A few years ago if you surfed the television, you’d be swimming in a world of empowered female characters, women who were leaders in their fields– The Closer, Damages, Saving Grace, Brothers and Sisters, The West Wing, Medium, Xena — even Sex and the City had at least two women who were leaders in their fields (three if you count Carrie who was financially a mess but did have her own column and her face on a bus). Fast forward to 2012 and we’re faced with women who are financially, hierarchically, and often romantically subordinate but feel they are entitled to more — Two Broke Girls, Girls, Enlightened, Smash — and they often hold nasty grudges that last entire series — Revenge, Ringer. Even Nurse Jackie got hit with misogynism when the hospital’s female chief administrator was downgraded and replaced by a male, and Jackie, whose dominant personality and job excellence is the entire premise of the show, was fired for not knowing her place.
So, how do web series fare? Well, the trends are not that different. Like current television, there are an abundance of women in web series right now, which is fantastic. However, many of the web shows that depict females in decision-making roles began airing prior to 2012, with the new crop of shows widely focused on people trying to “make it” in one field or another. I think we can do better. Here are some standout series that represent female characters in decision-making roles. Now get writing.
In this series from 2011, five professional women (a CPA, a travel consultant, an HR executive, an entrepreneur and a mommy blogger) meet for a book club but find their own lives are more interesting than the books. In my favorite episode of the season and perhaps one of the most relevant considering how we judge aging female leaders, Zee, a successful businesswoman in her 50s, contemplates getting a face lift in order to compete in an ageist corporate world. The series is created by Susan Miller.
Diary of A Single Mom
In this drama from director and producer Robert Townsend and writer Caryn L. West, a single mom attempts to survive economic strife and other complications in urban living while finding companionship in other single moms in her apartment building. These moms may not be at the top of the economic chain but they are the sole breadwinners in their family and there is no job harder than being a mom. The show began airing in 2009 and ran though 2011.
The forerunner of all web shows with female brawn is Blake Calhoun’s Pink about the #1 government trained assassin, a woman. Told in the style of a graphic novel, this show first aired online in 2007. Yes, 2007, people. Has there been anything as badass since? Well, Calhoun released a female-driven sci-fi series in 2012, Continuum, also featuring a female leader, which has only been available through a paywall but will be doing a short-term YouTube release this month.
In this crime drama from Sonya Steele, which aired in 2011, an investment banker finds herself in some hot water with the FBI over some high interest loans she set up. Complicated female characters who excel in their field but who make controversial, job-threatening choices once were a stable of television but have vanished.
This comedy series from 2011 is one of the rare shows about actresses which depicts them as being successful, self-sufficient and unwilling to backstab their fellow girlfriend. The show was created by three women — Emma Caulfield, Karri Bowman, and Camilla Rantsen– and almost all of the women on the show are in fact successful actresses who are playing versions of themselves in this mockumentary documenting production of an urbanized version of Glee in a misguided attempt to bring diversity to television. What stands out about this web show in a sea of shows about the entertainment business is that these women face misoygynism and pure stupidity but still stand true to who they are — as flawed as that may be.
In this Emmy winning web soap from Crystal Chappell and Kim Turrisi, which also began airing in 2009, Chappell plays a highly successful designer/ entrepreneur while her on-off girlfriend is a world-traveling photographer, as they deal with romantic complications. Soaps have certainly brought us a long list of damsels in distress, but they have also brought us some of the toughest and most accomplished female characters in media.
Madison Avery has only aired a pilot so far but that’s all it took to garner creator Gregory Storm a Writers Guild Award nomination in 2011. The drama follows Tammy Lauren as Madison Avery, a top level publicist in Hollywood, as she troubleshoots a variety of absurd entanglements within the entitled show biz elite.
Ruby Skye PI
And for a show to inspire future women leaders… In Ruby Skye PI, the adorable series for tweens created by Jill Golick which first aired in 2010, teenage Ruby does not allow her age to deter her in her attempt to solve the mystery of the Nigerian spam scam. This series has received financial sponsorship by the way of Canada’s Independent Production Fund for two seasons so far, and very deservedly so.
And lastly, here’s my show about New Yorkers dealing with the effects of the economic crisis. Amongst virtually every couple on the show, the female is either the breadwinner or an equal counterpart. In this episode, Astrid, a pageant coach and businessowner in her own right, finds herself primarily dealing with a pageant dad Nate, the child caregiver in his marriage. In this episode, Astrid and Nate’s wife Brenda, a former Managing Director for a Fortune 500 company, come face to face for the first time, now that Brenda is out of work.