and director Hiro Murai, a Tokyo-born music video/filmmaker, I watch for “Earn”s baby-momma “Vanessa” (played by Zazie Beetz). She is the least stereotyped looking and acting black woman on television, including her Afro-hair. She handles single motherhood, attempts at a love life with and without her old friend, white and black snobs with appealing insecurity and individuality. Her character is especially commendable given the surprising acclaim for Tiffany Haddish’s stereotyped black woman in Girls Trip, with too much gnashing about no awards for her portrayal.
Interesting to compare this intriguing woman character with the amusing Survivor’s Remorse (on Starz, 4 seasons on DVD or streaming) which does not have a black showrunner, nor majority black writing staff. The most interesting female character is the (too short) basketball star’s gay sister.(updated 1/28/2018)


Call The Midwife (BBC/PBS, 6 seasons on DVD) I love this series! I love how it’s followed the role of nurses and women in the East End of London from post-war England through the 1960’s, but especially the focus on midwives, as I benefitted from a midwife for both my sons’ births. Though originally based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth (which I haven’t read yet), they’ve gotten such a response from other nurses and midwives that they have plenty of stories to keep going! But issues that have touched me personally included a Holocaust survivor and dental health. (updated 1/28/2018)

Cleaner Daze (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/30/2018)

Dinette (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) (6/7/2018)

Duo Dames:
Playing House (on USA, 1st season on DVD and other platforms) I watch few sitcoms, but that this was anchored by two adult women BFFs made me curious.. I binged the 1st season for the funny situations of them returned to their hometown to deal with the pregnancy and then single-motherhood of “Maggie Caruso” (played by Lennon Parham) and the return from business in China of swinging single “Emma Crawford” (played by Jessica St. Clair). Together, the stars and series creators are like a very contemporary Lucy and Ethel. Plus Keegan-Michael Key gets to play a different kind of character, as a small town cop “Mark Rodriguez” compared to his 3-season black comedy sketch show Key and Peele (on Comedy Central).
Doll & Em (Brit limited series on HBO, 2 seasons so far) Bingeing the 1st season before the 2nd season starts, I was impressed how the creators/stars make fun of the real Hollywood life of Emily Mortimer (as, of course, “Em”) and Dolly Wells as, of course “Dolly” her BFF/temporary staff assistant, to poke fun at the male Entourage, with surprisingly more poignancy about women in the movies and the strains of fragile success on female friendships. Noted indie director Azazel Jacobs helmed each episode like a lot like mumblecore, but didn’t play the director. Mortimer’s husband Alessandro Nicola produced – but he didn’t play her husband. The 2nd season takes on the NYC theater world. (updated 9/4/2015)

Empire (Fox, 4 seasons on DVD or streaming) A ridiculous hip hop soap opera, that is lot like a broadcast version of Starz’s Power, which I mostly like for its Queens references, but this Lee Daniels’ produced, mostly African-American series shines with a great woman character, the larger than life, stop at nothing matriarch “Cookie Lyon” played incomparably by Taraji P. Henson, regardless of how ridiculously soap opera is the plot. (updated 1/28/2018)

Fabled (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/31/2018)

Feud: Joan Crawford & Bette Davis (FX) What I thought would be a camp treatment of drag queen idols instead turned into a sensitive portrayal of the price of aging in Hollywood, with brilliant, gutsy performances by executive producer Ryan Murphy’s regulars Jessica Lange as Joan and Susan Sarandon as Bette, as well as make-up, costumes and production design that vividly bring the period to life. To my surprise, the scripts heartbreakingly emphasized Hollywood’s male dominance and rigid insistence on female beauty, extending even to dental manipulation. (updated 5/3/2017)

Good Behavior (on TNT, 2 seasons on DVD or streaming) A crazy sexy noir with a ridiculous plot that’s a great treat. First because of Michelle Dockery’s portrayal of the trying to recover boozing, druggie, lying, stealing fantasizing ex-con, frustrated mother of a black boy “Letty Raines”. Second, for her dynamite chemistry with the hit man who kidnaps her into helping him until she has no choice but to stick with “Javier Pereira” (played by Juan Diego Botto, who I guess was only background eye-candy to me before.) I was hooked after the first few episodes. (updated 1/28/2018)

Grey's Anatomy (on ABC Thursdays at 9 pm. 2 soundtracks out. 13 seasons on DVD. Rerun frequently on Lifetime) A very female-oriented medical series, including "Dr. Model" living down how she earned her tuition, and the incomparable Sandra Oh, so delightfully comedic on Arli$$ now getting to dramatically develop her model minority character - heck she even gets to be sexy with a hunk. She not only deserved her second season Emmy was also outstanding in the third season's "Staring at the Sun" episode for her very complex portrait of intertwined guilt, love, ethics and ambition. But while the romances with the attending physicians are full of dynamic chemistry, they are completely inappropriate -- and kudos to the non-sylph African-American resident "Nazi", played by Chandra Wilson, who calls them on it -- (though I was kind of relieved to read bios in TV Guide that they are all in fact around the same age in real life). And they are much too nice to be believable as surgeons. More complex is "Dr. Grey"s relationship with her now-Alzheimered, then late, Super Dr. Mom.
OK, "Alex"s Kiss to "Izzy" ranks with the great TV kisses, ranking with the first reunion one in Alias. While the romantic triangles are high school-silly and too in-bred, the very funny opening "Sometimes a Fantasy" dream was unusual for TV in showing two guys in bed with the woman, instead of the usual other kind of 3-way.
As on One Tree Hill, the episode titles are song titles. Music Guide. Episode 811: "This Magic Moment" included the song “Lifeboat” by our cousin’s machatunim’s son’s band Early Morning Rebel.
I monitor its continuing Jewish women stereotypes in this show commended for its diversity portrayal. The series really deteriorated through from the third season on with the constant bed switching and hopping, so I welcomed the Scotsman from Rome and the muddled Journeyman, which only lasted as long as it did due to the writers’ strike. At least his war dr. PTSD was something different.
The ABC spin-off Private Practice (5 seasons on DVD) that followed in the schedule was even worse, with the office pretty much being just like high school. Much as I like Kate Walsh and her cast, I’m really only watching for Tim Daly and Taye Diggs, as the women are too ditzy, and who can keep up with who is sleeping with whom. With Daly out in the 6th seasons, what has become an insufferable show will have even less reason to be watched. Until the last season, when in the episode “Good Fries Are Hard to Come By”, when gorgeous Matt Long was finally used as very romantic in bed (OK, so I was surprised to learn that he is actually about the same age as Caterina Scorsone who was playing his love interest), sealed with a kiss to the tune of “Listen To Your Heart” by Cuff The Duke. Too bad it deteriorated into barely watchable PC-ness. (updated 1/28/2018)
As these doctor shows deteriorated in quality, particularly with rotations in bed-hopping that I lost interest in keeping track of, the scabrous satire Children’s Hospital (7 seasons on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim) became even more pointedly funny, though I only found out about it, from my kids, at its 3rd season, but I watched through the end of the series. (updated 1/28/2018)
According to A Grey's Anatomy Lesson by Kate Aurthur in May 1, 2005's The New York Times, "When you parse its ratings, Grey's Anatomy underscores one of the real lessons of the current season, a month before the fall schedule is set: men will watch shows with a female lead. That goes against conventional wisdom, which dictates that it's easier to get women to watch shows aimed at men. But Steve Sternberg, a media analyst with Magna Global USA, pointed out that Desperate Housewives was one of the highest-rated shows among men and added: 'So was Ally McBeal. Even though the stars are women, that type of quirky humor also appeals to men.'"
From From McBeal to McDreamy by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, May 17, 2006 (fair use excerpt):
ABC was rescued by relationship shows with desperate housewives, hotblooded female hospital interns and down-on-their-luck people weeping over their lavishly remodeled homes. Grey's Anatomy tops the girls' list, the successor to Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, Ally McBeal and Sex and the City/BBC's Coupling.
The series revolves around a young white woman at a Seattle hospital and is written by a young black woman in Los Angeles, Shonda Rhimes. She's the first African-American woman to be the creator and executive producer of a network series in Nielsen's Top 10 -- a series she wrote with her adopted infant daughter, Harper, on her lap." [It was a bit much for former U.N. Ambassador to appear on Oprah with cast members to declare that the show is milestone in the civil rights movement.]
"She resisted pressure to make the women nicer, she told Nikki Finke for Elle Magazine. And she told Time that she wanted to write about real women who are 'a little snarky' and don't 'exist purely in relation to the men in their lives.' With the male characters, she followed Jane Austen's lead and conjured up her fantasy men.
Susan Lyne, the former president of ABC Entertainment who advanced ''Grey's Anatomy'' and ''Desperate Housewives,'' explained to my colleague Bill Carter for his book Desperate Networks that women had been shortchanged by an overdose of C.S.I. cop shows and wanted more relationship shows with lots of hot horizontal action -- shows, Ms. Lyne said, that 'women love to talk to their girlfriends about the next day.' Predictably, Ms. Lyne lost her job even before Grey's Anatomy went on the air -- a victim of backstabbing by male colleagues.
Yesterday, at a preview for advertisers and reporters, the man who replaced her, Stephen McPherson, bragged that his network is now the leader among women 18 to 34." [They certainly don't want to know that both my mother-in-law and I watch!]

House of Dragons (On HBO, streams and useful “official” podcast on HBO Max) – the prequel to Game of Thrones responds to the criticism of the brutal sex by focusing more on the women sympathetically. In addition to the now everywhere mandatory “intimacy coordinator”, there are more women writers and directors on the complicated episodes. The Queen’s prophetic warning to her daughter: The child bed is our battlefield. is an ongoing theme, with births, deaths, illegitimacy, and incest in every episode, primarily from women’s point of view. Threatened by patriarchy, the story hinge is primarily the relationship, first as BFFs then as competitive mothers, between “Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen” (as a teenager played by Emma D’Arcy, and as an ever-pregnant adult by Milly Alcock) and “Alicent Hightower” (as a teenager played by Emily Carey and as the 2nd Queen by Olivia Cooke). (10/7/2022)

Humans (on AMC, repeats on BBC America, 1st season on DVD) In this British import, which took a tired concept of select robot workers becoming humanized and uncontrollable and really enlivened it. As adorable as the guys are (I especially like seeing Colin Morgan scruffier than in Merlin), the females really propel the series: the humans (working mother “Laura Dawkins”, played by Katharine Parkinson, and her handy hacker daughter “Mattie” ,played by Lucy Carless) and “synths” with consciousness (one-inside-another “Anita/Mia”, played by Gemma Chan, rebellious “Niska”, played by Emily Berrington, and the lonely detective known as “Karen Voss”, played by Ruth Bradley). These “synths” seem to have escaped to the 2nd season, but there may be new humans? (updated 11/23/2016)

Jane the Virgin (on CW, streams on Amazon Prime; 5th/final season 2019) How marvelous that a series can be bi-lingual, be a satire of telenovelas, and be based on one – yet still be charming, entertaining and sweetly involving about the coincidental premise and continued amusingly silly interactions. (updated 4/17/2019)
As Jane was leaving broadcast TV, Vida came on premium cable (Starz), focusing on two Latina sisters, the building they inherited from their late mother (and her wife), friends, protestors, and lovers of all orientations. Creator Tanya Saracho has the dis/advantages of profanity, explicit sex, nudity, and hot political points, particularly gentrification in San Francisco, not something TV has dealt with much, let alone from the point-of-view of Latinx characters (played by talented and gorgeous actors), with Latinx writers and directors. (Season 2 preview at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival) (4/17/2019)

Kevin Can F**K Himself

Kung Fu (on CW) I was suspicious of yet another re-boot of a nostalgia for a mediocre series, but was intrigued that showrunner Christine M. Kim gimmick was on female focus and a mostly Asian-American cast. So I was surprised that the first season early on effectively brought in contemporary social issues, including #MeToo on sexual harassment by a boss fetishizing Asian-American women as easy targets, and allying with the #BlackLivesMatter movement through empathy with discrimination against Chinese-Americans and businesses. (5/26/2021)

Lifetime: Is this Television for Women? Current to Gone: As Lifetime keeps adding more series, I can't just applaud that they're hiring women, including not-teens, but whether these shows are any good. (Their slow web site erratically streams the series online):
Army Wives (Sunday nights, repeated frequently. 7 seasons on DVD.) With a too-male provenance of producers, the silly pilot episode had less credibility than either David Mamet’s The Unit or Bochco’s underappreciated Over There. But with a good cast, I enjoyed the soap opera aspects. Surprisingly, I’m watching far less for Kim Delaney who I’ve liked from so many other series than the sassy “Roxy” (Sally Pressman) and her sudden Private husband “Trevor” (Drew Fuller, who was the shaggy-haired son from the future in Charmed). Catherine Bell's confused nurse drew me in as she explored different relationships, but then I just like seeing Terry Serpico who plays her husband stick around the series for awhile. Too bad the rebellious son with anger management issues went off and joined the Army as I was just starting to get interested in the teenagers, even though they don’t look and sound like 2007 teens. Some realism about divided opinions about the Iraq war is also slipping in. Too bad real issues facing military families and the war only occasionally interrupt the melodrama. (updated 9/1/2013)
State of Mind (disappeared pretty quickly) I was only watching for Lili Taylor, who can do no wrong in front of the camera and who deserves to have a regular pay check after all those indie movies. And it’s nice to see from Brit TV Derek Riddell, as “Dr. James LeCroix” (had they meant to cast someone who could pass as a N’Orlinian?) and hear his Scots brogue (he briefly popped up on Ugly Betty as Ashley Jensen’s Scots Ex). But it’s mostly yet another therapist show with a stream of quirky clients for the doctors to learn a lesson from when they can tear themselves away from their own sex lives. And then it disappeared. (updated 7/16/2008)
Side of Order of Life (disappeared pretty quickly) Fluff with a talking objects gimmick that was done far better on the late Wonderfalls (which now reruns on Logo because a secondary character is a lesbian). I do like the sassy best friend “Vivy” (Diana Maria Riva) and the editor who secretly longs for her beneath his bluster, “Rick” (Christopher Garvin), but I simply do not care what happens to the superficial, overly made-up central character who is yet another pop magazine staffer on TV who has everything going for her already. I somehow missed the finale. (updated 7/16/2008)
Blood Ties (Canadian-produced show briefly and erratically on the channel. 2 seasons on DVD.) I’m watching this mostly because I watch every vampire with a romantic twist TV show, and oh, heck, the two guys competing for the supposedly and inconsistently going blind ex-cop/private detective are cute, but it’s a bad sign for the romantic triangle when I get fed up with the vampire “Henry Fitzroy” (hey, I learned about him by watching The Tudors), played by Kyle Schmid who they’ve already joked about how he’s way too young to be looking so old let alone flirting with Christina Cox as the sometimes blind, sometimes not “Vicki Nelson”, and I’m rooting for the cop “Mike Celluci” (played by Dylan Neal). So this belongs much more in Hunky Sci Fi Shows with the much better one-season The Dresden Files, which has a stronger, far less bland woman detective in “Connie Murphy” (played by Valerie Cruz). Maybe if I read both book series that the TV shows are based on I’d have takes on both. Yeah, when I have a chance. So I was surprisingly entertained by its creator Denis McGrath’s blog. (updated 8/31/2009)
Strong Medicine - (reruns erratically. 1st season on DVD.) Produced didactically by Whoopi Goldberg, this doctor show hits some poignant notes in frankly exploring a range of women's health and related issues. Strong lead women characters and hey the boy toys around them are cute too, if used inconsistently and confusingly (sorry, that male midwife was gay the first half of the first season). Hey who broke up the older doc/younger guy (who's no Sensitive New Age Guy but a real bloke) romance - so now he just became a stereotypical skirt-chaser? And they didn't seem to really know what to do with him once Janine Turner left the series anyway, so he's gone with the fifth season. Sometimes Philip Casnoff from Under Suspicion (which pops up on cable now and then) gets to do some acting beyond being a martinet, including direct. The ex-military doctor's family life and background is occasionally interesting, but her new romance had little chemistry and real life took away him away (R.I.P.). I liked Grant Show's chemistry both with the plot lines and with "Dr. Delgado" (though why did they keep turning the lights off when they kissed?), but now she has a not too believable romance with a too perfect rich guy who just appeared out of nowhere to woo her. So much for realism. The new young African-American woman intern seems to make the show to much of an E.R. retread. The health issues have gotten more and more didactic and too easily solved each week. As a fundraiser, I cringed that a walk-a-thon wouldn't be done to raise money, but promoted only to raise "awareness" of breast cancer. The last seasons had some needed fresh faces, including, finally again, an intriguing religious male doctor in Rick Schroder, who when his "Danny" couldn't deal with his demons any more on NYPD Blue I couldn't deal with that series any more. Certainly most Ob/Gyns are male, so it's more realistic. It's an interesting angle to give him a teen daughter from a past affair with a Japanese-American woman. But I barely watched the penultimate season and hardly watched the last season.(updated 8/31/2009)
The Division (Lasted 4 seasons. Reruns erratically.) This got more interesting and more gritty over the years, with more complicated cases and striving personal lives. OK, I really watched for the romances, including the alcoholic cop "Ginny" (Nancy McKeon), first with the cute ADA Blumenthal (Jay Harrington) - at the beginning of the second season he forgave her drunken behavior and she forgave his rejection. But why did his Jewish parents and sibling need to be so Yuppie pseudo-intellectual annoying? But, whoa, I missed part of maybe the third season it was and he's gone and she was married and then split with a bearded Dean Cain? Then Jon Tenney was the new love interest the last season that didn't make a lot of sense, but I won't object. Oy, and of course no possibility of an abortion with an accidental pregnancy -- gee with divorce, alcoholism, etc. as not enough of incentives for not being a mother, but McKeon was pregnant in real life. The recently-married single mom with the kid with leukemia was just too much and sought relief in an affair with a bearded David Sutcliffe? And a different actor then played her musician husband through confusing ups-and-downs of their relationship. The tough captain Bonnie Bedelia was always fun as she dealt with bureaucracy, a grown lesbian kid, an off-again/on-again marriage and getting older. But the last season was just another cop show. So the young wanna-be cop's cute ex-fiancé was just another controlling guy like in Judging Amy. Noteworthy for woefully underutilizing the pre-Mad Men Jon Hamm. It turned out to be much better than their 2011 woman police show The Protecter. (updated 7/2/2011)
Wild Card was surprisingly entertaining, mostly for the spritely Joely Fisher, so too bad it was quickly cancelled. She's got too many kids of uncredible age gaps to deal with as an aunt and is handling instant motherhood too well, and the writers were too fast to give us hunky romantic choices between, oy, yet another past high school classmate and a colleague, and then left us a cliff-hanger as to her choice that was suddenly resolved with the new season. Rae Dawn Chong's travails with her boyfriend were also entertaining, but she's been replaced by a non-romantic Loretta Devine. (updated 6/14/2005)
Missing (2 seasons on DVD) The annoyingly aggressive Viveca Fox replaced Gloria Reuben, making it even more a fairly ridiculous knock-off of Without A Trace. I was pretty much only watching to see if the psychic (Caterina Scorsone) finally realized the way to get to have quality sleep to have those silly crime-solving dreams was to have hot sex with her mechanic boyfriend. But now they they've thrown in the occasional Brad Rowe as a fellow FBI agent determined to distract her from him,, but now she's getting visions during the day and is a straight arrow FBI agent? This is not only boring now, it has no point, yet they're making more episodes. ( updated 6/14/2005)
Any Day Now (Lifetime repeats the 4 seasons of episodes on various of its channels in odd times.) The past is never past as two friends in Birmingham keep flashing back to parallel parts of their lives growing up in the '60's. Best women's friendship show since Cagney & Lacey plus intelligent dealing of parental involvement with teens. Very frank discussions of race, but here's yet another show where somehow young women never seem to get abortions and I'm not crazy about watching teenagers with babies. (updated 8/31/2009)

