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This is a golden age for women on TV

  • Taylor Schilling stars in "Orange Is the New Black," which features more than 20 actresses in meaty roles.

    Jessica Miglio / Netflix

    Taylor Schilling stars in "Orange Is the New Black," which features more than 20 actresses in meaty roles.

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Willa Paskin
  • Taylor Schilling stars in "Orange Is the New Black," which features more than 20 actresses in meaty roles.

    Jessica Miglio / Netflix

    Taylor Schilling stars in "Orange Is the New Black," which features more than 20 actresses in meaty roles.

NEW YORK -- It's common wisdom in the entertainment business that women will happily consume and enjoy fictions about both men and women, but that most men only enjoy fictions about other men.
Having recently finished watching and loving Netflix's new series "Orange Is the New Black," about life inside a minimum security women's prison, it occurred to me that this may be the first time in my memory that TV has offered me, a woman, so many high-quality shows about other women that I could, if I wanted, be as totally blinkered in my taste as men have long had enough good choices to be.
"Orange," which follows a Smith graduate as she serves time for transporting drug money a decade ago, may showcase the greatest number of substantial parts for women of all ages and races ever assembled.
By rough count there are 20-some women with distinct characterizations, motivations and personalities, almost all of whom are as -- if not more -- interesting than the lead character, the blond Piper Chapman.
That's not a knock on Chapman or Taylor Schilling, the actress who plays her: There's just no shortage of affluent, self-aware, educated narcissists who enjoy the creature comforts of a Brooklyn lifestyle on TV.
There has been a shortage, though, of sweet but racist Italians who sound like lost members of the Pink Ladies; transgendered hairdressers who used to be firemen; street kids who keep lists of everything they steal; good-girl sprinters consumed by bitterness and anger after one mistake; child-killers trying to work it through with yoga and self-administered electroshock; and Latinas who loves the Smiths. (We don't know very much about that last character yet, but that's why there's a second season.)
Even before "Orange" set the high-water mark for sheer quantity of meaty female roles, it had already been a tremendous year for female characters, many of them appearing in shows created by women. ("Orange" was created by "Weeds'" Jenji Kohan.)
Jane Campion's outstanding miniseries "Top of the Lake" gave Elisabeth Moss -- aka "Mad Men's" Peggy -- the chance to play a traumatized detective and fearsome broken-bottle-wielder trying to stop more trauma in a perverse New Zealand town.
Shonda Rhimes' buzzy, audacious "Scandal" has given us Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), the president-schtupping, crisis-managing superwoman. Jess Day grows further out of just being adorkable with every episode of Liz Meriwether's "New Girl."
And Lena Dunham's Hannah Horvath in "Girls" continues to be a convenient symbol of any and everything having to do with twentysomething womanhood.
Perhaps owing to how exhausted and cliched male antiheroes have become, knotty, complex female characters are also leading shows created by men. BBC America's unexpectedly awesome "Orphan Black" would be better titled "Tatiana Maslany Puts on an Acting Clinic."
The two dramas based on Scandinavian series -- "The Killing" and "The Bridge" -- star strange and damaged female detectives.
The two moms raising five kids together on ABC Family's "The Fosters" star in a PG show that's calmly and sweetly more matter-of-fact about gender, race and sexuality than most of premium cable.
Story tags » Television

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