This was easily the hardest list to make and the one that changed the most as I was making the list and writing. There was so much I loved that I once again couldn’t narrow it down to just ten, and the honorable mentions are as solid as my actual list. It was a year where I wanted comedies and stories about women finding understanding and joy with each other. They made me laugh, they made me cry, and they warmed my heart.
If you are looking for some more end of the year reading, head over to MGCircles to check out their Best Of lists and Nerdy Girl Notes for her thoughts on hope and new ways to be a hero in The Last Jedi.
1. One Day at a Time Since watching this show in January, it has been my pick for the best show of the year. This is how you reboot a show and make it feel fresh and relevant. Norman Lear’s style of socially conscious comedies is one that already appealed to me (though I will admit I’ve never seen any of his original shows, just those who have been inspired by his work) and I loved Mike Royce’s previous comedy Enlisted so I went into the show ready to love it. It exceeded my already high expectations. I mind multi-cam comedies far less than most people but this is an example of the form at its best. The writing is clever and hilarious and took full advantage of this cast’s considerable talents. Justina Machado and Rita Moreno were terrific casting choices and they play so well off of each other. They are both so well-rounded as actors and this show understands how to use that. They both made me laugh a lot but they were also responsible for many of the moments that made me cry and tugged at my heartstrings. I love this family full of strong women who support each other through anything life throws at them. I love that they gave both Elena and Penelope female friends who were there for each other when they needed it most. I love that they made me love Schneider and Leslie so much because it felt like they tried. They wanted to do better when they messed up and owned their lack of knowledge and unintentional blind spots. Everyone on this show cares so much and that warmth comes through in every moment. Each episode had something smart to say about a current issue, whether it was mansplaining and sexism, immigration, a lack of support for returning veterans, or coming out and telling the world who you are. This show was everything I love about television and what I can be all wrapped up in an entertaining package and I need everyone to watch it before it returns at the end of January.
2. Playing House Sometimes the simplest concept can lead to the greatest results. Playing House has never tried to be anything other than what it is, which is a beautiful tribute to two lifelong best friends and the unbreakable bond they share. It’s not high concept or serialized and it’s a relatively small cast with simple sets but it is intimate and honest and genuine. This season was the most ambitious with the overarching plot about Emma’s cancer diagnosis, surgery, and recovery. It was telling a real story and I loved that we got so many episodes to explore the healing process and how that looked for both Emma and Maggie. As good as all of that was, it’s always been the relationships and the small moments that make this show so special. It’s Maggie leaving Emma a “congrats on the sex” cheese plate and then attacking her as she eats it. It’s Emma being Tina’s biggest cheerleader and helping her find something she’s passionate about. It’s Mark’s coworkers showing amicable exes and co-parents who love and support each other and the new relationships they’ve found themselves in. They’re one big, weird family kept together by actual affection for each other and I couldn’t get enough of it. I wish that we were getting more seasons with this show but it went out on a high note.
3. Big Little Lies Until recently, “prestige” dramas have been all about the antihero. They were very masculinely focused and often involved isolation from those around them. We’re slowly moving away from that concept but there was still a bit of a battle for Big Little Lies to be taken seriously because it focused on the lives of women. It could be fun and frothy and Madeline had some endlessly quotable lines while also addressing domestic violence, the way we shield our truths from our loved ones and ourselves, and our expectations of women and the roles they inhabit. Celeste is kept at home out of Perry’s need for control, Renata is happy to be CEO but feels judged by the stay at home moms, Madeline is desperate for something to give her the fulfillment she’s not getting at home even though she feels like it should, Jane is a financially struggling single mother in a town full of wealthy two-parent households, and Bonnie is one of the few women of color in this very white town. No one feels like they are meeting all the expectations placed upon them. But other the course of the season, they find each other. It’s easy for Celeste, Madeline, and Jane. This is in large part to Madeline’s forceful personality and need to take Jane under her wing but these ladies develop a true friendship. With Perry’s death, Renata and Bonnie are drawn into the fold as now it is up to each one of them to stay silent and protect the group. They find their strength when they stand together and it made for a refreshing change. We were encouraged to take these women and their struggles seriously. We were supposed to find the power in their combined forces. And it was rewarded with critical acclaim and a lot of award nominations. I hope it is the start of more “prestige” dramas about different types of women finding their strength in each other and joining together in different ways to overcome different struggles. I’m never confident that networks take away the right reasonings for a show’s success and I’m not sure we needed a second season of this show, but at the end of the day, I know I will always be ready for a show about women supporting and encouraging other women.