Made For Love (2 seasons on HBO Max) I accidentally discovered this very funny, feminist sci-fi-ish satire out of curiosity for the previous work of co-star Billy Magnussen, after reviewing the very serious The Survivor. With mostly female writers and directors, based on a book I haven’t read by Alissa Nutting, star Cristin Milioti is fabulous! (8/25/2022)

Masters of Sex (on Showtime, 2 seasons on DVD – and more – I still haven’t finished watching the whole series) The awards are going to Michael Sheen as “Dr. William Masters”, but I’m not categorizing this in its deserved QUALITY TELEVISION because of the outstanding bare-all performance of Lizzy Caplain as “Mrs. Virginia Johnson”, in a head-and-shoulders up beyond any of her earlier TV, usually comic, or even film roles. As adorable as Nicholas D’Agosto is as her younger lover “Dr. Ethan Haas” and handsome as Teddy Sears is as the chauvinist “Dr. Austin Langham”, the women in smaller parts are funny, poignant, and honest, particularly, in the first season, Allison Janney with the middle-aged perspective of “Margaret Scully”, Julianne Nicholson as frustrated pioneer “Dr. Lillian DePaul”, (she well played another crusading pioneer, a Prohibition prosecutor in Boardwalk Empire), Caitlin FitzGerald is much more than a maddeningly naïve, beautiful clothes-horse of gorgeous costumes as “Mrs. Libby Masters”, and the other women who rise above “Masters” treating them as mere subjects in an experiment. Ann Dowd even turns the thankless role of his mother into a real person. The first season ended on such a cliffhanger that depended on “Ginny”s response to the men in her life, that I’m tempted to read ahead in the nonfiction book that’s the basis for the series, Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love by Thomas Maier. By the 3rd season, I was yelling at the screen against “Dr. Masters” and advising “Mrs. Johnson”. The women characters continued to be fascinating and very well-played.
A Jewish female patient appeared briefly in Season 3. (updated 1/18/2016)

McCleod’s Daughters (1st season replaying on PBS, full 8 seasons from 2001 on Hulu and IMDb TV) An addictive romantic Australian soap opera, with related, stubborn, independent, mostly feminist women running a sheep & horse station – and their romantic entanglements with hunky cowboys, in gorgeous scenery. (9/24/2021)

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (Australian series shown on some PBS channels) I heard about the series from fans of Australian TV before I’d heard of, and still haven’t read, Kerry Greenwood’s books that inspired it. Not only is the saucy, clever, daring (not only for 1920’s Melbourne) “Phyrne Fisher” (played by the scrumptiously delightful Essie Davis), but the period stories, costumes, and flirtation with the ever-so-bending stiff “Detective Inspector John "Jack" Robinson” (played by handsome Nathan Page) – all why she’s in and out of bed with younger hunks. Gee, just like any guy would in a detective story! (12/29/2014)

Nice (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival)

Normal People (on Hulu) (forthcoming commentary when I finish watching the 12 episodes – Based on 2019 novel by Irish author Sally Rooney, that I haven’t read yet) While this is a romance between teens “Marianne” (played by Daisy Edgar Jones) and “Connell” (played by the particularly hunky Paul Mescal), there are so few series that give a female equal time on screen that I’m categorizing this under “Dames”) (preview at 2020 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/8/2020)

Outlander (on Starz, full 1st season on DVD) I never heard of the Diana Gabaldon book series before the series premiered, and am downloading to read them one by one as the series adapts them, season by season, book by book. What keeps me putting this here rather than in HUNK 'O' METER for Sam Heughan as the kilt-coming-off “Jamie Fraser” (who wasn’t at first fairly matched by the 20th century husband for a competitive triangle), is that this gussied-up bodice-ripper is very much from the woman’s point of view, of the time-traveling “Claire Beecham Randall Fraser” (played with spirit by pretty Caitriona Balfe), particularly the aggressive and frank sex and desire. The best episodes were written and/or directed by women and were noteworthy for how Anna Foerster used what I would call “the female gaze”. “The Wedding” was even more pantingly appreciative of the rippling male body than seen in Queer as Folk as the more experienced (technically bigamist) bride initiated the Scot into sex, then continued each time they made love in subsequent episodes (including that he figures out oral sex,too). As hints were dropped that the other English Randall, “Black Jack” (also played by Tobias Menzies) was falling into sadistic love with “Jamie” (and was impotent in trying to rape women), the season finale “To Ransom A Man’s Soul” had him acting like villains usually look at and treat women in TV and movies, with the male body here as object, even proclaiming him “beautiful”, while macho “Jamie” can only reluctantly open his body to him by imagining the aggressor is “Claire” – and “Jack” enjoying pretending to be the woman, including letting down his hair, in order to psychologically and physically seduce the straight hunk. Re-establishing the woman’s POV, “Claire” forces her husband to begin to work through his resulting PTSD as a rape victim. Though commentators saying that kind of physical power male relationship, with full frontal nudity, wasn’t seen on TV before haven’t seen Oz. The Highland scenery, incorporation of traditional Scottish folk tunes (including bawdy lyrics) and authentic-as-possible costumes are a nice bonus. (updated 9/25/2015)

Picnic At Hanging Rock (mini-series streaming on Amazon) (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/31/2018)

Portlandia (on IFC, 3 seasons on DVD) (Such a funny set of sketch take-downs of PC life in the Northwest by chameleons Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein that they’ve even been satirized on The Simpsons. (6/18/2013)

She-Hulk: Attorney At Law (on Disney+) – a delightful wink-wink satirically feminist take on MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Despite the awkward CGI that wavers about the Super-Shero’s size, Tatiana Maslany (of Orphan Black, occasionally breaking the fourth wall, anchors with a wonderful performance as “Jennifer Walters”. However, Head Writer Jessica Gao doesn’t assume there will be a second season. (9/27/2022)

Snugglr (5/30/2018)

Sweetbitter (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/22/2018)

Titans (S1 and S2 from DC streaming went to TNT after S3 –S4 on HBO Max) Because I am only somewhat aware of the “DC Universe”, I started watching this presuming it would be a summer background Hunky Sci Fi Shows to multitasking. Produced by several women, including Sarah Schecter, who has done CW shows that I don’t regularly watch, the strongest episodes are those written and/or directed by women. Those are the ones where the power of the females (and their romantic entanglements with, yes, their hunky Super Friends, or whatever they’re called) is central: “Dawn” aka the dancing “Dove” (played by soft-spoken Minka Kelly) with flashbacks to a past relationship with brooding “Dick Grayson” aka “Robin” (played by cutie Brenton Thwaites, looking like he was required to bulk up his arms for this role), who somehow also fit in a past relationship with “Commissioner Gordon”s “Bat Girl”/Gotham City Police Chief daughter “Barbara” (played here by Savannah Welch) hooks up with heat-powered alien Queen “Kory Anders” (played by the statuesque Anna Diop), and he had grown up with “Donna Troy” (played by Conor Leslie), who it took me 2 seasons to figure out she has “Wonder Woman”s Amazonian background when her Golden Lasso showed up after her tragic romance with a teen version of “Aquaman” (whose series I had missed on The CW). They are the mentors of confused teen daughter-of-a-demon Goth “Rachel Roth” (played by Teagan Croft) and teen-daughter-of-evil-enemy “Rose Wilson” (played by Chelsea Zhang), who each have a sweet relationship with troubled teen boys in the group, including another “Robin”, one of several I had to learn about – yeah, took me awhile to get these “strays” all straight – and their relationship with “Bruce Wayne” (played as a snarky mind gamer by the ever charming Iain Glen). I pretty much watch for the ups and downs of “Dawn”, in a confusing timeline for a really magnetic relationship with “Hank Hall” aka “Hawk” (played by Alan Ritchson, who must have to work out a lot for this role) and his struggles with painkiller addiction. I was hooked – then reluctantly, because even new women writers/directors keep killing off or sending off my fave and female characters. I have had to do some DC Comics-Movies & TV-adaptations background viewing and Googling to get up to what probably most teen-age boys know thoroughly from reading the DC Comics, and I have so much more to catch. (updated 8/19/2021)

Veep (on HBO, 4 seasons on DVD) I didn’t cite the 1st season because it’s just not up to the British work of Armando Iannucci, the creator of TV’s The Thick of It and the hilarious film satire In The Loop (also briefly reviewed in Part 1 Recommendations at 2009 Tribeca Film Festival). The Americanization touches seem to have been provided by executive producer Frank Rich, a second cousin once removed, for full disclosure, let alone that in Season 5 (2016), the producer was David Mandel is my second cousin once removed. But worth noting is the central female role, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus achieving beyond post-Seinfeld sitcoms (especially in the 2nd season where her character got to demonstrate more intelligence), plus Anna Chlumsky, in a grown-up, but not showy, role, as “Chief of Staff Amy Brookheimer” and the formidable gatekeeper appointments secretary “Sue Wilson” (played by Sufe Bradshaw).
But it definitely reminds me of the two years I worked for an elected official whose staff was constantly obsessed with how the press reported on him, particularly in competition with others. Such as one incident where I was trying to give him a report on an issue while he was leafing through the New York Post. He spotted mention of another politician, immediately called his counsel and ordered him to come with him to a previously scheduled lunchtime meeting with the other pol. He chortled that the counsel wouldn’t be needed at all, but he wanted to make the competitor nervous. (updated 4/4/2016)

Vera (On various PBS stations, but new seasons stream first in the U.S. on BritBox; 10 seasons of 4 episodes each produced so far) Based on the “Vera Stanhope” novels of Ann Cleeves (which I hadn’t even heard of), she’s another tough Brit TV detective as deliciously played by an irascible, grumpy, bossy Brenda Blethyn, who, for all her “pet” and “love” to interviewees doesn’t even have a maternal relationship with her loyal, hunky (mostly happily married-with-children) “Sergeant Joe Ashworth” (played by David Leon). The Northumberland scenery is evocatively gray and gloomy for homicide. (updated 12/23/2019)

Westworld (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/22/2018)

The White Queen (Starz, 1st season on DVD) (When I was about 11 or so, I worked on tracing the family tree of Queen Elizabeth II to see how she was related to Alfred the Great, and then got obsessed with the life of Queen Elizabeth I, reading every young adult biography I could find. I finally figured out the convoluted relationships, but until I watched this series I didn’t really understand what was going on in the families, because I didn’t understand all those civil wars. Thanks to Amanda Hale’s performance as Henry Tudor’s ambitious mother, Rebecca Ferguson as the titular mother of the princes in the tower (even after Shakespeare – now I get who they were!), and Janet McTeer as her fictionally powerful mother. (2/10/2014)


30 Rock (NBC, 7 seasons on DVD, in syndication.) I haven't bothered to watch SNL in years so was only obliquely aware of the talents of Tina Fey (and shamefully I still haven't gotten around to watching her scripted film Mean Girls) plus who needed two shows about an SNL clone let alone when shows about TV can be so self-referential and proof of a dearth of ideas, Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Tyler Moore Show classics notwithstanding. But this is so much better than Aaron Sorkin's patronizing, hectoring Studio 60 and treats the entertainment industry more like The Office. Yeah, Baldwin almost steals the show with his hilarious take on a GE boss, but Fey is the core as a hapless in life, love and work TV producer. And it actually uses its Rockefeller Center location. I don't watch many sitcoms but this is funny! Fey and the show deserve every award she is nominated for, let alone gets! (updated 4/28/2013)

Alias (All 5 seasons out on DVD) I resisted adding this paler, blatant La Femme Nikita imitation: first, out of loyalty, and second, out of disgust with the ridiculous plots more like James Bond movies than terrorists etc. out there today (aw come on -- Evil Guys want a secret weapon developed by a Da Vinci cohort?) But Jennifer Garner -- her seriousness and her outfit changes-- won me over (and, uh, the two hunks vying for her attention in the two parts of her life). The mythology got almost as complex as The X Files and the plot turns, even the romance twists (ah, after SO many longing looks we got a real nice long clincher kiss after the Super Bowl that was probably the best kiss on TV ever, and certainly rivals the kiss in the original Thomas Crown Affair) so now how many ways will the writers find to keep them apart again?), are direct steals from Nikita -- and with real terror going on in the world do they have to do these really silly conspiracies? Lena Olin was way cool as her Mom, but contract negotiations broke down to bring her back, so we'll get "Syd's" aunt instead -- the intriguing Isabella Rossellini. What a wallop of a second season ending cliffhanger -- and "Vaughan" has some explaining to do! And just when the actor and actress started dating in real life. And, whoa, did she really stick it to him in fury at the third season premiere, and then literally with a knife a few episodes on, saying what every woman in every shopping mall and take-out joint in the U.S. has been saying to the actor all summer long - you bet she would have stayed loyal to him, despite any ole DNA evidence, and now he's proven he wouldn't have been worth it! Ah, but we all knew that wife was up to no good! And that "Sark", handsome devil returned! And what a put down by the last season replacement of her one-night stand with him -- Remember - you're the one who wanted to cuddle!
Plot-wise it's so complicated that you'll find these explanations helpful like I did. Though I've found that EVERY viewer has a slightly different explanation of Her Missing Years. The whole Rimbaldi/Passenger thing just got too convoluted, let alone with the competing Sloane Clone. Even the third season opener admitted that "last year sucked." Surely the fourth series premiere featured a hit ordered by Ben Affleck! But we always knew "Vaughan" was really French. (updated 8/31/2009)

The Americans (FX, 4 seasons on DVD) Three cheers for Felicity’s Keri Russell all grown up, returning to TV after maturing in movies, such as Waitress, with a much more realistic spy than what dragged into fantasy in Alias. Sure her KGB-arranged husband, played by Matthew Rhys is a hunk, but her steely chameleon is the heart of the Cold War series. This also reminds me of one of the first TV movies I fell in love with, The Borgia Stick (1967) with Don Murray & Inger Stevens, only they were working for a Big Corporation.

