After a few years of cutting back on TV so that I would have more time for movies and books, I’ve been watching more of it. Blame quarantine. But one thing I really like about television is that there are a lot more female writers and directors. Women seem to be given more free rein in television, I guess because it’s seen as a less risky financial investment, or maybe because there is such a need for streaming content that networks are willing to take a chance on women. Who knows. In any case, my many of my favorite shows over the past few years have been helmed by female showrunners — shows like Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Catastrophe, Transparent, and of course Fleabag.
I realized the other day that my current favorite shows are also written and directed by women, so I thought I’d write about them here . . .
Creator/Writer: Anna Winger, inspired by Deborah Feldman’s memoir
Episode Director: Maria Schrader
Streaming on Netflix
I’ve always been curious about the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, so I was eager to watch this, if only to learn more about how these niche religious sects can exist within secular NYC. Loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 memoir, it tells the story of Esther Shapiro, a young woman who escapes her Hasidic Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to start a new life in Berlin, Germany. The attention to detail in this series is amazing — both in the way you are immersed in the Hasidic community, as well as the Berlin passages, when Esther is embraced by a group of music students. Shira Haas, the actress who plays Esther, is a focused, watchful, mesmerizing actress who portrays her character’s youthful mix of single-mindedness, innocence, confusion, and bravery.
Normal People (2020)
Creator/Writer: Alice Birch, based on the novel by Sally Rooney
Episode Directors: Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie McDonald
Streaming on Hulu
I was really reluctant to watch this because I loved the book so much and felt totally satisfied by that reading experience. I didn’t think I needed the TV version of Marianne and Connell. I was wrong. I needed this Marianne and this Connell. They were so perfectly cast it was like magic. The actors, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal brought a new depth to the characters, improving a book that I did not think needed improving. Mescal was particularly moving. My husband and I kept looking at each other after his scenes with tears in our eyes. We were like, where did this guy come from? And when can we watch him again?
Mrs. America (2020)
Creator: Dahvi Waller
Episode Directors: Amma Asante, Anna Boden, Janicza Bravo, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, and Ryan Fleck
Streaming on Hulu (FX on Hulu)
This was another one I was reluctant to watch because I know enough about feminist history to know that I didn’t want to see Phyllis Schlafly impede the ERA and help the Republican Party rise to power in the 1980s — even if she was played by Cate Blanchett. It just felt too depressing. But my sister recommended it so I decided to give it a try and wow, each episode was like a little movie. The attention to period detail was wonderful, the cast was starry, and the episodes were directed by rising female feature film directors: Anna Boden, Amma Asante, Janicza Bravo, and Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Each episode focused on a particular woman who was influential in the feminist movement and I appreciated the balance between scenes that looked at the political process and ones that gave a glimpse of the personal lives and personalities of the women leading the feminist movement.