From ‘Downton Abbey’ to ‘Portlandia,’ what women do you enjoy watching on TV?

Tina Fey, photo by James White for Esquire.

I’m not sure what you’re watching these days, but if you’re like our family, it’s whatever’s new on Netflix or Hulu.

We haven’t had cable for years now, but we get by just fine thankyouverymuch with the shows that come across the Internet and into our living room. With all those subscriptions to Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and Xbox, we pay almost as much as we’d pay for cable, but it feels more like browsing a video store than walking through Times Square. (I’m telling you, once you stop watching regular commercial breaks, it’s hard to go back to the full blown assault that is cable.)

Through those alternate channels, we can watch many of the same shows that are on TV, just months or even years after they appear to the rest of the television-watching universe. Once you get used to being Permanently Behind The Curve, you can enjoy episode after episode of everything from reality shows of dubious worth (“Man Woman Wild,” “Storage Wars”) to movies you’d forgotten you loved (“A League of Their Own,” “Midnight Cowboy”).

Ahead of our book club get-together this week — 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop –I’ve been paying extra attention to how women are portrayed on those shows, and I’m happy to report that it’s not all sister wives and sexed up tattoo artists.

Unlike many roles written for women, Carrie Brownstein gets to write her own characters on “Portlandia,” which she created with Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen. We’ve been on a “Portlandia” binge this week, taking just a few days to plow through the new season that just became available for streaming on Netflix. The writers/actors often defy (or ignore) gender expectations, but without mockery or outright jest. It’s a special kind of tongue-in-cheek humor that I find hysterical, and here are some clips to give you an idea of the tone of the show:

(FWIW, that second video also stars Miranda July, who wrote “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” a cinematic highlight of 2005.)

The two biggest female writer/actors in comedy (if you don’t count Lena Dunham’s “Girls” as a comedy) are easily Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who are the creative forces behind their lead characters on “30 Rock” and “Parks and Recreation” and who are hosting the Golden Globes next weekend. I hate to say that I haven’t ever been able to get into “Parks and Rec,” but I was a huge “30 Rock” fan, before it got too wacky in the latter seasons. I’ve always loved Fey’s sense of humor about the modern world of feminism and the working woman, especially her thoughts on the Myth of Not Enough.

Speaking of myths, another of my favorite women on TV is Kari Byron, the nerdy fun co-host of “Mythbusters,” who has also written a book about on geek parenting for “moms and their 21st-century families.” The show, which is about using science to help prove and dispel myths, is both funny and action-packed enough to keep every member of my family entertained. In it, Byron isn’t singled out or mocked for her gender, and she gets as excited and into the science (and explosions) as much as her four (four!) male counterparts. I also love her for how she portrayed pregnancy while carrying her first kid. She was right in there, carrying on as usual with this giant belly bump, which you rarely see on TV.

Speaking of mythbusters, Kotex is still going strong with their awesome Break the Cycle advertising campaign. Honesty is so refreshing to see in commercials, especially with just the right amount of sarcasm and human-to-human speak thrown in. Kudos to the young women who appeared in this newest video that encourages all of us to change the messaging around periods.

This is just a glimpse of what I’ve been watching lately. One show that I haven’t gotten into yet is “Downton Abbey,” whose season premiere has caused so much excitement that it crashed the PBS website tonight.

Screen Shot 2013-01-06 at 7.38.11 PM Who says PBS isn’t relevant?

I’d love to hear which strong women or female characters you’ve enjoyed watching on TV. Either new ones or characters from long-ago shows that you still can’t stop thinking about. The book club on Tuesday is open to anyone, but feel free to leave your comments here.

4 responses to “From ‘Downton Abbey’ to ‘Portlandia,’ what women do you enjoy watching on TV?

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