I’ve been surprised how much this serious drama appeals to 1980’s nostalgists, like so many crummy sitcoms. I see how Season 3 brings in how USSR was right on being anti-apartheid, unlike the Reagan administration, which was also supporting Osama Bin Laden against them, was more a sophisticated look back on foreign policy than just nostalgia. Each season gets more tense and more thrilling, even as it brings in real history.
The 3rd season finale “March 8, 1983” was filmed at the entrance to Forest Hills Gardens, standing in for West Berlin at night. (Earlier in the year it had been Warsaw for The Blacklist.) Russell was even more powerful in the series’ last season! (updated 5/31/2018)

Surprise - The Game (mini-series on , BBC America’s “DramaVille”) 1970’s British Cold War spy thriller turned on Sarah Hamilton’s portrayal of the similar “Sarah Montag”. (updated 3/4/2016)

Arli$$ (Originally on HBO. "Best of" out on DVD.) A much funnier and more biting sports satire than Sports Night and I know zilch about sports, though towards the end it got far more sentimental, perhaps in a misguided effort to appeal more to women. But the real point to watch for is pre-Grey's AnatomySandra Oh, who I've loved since her starring role in the Canadian indie drama Double Happiness. She gets to really throw herself into comedy here as Arliss's scheming, fashion obsessed assistant. Why didn't this woman get an Emmy nom? At least she did eventually. (updated 8/31/2009)

Awkward (MTV, with funny webisode extras. 5 seasons on DVD) MTV returned to original fiction but the usual high school of mean girls, jocks vs. geeks heart throb choices is satirical and quirky, so more entertaining than all the angst on the CW and ABC Family shows because the (accident-prone) girl is so smart (“Jenna Hamilton” played by Ashley Rickards. Even my husband watches it – and I think he watched through the end of the series that I’m not sure if I did. (updated 1/28/2018)

Battlestar Galactica (Reruns on the SyFy Channel. All seasons on DVD – and I bought the whole set. Prequel series Caprica (first season on DVD) is much more about watching for the Hunks than Dames. NBC is streaming online the inferior original series. ) Yeh - a sci fi show with sexual tension! With and without robots in human form -- and which raises the issue is it a romantic triangle when two men are in love with duplicates of the same machine? John Hodgman in The New York Times July 17, 2005 quotes from the executive producer David Eick: ''The bad guys are all beautiful and believe in God, and the good guys all [expletive] each other over.'' [Ronald D.] Moore, who is also the show's head writer, put it more simply: ''They are us.'') But -oh no! -- they killed off "Billy"! And he had such sweet chemistry with the communications officer, aw heck, he gave her his debate team ring -- all just to set her up with "Adama"s kid - boo! The only couple with no sparks between them.
The Season 2 episode "Downloaded" written by Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, directed with great emotion on just one tight set by Jeff Woolnough, ranks as one of my all time science fiction TV hours ever -- women robots decide that love is what makes humans worth saving! While it was the particularly hunky specimen, "Sam Anders", that convinced them because "Starbuck" loves him, aw, even if the ex-jock is off doing sports all the time in their married future. The third season further explored these female toasters learning what it means to be a human woman, as Stephanie the Librarian pointed out to me, Lucy Lawless's "D'Anna Biers" discovers mother love and converts from human destroyer to protector for the cylon-human baby. But then OMG vengeance wipes out love among humans and cylons! First, in "Exodus, Part 2" by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, the head of the resistance poisons his beloved trophy wife in a truly tragic scene of fanaticism (what she saw as love to protect him, he saw as being a traitor to the cause), and then the next, brilliant episode, "Collaborators" by Mark Verheiden (who did some of the most interesting scripts on Smallville), directed darkly by Michael Rymer, had me in even more tears. Yeah, I was supposed to intellectually care that it was all a metaphor about Gitmo and insurgencies etc., but "Starbuck" (that's her macho pilot nickname but her girl name is "Kara") is suffering such post traumatic stress from being held captive by an obsessive cylon who kept re-downloading no matter how many times she killed him to demand she love him that she's practically driven mad by the vengeance "Sam" finally rejects and chooses that over his love: (I got this transcription from but it seems accurate): "Sam": Hey! I quit because I'm not looking for ways to keep killing people. "Starbuck": I need this, Sam. "Sam": So what. Throwing a few people out of airlocks is gonna make you feel better about yourself? Cause believe me, those aren't the people that kept you locked in that room. "Starbuck": They'll do. And not just for me but for every person we left back on that planet because someone has got to pay. So you can either get with it or you can get lost. "Sam": Is that what you want Kara? You want me to leave?. . ."Starbuck": I'm in a different place now. I...I, I don't know how else to explain it to you, but I got out of that cell and it's like someone painted the world in different colors. And I look at you and I want to tear your eyes out just for looking at me. I just want to hurt someone and it might as well be you. So you should probably go before that happens. And he hands back her ID necklace, the one that saved his life from the toasters, the one that proved that love is what makes life worth living. And she hangs it in her military locker. Sob sob sob! And then even the cylon model of 6's reject "Gaius Balter" -- when they had risked everything for him and for their love, whether inside or outside his head. Surely both toasters and humans are doomed as they now head to Earth! Will the only love survive be the one between the cylon "Sharon" and the hunky human "Helo" that produced the baby of the future?
"Unfinished Business" by Michael Taylor is exactly why I love this series, and so many guy fans who only want sci fi to be allegorical or political or battles or well, sci fi ish, hated it. It was a tour de force set of flashbacks of sexual and romantic relationships as we finally found out why "Kara" really married "Sam" on New Caprica and "Lee" (the very hunky Jamie Bomber) married his communications officer who he didn't seem to have any chemistry with. Her PTS from the toaster's mind games demand for love has brought out all the old memories of her guilt over the death of her ex, "Lee"s brother, that was tangled with her loyalty to "Sam" as she had worked so hard to save him, even though he had just rescued her from prison. But the flashbacks are revealed through a bruising boxing match in a ring in front of everyone, including their spouses-- still recovering from what he thought was a passionate horizontal tango pleading effort at reconciliation with "Kara" who had then blithely put on her thong saying Thanks, I needed that., "Sam" is as usual slow on the uptake: It almost looks like they hate each other. But the wife is wising up: If you want to call it that. [I have to re-check the exact quote.] "Kara" and "Lee" each pummel as good as they get, and almost Memento-style each of the memories that are fuelling them goes a little further and further back to a fateful day, that culminated their long relationship since the Academy, so we gradually see the wrenching context of what had seemed to be innocuous interactions - until bleeding and bloody they each whisper: I miss you.. So much sci fi ignores human emotions and I love that this one inserts them to contrast with the Cylons. And then 2 episodes on, in "The Eye of Jupiter" by Mark Verheiden, they are even more human as she shows her true, uniquely religious stripes to him-- Lee: Every time I look at my wife, I-I see my own guilt reflected in her eyes. Kara: Wow. Wow, Lee. That is really poetic of you but you don't need to make that big a deal out of this. Lee: Well, it is a big deal Kara. It is. (pause) It is. Kara: So I won't divorce and you won't cheat. So where does that leave us? Lee: Trapped. As her husband goes off to rescue her, again, he confronts Lee: You think you were the first?
”Rapture” by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson featured quadrangles that could only happen in a series with really strong women: As “Dee” bitterly recounts to “Kara” in her crashed Raptor: My husband ordered me to risk my life to save yours. And that’s what I’m going to do. Delirious on the painkillers “Dee” resentfully gives her, “Starbuck” points out that “Lee” won’t cheat : I love Sam, I hate Sam. I love Lee, I hate Lee. As she nods off into unconsciousness, “Dee” at least gets the satisfaction of ironically slapping her: I need you awake to get us out of here. Back on Galactica, after some hesitation they both fall into the grateful arms of their respective husbands, with uncomfortable looks all around.
Meanwhile converted Cylon “Sharon” begs her hunky husband “Helo” in a passionate exchange of loyalty and love to save their child – and bang, we find out that means him shooting her dead, so she can download her consciousness on the Cylon ship where their stolen baby is being held. And only “Helo” unconditionally trusts her enough that she’ll come back to him, with their child, sigh, a love that, once again, inspires sexy “Six” to be influenced by humanity, unlike her compatriots. The arc of the relationship between “Sharon” (Grace Park) and “Helo” (Tahmoh Penikett) has been thrilling and not noted enough by fans or critics, since their first freighted chase on Caprica through her betrayals, triangles, trials and literal rebirth. Their relationship was further explored in “The Woman King” by Michael Angeli as “Helo” becomes a sexy hero in his own way, again sticking up for what’s right (quotes are from but look accurate): “Sharon”/now known as “Athena” (about the despised, discriminated against Sagittarons): Yeah, I want you to look the other way. I have to fight every single day on this ship to be accepted. “Helo”: This has nothing to do with you, okay? You think that’s who I am, that’s what I’ve become? That’s my defining characteristic, the guy married to a Cylon? . . . I think he’s killing people because he’s a racist son-of-a-bitch. The Admiral apologizes to him at the end and “Sharon” gives him a big kiss and hug.
Sorry, I REFUSED to believe in Season 3 that Starbuck’s destiny was to die head first into a supernova! Strong Women on Sci Fi Series Should Not Be Killed Off Like That! Whew, I was right! But, wait, she has TWO Cylons in love with her! The flash back Razor filled us in on the bitterness between two other of the toughest coolest women on the show, a cylon and a human. I’m still sorting out the emotional consequences of The Final 5, just barely in time to grapple with the fast finale.
A 2006 Peabody Award winner: "A belated, brilliantly re-imagined revival of a so-so 1970s outer-space saga, the series about imperiled survivors of a besieged planet has revitalized sci-fi television with its parallax considerations of politics, religion, sex, even what it means to be "human."" And not just the usual technical Emmy nominations, but for 2007 for “Outstanding Writing For A Drama Series” the episode “Occupation/Precipice” by Ronald D. Moore.”
The Sci Fi Channel has noticed that I’m not the only woman watching. In “At Sci Fi Channel, the Universe Is Expanding and the Future Is Now”, The New York Times, 5/19/2008, by Tim Arango (fair use excerpt): “The network has drawn more women by making subtle tweaks to marketing and programming. In marketing materials for Battlestar Galactica, for example, there are no spaceships, and the story lines try to create more of a balance between action and emotion. . . The Sci Fi Channel’s growth can also be partly explained by the network’s distancing itself from traditional stereotypes of science fiction. 'There were a lot of misperceptions that Sci Fi was for men, that it was for young men and that it was for geeky young men,' said Bonnie Hammer, the president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment, which oversees Sci Fi. 'We had to broaden the channel to change the misconceptions of the genre.'”
I'm also obsessed enough to spend some time checking out deleted scenes, webisodes, podcasts and producers' video blogs, but feel guilty that the creators aren’t getting paid for them. Even the music has a thoughtful back story. And then there's that striking use of "All Along the Watchtower"! (updated 8/31/2009)

Big Love (on HBO, 4 seasons on DVD ) It took me three seasons to appreciate just how good are the women characters and the actresses who portray them, revealing the complexities of different aspects of living in polygamy, including the daughters. (updated 1/3/2011)

Bones (Fox, Constant reruns on TNT. 12 seasons on DVD.) is an effort to young-down the procedural genre and is mindlessly entertaining, even with NPR references thrown in. In its first season I put this on my HUNK 'O' METER for David Boreanaz, from Angel, but I got caught up in his banter as “Seely Booth” with co-star Emily Deschanel as “Temperance Brennan” who somehow is both a forensic anthropologist who volunteers around the world in ethnic cleansing civil wars as well as consulting for the FBI and writing best-selling mystery novels, as inspired by the life of Kathy Reichs (yeah, I just may have to start reading her books about a character named “Temperance Brennan”). While she wears the best earrings and necklaces on any woman on TV from her travels, her obliviousness to popular and informal culture is like all those android/alien characters from sci fi shows. I was disappointed that producer Hart Hanson dumped her sweet romance with another FBI agent (played by Eddie McClintock, who moved on to great success in Sy Fy's Warehouse 13 ) which he described in 1/29/2007 TV Guide as “funny, charming and cute, and they have a wildly passionate relationship”, just to pacify shippers who want “Bones” with “Booth”, even as he has no chemistry with the other colleagues he’s had affairs with -- the 8th season looks like it’s pulling off them as parents together. But the pairing of “Angela” and “Hodgins” (Michaela Conlin and T.J. Thyne) still has no chemistry. I missed a lot of the last season. (updated 1/28/2018))

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (7 seasons on video/DVD. 3 soundtrack albums out, one is of the classic musical episode.) The FTC was in a tizzy because this "kids" show was being used to advertise "R" rated movies. Hey I was not the only adult watching this very sophisticated satire of adolescence, young adulthood, the movies, and our inner fears made corporeal through demons and monsters. The only unbelievable element was the negligible clothes "Buffy" wore, which has started an unfortunate teen style sensation. But then I didn't mind when her boyfriend "Riley" wore few clothes! (though I seem to have been in a minority of fans who miss him). Too bad the Jewish sidekick I wrote about in Lilith magazine is now not only a powerful Wiccan, but is wearing crosses. Executive Producer Joss Whedon kept finding new ways to grab us -- from silence, to a musical, to a Hitchcock homage, etc. -- demonstrating the creative potential of long-form television series over time as it tackles serious issues metaphorically. I seem to be the only fan who liked The Dark Season. Great background info at The Cross and Stake.
Whedon is continuing the series in up to 30 Dark Horse Comics graphic novels, "starting several months after the Hellmouth's destruction, the eradication of Sunnydale and the empowerment of the potential slayers", per the 12/4/2006 TV Guide, Whedon will write at least 8 with faves from Buffy and Angel, as well as new slayers and villains, but "no matter how bad things get, they're still a bunch of dweebs.
USA Today’s Pop Candy bloggerWhitney Matheson noted on 5/19/2008: “More than a decade after its premiere, Buffy is still inspiring women, and I have a feeling it will continue to move viewers for decades to come. You can't ask for better TV than that. . .NPR's Jamie Tarabay shares a cool story of how she helped stay sane while reporting from Baghdad: by watching episodes of Buffy in “Vampire Slayer Buffy Saves Iraq Reporter's Soul”: "It was so obvious to me what Buffy Anne Summers and me had in common: She lived on the Hellmouth, I lived in Baghdad. . .She fought vampires with wooden stakes, and, well, I always thought most media spokesmen were real bloodsuckers."
Hex (shown on BBC America. 1st season on DVD.) is frequently mis-attributed by critics as a Brit Buffy - but it has none of the social satirical flair, so is much more a femme-empowered take on Supernatural -- and is much sillier. (updated 8/31/2009)

Charmed (weekdays on TNT. All 8 seasons on DVD.) I took this guilty pleasure off my recommended list at one point, but it heated up again, as the Power-of-3 Sisterhood of Witches developed complicated love lives with adorable hunks from heaven (though it can get boring when your lover/husband is literally your guardian angel) to hell (or when your still-in-lover/ex-husband is literally a demon-- and it turns out Julian MacMahon is another Ozzie so I'm consistent in my hunk radar as he was given a whole lot more to do here than in Profiler -- though he was finally killed off over fan protests). Just when I was getting bored in terms of romance-deficit, they brought in Eric Dane for "Phoebe"'s delectation, whew, but then he was mostly gone; then we found out the truth about the cute mysterious new White Lighter "Chris" works out which opened up a new story arc. Welcome to Kerr Smith! Ah, and in a hetereo role for a change. But didn't anyone notice that the adorable kid playing him in the past had big blue eyes vs. Kerr's brown before he died and Ivan Sergei wooed her? Whew, thank goodness Nick Lachey is gone, yuck, but hello Billy Zane! Whoops bye to that demon and hello to "Coop" as in Cupid. I don't miss Doherty, as I'm far more a fan of the Other Two and their love lives and I didn't have a problem accepting Rose McGowan and she's gotten more and more confident in the role. The clothes that the fetching Charmed Ones wear while protecting Innocents is even skimpier, belly-baring, and clingier than ever, and frequently just plain ugly, but if that got guys to watch too, OK, so I support NOW in claiming this a feminist show. Though even executive producer Brad Kern admitted in interviews that the mythology is arbitrary and confusing, as he had a nonplussed character ask: "Who makes up these cockamamie rules?" Pretty good fan site. In January 2006, this show officially passed Laverne & Shirley as the longest-running show with female leads. (updated 8/31/2009)

Burn Notice (on USA. All 7 seasons on DVD.) Jeffrey Donovan is finally in an appealing show that will be lasting more than one season! And I’ve watched them all, though he’s clearly been working out to be more buff as an ex-CIA agent trying to get back in The Company. Nice combination of comedy, action and cynicism. Less silly than the rest of the “characters welcome” shows on the channel, his co-stars also make this worth watching , including chain-smoking Sharon Gless as a lot less blowzy and more entertaining Mom than in Queer as Folk (who got to go out in gutsy blaze of glory in the series and 7th season finale) and Bruce Campbell as the improbable playboy drinking ex-agent. But what makes this even more special from so many other procedurals is Gabrielle Anwar has her best role in years as the ex-IRA operative, clothes-shedding ex-GF. She even manages to not make me incredulous and jealous that someone that impossibly thin and gorgeous has actually borne three children. By the end of the third season, "Fiona"s and "Michael"s on-again, off-again relationship provided an emotional rock for the series, and got even hotter when they got back together amidst near death experiences at the end of the 4th season and into the 5th. And the show got Alex Carter out to get warm of the usual Canadian-based productions into the Miami sun (and CSI Vegas desert) for a couple of episodes. I kept hoping Alona Tal’s 7th season tough, seductive, duplicitous “Sonya” would be Israeli, like the actress, or at least a Russian Jew, so I could add her to my Lilith Watch: Critical Guide to Jewish Women on TV, but alas she was not evidently ex-Mossad, just part of some criminal enterprise. (updated 12/14/2013)

Chemistry (on Cinemax late nights) I dozed off on a Friday night watching the ridiculously violent macho Strike Back I, er, roused to discover this first soft core premium cable show I continued to watch regularly since The Hunger. Despite how HD exposes her implants, and I haven’t seen her earlier soft core series to compare any changes in her body or acting, Ana Alexander, as aggressive cop/amateur artist “Liz”, is fun to watch when she’s not mired in way too male-driven fantasy plots as she pursues lawyer “Michael” (played by cute if not particularly dynamic Jonathan Chase, who doesn’t even have to bare as much as the guys in Queer as Folk or even Spartacus). While there’s enough of a story line about their separate but somewhat equal relationship issues to have some dialogue, they are so much fun to watch together that his continuing engagement to his boss’s bland daughter (played by ex-model Ragan Brooks, who gamely gets nude) is very annoying. Though Jeremy Kent Jackson and his character “Luther” are insufferable, Sally Kellerman’s nostalgic monologues as “Lola” about her 1960’s of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are amusing and are matched by Chad Everett’s bad randy example as “Vic” the father. (updated 8/14/2015)

The Closer (was on TNT; all seasons on DVD with unaired scenes.) American TV has finally produced a worthy knock-off of Prime Suspect! Why did it take so many years? I've watched the dramas that executive producer/writer James Duff wrote for over the years, but his work wasn't as quirky or stand-out as this.
I love that Kyra Sedgwick's "Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson" comes with faults, baggage and tics (self-consciousness, a past adulterous love affair with her current boss, a sweet tooth she tries to resist even as her co-workers snack on the treats she tries to zealously hide, messiness, stubbornness, owl-like reading glasses, and being lost as she's new to L.A., though her Southern honey accent isn't quite consistent) up against the resistance of her male co-workers (nice cast of macho men), though the guy willing to try and work with her isn't as intriguing as "Tennison's" sergeant. Like the detective on Under Suspicion, her female experience lets her pick up clues the guys run roughshod over (her undergoing a grueling clothes and make-up do-over in "About Face" in order to glibly interview unsuspecting suspects was a hoot) and the gritty plots are satisfyingly twisty. Sure her interrogations don't match Andre Braugher's in Homicide, but the atmospherics are still acute, with her deductive reasoning almost like Monk's and unlike any other cop she's determined that her evidence will stand up against the most expensive defense lawyers and suspicious judges.

