As I’m sure you already know, media has a great influence on our perception of the world, and television is certainly not exempt from this. Anything from the setting, the writing, or even the cast of a television show can have an impact on its audience. Particularly for American screens, diversity, be it of gender, ethnicity, or sexuality, has long been something sought after but often lacking, so here are a few shows that, in one or more areas of representation, have distinguished themselves.
If you’re a fan of BBC Sherlock, or even of the Robert Downey Jr. films, the original Arthur Conan Doyle novels, or another of their spinoffs, you’ve likely heard of Elementary sometime in the past few years. You’ve likely also heard that it’s a rip-off of BBC’s adaptation and that Watson is played by Lucy Liu. That is, a character who is canonically a Caucasian man is played by an Asian woman.
While I won’t take a side in the Sherlock vs. Elementary debate, I will say that the latter manages to have a diverse cast while also being fairly engaging. I can understand the complaints about changing Watson’s race and gender, but I think Liu as Joan Watson still makes for a strong character in her own right, and her (purely platonic) relationship with Holmes is given a good deal of development. Something I particularly admire the show for is that not only does it have representation, but it also doesn’t shy away from acknowledging stereotypes and prejudices that exist even in the so-called “good guys.” While the recurring cast isn’t very large, there are two African-American characters, as well as a transwoman. You can watch Elementary on CBS.
Call the Midwife
Okay, so this is actually British television, but I’m still mentioning it. I’ve found this show to be a little more obscure than some of the others on this list, but not only are the vast majority of the main characters women (making passing the Bechdel Test a breeze), but they are all quite different without any of them being shamed for being the way they are–something that I think is undervalued in stories these days. There is a character that is more traditionally feminine and flirty and another that is authoritative and gruff, yet both are still well-respected.
The show also doesn’t shy away from portraying various kinds of families, ranging from heartwarming to heartbreaking (and often being both); it’s not uncommon for a mother on the show to be single, poor, or to be dealing with another kind of hardship. There’s even been a couple with mental disabilities that’s appeared on the show. You can watch Call the Midwife on BBC One.
What I like about this show is that it takes a story well-engrained in the American mythos, sets it in modern times, and then, rather than making Ichabod Crane the sole shining star, instead gives African-American woman named Abbie Mills the leading role (as well as her own background and development). I mean, it’s not uncommon for an African-American to be the best friend, the right-hand man, or the sidekick of a Caucasian lead, but for the roles to be reversed is a rarity. On top of that, her chief is also African-American, her ex-boyfriend is Hispanic, and her co-worker-turned-bad is Asian. It helps that the show also tells a pretty riveting–and often graphic–mystery. You can watch Sleepy Hollow on Fox.
So you might know this Canadian show as the one in which the same actress plays all the characters. While this is partially true (Tatiana Maslany plays over eight different characters in the series so far and has been much acclaimed for her performance ) and makes sense in context, it also doesn’t detract from the fact that a wide variety of women are portrayed in this series, and portrayed complexly and uniquely despite literally having the same face. Not only that, but there are also a gay and a bisexual character who play major roles and who are not defined by the stereotypes surrounding their sexuality, and later in the series a transman is introduced. You can watch Orphan Black on BBC America.
I admit that I’ve yet to watch an episode of this show (although it’s certainly on my to-watch list), so all of my information is secondhand. Nevertheless, it seems promising, both in terms of writing and representation. Most notably, the lead is a bisexual woman, but there are also numerous other prominent female characters among the cast. I have also heard good things about the way characters are developed and fleshed out, so that’s always a plus. You can watch The 100 on The CW.