We’re two weeks into the post-Mad Men era, and though it’s constitutionally forbidden to say anything bad about it, I have a confession to make: I liked Mad Men very much, but during the later seasons, there were times where I thought, “I wish this show were about the women.”
I get it. Mad Men is the story of Don Draper and his slow spiral into misery and drunkenness and death as the fifties become the seventies. That’s the show, and it was a great show. But you know who’s really interesting? Peggy Olsen, who started out as the secretary and is just about to rule the world. Joan Holloway-Harris, who was the mistress of one world and is maybe still adjusting to another, is interesting. Sally Draper, who didn’t even have any lines for four seasons because she was a child, and who will spend all of the seventies in therapy because of the events of the sixties? Sally Draper is interesting. Give me a show about those ladies—I guess the men can make occasional cameos, and by “the men” I mean “70s Stan and his beard of majesty”—and I’d watch.
For a period of time, The Good Wife approached this benchmark; things came gloriously close to becoming The Alicia, Diane, and Kalinda Show (With Cameos by Nancy Crozier and Elsbeth Tascioni), which I like to think was foiled only by mysterious production-side issues. To be clear: I don’t mind the men of The Good Wife. I hope Matthew Goode comes back next season! I love Eli Gould! Peter Florrick is the character who kind of makes me get the appeal of Chris Noth! I think Louis Canning is a terrific, complex role for Michael J. Fox! But come on: I don’t need them. Not the way I need The Alicia, Diane, and Kalinda Show.
And then there are shows I don’t already watch, but might if they suddenly turned into shows about women doing interesting things. Take Elementary: It’s convenient that the creators of Elementary already went to the trouble of taking Sherlock Holmes’s name out of the title of their show, so when it’s just Joan Watson hanging around a big house in amazing outfits, being a professional sober companion or maybe solving crimes (slowly and with old-fashioned police work, due to lack of a prodigy partner), they won’t even have to change anything. Since they’ve already begun, I would also accept a full genderswap, where Jonny Lee Miller morphs into Sherlockia Holmes (Tilda Swinton), a lady genius/addict who solves crimes under the reluctant but respectful eye of Captain Thomasina Gregson (Edie Falco). They can keep the turtle, Clytemnestra.
I’d say the same about Game of Thrones, but it poses a few more problems. On one hand, Game of Thrones appears to be full of flawed, three-dimensional female characters with interesting storylines, making it ripe for the Misandrist Plague. Let’s watch a well-funded, well-written, well-produced show about ladies and dragons! On the other hand, I get the feeling that this show is very pointed about women and power—that any woman experiencing any kind of success is some kind of thrilling exception, and any woman who isn’t a thrilling exception is definitely not experiencing any kind of success. So what happens to a casually feminist Game of Thrones, where the women are just characters and not unicorns? Maybe the backstabbings (literal and figurative) continue; I’d be into that. Maybe they don’t, and they talk everything out and decide it doesn’t matter who gets to sit in the sword chair, and form a commune ruled by a High Governess who rotates every year. I’m sure there’s conflict there, too! Either way, I wasn’t kidding about that ladies-and-dragons show, and I’m far more likely to watch either of these options than I am the actual Game of Thrones.
I’m not saying I don’t watch and enjoy TV about men. As I said, I thought Mad Men was terrific as it was, and I tune in weekly, with great affection, to the men of The Good Wife. I like Jonny Lee Miller, and I hear good things about his performance on Elementary. (Game of Thrones is probably not going to happen for me, but everybody else seems excited about it, so we’ll go with that.) But sometimes it feels like people think shows won’t float if they don’t have a man front and center; I’d like to argue otherwise. I like watching shows about women—female humans with thoughts and feelings!—making their way in extraordinary circumstances. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.
So. While we’re at it, where did we land on Tilda Swinton and Edie Falco?