And she and Jon Tenney as a cooperative old pal FBI agent "Fritz Howard" have a charged courtship. Like when she calls him for a dinner date - but really needs his car for tailing a serial murderer suspect, and this debate from "The Big Picture" (written by Nancy Miller and directed by Elodie Keene) (thanks to George Reed for the transcription):
Brenda: We should not be talking right now.
Fritz: Why not?
Brenda: Were you lying when you said that Nick Kosolof was in FBI custody? [and Seth Gabel, now Mr. Bryce Dallas Howard and before he was "Adrian" on Nip/Tuck, was as startling here as Ralph Fiennes in his similarly breakthrough interrogation as a Prime Suspect]
Fritz: I told you what they told me. Brenda, this is a giant RICO investigation. . . . I know it’s hard, but you gotta see the big picture.
Brenda: I used to paint the big picture. OK. I know what’s going on here. Nick was never in FBI custody. Your friends flipped him so he turned against his father, which is why they’re giving him an alibi.
Fritz: What do you want me to say?
Brenda: I want you to say that letting people kill teenage girls because they got good connections to the mob is wrong. I want you to say that in America we are all equal under the law and I want you to say that you think what’s going on here is morally reprehensible.
Fritz: Brenda, what is going on here is morally reprehensible.
Brenda: Thank God for that.
Fritz: …but it doesn’t matter what I think. Doesn’t matter what you think. They’re gonna stand by their story.
Brenda: Well, I certainly hope they do. Cause that’s how I plan to close my case. I hope you’re not mad at me tomorrow. (Whew, and she was like Daniel Craig's cop in The Ice House in how she let mob justice take care of "Nick.")

In "Fantasy Date" by story editor Roger Wolfson, she calls "Fritz" late in a surprising, shaky breakdown -- after being nearly raped. Just kinda a rough evening. . .I thought if you were up and all. . . She pulls herself together to watch the interrogation then is surprised to find him waiting for her in the garage. After a protective night on her sofa, he checks up on her. She explains: I guess I sort of felt like I needed someone there. His gentlemanly response: Being needed. That's the next best thing to being wanted. Isn't it? Which of course gives her a clue for her next interrogation. This is the episode Kyra submitted for Emmy consideration and secured her nom. She explained her selection in TV Guide July 31, 2006: "I wanted something that had a sense of humor, her fragility as well as her strength. It was the vibe I got from everyone. This was special, so I went for it."

In "Batter Up" by producer James Duff, "Fritz" even rescues a lost bedding item from her mama: My pillows thank you. He: What about the rest of you? More of her philosophy when the rest of the team is convinced the murder is solved: I want to go to sleep at night knowing we buried the killer, not the crime. The running jokes about the cat and then kittens who share her murder scene house are funny plays on stereotypes of spinsters. And I'm vibratin' took on a whole new meaning when her pager interrupts their necking - into his lap.

"L.A. Woman" by Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny had a marvelous closing to encapsulate why this is such a delicious series with a terrific actress. From her opening riposte to a condescending FBI agent's "Trust me": I stopped believing boys who said 'Trust me' when I was 16,, she is grieved at proving that the Iranian immigrant wife masterminded her husband's murder to prevent him "sending me back to the 17th century" as she comments to "Fritz" When she could have just filed for divorce. I can't think of a single culture where that's the right way for a woman to gain her independence. but is just as upset at the FBI hustling her off under the Patriot Act. While they both acknowledge having "deep feelings" for each other, "Fritz" commiserates: You know what would make me upset? If this whole working together thing screws up our other thing. She shortly asks him how the case is going, forcefully inserting her y'all that he had been impatient with earlier. He gentlemanly holds out her pink coat. She eyes it, backs up and takes it away from him, crisply saying: Fine. Let's go to dinner. They head to the office door. She hesitates. He reaches out and opens it for her. She raises an eyebrow and says throatily But you're payin'.

I love how one by one she won over the hard-boiled guys assigned to her team by sticking up for them. And she could have had her very own continuing serial killer stalker in Jason O'Mara (who BBC A fans recall fondly from Monarch of the Glen), and with his ABC show gone maybe he can kill here again).
It's clear in comparing this to so many other procedurals on TV with young women pretending to be experts that one of the reasons she and this series is so good is because she's not a kid, but a mature woman with a history -- which is very refreshing for TV. Real hubby Kevin Bacon said he'd stay home with the kids while she was filming the series in L.A. - though I saw him perform with his brother at the Clearwater Festival.

Season 2 opened with the executive producer pouring on "Brenda"s personal quirks and romantic complications that we love so well, to garner the highest ratings of the series, and beating the broadcast networks as well. On The Tavis Smiley Show in June 2006, Tenney beamed that this was the first show he'd been on that had even been renewed for a 2nd season. While he rationalized that his character shows how flummoxed "Brenda" is in her personal life compared to her professionalism, he grinned that he realizes that he's really there "as the love interest." In "Blue Blood" by Duff and Mike Berchem, she pounces on her staff for eating candy around her: Since I gave up all that crap I have more energy and I'm sleeping better. (Which leads to a droll comment from Denison about whether his salty nuts can stay. There's another double entendre stab later before a tense interrogation about playing ball with other cops-- that the other Chief can take his balls and go.)
She now makes time for lunch with "Fritz," at her house. He hands her a salad: With this diet you're on. . . "Brenda": It's not a diet it's a life change. You Control The Sugar In Your Life or the Sugar Controls You. It ages you. I read this book, and I'm over it. . .I just don't want sugar any more. I'm finished with it. I really am.
"Fritz" keeps smirking: I believe you. By the way, the escrow on my condo is about up. I wonder if you thought about what we talked about. Because otherwise, there's a position in behavioral sciences, it's been suggested that I put in for it. It would mean me moving back to the East Coast, but it would give me a chance to move up the FBI's food chain. He finally has her full attention.
"Brenda": Fritz, I don't want you to go. Of course, I've thought about "it". I just, see, moving in together. I don't. There's all these problems that would have to be worked out. "Fritz": Like what?
"Brenda: Like getting a new phone for one thing. Because you couldn't answer mine when my parents call. And I can just be impossible. "Fritz": But I like it that you're impossible sometimes. [Surely I wasn't the only woman watching who sighed! He's probably tied with the husband in The Medium for being the most understanding Significant Other on TV.]
"Brenda": Yeah, but what if you stopped. Stopped liking me. "Fritz": If I was going to stop liking you I would have done it already. "Brenda": But, well, look, I haven't had a lot of success living with guys and it could just ruin everything.
"Fritz": If we're trying to sort out, come closer, y'know, more like full partners, living together would give us a chance to see what that would be like. Once again the phone rings and once again she cannot resist answering it. I know we're having a serious. . .but it's work. I love this. Let's try to have lunch together more. And we'll talk about this more.
As she leaves, "Fritz" suddenly shows a jealous side we had gotten a glimpse of last season: This reluctance of yours. This has nothing to do with what's going on with [her boss and ex-lover, from we found out next season eight years previous]? That gets her attention again and she comes back into the room asking what's up. His wife served him with divorce papers on Friday. You didn't know? What do you do for a living again? She later questions the ex but he knows her tricks: Please don't use the techniques you employ 'in there' on me!
Mama calls while she's still in her sexy slip going through old photos of the ex -- and "Fritz" comes in with breakfast, notice he knows to seduce her with food, and he strokes and massages her as she tells Mama she has to go interview a serial killer in order to get her off the phone.
But as she scurries to get dressed, and "Fritz" zips her up, saying she wants to look stern and he drily comments That shouldn't be a problem, he asks if she's spoken to the ex, but she dismisses the subject: He's not high on my radar. "Fritz" persists: I bet you are on his.. . He's not going to care that we're dating. I don't trust him.
And once again she gets that glint in her eye that fans adore as what he's said has awakened her to the motivations in her case - that it is after all a series of jealousy triangles. She reenacts the murder: Trust me. Just walk towards me as if you're trying to figure out what I'm doing. "Fritz" chuckles: I am trying to figure out what you're doing. She rewards him with quite the big kiss and I'll call you about dinner. When we're going to talk. About everything.
And she's out the door and a bundle of nerves until one of the guys on her team hands her two small chocolate eclairs: Here. For all our sakes. Please. and she ecstatically savors one whole in her mouth -- and then, as we fans love, sweetly pours the cold-tight trap for the murderer. Emmy voters -- Kyra's expression, tone and body language switches within these scenes are brilliant.
The ex does ask her out for dinner, remembering that she likes to eat and assuming "Fritz" has taken the new job. She surprisingly announces she's busy: Sort of a celebration with Fritz. We're celebratin' because he's moving in next week. . .We'll see, it's a big step. And she takes the second eclair out of her purse and throws it away -- she controls the sugar and her life once again. The musical score throughout these scenes is marvelously bluesy and Southern honey.

Though "Fritz"s U-Haul had to sit out front for over a week when Mama (a marvelous Frances Sternhagen – who lobbied for the role) came a-callin' for a family funeral in "Slippin'" by John Coveny and Hunt Baldwin and directed by one of my favorites Elodie Keene. Mama melts when she overhears "Brenda" sympathize with a neglected murdering matriarch - I would never treat my Mama like that. I love my Mama. (That's from my memory, not a direct transcription.) So Mama, using "Brenda"-like skills deduces that "Fritz", who has been assiduously courting favor with her, had been about to move in (the very male touch of his baseball collection was already on display) and "Brenda" confesses why she hid it from her: I didn't want you to be disappointed in me. Mama wryly responds: It's too late for that. And they both agree not to tell Daddy - Oh Lord, no! This is the episode Kyra chose to submit for her 2007 Emmy nom.

In "Aftertaste" by Steven Kane, "Brenda" has been stirred up by her 40th birthday, and the big bouquet "Fritz" sent with a loving card. When the squad gives her a big chocolate birthday cake she coyly responds: This is just y'all's way to get sugar back in the murder room. But "Fritz" is there to assure her: See, 40 isn't so bad. You just have to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. She teases back: What glass? He laughs: That's my girl. And she has the sense to hide from him back into her desk the unopened birthday present she got from her ex, what with the murder case she just solved turning on jealousy (she called the victim's sleeping with other men to further her chef husband's career her unconventional business plan). And, of course, she lets herself luxuriate in a piece of cake.

"Out of Focus" by John Coveny and Hunt Baldwin opened with a deliciously ambiguous meeting of "Brenda" and her ex at a hotel and into the elevator where he finally figures out he should press the button first, clearly recalling memories for them both. Flashbulbs go off - then we find out it's a ritzy crime scene. She's yelling instructions to her team and he has to apologize for her: She sometimes forgets there are other people - in the world.. Her overhearing a call to "Fritzie" from a woman colleague-- that she covers up while standing soaking wet in a towel How long do I have to stand here half-naked before you notice? when he comes in from a long work night Mind if I take a nap first? until later she admits as she's off to work I'm late and I'm jealous-- of course leads her to solve her case (even though the plot was almost identical to a recent British mystery on PBS). I don't like Tenney's new short hair cut!

