Station Control


by Benjamin Carr

Strong women fighting back, speaking up against adversity, exposing abuses and demanding that the world change dominated the headlines in 2017. Television shows about such women dominated as well. Though this year's best shows have a variety of flavors, the very best shows put powerful women at the forefront.

10. ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix)
The year started out with a hint of what we could expect, in terms of quality and theme, when the Netflix reimagining of this Norman Lear sitcom was released last January. Though a completely different animal from the 1970s original, the new One Day at a Time was just as funny, just as timely, just as social and political. This time, the show centered on a Cuban American war veteran named Penelope (Justina Machado), raising her two kids as a single mom in Los Angeles. Throughout the first season, Penelope coped with veterans issues, PTSD, her daughter's coming out, prejudice against the Latin community and her vibrant, beautiful, zany mother, played by Oscar winner Rita Moreno. It was everything a good family sitcom should be, harkening back to the great Norman Lear shows of the past while also delivering something different and new. The show returns with a second season this month.

9. MINDHUNTER (Netflix)
Quantico has been the setting for many great shows about the intrigues faced by the FBI. Fictional depictions have given us The X-Files, The Silence of the Lambs and even, obviously, Quantico. But this drama from director David Fincher and creator Joe Penhall, based upon the nonfiction book by former FBI agent John Douglas, delves into the way the agency changed its approach to criminal psychology in the 1970s while hunting serial killers. The series proceeds slowly, with its protagonists Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) figuring out how to solve new crimes through trial and error. Tench, in particular, is a set-in-his-ways alpha male who comes to every new way of thinking reluctantly. When they begin interviewing imprisoned killers to try and find out how new killers think, viewers get a sense of how slowly and clumsily progress can come. Along the way, there are thrills, tense moments and a true appreciation for the work that goes into investigation.

8. DUCKTALES (Disney XD)
The reboot of the great 1980s animated series isn't at all more of the same – like Fuller House – nor is it completely off the mark of the original, like the surprising, weird new Twin Peaks. The new series, voiced by an all-star cast led by David Tennant, is just as fun as its predecessor. It also is more serialized and wild. It is a terrific adventure show, filled with mystery and good humor. When they revisit old characters, like Gyro Gearloose or Ma Beagle, it appeals to both old and new viewers. The best part of the new show, though, may be that Huey, Dewey and Louie are individuals with their own personalities. They have their own quirks and problems, which can be mined for story for years. It was a delight to hear this show was returning, and it was a tremendous surprise that it is better than it ever was.

While Twin Peaks – The Return detoured us for a long period of time into the lives of characters we didn't know, this teen drama based upon Archie Comics gave us a town that was 1950s-tinged, dark, nostalgic, familiar, mysterious, sexy and twisted. Watching Riverdale every week was tremendous fun, as viewers tried to puzzle out who murdered the golden boy Jason Blossom or tried to make sense out of good old Archie's affair with his music teacher. When Betty and Veronica decided to terrorize a misogynist in a hot tub while wearing wigs and bondage gear, this show felt like the best nighttime soap since Desperate Housewives.

The best plot twist on any show in years, one that came out of nowhere yet made perfect sense, one that changed the fabric of everything on its series, came during the first season finale of this great, crazy NBC sitcom about the afterlife. In one half hour, Eleanor (Kristen Bell) figured out – alongside all the show's viewers – that she wasn't in Heaven after all. She was in the Bad Place, run by a demon named Michael (Ted Danson), who decided to trick several lost yet sweet souls into torturing each other. This changed, in a moment, everything about the show and made its second season wild, unpredictable, just as funny and compelling.

This HBO miniseries – following a group of private school moms in Monterey, California, as they battle each other, uncover secrets and even deal with a murder – was a masterpiece. Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz and Nicole Kidman all turned in stunning performances as women coping with their lives crumbling. Secrets are dangerous. They lead us to be ashamed of ourselves, to not ask for help when we need it. These women face down insecurities, adultery, abuse and trauma. And by the conclusion of the show, they find their strength in each other. In a year where women spoke up all over the world to decry abuses, shows like Big Little Lies made life and art feel totally in sync.

Amazon Prime's new dazzler about a divorced, Jewish young mother in the 1950s trying her hand at standup comedy is one of the brightest, funniest and best-looking shows of the year. Created by Gilmore Girls scribe Amy Sherman-Palladino and starring House of Cards actress Rachel Brosnahan, this show feels both light as air and bracingly honest about how difficult yet energizing it can be when life throws you a total curveball. Though the period setting gives this show a wonderful flavor, moments toward the end of the series – when the title character faces showbiz challenges from unexpected directions – echo into the now.

The most shocking, terrifying, uncomfortable, wry series of the year launched on Hulu in the spring. Based upon Margaret Atwood's dystopian nightmare, this series, starring Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss doing career-best work, imagines a future wherein religious conservatives change our nation to oppress, imprison and enslave our women, regulating their bodies through torture and legislation. The turns this show takes are perverse, scary and impossible to ignore.

Hollywood treats women like dirt and always has. Months before the news of Harvey Weinstein's abuses came to light, producer Ryan Murphy aired this series on FX about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford's battles on the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Starring the excellent Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, Feud showed how two strong, powerful women were undermined and controlled, not only by their own demons, but by an exploitative, uncaring industry that uses people. This show was fun, catty and relevant.

1. GLOW (Netflix)
Netflix's wacky series about the rise of a campy female pro wrestling show in the 1980s was the year's most entertaining, fun series. Not only did it showcase women as they prepared their bodies for battle, fighting for the joy of it, enjoying their power, it also gave us very funny moments with Marc Maron. Stars Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie, playing friends-turned-rivals, kicked total ass with some of the year's most layered, complicated characters. GLOW is a show filled with hope, humor and ultimately triumph. It is the year's best.


CLICK HERE TO View THE Digital version of the January 2018 ISSUE.


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