An amazing thing is happening to TV: Women

June 3, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but all the old, stagnant rules are being (quietly, awkwardly, but very deliberately) obliterated. And it’s kind of wonderful.

One caveat: Be it hereby known that I do not ever watch network TV. No popular series, no Game of Thrones, no hospital melodramas, nothing. A bit of Amy Schumer, Anthony Bourdain, Daily Show, occasional movies and documentaries and, well, that’s about it.

Nevertheless, there I was, three generous pours of bourbon in on a recent, lonely Saturday night, when I just so happened to scroll down far enough on the surreal Hulu menu to find a whole slew of previews for the upcoming TV season. I mean, why not?

And lo, it was a bit of a revelation.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Dark, hilarious, odd. Rachel Bloom FTW

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Dark, hilarious, odd. Rachel Bloom FTW

For there, amidst the usual violence porn, bland cop procedurals, absurd hospital dramas and lug-nut bromances all clumsily led by perfect-teeth actors chewing up ridiculous lines and scenes that could never happen to actual humans in the actual world, was something TV has never seen in its entire unsavory history: Women.

Women as leads, that is, ruling the world and leaving all kinds of men in their wake. I was hereby stunned to find at least a dozen shows, if not more, that featured all sorts of female actresses in various leading roles, all over the stereotyping map.

There’s ABC’s Quantico, for one, a show about a bunch of hotshot FBI recruits and some sort of terrorist attack and oh my gosh you guys it might be an inside job. Or whatever.

Doesn’t matter. What matters is that the young, hunky, stubbly white male bro in the cast, the one you expect to be the insufferably macho lead with a chip on his shoulder blah blah blah who cares? Mr. Stubble Hunk is not the star of the show.

It’s a female. An Indian female, no less – the stunning former Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra – and she’s immediately revealed as brash, smart, openly sexual and (the best part of all) depicted as not apologizing for any of it. Amazing. Oh, and the FBI director? Black female (Aunjanue Ellis). So there’s that.

It gets better. Over on the CW, some hilarious, dark, sillyweird thing called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (originally slated for Showtime), also with a rather terrific, fearless female lead, a sexy nutball (Rachel Bloom, who co-created the show) who just so happens to have serious Broadway chops. Oh, and her fantasy love interest? Asian male. Get outta town.

NBC has something called Blindspot, and its co-lead is a badass punk female, covered in tattoos, looking fierce, weird, awesome. Sure, she’s being used as a vehicle for some sort of creepy, mysterious (mostly male) violence porn, but as far as I could tell from the preview, she’s smart and clever and – if the creators are the slightest bit intelligent (ha) – Tattoo Girl will be the one who’s ultimately the savior, the one who Figures It All Out and saves the world, not the stereotypical Stubble Hunk cop assigned to her case. Hey, we can hope.

Truly, women ruled all over the place. There was Scream Queens, The Catch, Supergirl, Heartbreaker, Hot & Bothered, Shades of Blue, Angel from Hell, The Family, all featuring strong, upfront female leads of varying quality, powers and attitudes. What a thing.

And it’s not just women: There’s a breezy Magnum PI-like hunk of silliness called Rosewood, all Miami sunshine and sassy banter, notable for one reason only: Its lead is a muscular, clever black male. And his fierce sidekick? Puerto Rican female. Which is to say, no white guys anywhere. Don’t think that’s a little bit radical? Try finding a major network show like it anywhere in the past, oh, ever.

Blindspot. Weird, creepy, covered in tattoos. Let's hope she saves the world.

Blindspot. Weird, creepy, covered in tattoos. Let’s hope she saves the world.

Do not misunderstand: Most of these shows, like always, will be unwatchable swill, cancelled within weeks (only one in 10 new shows ever makes it to Season Two). What’s more, there’s still no shortage of dumb, horribly written, clichéd crap to choose from. Network TV will never be bastion of intelligence, sexual freedom or deep wisdom. What it is, however, is an excellent predictor of/mirror to emergent socio-cultural trends.

Translation: Alert the terrified GOP and soothe your panicky grandmother, because the cultural landscape is shifting – quite quickly, quite dramatically, long overdue. The future is increasingly ruled by sassy crazy brilliant badass females, mixed-race minorities, all kinds of unusual and downright blasphemous (to the white male patriarchy, that is) combinations of gender/race/sexuality/intelligence to throw the crusty old guard for an endless, terrified loop.

And the best news of all? The old guard can do nothing, really, to stop it. Isn’t that wonderful?

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Mark Morford

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