"Head Over Heels" by producer Wendy West found "Brenda" again linking her personal and professional lives. While her crew is titillated by a porn star's macabre death and faked HIV test, she's haunted by his children, with the baby's rattle left in her office, and the pregnancy test she's carrying around -- that she doesn't know "Fritz" has found even as she turns down wine. Leading to an unusually frank exchange with her ex-lover and now boss:
The Ex: Since when does sex make you so irritable?
"Brenda": I have no problem with loving, responsible, two-people-in-the-dark sex. I have a problem with the stupid, irresponsible mistakes people make.
The Ex: Seems to me your murder victim was very deliberate in his irresponsible...
"Brenda": I think I'm pregnant.
The Ex: hesitates: I take it congratulations are not in order. (silence again) You might be pregnant, or you are pregnant?
"Brenda: I haven't taken the test.
The Ex: What does Fritz have to say about all this?
"Brenda": I haven't told him yet.
The Ex: And you're telling me this after a dinner at which you told me you need this relationship to remain strictly a professional friendship. I know that you don't really understand the boundaries of "friendship" very well. I know this is hard for you. I get it. And I ... (struggles) I ... cannot have this conversation with you. For my sake. Really, OK? Nothing personal.
"Brenda" is more emotional than we usually see her: Sure. It's not personal. We see her finally take the test and smile broadly in relief (unlike what happened to her model "Detective Tennison") before hesitating -- of course it gives her a clue for her case. Her smiling request to "Fritz" for the biggest glass of Merlot possible gives him a clue too: So you're not pregnant? "Brenda" freezes: No, I'm not.
"Fritz": Were you ever going to tell me that you might be?
"Brenda" pouring on the Southern charm: Well, I would if was but I'm not so I just didn't think that it was worth mentioning.
"Fritz" pulling his rare serious confrontation: In a relationship you mention things. If you trust the other person.
"Brenda" gets serious too and nods: OK. From now on I want to make sure that we guard against any accidental possible pregnancies.
"Fritz" takes her hands: What about a pregnancy that happens on purpose?
"Brenda" again pours on the charm: Ah, we just moved in together, we're not married yet. There's a certain order to things. "Fritz" is still serious: Are you interested in having kids? At all?
She busies herself at her desk and hesitates for a long pregnant pause before hiding the rattle away in the drawer with the ex's unopened 40th birthday present. [A few episodes on, "The Other Woman" by Steven Kane, her celebrity lawyer opens the present but, to her torture, doesn't tell her what it is so she can have plausible deniability about any continued intimate relationship with the ex during his custody battle that she's testifying in as a character witness.] She pours on the sexiness - after all she's been surrounded by porn on this case: Maybe. But not tonight. He's a bit confused as she distracts him with a long, passionate kiss and leads him out the door by the hand.
"Heroic Measures", by Adam Belanoff, brought "Brenda" awkwardly (I have been a criminal investigator for 10 years and had a very interesting life before, and I've never seen anything like that) into female bonding with her sole woman detective and You're just like this crazy mother here, insisting we treat tragedy as murder. . . Just because someone doesn't share your agenda doesn't mean they are jerks. After pleading with the ADA to no avail Just tell me what you need for them to say to get a manslaughter conviction and I'll get it, she sadly sums up her job: We don't punish, we don't prosecute, we just find out the truth. -- before the mother takes justice into her own hands.
Her awkward personal and sharp professional lives crossed swords in the season penultimater "No Good Deed" by Duff and West. She's losin' my ability to function when she misplaces her large purse. We all know what it looks like. "Lt. Flynn" assures her when she asks for help finding it. Her sergeant is equally nonplussed when he oversees her congratulatory hug to her ex the boss over my good deed of the year in her help with his successful child custody battle. But for the first time we meet his divorcing wife when she charges into The Murder Room shouting: Where is she? "Brenda" is Southern charm: Estelle, can I help you? Why don't we go into my office? But "Estelle" goes on a tear in front of all of Brenda's underlings and colleagues: I don't need to go into your office. I just came by to say that if you think that now my husband is free you're going to pick up your little affair with him where you left off and take over as the mother of my children you had better think again. . .Don't you ever step into my house. I am warning you because if I find out that you are sleeping with Will again, I will re-open this custody issue and I am not kidding!
We haven't seen "Brenda" this shook since she was almost raped. She turns to her crew Sorry, sorry about that little interruption. and manages to get out detailed instructions to each of the detectives. "Flynn" brushes the instructions aside: Wait a minute. We're not going to talk about what just happened? His friend, the older, thrice (or was it four times) divorced "Lt. Provenza" leaps to her defense: Did you go deaf all of a sudden? She said no! "Brenda" pulls the ex aside: What have you been telling Estelle? Why does she hate me so much? The Ex hastens to explain: I can take care of this. Estelle is angry about the terms of our divorce and that she's basically sold our children because her husband-to-be doesn't want them. She's lashing out at me. "Brenda" is not mollified: You? I may have just lost the respect of everyone who works here! The Ex just gets himself in deeper: Before you were hired I made a full disclosure to the Chief about our previous relationship. "Brenda" is aghast: What? You told the Chief about our affair?. . How am I supposed to go back in there and face my people? And "Lt. Flynn" is still complaining to his buddy: I'll tell you why it matters. Because if Pope pulled her into our department because she's his ex! I mean, c'mon how does that sound? But "Lt. Provenza" surprisingly defends her: I don't give a flying you know what. It's nobody's business what she did with Pope, then or now. I mean, even if she has fooled around with him -- who does a better job around here? You? I don't want to hear another word about it. "Flynn"'s barely under control: OK but you don't think [her competing nemesis] "Taylor" is going to have a field day with it? I mean it's bad. If she's banging the boss, I want to know.
"Brenda" comes home -- and her day just got worse as she walks into her own interrogation. "Fritz" is sitting there obviously fuming - Yeah I had a bad day. Did you? "Brenda" says a line she does a lot with him: I think I need a glass of Merlot. "Fritz" stands up: Yeah, well I'm not surprised. That must have been a big shock. Having Estelle Pope burst in on you like that, dredging up the past, making all those wild accusations. Oh, I know that look - you're trying to figure out how angry I am. So you can decide how much you're going to explain.
"Brenda": Look I don't know what you heard. I don't like what happened today either. How do you know about all this anyway? "Fritz": Hey, that's not important. What's important is that Estelle accused you of wanting to get back together with "Pope". And she wouldn't have done that if she didn't think it was true. And why did she think that? "Brenda": I don't know! Because it's not true! It is not what I want! "Fritz": It doesn't matter what you want, Brenda. I know what you want. Just like Estelle Pope knows what Pope wants. Which is why she burst in on your Murder Room today and now everybody else knows how Pope feels -- and you're not doing anything about it. Nothing. It - it just goes on. "Brenda": Well, I don't know what you want me to do. I mean I can't help how Pope feels. "Fritz" is up and in her face now: You see, that's why I'm mad. Because you can help how Pope feels. By being absolutely clear with him. I'll show you how it's done. All right, I will be clear about how I feel. He takes her by both arms. I love you Brenda. I love you. How was that for clarity? He storms out of the house, slamming the door.
She looks through her box of memorabilia of her affair with "Pope", gets up for a big garbage bag and dumps it all in, slings it over her shoulder to the garbage can. She hears a noise: Fritzie is that you? But it's only the cat, who doesn't want to sleep on the bed with her either. Next morning she finds "Fritz" asleep on the living room couch and leaves him a very characteristic note: "Dear Fritz, I love you too. P.S. Please cancel all my credit cards today." She again slings the garbage bag over her shoulder and heads to work, where she shoves it onto her chair - and of course that gives her a clue to solve her case which hinges on love letters they can't find. A detective asks: So maybe she did get rid of them? "Brenda" can relate: No. I don't think she did. In fact, I'd be surprised if she dumped a single one.
Now her nemesis "Commander Taylor" barges into her Murder Room: Just want to say a word or two about what happened here yesterday. "Brenda" does her trademark Southern politesse again: That's not necessary. Thank you. "Taylor": Well it is. Just had a long conversation with the Chief and he feels that it's in the department's best interests if I help put this episode with Estelle Pope behind us. Especially considering the success rate of your division. The long and the short of it is there's nothing substantive to the terrible things that were said about Chief Johnson. And I'm also supposed to remind everyone that there is a big blue line at the door of this building and Estelle Pope crossed over it. And I hope we all know how to behave when one of our own is falsely accused. So. Pardon me for interrupting and if you need any further help on this problem Chief Johnson, you know where I am. "Brenda": Thank you for that spontaneous defense of my honor. "Taylor": My pleasure, ma'am, my pleasure. "Lt. Provenza" murmurs: You know they made him come down here and say that. "Brenda" concurs: They agreed on their story and went over what they wanted him to say. Which of course gives her another key clue to the case.
The Ex comes in her office and sees her amidst the garbage bag, clears his throat: So I hope Taylor's visit cleared everything up for you. . . You're not mad at me about this, are you? . . . As long as we're good. He hums a tune "Brenda" recognizes - he had forgotten to tell her she left her purse in his office. "Brenda": I do have something I want to say to you. Will you wait? "Pope": You don't have to say anything. I mean, is it about us? . . . You know, we're good. I know, Brenda, I get it. We're good. You gonna be long? She watches him walk away and she looks back at the garbage bag. She again slings it over her shoulder, walks over to the cleaning guy and dumps it in his cart. But back in her office she watches that cart roll away with a look full of pain, regret, conflict and a whole lotta mixed emotions.
The season finale, "Overkill" by Duff and Adam Belanoff went a bit overboard in beleaguering "Fritz" but their relationship was blended cutely into her investigation. The episode opened in a domestic scene of making dinner and Kitty walks out. "Brenda" starts scolding: You have left the patio door open which I have told you one billion times not to do! Kitty, Kitty! She's very upset as she calls for Kitty and shakes the food dish. Poor Kitty. He's probably terrified. "Fritz" corrects her ongoing error that seems to have some symbolism: She. She's probably terrified. We'll walk around the block. While we're out we'll leave the door open and put some food out. He's all masterful as he gets flashlights -- and Kitty saunters in and starts eating. But as soon "Brenda" pets her she flees out the front door. "Brenda": I told you not to leave the door open! Here Kitty!
He tries to liaison at their joint crime scene, as her guys smirk at the FBI trying to resist her: Here comes Miss Scarlet to the rescue. and she demurs to the agents on introduction: Charmed I'm sure. When she makes demands, the other agent is startled: You're kidding! "Fritz" sardonically: She's not, actually.
But she's still upset about the cat even amidst a double homicide. She's on the phone with Mama seeking a photo: I take very good care of him. Fritz left the door open! "Fritz" is pacing in fury behind her: Her! You take good care of her! Give me the phone! Give me the phone! "Brenda" to Mama as she fends him off: He's not used to having responsibility of a pet! "Fritz" explodes as she interrogates Mama to produce a photo to e-mail home: You know what? You are driving me crazy right now - across the board. He storms out of her office and returns with the plate of cannolli ordered by the Mafioso, who denies he uses violence against his enemies and calmly explains: I win by identifying the weaknesses of my adversaries who sit across from me in a room. That's how I win. C'mon - have one. She jerks the dessert tray away from him.
She next interrogates the FBI agent and warns Fritz: You should stay here. I'm going to have to do a little bit of what I do to you at home. Her bemused electronics whizz "Buzz" asks: So when you're at home does she blame you for everything? "Fritz" is a bit grim: Lately.
But Kitty still has her upset. "Fritz": If you want to go home and look around to see if Kitty has come back, why don't you just say so. "Brenda" (with great effort): I want to go home and see if Kitty has come back. "Fritz" clearly with a double meaning about their relationship: See, it wasn't so hard. But when one of her detectives is confused to see her on the way out she denies it. But they do leave and she pleads with him to retrieve her mother's e-mail: Can't you just do it for me? Can you copy it into a thingy and make a flyer and put our address on it? He mumbles about photos not being reliable for people let alone animals (ah- a clue for the case!) when she cries and sits on his lap as they share a tender look. "Fritz": Hey Kitty will come back. "Brenda": I hate to be silly. "Fritz": She's- just a stupid cat. Loving her isn't silly, okay. And by the way, did you ever get Kitty spayed? The cat waltzes in the front door. "Brenda" leaps up to scold the cat: Bad Kitty! Bad Kitty! Bad! Bad! Look at you. You are a mess! What have you been doin'? "Fritz": I know you're good at your job, honey, but I don't think Kitty's going to answer you. "Brenda" is warm: Fritzie says you have the right to remain silent. "Fritz": Y'know, when you think about it do we ever really know what Kitty's doing when our backs are turned? She's probably partying every day while we're at work. Inviting other cats over, smoking the catnip, scratching herself in odd places. . . But ah ha! Another clue for the case! as he sexily answers her phone amidst their tete a tete.
Now she does let him in on an interrogation. Why? Want to blame me for something else? "Brenda": No, in fact, I want to do for you what [the accused agent] wouldn't do for [Mafioso]. . . Explain everything.
The extra December serving of the double-episode of "Serving the King", part 1 by John Coveny and Hunt Baldwin/part 2 by Mike Berchem had a ridiculous plot relating to her old CIA days, as she's going stir crazy from being on paid administrative leave and "Fritz" is losing patience with her restlessness: That was a fast 5 mile run. How far did you get this time? She: Up to the pastry shop I hate. As he accidentally sits on unfinished knitting, he gestures around the house: You could use the time to finish up the many projects you've started. She uncharacteristically clings to him in a hug as he tries get off to work, even as they kiss and exchange I love yous. He sneaks a look back at her as he goes out the door, and she's settling in with the danish. Later, she ignores his plea to come to bed when she's fired up on a secret investigative mission she's running from their house with a loyal lieutenant, and throws out all those projects. Her nemesis drolly refers to their relationship when she reclaims her office from him, with "Fritz" in tow: Always nice to see the FBI and the LAPD working together. (And she does hand over a big espionage catch over to "Fritz".) Nice touch when later she's being escorted to meet the CIA staffers who may have screwed up the terrorist case, she's warned about one: Careful, she's a raging bitch and coolly notes That raging bitch is a friend of mine. He was the only one concerned about her safety: I’m looking at some of the names here, Brenda. These guys are really dangerous. And you got in a car with them? She reassures him: No, not one of them, three of them. But that was only because they were following me. He is getting more and more concerned as they are working together: Are you really going after terrorists here? She: I would answer all your questions, but I signed a confidentiality agreement. He: You trying to reassure me? Because you’re doing a terrible job. But she is uncharacteristically insecure with her boss: If I don’t get this right, do you think they’ll kick me out again? Maybe there was zero romantic interaction in Part 2 because hubby Kevin was directing, but her final monologue was superbly shot. She and her team are on a stake-out, waiting for a mole to turn up, and her colleagues complain they don’t trust the CIA guys. She tells them a long story, with close-ups on her face in the dark listening post alternating with her colleagues’ reactions and the night setting: I remember once hearing a speech about what it meant to be an officer of the CIA. And the man who gave this speech talked about the struggle to control civilization. And how we’re always fighting the same fight. And he used the Dark Ages as an example. And he talked about how on this side you had the pragmatic king who was greedy and power-hungry and basically took advantage of people whenever he could. And on the other side you had the idealistic church forcing everyone to follow the same rules and beliefs, all the same things and all that. And neither the king nor the church was ever completely right or wrong. Both sides ended up doing terrible things to get what they wanted. Really terrible things. The point of this story was this. That this struggle from the Dark Ages had been going on forever. That the church and the king might take different forms and philosophies but they would always fight each other. Pragmatists and idealists. And that most times you are better off standing on the side lines and letting them duke it out. But every once and awhile one side or the other decides that it might just be better to blow up the whole world, just to get its own way. And when that happens you can’t stand on the sidelines anymore. You have to pick a team. And for tonight, anyway, we’re serving the king. Later she shrugs that her instinct is usually “to split the difference.” (I’m late commenting and transcribing relationship bits from the 3rd season, which has an inconsistent tone now that the Chief has settled in with her team and she’s living with her now-fiancé “Fritz” but enduring as her department-mandated shrink says: "So then other than possible early onset menopause, getting engaged, having your parents come to town, buying a new house, being attacked with a cattle prod then shooting and killing your assailant, there's nothing significant happening in your life." but I will get around to it.) Whew – “Fritz” finally got angry in the third season finale – and what a hot making up! (updated 8/22/2012)

Kyra's Emmy nom brought a nice by Virginia Heffernan in The New York Times on July 10, 2006, The Closer's' Kyra Sedgwick, a Study in Nuance Congrats on getting the 2007 Golden Globe! Too bad the fifth season was the weakest. Better luck next year.

Damages (On FX originally, I don’t have Direct TV, so I’ll have to watch the last 2 seasons on DVD. All 5 seasons out on DVD.) I almost moved The Shield over to this category the year Glenn Close was the Captain over there. But don’t take your eyes off her here –she one-up’s Meryl’s Prada Evil Boss, though the story line is really convoluted. I watched the Season 1 finale 3X and I’m still not sure I followed it all.. (updated 7/16/2013)

Dark Angel (Reruns on the SyFy Channel. Both seasons on DVD/video, plus an atypically hip hop soundtrack album.) This was totally a guilty pleasure with high gloss sci fi production values, but darn it, the chemistry between pouty Jessica Alba as a genetically-enhanced kick-asser and her mostly wheel-chair-bound or otherwise disabled scruffy brainy mentor "Logan Cale" is alluring (and they were supposedly engaged off-screen, though best not to dwell on the fact that he was really 32 and she was 19 -- and their romance didn't survive this show and her move on to pin-up princess and his to TV's in NCIS) as they take on the military-industrial complex and an evil breeding cult of the future. Just as he got over his macho hang-ups over her super-abilities (and his exo-skeleton did make things a bit less interesting), she was implanted with a him-specific contagious virus is how they kept the sexual tension going. They never did find a lasting cure, other than a Sweeps Week abeyance. And then a torturous break-up. The Transgenics didn't survive their war with Fox. (Birds of Prey was such a weak rip-off!) There's a thorough episode guide and a whole lot more at the best and still loyal fan site.(updated 8/31/2009)

Earth: Final Conflict (reruns on SyFy Channel, (5 seasons on DVD) The second sci fi show I've moved from the HUNK 'O' METER to the "Hall of Dames" because this is the first sci fi TV show that concluded with two women leads! Probably inspired by the closing seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, and I guess in the future alien hunters have to wear skimpy clothes, but the feminist dialog the last season was a hoot -- did anyone guess that the serial murderer forensic pathologist who could figure out how to kill the Atavus would be a woman? (updated 8/31/2009)

Enlightened (On HBO, both seasons out on DVD) As good as crazy Laura Dern is, this series gives me serious flashbacks to all the jobs I hated in offices – and I was in the nonprofit/government sector! (updated 8/7/2013)

Falcon Beach (ABC Family. 1st season on DVD.) I originally put this on my HUNK 'O' METER as mostly worth watching for Steve Byers as "Jason" --he actually said in the episode "Reckless Love" by Elizabeth Stewart to his water boarding coach What am I - the dumb blond? er, yeah -- and the Doc (unusual realistic that he's an appropriately aged med student resident), among other cute guys. But one of the young women stuffing a bikini vying for his charms has a brain as well as gorgeous hair, “Paige Bradshaw” played by Jennifer Kydd, who is supposedly going for a Harvard MBA and does have her cheatin’, embezzzlin’ dad’s head for business, though the back stories on the characters are pretty inconsistent. I also like her mom’s growing independence. Kudos to the series for having a young woman who unusually for TV is of Lebanese Maronite Christian heritage, even if her teen pregnancy was dumb. Cool Canadian music. But the way the end of the second season was dumped into overnights, as the confusing season ended off into the sunset, I think that’s the direction of the series too.(updated 12/7/2007)
Set in Hawaii so they look a lot warmer is Beyond the Break (on The N which became Teen Nick, but the schedule is so erratic and my cable system keeps moving the channel that I missed the 3rd season) Stretched out to an half-hour of supposedly empowered diverse girl surfers wearing bikinis who the series can't decide are jailbait age or not, but I was watching for legally aged Baywatch grad David Chokachi and a couple of eye candy male refugees from other mindless teen shows. But by the second season I got more involved with the talents and ambitions of feisty “Lacey Farmer” (played by Natalie Ramsey) and sweet native girl “Kai Kealona” (played by Sonya Balmores). But, hey, at least even I can't stand South of Nowhere. (updated 8/31/2009)

Farscape (4 seasons available on DVD - chintzily with only 2 episodes per disk. But now they're putting out something called "Starbust Editions" with all kinds of extras, through the 4.2 seasons in a space-saving single volume with 2 2-sided discs and additional footage. Final mini-series on DVD. Soundtrack album out. Supposedly SyFy Channel is reviving Farscape as a Web-based series of short films on their online broadband network, ordering10 webisodes, to be produced by Brian Henson and Robert Halmi Jr. through The Jim Henson Co. series will expand the Farscape universe.) I had just taken this show off this list when I thought I had witnessed the death of the primo sci fi Dame "Aeryn Sun", but whew, her funeral was premature. Figures that one of the classiest woman warriors on TV isn't just Australian but not even human-- her journey of understanding humanity through her relationship with astronaut "John Crichton" is well worth joining. I primarily watch this show for her and her character development. And her very complex interaction with John. And his clone. The episode when she mourned the clone, "The Choosing", and painfully resolved to get on with her life as before was one of the most moving on TV all season (and I managed to screw up the re-taping of it so now I'll have to wait and wait and wait for it to come around on reruns again); too bad sci fi gets ignored come Emmy time. All so much more interesting than most long-running shows with lead characters' attraction-- probably because she is so much more complex than he is -- but his devotion is sure part of his appeal. The writers kept coming up with interesting ways to get them together -- then pull them apart. The humor and creativity is very much worth the long ride. The fourth season had an almost all-female cast of heroines and villains, as the most seductive of the latter pointed out: "Would you have a weapon in your armory and leave it unused?" "Aeryn" could be the coolest wife and mother in any galaxy! At least Claudia Black has been brought on occasional board Stargate: SG1 as another feisty alien on Sci Fi Shows. The fan sites are a bit too overwhelming to pick a favorite, either in looking back or forward. (updated 8/31/2009)

La Femme Nikita (All 5 seasons out on DVD, with some unaired scenes. Soundtrack available.) Its premise of "a covert anti-terrorism agency" now seems eerily realistic (and needed!) and is weakly imitated by ABC's Alias. One-word title indicates you've caught a first season episode, 2-word, 2nd season, etc. until the last 5th season. You'll need that information to follow the erratic reruns, as they tend to show out of order so the confusing relationships will be even more confusing. The sexiest couple on TV try to keep their humanity, let alone their ever-changing relationship, amidst the politics and paranoia of battling worldwide terrorism in an Orwellian environment. The world sure could use their expertise now! No Moonlighting syndrome here as the producers kept finding creative ways to put the lovers together, pull them apart, let them escape and force them back in with enthralling suspense. And all that tight black leather and gorgeous hair. The music was cool too. As creator Joel Surnow (who is now using what he learned here on 24) says on the video of the first episode: "We were trying to see if music would work on the show the way we had worked it into Miami Vice. Miami Vice was kind of cops and rock 'n' roll, and we were spy and alternative." (But I'm not sure if the repeats or the DVDs have the full, original music selections due to rights issues.) And oh yeah Peta Wilson is a very friendly neighbor of Russell Crowe's Down Under. (updated 8/31/2009)
I wasn't that into the CW update Nikita (4 seasons out on DVD) until towards the end of the first season when this "Nikita" (Maggie Q) finally had sexual tension explode into romance with this "Michael" (Shane West), which also makes the second season that much more sexily satisfying, if tamer. For example, in “Clawback” by Michael Brandon Guercio, that is otherwise parallel to the sense of the original, “Michael” fervently explains why he followed her and saved her life with sniper back-up: Do you ever stop to think of how I would feel if I lost you? You have no idea how much you mean to me, Nikita. No idea. If you ever pull a stunt like that again, we’re through.– and then there’s no sex, just anger. Huh? Instead, as in “Guardians, by Albert Kim, a co-conspirator expects him to be around as “Nikita”s “scruffier half” before he does drives in to save the day – and just gets rewarded with a long gaze. (updated 4/1/2014)

