These are the powerful women on TV we want to grow up to be
Do a piece about powerful women in the workplace, they said. It will be fun, they said. Actually, no such promise was made, but “they” (the lovely Plum List editors) indicated that Younger (the complete Seasons 1-6 are now on Showmax) should be the starting point.
Picking up the story with episode six of the sixth season, I was still wondering who the powerful woman is in this series, and then it struck me: it’s all of them.
Younger, created by Darren Star (he of Sex and the City, so you can expect lavish footage of New York City and outrageous fashion choices), made its debut in 2015 with the premise of a 40-year-old woman, Liza (Sutton Foster), pretending to be 26 to get back into the workplace. Everything leaps off this launch pad as Liza tries to protect her secret from her younger boyfriend, work colleagues and bosses, her college-age daughter, and pretty much the whole world.
Personally, I’d never buy Foster as a millennial – except for the way she always scuttled out of Diana’s (Miriam Shor) office in her mini skirt – but let’s roll with it. Liza’s age and experience has seen her do well at work, if not anywhere else, and the series has done a great job of keeping the secret of the secret – and thus preserving the tension of the premise – for the better part of six seasons.
Liza’s immediate boss Diana has always been in a position of power as head of marketing, but vulnerable in her private life. Kelsey (Hilary Duff) rises impressively and ambitiously through the ranks over the course of a year or two, until we find her now as the publisher of Millennial imprint as well as another company.
Sadly, there is an episode in which she accidentally posts a cheeky video meant for Zane (hottie Charles Michael Davis from The Originals) to her public Instagram stories (hey, it can happen to the best of us), with the result of a boardroom full of male potential investors in dull suits demanding that in exchange for their money, the companies have to be headed by Charles Brooks (Peter Hermann), which is a bit of a judgmental step backwards, despite the sugar-coating of Kelsey agreeing to do what’s “best” for the benefit of the deal.
Something else that happens in this season is that Liza, Charles and her ex toy-boy Josh (Nico Tortorella) land up doing fashionable and trendy microdosing. The outcome is completely ridiculous and unrealistic, which makes you wonder where the consultants were that day.
Another female exec on TV who tried microdosing, with more success, is Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), in Season 2 of The Good Fight (S1-3 are on Showmax). She’s another super-powerful woman, one who has been on a professional rollercoaster since the show that spawned this spinoff, The Good Wife.
There we had Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) in the eponymous role. She too clawed her way through the cutthroat legal environment, slowly but surely moving away from her husband’s scandal to become a player in her own right.
More shows with strong female leads
Legal shows like these, Suits (in particular Donna, played by Sarah Rafferty), and its spinoff Pearson (starring Gina Torres as Jessica Pearson), are fertile grounds for amazing women, as are the medical/hospital series. Although Grey’s Anatomy (running since 2005) is probably better known for its sex and drama, who can honestly say they weren’t afraid of Dr Miranda Baily (Chandra Wilson) for many seasons?
Powerful women aren’t necessarily the ones in the top positions, and don’t automatically have to instil fear to be effective: think of Mad Men (7 seasons on Netflix), where Joan (Christina Hendricks) quietly ran things in the background, in a time when women in the workplace were secretaries and typists, and ultimately gained a great deal of control.
And, in that same series, let’s not forget Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss, who we now know as a different kind of powerful/powerless woman in The Handmaid’s Tale), who started as Don Draper’s secretary and ended up as copy chief at one of the top five ad agencies in America before the age of 30, through a combination of guts, willpower, and, basically, just being damn good at her job.
To see how far we’ve come – in incredibly diverse industries where women have taken the reins of their own destinies – have a look at one-season wonder American Woman with Alicia Silverstone, and The Deuce, which stars Maggie Gyllenhaal (all seasons on Showmax).
Top of the heap has to be The Crown (Netflix), though; you don’t get much more powerful than the Queen of England (played by Claire Foy in Seasons 1 and 2, and Olivia Colman in Season 3).