Gilmore Girls (Was on the CW, soundtrack album out. 7 seasons out on DVD. Repeats weekdays on ABC Family.) While it suspiciously came out of the Family Friendly Programming Forum, a script development advertisers' coalition [though by 6/20/2005 they were describing their goals to The Hollywood Reporter as "programs that have multigenerational appeal, are appropriate in theme, content and language for a broad family audience and may include difficult, real-life issues and problems as long as they are resolved in a responsible manner"], producer Amy Sherman-Palladino had created a witty set of eccentric characters circling around a perhaps too-close-to-be-believable mom and daughter Lauren Graham and Alexis Bleidel, particularly Kelly Bishop as the Grandmother from Hell. Really snappy multi-generational dialogue, even if Six Feet Under savaged the mother/daughter bonding satirically. And who wouldn't enjoy watching the two hunks vying for the daughter? Singer-songwriter Grant Lee Philips is a clever inside musical joke as a troubadour. Terrific teen triangle - first I sighed for Dean, but who could resist bad boy "Jess"? (They return when their spin-off shows or other guest appearances don't pan out. Back and gone, back and gone) And even the best friend --in an unusual Korean-American girl's role on TV though watchdog groups don't seem to notice her -- found a guitar player! (who literally moved out to California in The O.C.) In Season 4 the Palladinos finally found Lorelei a boyfriend who can talk the talk in "Jason" (played by Chris Eigeman) -- then, AW, he's out, that's it. But, whew, Scott Patterson is a much sexier boyfriend than I expected "Luke" to become. At least "Rory" is finally meeting some cute guys at Yale. I'm enjoying the irony of how the Palladinos are handling the dysfunctional family conflicts of her dating when there even isn't any class or ethnic conflict in her choices. Nice to see the Palladinos bring back our cousin Alan Blumenfeld for a recurring role as the wise-cracking rabbi, which is a nice change from the sleazy lawyers or accountants he usually gets cast as. I've decided I want to hire the Palladinos to write the dialogue of my life - I talk that fast all the time anyway. The final season without them is talking the talk but not walking the walk - it's all speed dialog but the situations are tired: Back with the high school sweetheart? Preggers after the disastrous wedding night a la 7th Heaven? Still rebelling against Mom? It's like the tired past its sell date of Remington Steele.
Pretty amazing that "Rory" in "A Vineyard Valentine," by co-creator Daniel Palladino, broadcast 2/14/2006 could tell a newspaper colleague to be more aggressive via Betty Friedan's dead and we all have to fill the vacuum. when Friedan had just died on 2/4/2006. That's sure TV Land fast. Fans loved when "Rory"s idols Madeleine Albright and Christiane Amanpour cameo'd.
For my take on the seasons on “Paris” as the Jewish female character on the show and a report on the 4th season). Thorough fan site here.) (updated 9/5/2013)

The Good Wife (on CBS, ridiculously scheduled Sunday nights after football overruns, so you’re better off watching the free stream on the network website; 6 seasons on DVD) Set in Chicago, but it is filmed in NYC, so it features a lot of NY theater actors, including Alan Cumming who gets to show that he can play straight and very straight-laced. Whatever the politics and litigation story lines, it’s the women in the series who are worth watching, though all inexplicably with too much make-up): the titular Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies), her nemesis mother-in-law “Jackie” (played by Mary Beth Peil), her boss “Diane Lockhart” (played by Christine Baranski, who heretofore on TV only got to show off her comedic chops), and her mysterious bi-sexual investigator “Kalinda Sharma” (played by Archie Panjabi). Introduced briefly in 2011, in the 6th season young Jewish Marissa Gold was a smart-talking sidekick, who returned briefly in the final season. (updated 5/10/2016)

British Guilty Pleasures I got hooked on these soap operas when there were on BBC America prime time, then they moved to overnight, then to web only, and then abruptly stopped.
Bad Girls (on Logo Channel with bleeps, streaming online, only Season 1 on U.S. DVD) is classic women-in-prison trash (and I haven't bothered to watch the Mexican or Australian ones that show up on cable). But what fun! I've lost track of what season I'm watching, as there seems least 8 have been shown in the U.K. [Similar American guilty pleasures included The Girl’s Guide to Depravity, based on Heather Rutman’s blog, which was shown in the soft-core porn late night ghetto on Cinemax, the similar I Just Want My Pants Back that MTV mistakenly tried to target to its too young audience, and then it took years for this genre to be similarly tried again in Sweetbitter (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival).] (updated 10/19/2018)
Holly Oaks The accents and Brit slang are so thick that I sometimes have trouble following, so it’s practically anthropological research. Though knowing Brit slang helps for the subtitles of all those foreign-language films that don’t bother to get separate English translations for Americans. The guys aren’t particularly hunky, mostly pale and scrawny, the women common-looking but give as good as they get, the huge families of incongruous siblings are mostly unemployed if they don’t work in bars, the students mostly cut classes. But the class issues are much more explicit than on U.S. TV. I was still trying to keep track of the bed-hopping, sexual orientations, who is in and out of jail, who owes money to whom for why, and who is responsible for killing or whatever whose relative. So I either now have a half-hour free in my life each day – or I can look all over the web to find out where else it is streaming. I’m choosing to spend that time trying to keep these web pages updated instead. (updated 6/12/2008)

Desperate Housewives (was on ABC. 7 seasons on DVD. Soundtrack out.) A campy satire of beautiful suburbanites written, yet again, by what The New York Times quaintly described as "a bachelor" but in The Mercury News of 10/3/2004 creator Marc Cherry explained his focus on female characters: “I truly think as a guy who's got a mom and two sisters and many female friends I have a lot to say about what I've observed and what I've been learning” about women, he says. “And I'm gay, so that helps too. Plus, if you've ever seen me write men, you know I don't do that so well. But this was like falling off a log.” On The Charlie Rose Show (1/4/2005) he expanded on how being a gay man led him to be a good observer as an outsider, and particularly of women as he wasn't hanging out with the guys. Cherry told AP Television News on July 16, 2005 at a panel on "Queer is Just a Frame of Mind on Wisteria Lane" part of Outfest 2005 - the 23rd Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival: “I think any time you get four or five really strong women doing desperate, dastardly things, I think gay men get a big kick out of it.” Cherry told The New York Times 9/24/2005: “It's satire, some earnest drama, different tonalities. . . At its core, our show is about what it means to be a wife and mother. It's about the millions of women leading lives of quiet desperation.” [Felicity] Huffman added, in an interview: “I don't know how a 42-year-old gay guy got into the mind-set of the mother I play on the show - before it really was in the zeitgeist, the true madness that is motherhood. But he did it, which is why I wanted to do the show.” Writer Jeff Greenstein, who comes out of sitcoms, described the series’ writing process at the 2008 Banff International TV Festival:
I was enjoying the Latina's affair with the hunky teen gardener, but Huffman's frazzled ex-exec/now FT/working mother of no-neck monsters is more rooted in reality. From A Disparate Housewife By Joel Stein (Time, 12/5/2005) "Still, she says she hasn't had any film offers since she got Transamerica, just after Desperate Housewives got picked up. And she notes that it was gay men who cast her as a lead in each. She believes that as more gay men get positions of power in Hollywood, older women will get more opportunities. 'I think for gay men, women stay sexual, sensual beings longer,' she says. 'Because the sex question doesn't come into it, they appreciate women sensually. I don't think they afford the same courtesy to their own community.' You don't have to worry about saying things that alienate gay guys when you star in Desperate Housewives."
While Footballers' Wives showing on BBC America is a much more outrageous soap opera so is more trashy fun, the brouhaha about DH reminds me of the bowdlerized version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar we had to read in high school, which eliminated Portia's plea for more marital communication from Brutus: Dwell I but in the suburbs/Of your good pleasure? If it be no more,/Portia is Brutus' harlot, not his wife.
Just when I was giving up on this show for satire along comes the fourth season episode “Art Isn't Easy” by Jason Ganzel with its fight between the new gay neighbors and Dana Delany’s “Kat” who takes over the Homeowners’ Association with this hilarious appropriation of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s quote: “Lee” (played by Kevin Rahm):First they came for the fountains, and I did not speak out because I had no fountain. Then they came for the lawn gnomes and I did not speak out because I had no gnome. "Lynette”: You're comparing Kat to a Nazi? “Lee:” Then they came for my tree house, and there was no one left to speak for me. And then the November Sweeps Week tornado blew the tornado away. The series hasn't maintained its quality into 2009, but is still fun to watch. (updated 5/25/2012)

Girls - Indie-darling Lena Dunham’s Girls (6 seasons available on DVD) gets the full-on HBO PR with executive producer Judd Apatow. I’m following ”Shoshanna Shapiro” as quite unique young Jewish, woman and maturing on TV series. (updated 10/19/2018)

Greek (ABC Family, Monday nights at 9 pm, repeated erratically. Out on DVD is a bit confusing – they're up to Chapter 5 – complete season 3.) This is college as almost as old-fashioned, including the odd clothes styles, as Disney’s High School Musical, which OK I admit I haven’t seen, (though they sometimes stick in contemporary music like the Plain White T’s at a frat party), but it’s head and shoulders above The N’s The Best Years, and has a slight tip of the hat to Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons and Philip Roth’s Goodbye Columbus. There’s cute references to other TV shows, like a graduating senior being surprised that to be a doctor with a busy sex life like on Grey's Anatomy one actually has to take science courses – Try the drama department. sardonically suggests her advisor.
I’m primarily watching for the surprising spunkiness of Spencer Grammar as “Casey”, yeah, a sorority girl but a bright one with decency and ambition, who could be Reese Witherspoon’s younger sister (though she was disappointed to be treated as if she were Legally Blonde when she got a D.C. internship. As adorable as her typically dorky brother Rusty (Jacob Zachar) is (and he got laid way too early in freshmen year to be believable), "Casey" is surprisingly credible with the geeky scientist "Max", even it was inevitable she'd break his over-infatuated heart. I’m really watching to see what happens between “Casey” and her rogue-ishly charming frat boy son-of-hippies ex “Cappie” (Scott Michael Foster – who was equally charming among the hunks and confused young women on Quarterlife, though I only caught up with that charming series when NBC burned it off on Bravo in hour-long compilations of the webisodes.). (updated 1/10/2011)

Halt and Catch Fire (on AMC, 4 seasons on DVD) I was hoping for top quality in a realistic depiction of the dawn of the competitive PC industry, as finally explained to me on TWiT’s podcast. At first, I really tuned in for Lee Pace, as manipulative bi-salesman “Joe MacMillan”. Or Scoot McNairy, but here he’s such a good actor as bearded schlumpy engineer “Gordon Clark”. But instead he and I more appreciated the talents of his engineer wife “Donna Clark” (Kerry Bishé) in the sexist tech industry, as she tries to balance his/her work and kids. Then there’s Mackenzie Davis as wild child programmer “Cameron Howe”, that I’m pretty sure is an uncredible, inauthentic character, but she’s fun to watch anyway. By the end of the series, the two women were the primary focus. (updated 1/28/2018)

Hung (was on HBO. 1st season on DVD.) Despite the titular reference to Thomas Jane's character's endowment, it is Jane Adams as his pimp "Tanya Skagle" who gives the show heart and poignancy. Rhea Perlman as the professorial mom from hell well justified her mother issues, but I find it interesting that they just skirt having them identified as Jewish women. The setting in the Detroit suburbs adds to the floundering entrepreneurs' desperation. (updated 5/25/2012)

In Plain Sight (was on USA. All 5 seasons on DVD) I've liked Mary McCormack since Mystery, Alaska, but I particularly like her tomboy, all-business "Mary Shannon", U.S. Marshal in the Witness Protection Program. Even though she has zero chemistry with the hunky Cristián de la Fuente as her boyfriend, her querulous sparring is fun with philosophical partner "Marshall Mann", Fred Weller (who I've liked in a number of tiny indie movies such as Four Lane Highway). It's a change of pace in TV that her family problems aren't spouse and kids, but instead mother and sister, with lots of daddy issues. Her pregnancy in season 3 is being dealt with differently than usual. (updated 8/29/2012)

The Killing (On AMC; 3 seasons on DVD.) Sure it made me want to see the Danish original, that I missed streaming briefly (along with Borgen) on Link TV, as the red herrings and plot twists got annoying. But that it was woman-written and driven was what made it particularly watchable – adaptor Veena Sud, Mireille Enos as "Detective Sarah Linden", laden with boyfriend, ex-husband, rebellious teen and wild-card new partner ((the eminently watchable Joel Kinnaman) problems while trying to move on, and victim's mom Michelle Forbes, who is vastly underrated and underused as she moves from show to show. The 2nd, resuscitated season was better – but evidently the ratings were worse. I hope to get around to watching the 4th season on Netflix. (updated 7/2/2014)

Lincoln Heights (was on ABC Family, Season 1 on DVD. All 3 seasons streaming on Hulu Plus.) It took me all of the first season (it's now into the fourth) to decide if I liked this show. It doesn’t hit the heights of QUALITY TELEVISION that it seeks, with an excellent team of guest stars (hey it’s always nice to see the likes of Alex Carter, Michael Warren and Richard Roundtree in recurring roles), producers, writers and directors. It is the best showcase of African-American women characters in a family since Soul Food, with mom the nurse and two teen-age daughters facing usual adolescence, plus the strains of being striving working class, as they got a deal on their house in their dad’s old inner city neighborhood due to a “resident cop” program. I am curious to see how the interracial romance works out. (updated 6/24/2012)

Malcolm in the Middle (Soundtrack album out. 1st season on DVD.) Jane Kaczmarek is the most realistic sitcom Mom on TV since Roseanne. Equal parts maternal and jailor. A perfect match for Marge Simpson. And it gave me my first opportunity to LOL after September 11. (updated 8/31/2009)

Medium (Originally on CBS. Reruns on Lifetime. All 7 season on DVD.) Writers are finding ways to humanize the dominant procedural genre, this time by combining it with The X Files. But what makes this work is the family drama element, as Patricia Arquette looks and acts like a real mom of three, struggling with work and kids and day care, and she even has some body fat on her. Her character has marvelous rapport, in dialogue and sexiness, with her husband, played delightfully by Jake Weber way more appealing than he was in HBO's Mind of the Married Man and minus his Brit accent -- though his extreme supportiveness may be the most supernatural element. (The imitation shows Closer to Home and Ghost Whisperer haven't figured out how to similarly incorporate overly supportive hunks Christian Kane and David Conrad, respectively, so those guys didn't last long.) But they've already used the term golem wrong twice.
As a bonus, David Cubitt was a recurring cop in the first season and became a regular – with a complicated relationship with the very political blonde deputy mayor/city council candidate, who was warned it wasn’t PC to be dating him. Like the sardonic smiles in this previous interchange: Do you want your key back? No, I’ll change the lock. No you won’t., as we saw them in his car together, just as she was on the cell phone to “Allison” denying that she knew where he was.
They’re still together in the fourth season opener “And Then” by series creator Glenn Gordon Caron, and she’s being very supportive even as he’s exiled to non-detective work for colluding with also underemployed “Allison”. He considers the new D.A.’s offer of a promotion: Can I sleep on it? The retort back: Not unless you sleep alone. Let’s keep your girlfriend out of this. I’m tired of phone calls from her on your behalf. And they stayed together all season. (updated 6/21/2011)
from TV's Rare Bird: Networks Don't Know What to Do With Functional Families, Except Ignore Them, by Teresa Wiltz, The Washington Post May 21, 2006: "[T]he murders almost seem like background noise in "Allison"s life, as she and her aerospace engineer husband navigate opposing worldviews and carpool schedules. Despite their differences, there is real tenderness between them. For the series' writer and creator, the marriage 'was the only reason to do the show', says Glenn Gordon Caron, who also created the 1980s hit Moonlighting with Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis. If he had his way, he says, Arquette and her TV husband, played by Jake Weber, would perform 75 percent of their scenes in their underwear with their hair messed up. 'That's how [couples] reveal intimacy. They let each other see themselves unadorned. . . . Marriage is joy and bliss', he says, and it's a mess. 'The most interesting shows on television today are about marriage,' Caron notes."

The Middleman (was on the Sci Fi Channel, complete season out on DVD.) This should have been dreadful, after all it was based on graphic novels. But their co-author Javier Grillo-Marxuach is experienced from some of my fave oddball sci fi-ish shows and it was simply charming, particularly Natalie Morales as the very cool and competent "Wendy Watson", when usually such shows depend on a hunk, such that her flirtation with Brendan Hines as "Tyler Ford" was just a satisfying sidelight. (9/1/2009)

The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman (was on IFC, 1st season on DVD.) While it's not 100% original in its depiction of women and movie-making in Hollywood (Sarah Silverman's Pilot Season was very similar about TV) and it simply fictionalizes a lot of what we saw about indie films in the Project Greenlight- 1st Season, again in the 2nd Season, and yet again in the 3rd Season, let alone the quasi-fictional HBO's Unscripted, the relationship between best friends Laura Kightlinger, the co-creator, and ditzy Nicholle Tom is fun, in a kind of femme take on Entourage. But the series didn't really take off until the woebegone graphic novelist showed up and humanized "Jackie"s sarcasm, though I can't figure out who the adorable actor is. And he never came back and she’s back to being nasty to everyone, so I wasn't surprised when it ran off the rails in the second season and didn't get renewed. (updated 8/31/2009)

My Boys (cancelled after 4 seasons on TBS, 3 seasons on DVD.) I don't usually watch sitcoms, but Jordana Spiro as a tomboy Chicago sportswriter more comfortable with her guy buddies than with chicks is a charmer. Created by Betsy Thomas, the scripts alternate between male and female writers. I even get a kick out of the baseball metaphor narration. And I too love Wrigley Field. Will we find out what her nomenclature of P.J. is for? Let alone after sharing a kiss with “Sexiest Bachelor Brendan”. What a cliffhanger in the second season– so who did she take to Italy? Hmm, which guy did I want her to take – the globe-trotting ex, or the botanist or the traded Cub? Just when it looked like she would really just stay friends with cute "Bobby Newman" (played by Kyle Howard), the colleague she slept with on an away trip, the short third season seemed to work at making them a couple, and even into the final fourth season.
Spiro had even less luck with Mob Doctor (fall 2012 on Fox), another Chicago-set series, that started out ridiculous then heated up too late after cancellation. Her surgeon “Dr. Grace Devlin”, with a criminal family past and current secret obligations, was in a surprisingly pallid hospital romance with the usually adorable Zach Gilford (forever beloved and appealing from Friday Night Lights). Then the triangle finally dinged when she got pulled back into the sexy orbit of her ex-high school boyfriend “Leo Franco” (played magnetically by James Carpinello) turned gangster who turned out to be an undercover cop, culminating in the 9th episode “Fluid Dynamics”, as directed by Ken Olin, climaxing with the very well-used song “Maybe Next Year (Christmas Song)” by Meiko (from The Hotel Café Presents Winter Songs collection of women singer/songwriters). (updated 12/18/2012)
Spiro was previously the daughter on one of my favorite cable shows The Huntress The first season was a great deal of fun and the second season had more sweet romance amidst the adventure. Loosely based on a true story and developed from a guilty pleasure TV movie, this mother-daughter bailbondspersons romp through the outskirts of the criminal justice system is nicely smart alecky. And nice to see Annette O'Toole in her best role since the long-ago Smile, before she went on to Smallville. Nice that the romances were bubbling for awhile. (updated 7/21/2010)

Nurse Jackie (on Showtime, 7 seasons On DVD) Amazing that Edie Falco can create two indelible TV characters, this after "Carmela" on The Sopranos. This is a much better portrayal of discrimination against nurses in hospitals than TNT's dreadful, inexplicably renewed Hawthorne that premiered at the same time. What a tough, complicated, cynical life with addiction, husband home in Queens, gifted kid, pharmacist lover, immature "Dr. Fitch Cooper" (Peter Facinelli), and a boss from hell. So her friendship with a rich Brit bitchy woman doc (Eve Best getting her best TV role ever as "Dr. O'Hara) is an unusual cross-class bonding. (updated 10/23/2015)

Once and Again (2 seasons out on DVD.) Sela Ward and Billy Campbell are not only gorgeous, the story lines are not only grab-a-tissue romantic, but the writing, acting and directing from the 30something and My So-Called Life alumni are superb, including the teens. It makes a raw look at divorce and step-families and the impact on families beautifully watchable. The side-stories on the sister and ex-wife are also well-done, though I don't quite get why they keep breaking up with the hunks in their lives. Caveat: No way do teens have such heavy hearts-to-hearts with parents. I always tell friends contemplating parenthood: "You're not having a baby. You've having a sullen teenager." (updated 8/22/2003)

Once Upon A Time (on ABC, Sunday nights and free streaming, 2t seasons out on DVD.) I had no expectations, so was even happily surprised when I saw it starred Jennifer Morrison, of House, M.D., with her natural blonde, as a tough bounty hunter, then turned sheriff, gradually understanding that she’s been drawn to Storybrooke (which only consists of Disney-related tales), and the child she herself gave up for adoption, because she’s the child of Snow White and Prince Charming. In this re-imagining of fairy/folk/book and other tales that goes back and forth between past and spell-cast present, such that each character cleverly has two identities, the women are the strongest, particularly Ginnifer Goodwin, as Snow White, and Lana Parilla, as the evil stepmother/Queen/mayor. While the designated Prince Charming is kind of lame and Robert Carlyle gets to emote as both evil and paternal in the two worlds, there’s also been some appealing guys come and go to help/harm them: The Huntsman (Jamie Doman), Pinocchio (Eion Bailey), and the Mad Hatter (Sebastian Stan), though David Anders hasn’t gotten to do much as “Dr. Whale”. Much as I loved the chemistry between “Emma” and “Neal Cassidy/Baefire” (the ever adorable Michael Raymond-James), I have fallen for the devotion of “Captain Hook” (Colin O'Donoghue), as he thankfully outgrew the odd evil Peter Pan season. (updated 3/6/2015)

Orphan Black (on BBC America, on Supernatural Saturdays, 3 seasons on DVD.) (Tatiana Maslany shoulda been a contender for an Emmy! Best explanation I read is that Emmy voters don’t realize all those clones are played by one (brilliant) actress.) (updated 7/31/2015)

Over There (full season on DVD.) Amidst this testosterone-fest of soldiers talking and fighting a blue streak in Iraq in an updated Band of Brothers, what kept me watching were actually the women, whether fighting at home, abroad or in a V.A. hospital, whether standing by their man or not. These young actresses get to shine in dramatic roles they haven't had a shot at before as they show the range of complexities for the genders in today's Army, so the carping in the blogosphere about unrealistic weapons, helicopters and fighting strategies is irrelevant to me. This is more like an updated China Beach for me. I bought the was-it-there-for-titillation lezzie interlude more than I bought that the AWOL soldier had retained her sit-on blonde hair through service in Iraq -- so I wasn't surprised when she cut it upon return. The encounter between "Sergeant Scream" and "Strident Frog" (for once a credible, committed beautiful activist) in "Orphans" by Joel Fields, was surprisingly involving -- and you do know that he can't return to her without risking her death. (updated 3/20/2006)

Parks and Recreation (on NBC, 5 seasons on DVD) (Of course Amy Poehler is a wonderfully funny actress, but her “Leslie Knope” is a haplessly, hopelessly dedicated civil servant, as she’s moved up from bureaucrat, to administrator, to city councilwoman of Pawnee, Indiana, that reminds me of my years working in NYC and NYS government.)
Recurring female guest stars were hilarious. I particularly took note of Jenny Slate as the satirical portrayal of rich Jewish girl “Mona Lisa ” Parks and Recreation - “Sapirstein”.
Here I describe the 2013 ”Fluoride” episode in detail as a delicious preventive dentistry tribute. (updated 5/3/2015)

Penny Dreadful (3 seasons on Showtime) started out as a ridiculous supernatural mish-mash of Catholic demonology, famous fictional supernatural hunters, and 19th century spiritualism, that showed off to hunky effect Reeve Carney as “Dorian Gray”, Harry Treadaway as a virginal “Victor Frankenstein”, Timothy Dalton as a restrained “Sir Malcolm Murray”, the kind of explorer that Paddington satirically spears, and the dastardly immortal couple of “Dorian Gray” and “Lily Frankenstein”. Josh Hartnett as a Buffalo Bill-like “Ethan Chandler” at first in love with a La Boheme-like consumptive prostitute before really ramping up his appeal, but the eye-popping (literally) Eva Green got to literally chew the scenery as the medium “Vanessa Ives” who got put through just about everything one can imagine, even while looking fetching in and out of black Victorian garb. Season 2 was even more fun, as more women moved even more center stage as the Devil and/or vessels, even with “Ethan” revealed to be a hunted werewolf. But the 2nd season ramped up the intensity of the chemistry of the romantic relationships (including Patti LuPone as a witch), and the 3rd and final season went Out American West with Wes Studi as the Last Apache – wow! (While adding in a bastard son of India as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde who help stop Lily’s bloody feminist revolution) and even Dracula as the human form of a mythic dragon. So I just had to get a commemorative T-shirt in memory of the series. updated 2/8/2017)

The Pretender (original follow-up movies out on DVD. 4 seasons on DVD.) Miss Parker is the coolest dame on TV just about since Mrs. Peel on The Avengers. In leather trench coats and high heels with an impeccable coif, she changed over the series from a cold-blooded assassin into a complex victim of "The Centre." Best season was when she got a charming boyfriend, but her quest to understand what happened to her mother was almost as touching. (updated 3/12/2007)

Prime Suspect (all 7 seasons available on DVD, and as a box set. PBS was rerunning all of them, but the reruns moved over to BBC America --they don't seem to be censoring or cutting it like PBS did, even with the commercials. I've put off actually watching #7 because it is the final episode.) The welcome new #6 was a jolting reminder not only how groundbreaking this series was and how superior it still is, but just how iconic Dame Helen Mirren's "DCI Jane Tennant" is. While the sexism she faces may not be as explicit as in #1, she is facing the glass ceiling a tough, competent woman pushes up against. Mirren said on Charlie Rose that the series succeeded because it was the first policewoman procedural, not focusing as much on personal lives like Cagney and Lacey did. No, Dame, this ranks with Cracker and Homicide as the top cop shows ever. Only The Closer has successfully captured this zeitgeist for American TV; the 2011 U.S. remake with the same title doesn’t even come close, despite Maria Bello’s efforts. (Nathalie Baye in the French film Le Petit Lieutenant steals a lot of Mirren too.) So much is Mirren's performance -- all we need is a look and an eyebrow from her to reflect sexual tension. The silent scene in one episode where "Tennant" makes the decision to have an abortion was the most poignant treatment of this subject than any wordy debate ever held on TV. And her hidden little victory smiles to herself as she constitutes her own cheering section are priceless. The Dame is also surrounded by superb ensembles -- I'd forgotten that Tom Wilkinson played her early boyfriend, Ralph Fiennes exploded his career with his small role in #1, and Liam Cunningham sexually charged an investigation in #6, among many other men who Mirren clearly challenged to do their best. (updated 10/11/2011)

Samantha Who? (on ABC, cancelled despite lots of noms) I watch very few sit coms, but Christina Applegate is really a riot here as an ex-bitch amnesiac convinced she can be a kinder, gentle person in starting her life over again (including re-discovering sex, courtesy of hunky Eddie Cibrian on only 2 episodes). But this strong estrogen-fest she’s also surrounded by three hilarious women – Jean Smart as her mom, Jennifer Esposito of several failed shows as the selfish best friend at work who is the devil on her shoulder, and Melissa McCarthy Gilmore Girls as the put-upon angel on her shoulder childhood friend. A bonus is Barry Watson as her ex-boyfriend. (updated 5/20/2008)

Saving Grace (was on TNT summers. 3 seasons on DVD.) I’m watching for Holly Hunter as “Grace” when she’s VERY sexy and wise-cracking, especially with her married partner “Ham” (Kenneth Johnson, late of The Shield), among other conquests, like the other cowboy on her team “Butch Ada” (Bailey Chase). While I enjoy Angel “Earl” (Leon Rippy late of Deadwood), I just roll my eyes at the redemption talk talk talk, and the crime-solving is too incidental to the characters. The relationship changes at the end of the second season made no sense. Let alone the series ending. (updated 6/28/2010)

Sex and the City (HBO will doubtless keep repeating all the seasons -- why watch the bowdlerized version on TBS that edits Samantha's behavior? All 6 seasons available on DVD/video. Soundtrack album out.) Watch for the scripts written (and directed) by women as these tend to be the ones that aren't nasty about women and intelligently criticize men with humor (oy, come on, another episode about size issues? - invariably written by a male, and usually a gay male at that) The second to last season the friends started to get more realistic about getting older - though they were wearing clown make-up to look younger. The last season has them each with more interesting significant others (including TIVO to watch BBC America) that has brought out more humaneness as the real world entered their lives. I finally found a newspaper critic who admitted that "Carrie Bradshaw and company enjoyed a turnover of partners that seemed more appropriate to gay culture, and those women discussed the tawdry details of their escapades in gay-worthy repartee. The writers even winked to the connection by naming Carrie's most eligible prospect after a gay-pornography legend." - Ned Martel in The New York Times August 6, 2005 in An End to Notches on the Headboard, a review of the finale of Queer as Folk. On the “Independent Woman” episode of PBS’s 2011 series America in Primetime, series creator Darren Star admitted that the series wouldn’t have been funny if it was about men. (updated 11/2/2011)

Even LOL funnier is Coupling (rerun on BBCAmerica now and again, and on some PBS stations. 4 seasons out on DVD) which manages to cover the same topics, but without four letter words and nudity while giving equal time to men. NBC ruined the American version as much as they did Cold Feet (3 seasons out on DVD. 4th season not for U.S. DVD yet.), even with utilizing the same in-laws writer and producer, as the casting was just too pretty and the scripts cut to fit commercials. The Brits are very frank and fearless in poking fun at the six characters who have very different points of view about the battle of the sexes, and aren't just Mars and Venus but are all over the solar system as regards dating, relationships and the body in general. They were clearly inspired by the "Master of His Domain" episode of Seinfeld. The actors aren't cover model gorgeous -- just really good at their comedy. And one guy is also good at drama, co-starring in the ensemble This Life.(updated 8/6/2005)

Standoff (cancelled from Fox during its one season, so it’s kinda ironic that while the final episodes were burned off online, the whole season is now streaming at Hulu.) I've been charmed by Ron Livingston since Band of Brothers even if he's always referred to as "Carrie's boyfriend from Sex and the City who broke up with her via a post-it.", well until the dreadful Defying Gravity. (I even liked his younger brother John in one of my little indie romance faves Dopamine). And Ron is quite appealing here negotiating nonviolent solutions to violent confrontations while flirting with his co-worker and always trying to get her into bed. I seem to be the only one to enjoy writer Craig Silverstein's jaunty and double entendre dialog between the two that flows with their chemistry -- can he and they keep it up and will Fox let them? They brought in as consulting producer Tim Minear, one of my fave writer/producers, to get up to speed (as one online commentator advised: "You see, Tim, they're hostage negotiators and they're sleeping together. There. You're up to speed.").
But I like how their personal and professional lives intersect. I thought "Partners in Crime" by debut writer Joy Kecken got the bantering connections as good as The Closer with him being chivalric, sexy and feminist - the very definition of Modern Romance. He has to keep explaining the results of a failed test exercise: Are you really going to punish me for trying to protect you? -- but she ends up knocking on his door for a booty call: We could both say we're sorry at the count of three.. He: I dunno. The separate room thing is kinda working for me. Oh damn it! He gives in to a big lip lock. She: Remember our first kiss? In a motel room like this? He: I remember more than a kiss. She: Just so we're clear. This doesn't change what I said before. I can take care of myself as they roll around on the bed - just like the bank robbers. They act out how the robberies are staged as he grabs her as a pseudo-hostage: It has to be somebody he thinks he can control. She: Then maybe I'm not your best model. Her words run through his head when the hostage couple use them to get free and their boss accuses them of personal feelings clouding their procedures. He to her: OK, you wanna know the truth? The truth is as soon as I heard your voice on that phone I couldn't think straight, I couldn't see straight, I just had to get you out of there. She concurs. He plunges on: Well, forget about us. You're the best partner I ever had and I'm not going to give that up over some second rate Bonnie & Clyde. Let's go nail those guys, you and me. Deal? Meanwhile, their tech assistant keeps bringing up parallels between them and the criminals on the lam. As they figure out how the two met up: Then it was sex in the office and downhill there after. He: I hate when that happens. But he vociferously overrules his whole team as to whether the woman robber's in danger from the guy: This guy's not going to hurt her. He's crazy about her. . . Yeah, can't live with 'em. Can't shoot 'em.. . That's what they say. "One Shot Stop" by Juan Carlos Coto had a nice interchange when she accused him of using their intimacy--a sexy opening scene in bed--to trample over her ideas; he recognized his condescension and apologized.
”Peer Group” by producer Daniel Knauf had them again relating their jobs to their relationship as they dealt with a Columbine-like situation as we’re supposed to believe that she can best relate to the picked-on kids holding the popular bullies hostage: Matt: I wonder if I would have liked you in high school. Emily: I wonder if I would have liked you in high school. And then that he can best play the bully role: Emily: You were a pretty convincing bully back there. Matt: Yeah, well... I had a lot of practice. I'm pretty sure you'd have hated my guts in high school. Emily: Well, then it's a good thing we didn't meet in high school. Whew the first TV show that doesn’t glorify high school sweethearts as the love of one’s life!
”Borderline” by Juan Carlos Coto had me at him pleading with her to hold it together at a Mexican stand-off, to be non-PC: I need your brain. But as they’re surrounded by revengeful drug dealers she does lose it: I messed this up because I thought that I could help someone. I thought that I could fix people. It’s a weakness and it’s going to get us killed. She cries. He takes hold of her: When I was a kid, my old man used to say ‘You just can’t fix people. They go wrong, they just go wrong. You assume they’re scum and then they never disappoint you.’ That’s a crappy way to live. That’s how I grew up. But I don’t want to see the world that way any more. I don’t. I like your version better. They kiss. She: If we don’t make it out of here, I just want you to know. . . He: Me too. How many rounds you got left? When they do get out, she asks: What did you think I was going to say? He: I don’t know. What were you going to say? She: Thanks. He: You’re welcome. I’m too busy to go into how their sex life was fodder for a HT, a break-up with break-up sex in the office and then the promise of make-up sex in the next episode. But replaying actual for transcription will have to wait for the DVD as I’m watching it streaming online when I have the chance. (updated 6/8/2012)
How cute is this - so the chemistry was real – the couple wed in November 2009.

Star Trek: Voyager (Will doubtless be repeated into infinity and beyond in syndication and cable. 7 seasons out on DVD.) Until recently Kate Mulgrew was the only mature woman leading a TV show and deserves kudos for that, even if 7 of 9 upstaged her the last few seasons in those tight outfits and high heels. And Be'lanna Torres' and Tom Paris' much-anticipated-by-me marriage was of the 24th century feminist variety. The next in the series Star Trek: Enterprise is literally from an earlier, less feminist time period. (updated 12/20/2004

State of Grace (lasted 2 seasons, no DVD yet) Wonder Years meets Any Day Now when young best girlfriends in 1965 North Carolina learn about each other's very different families and lifestyles, a rich WASP and a child of a Holocaust survivor. Funny, some shards of truth, and sentimental, but I'm a sucker for this partly for the nostalgia of what it was like to grow up with a Gramma with a Yiddish accent. Best though is Frances McDormand's voice-over as grown-up Hannah. More of my review is in the Fall '01 issue of LILITH Magazine.(updated 8/31/2009)

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (on Fox, both seasons on DVD.) I was a latecomer to the Terminator movies, seeing the first two not-on-the-big-screen before seeing Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines. But what pulled me in was the Mother of All Mothers and her relationships, so I got into the TV show immediately, even if I’m having a bit of trouble integrating the story line. Bringing in Brian Austin Green as the brother-in-law was icing on the cake. Somehow such strong women characters are more acceptable to male audiences in sci fi shows, whether the buffed up Linda Hamilton in the films for 300’s Spartan wife Lena Headey here. I got a kick out of the comparison in “Heavy Metal” by John Enbom of the Terminator with the Golem legend, as well as the return of Summer Glau fromFirefly, who turns on a dime from high school innocent to assassin, in a new twist on a “Data”-like android, somewhat like a Valley Girl take on Sean Young in Blade Runner (having just seen part of the new director’s cut). I didn’t even recognize the heart-throbbing Thomas Dekker as being the equally adorable “Zach” from Heroes, but I sure welcomed Brian Austin Green as his uncle, so the tough mom has a worthy son and romance, in a show that is much better written than the revived Bionic Woman that started with flare and burned out. Nice to see, too, that Toni Graphia came in to produce; I’ve been admiring her work in the strong-woman sci fi genre since V.R. 5. (updated 8/23/2008)

Ugly Betty (was on ABC, all 4 seasons on DVD.) I'll almost forgive them for filming in L.A. the first two seasons before they moved to NYC, as the jokes about Queens are funny, let alone about Latina and fashionista stereotypes, despite bloopers like referring to Roosevelt Boulevard. And they are at least admitting they are stealing from The Devil Wears Prada as much as from the original Colombian telenovela (which has already been satirized in several movies). America Ferrera lives up to her promise in both indie (Real Women Have Curves) and Hollywood (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) flicks with great spirit and atypical chemistry with hunky Eric Mabius (getting to be more uncritically hetero than in The L Word) as her insecure scion playboy boss. Executive producer Salma Hayek was a marvelously sexy feminist Sweeps Weeks foil for him.
In "Lose the Boss?" by Oliver Goldstick her boss was particularly sweet and supportive in dealing with “Betty”s obviously gay brother “Justin” (despite ABC's official denials about such a young kid), defending his artistic skills and perspective in a touching scene with the kid's macho uneasy father, “Santos” played by the very hunky Kevin Alejandro (only slightly less threatening but just as sexily charming as in Sleeper Cell and a prime reason I watched another quickly cancelled Tim Minear drama Drive on Fox that I hope wasn’t the reason he was killed off in the first season finale, then the reason to watch the second season of CBS’s Shark where he was a tough suited lawyer – and I think his odd haircut at the end doomed that show, so hopefully they’ll let him grow it out again as a cop in NBC’s Southland- whoops got distracted from the Dames theme here.). His acceptance, and defense, of his son came through the absolutely marvelous “Derailed” by Cameron Litvack, when the son excitedly entertains the stalled subway car with excerpts from Hairspray. No wonder it got a 2007 Peabody Award for: “This Americanized version defies category. It's part comedy, part drama, part soap opera, part fashion-industry satire – but is unmistakably graced with wry intelligence and heart.
Vanessa L. Williams is having a ball as the one-note villain, though without Meryl's soul, even as the plots get wilder and wilder. They seem to be keeping up the humor and the heart, let alone the anti-anorexia bravura. As good as America Ferrera is, Ashley Jensen and her brogue are wonderful (she even got a bit of romance with an ex, the equally Scot-sounding Derek Riddell) -- in HBO’s Extras she will doubtless go down in history as the only woman to turn down a flirtatious Orlando Bloom.(updated 8/16/2010)

United States of Tara (on Showtime, repeated On Demand, all 3 seasons on DVD) I only caught the 1st season in a last-minute On Demand marathon, so I was surprised how good it was. While Toni Collette makes her multiple personalities an acting tour de force, Diablo Cody's premise makes real the family's struggle with her mental illness and coping with and without medications to explore its source, including John Corbett as her husband and Rosemarie DeWitt as her sister, who both bounce between tolerance and frustration.(updated 8/5/2011)

Veronica Mars (was on CW, 3 seasons on DVD with deleted scenes. The last season DVD includes: Pitching Season 4: An in-depth interview with creator Rob Thomas discussing a new direction for the series presented to network executives that picks up years later, with Veronica as a rookie FBI agent , Going Undercover with Rob Thomas: Thomas walks us through some of the most memorable moments from Season 3, Webisode gallery with cast interviews and various set tours, Unaired scenes with introductions by Rob Thomas, Gag reel. Soundtrack out.) Has a very similar intriguing and appealing tone as Smallville, with noir replacing the sci fi angle (though the titular teen not only looks very much like Clark Kent's friend "Chloe" but she does almost identical too-grown-up-for-high-school investigations -- the actress is capable of more; she did a notable deviously dramatic arc on Deadwood). Creator Rob Thomas also tries to mix in some high school social satire grittiness, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer also already did the William S. Paley Television Festival panel: "Thomas, who spent five years as a high school journalism teacher offers both his own defense and a bit of advice for the tin-eared purveyors of teen dialogue. 'If you want to write teenage girls, advise a high school yearbook for five years,' he says." At least the cast is a bit more racially and social class diverse than these other series. The dangerous appeal of "Logan" the rich bad boy from the very dysfunctional family is thrilling, as he goes from appealingly good to bad again and vulnerable then mean and all the time cute, especially when heart-broken. Loved the episode when he meets her father for the first time and has such longing for that warm paternal touch, but now that they're in college their relationship has gotten really intense about trust issues, as he says in the very moving "Spit and Eggs" episode written and directed by Thomas: I don't think I quite measure up to the person you want me to be, and I just can't take feeling like a disappointment anymore. he cries to her, so unexpectedly, so non-stereotypically as our "Veronica" can't change, even as she has demanded that he do so and she just can’t trust him. You have to really pay attention the last 5 minutes of each episode, whew. Joss Whedon is a fan! (updated 8/31/2009)
From "TV Is Now Interactive, Minus Images, on the Web" by Maria Aspan, The New York Times, July 8, 2006 (fair use excerpt)
"Rob Thomas, the creator and executive producer of Veronica Mars and one of the few such "show runners" to post openly on the Web site's forums, said in an interview that Television Without Pity functioned 'as a big focus group. They're very intense fans, 'the really devoted ones.' But, Mr. Thomas added ruefully, as viewer response to Veronica Mars became more critical in the show's second season, the experience of reading the site was 'like being in a room with a thousand ex-girlfriends,' he said. 'The new shine wore off,' he added. Mr. Thomas conceded that his awareness of the fans' reactions had occasionally influenced the way he wrote Veronica Mars. Fans hated a second-season character played by Tessa Thompson ["Jackie Cook" - yeah she didn't make sense the end of the season], he said, leading him to overcompensate in an effort to make the character likable. 'I feel like I sold out a little. She became a little saintly by the end. If I had to do it over again, I'd leave her a little more complicated.'"

Weeds (on Showtime. 8 seasons on DVD and soundtrack out.) The early episodes seemed a lot like Desperate Housewives crossed with Arrested Development with the frankness of premium TV. But what raises this above one joke are the performances by Mary Louis Parker, as the marijuana dealing widow, and Elizabeth Perkins as her uber nemesis who treats suburban motherhood like a CEO bully broad -- though in the second season she unfortunately turned into what her daughter calls Vol De Mort (as in Harry Potter) such that everyone is justified in hating her. At least the show had premium TV guts to have a sympathetic teen-age girl have an abortion (the deaf girlfriend was scrumptiously intentionally knocked up by the older son).
Both of the central women have had Jewish husbands (as is supposed to be brother-in-law very hunky looking Justin Kirk, playing his first straight guy since guilty pleasure Jack and Jill. I think as the show ramps up the premium TV required sex quotient - see my discussion of his ribald relationship with a Jewish woman character in the second season, and other Jewish woman characters showed up in the last couple of seasons). Zooey Deschanel as his crazy ex is a riot. There haven't been many unveilings shown on TV and this one may have been the funniest.(updated 2/21/2012)
I watched the third episode of the second season, "Last Tango in Agrestic" by Robert Benabib with My Younger when he was briefly home en route between his BA and his PhD, so as a public service to mothers, though it can be found on YouTube, here's the memorable monologue that "Uncle Andy" (Justin Kirk) provided to his nephew when Mom couldn't bring herself to explain puberty issues to her son as mine said no one every gave him a lesson like this: All right, listen closely. I'm not going to beat around the bush. Ha, ha. Your little body is changing, it's all good, believe me. Problem now is, every time we jerk the gherkin, we end up with a lot of unwanted sticky white stuff everywhere. Right? Right? First order of business, no more socks, they're expensive and gumming up the works, plumbing-wise. And you're thinking to yourself, but Uncle Andy, what do I do with all that pearl jam if I can't spew it into Mr. Sock? Glad you asked. You can have a lovely time tugging the tiger in the shower each morning. That eliminates the need for a goo glove. But the day is long, masturbation is fun, so unless we want to take four or five showers everyday we're going to need some other options. Let's start with the basics - tissues - perfectly acceptable backstop for all the creamy Italian, but can be rough and dry on such soft, sensitive skin, not to mention it can stick to your dick head like a fucking Band-Aid. Ouch! From there we move on to more lubricated plaque catchers, specifically bananas. Step 1 - peel the banana. Step 2 - slip the peel over your Andy Johnson. Start pitchin'. Now for extra credit -- warm up the peel in the microwave - not too hot! Serious yowza. Also olive oil, moisturizer, honey, spit, butter, hair conditioner and vaseline can all be used for lube. In my opinion - the best lube is lube so save your allowance and invest in some soon. All right, moving on - when you tug the thomas on the toilet, you shoot right into the bowl. In bed, soft T-shirt, perhaps a downy hand towel of your very own that you don't mind tossin' after tossin'. There's no such thing as polishing the raised sceptor of love too much. It reduces stress, it enhances immune function. Also practice makes perfect, so work on your control now while you're a solo artist and you'll be playing some long, happy duets in the future. All right, class dismissed. Hey - homework -and he throws him a banana. And then Mom wonders if he's making up for a potassium deficit that he's going through so many bananas, while his brother is happily engaged in a whole lotta duets upstairs with his deaf girlfriend.
The reason to watch the fourth season was how smokin’ Mexican actor Demián Bichir, playing the drug kingpin/mayor of Tijuana, is with Parker, as in leaving her bed only because “I have a 10 o’clock meeting in another country.”, as they are watched over by disapproving bodyguards. (He also is terrific as Fidel Castro in Che). But as her sons went increasingly astray this season, “Nancy” bemoaned a key line that I can relate to: What did I do? And her older son rejoins: You had sons.. The fifth season it was Perkins who was the marijuana dealer, while "Nancy" was busy. (updated 2/24/2011)
Cool music, even more so in the second season, though that emphasis was dropped by the fourth season. The second season featured a different performer covering "Little Boxes" in the opening each episode). Some background on the song from Billboard, 10/29/2005 in Folkie Rolls TV Hit by Jim Bessman from his "Words and Music" column (fair use excerpt):
". . . the opening theme song "Little Boxes" sung by its composer Malvina Reynolds, who did not start writing until she was in her 50s. Indeed, she was 64 when Pete Seeger had his only solo pop chart entry with the gently disparaging song, which peaked at No. 70 on the Billboard singles chart in 1964. During the same year Dick & Dee Dee scored with her "Turn Around," also memorably cut by its co-writer, Harry Belafonte. [that I did an interpretive dance to at the Camp Regis Talent Show which Bonnie Raitt also attended]. . .'Such a distinctive voice,' notes the series' music supervisor and confessed "music geek" Christopher Noxon, who is married to the show's creator, Jenji Kohan. . . A successful print and broadcast journalist, Noxon lucked into his current gig ('a good example of Hollywood nepotism,' he says). He got a quick lesson in the industry when he experienced some difficulty in licensing Reynolds' version of the song, but adds, 'I'm gratified her estate is getting paid every week.' Reynolds died in 1978. . .'Malvina was one of the great people of the 20th century. She came up to me at a hootenanny in late 1947 in L.A. and wanted to try doing what I did. I told her that you don't make much money but you meet the best people in the world and had a lot of fun finding songs and making them up.' Seeger was 28. 'She was 46 and had beautiful white hair, and I thought she seemed kind of old,' he recalls.. . . Reynolds sent Seeger "Little Boxes" after writing it while driving past the postwar moderate-cost housing development in Daly City, Calif., just outside of San Francisco. 'John Hammond persuaded Columbia to put it out as a single, and it was the only one I ever had that sold more than 20,000,' Seeger says. . . "

The X Files (All 9 seasons out on DVD, separately and in culled theme sets. 2 movies out on video/DVD.) Gillian Anderson provided the most serious discussion of religious beliefs on TV -- and wearing the best-looking, serious business suits. Creator Chris Carter did seem to tie up the mythology in a neat package -- I'm not even sure what he left for follow-up movies. But the post-9/11 investigations of the FBI show that Mulder was right! The agency wasn't structured for prevention of attacks (OK, not alien OR terrorists). The earlier seasons are absolutely worth watching for the subtle development of Scully and Mulder's silently smoldering relationship, and then for Agents Reyes' and Doggett's more conventional development. Not enough credit is also given to Mark Snow's atmospheric music, that the soundtrack Songs in the Key of X doesn't begin to do justice to. Here's a thorough episode guide. (updated 8/31/2009)


Karen Sisco (When cable channels show the episodes do they show the ones that never aired on ABC?) The provenance pointed to the weakness of a copy of a copy, from an Elmore Leonard short story that inspired the J Lo movie Out of Sight. (on USA. 3 seasons on DVD.) Surprise - -this is stylish replay of one of my favorite cancelled "Dame" shows of all time Under Suspicion -- and wouldn't Karen Sillas make a great guest star at the least? While Gugino's U.S. Marshall outfits are almost as revealing and high-heeled as The Charmed Ones and have probably have as much relation to reality as Ally McBeal's did to lawyers, at least she is based in hot Miami so is justifiably sweaty a lot, and maybe it will get guys to watch as she tries unsuccessfully to figure out where to hide her gun. Lucky in sex but unlucky in love, she somehow keeps trying - set up amusingly by her very caring, ex-cop dad, magnificently played by Robert Forster, and his ex-con poker buddies. Saturated cinematography and wonderful music -- a key plot clue in "The One That Got Away" was a Leonard Cohen song. But the suits thought the villains weren't evil and guilty enough -- boo, the charming and many times white collar criminals were far more interesting. Hey, at least burn off the ones that got away from us that we never got to see!(updated 3/30/2011)

life as we know it (cancelled from ABC - DVD of complete series includes two episodes not aired) Why wouldn't I consider a show about adolescent men and teens more suitable for the HUNK 'O' METER (especially due to the absolutely adorable Sean Faris, let alone D.B. Sweeney)? Based on a very funny, touching, insightful Brit book Doing It by Melvin Burgess that wonderfully zeroes in on the difference between love and lust in the hormone-fueled world of teenagers, these clueless guys are led around by their dicks by the grounded women in their lives (though the book makes clear that the teacher having the affair with one of the kids clearly has problems), especially as brilliantly written by women. For example producer Allison Adler's scripts for "The Best Laid Plans" and "With A Kiss, I Die." Leilia Gerstein's script for "A Little Problem" was a perfect example of women writers subverting a male-oriented genre - no guy would write a scene where a teen boy breaks down in tears of frustration when the girl of his dreams doesn't understand how he couldn't extricate himself from the affair, such that she responds with tears about the modest truth of her own sexual history. And a kid beset with terrors about impotence is counseled by Peter Dinklage. Aw, if Faris's "Dino" (who does seem to be heading to learning his lesson about being honest with females about feelings as he admitted to his mom I was a jerk. which softens the acerbic source material) doesn't end up in the arms of pre-Reaper Melissa Peregrym's "Jackie" (and she is SO much a better actress than Mischa Barton in The O.C.) before the series is cancelled I'll be miserable as they have dynamite chemistry together -- they could be the first teen series to explore getting to each base from the girl and boy view, as the book most amusingly does. Aw heck, who didn't tear up when she admitted she couldn't just burn away her feelings for him in a symbolic BBQ?
No wonder his best friend's brother retorts to the friend: You sound like a chick when he argues that sex involves feelings too. These are younger versions of the firefighters seen in Rescue Me or the guys in the series BBCAmerica re-runs at various times, Manchild (1st season out on DVD) which frankly pokes fun at four 50-something men-friends. Showtime was developing an American version, but it seems like ABC’s awful Big Shots is it, with very attractive men and limp satire. (updated 8/31/2009)

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