When we last checked in on how the ol’ TV box is stacking up with regards to the Bechdel-Wallace* Test, it was 2013. Best Friends Forever and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt 23 had been tragically cancelled, but New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, and just plain Girls were all going strong.
To review, the “Bechdel-Wallace Test” was featured in Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic strip, The Rule, in which Bechdel includes a handy tool for measuring the significance of female characters in movies. You’d think that passing said test would be easy! The movie “passes” if it…
(1) Contains at least two women
(2) who speak to each other
(3) about something other than a man.
As you’ve probably noticed, women in real life talk about lots of things, but on-screen women seem to have much less to say. Let’s see how some of our favorite 2015 TV shows are measuring up.
True Detective: Season Two / HBO
The first season of True Detective failed the Bechdel-Wallace Test so miserably I almost couldn’t believe it. Great show– but the characterization of women was weak, y’all. The only “women” on Season 1 of True Detective were Wives, Mistresses, Prostitutes, and Dead Prostitutes.
By way of a rather obvious apology, Season two offers us the character of Antigone “Ani” Bezzerides, portrayed by Rachel McAdam’s deeply furrowed brow. Ani is a lady cop with sick knife skills and a flagrant disregard of her workplace’s sexual conduct policy.
We’re treated to many scenes of Ani interacting with other humans, several of which were other women (ding ding ding!). Pictured above, Ani slut-shames her sister for her job as a webcam girl. Pass! (Barely)
Game of Thrones: Season Four / HBO
Much has been written about the depiction and treatment of women in HBO’S adaption of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Even more has been written by so-called “book snobs” who have boycotted the series rather than watch our beloved story lines butchered and maimed each Sunday night.
I could say a lot of things about the scene in this photo, like for example, how it doesn’t make any sense that Brienne of Tarth would do something so dangerous/idiotic as to declare her loyalty to a wanted criminal in a crowded inn, thereby blowing said wanted criminal’s cover even as she is offering her protection–or how Sansa Stark is for some reason engaging with her in this conversation (at full volume) like “Hey, you’re right, I AM Sansa Stark! Yes, of the Winterfell Starks. Yes, THE Sansa Stark, who is wanted for regicide! More beer, please, bar keep? The heir of Winterfell is in the house!”
I’m not here to discuss that. This conversation passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test. (But it does not pass the test of logic!) Pass. (of the Bechdel-Wallace Test.)
Orange is the New Black: Season 3 / Netflix
Over at Netflix: Pass! So much pass! Orange is the New Black is like a master class in passing the Bechdel-Wallace test, and it’s still going strong in its third season.
Netflix gets extra credit for this show. Not only do its many female characters (!) talk to each other (!) about things other than men (!!), its plot is almost exclusively driven by dynamic, complicated female relationships. Netflix crushed it with this one, and THEN they proved that they don’t even have to keep women locked up to do it:
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 1 / Netflix
Yes, even when the Mole Women were freed from the bunker, they continued to talk to each other, and other women, too. Oh, what I would give to time travel back to March, 2015 when I watched the entirety of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in a single Sunday. There are so many wonderful topics of conversation between the women of this show, such as:
- The Apocalypse (and how it was caused by our dumbness)
- Coping mechanisms for a stressful life in New York City (or underground, where you are being held against your will by Jon Ham)
- Rats in the air filter, what could it mean?
Jane The Virgin: Season one / The CW
Wow, this list is getting pretty long. That’s dope.
Jane the Virgin made me so happy, and not just because it allowed me look at Miami in the winter time. Jane’s innermost thoughts reminded me a little bit of My So-Called life (RIP), albeit this time they were conveyed by a telenovela style narrator. The inner lives of a women depicted on television?! Yes, please.
The heart of Jane the Virgin is the relationship between Jane and her glamorous mother, Xo. Jane and Xo frequently hash it out in this adorable drama-dy, passing the Bechdel-Wallace Test easily (and stylishly) every time. Pass. Extra points for social commentary! #immigrationreform
Another Period: Season 1 / Comedy Central
This list goes on! Imagine my delight when two of my favorite comediennes successfully combined two of my favorite TV genres: period pieces and reality TV. Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome (creators and co-executive producers) star as Lillian and Beatrice, two wealthy Rhode Island socialites, in this spoofy take on the “wealthy family” reality TV trope. They start strong with the pilot, which features a full-on, hair-pulling brawl with Helen Keller, fueled by “cocaine wine”. So yeah. PASS!
Extra points for Cristina Hendricks as a “plain” servant girl. Hilarious.
Difficult People: Season one / Hulu
As I have said here on the blog before, Julie Klausner is my Oprah. What I mean by that is that I begin a lot of sentences with “Well, Julie says [insert nugget of wisdom here].” I’ve read every book and watched every movie she ever mentioned on her podcast, How was Your Week, and now, this! Her very own show on Hulu, co-written by the very funny Billy Eichner and produced by none other than Amy Poehler!
The central relationship in the show is of course between Billy and Julie, but Julie’s mother Marilyn and Billy’s boss, Denise, supply plenty of the Bechdel-friendly funny, also. Pass, of course.
GIRLS: Season four / HBO
My favorite interaction on this season of HBO’s Girls was the one where Marnie was fishing for compliments on her truly god-awful music. “Well, you did it. You made a song.” #JessaBurn. PASS.
Broad City: Season 2 / Comedy Central
Let’s end this thing on a high note: with these classy broads. What can be said about Abbi and Ilana that hasn’t already been said? Remember when this show came out and people were all like “Wow, Broad City AND Girls? That’s too many shows about girls, let’s just pick one.” Well, beauties, we all knew it was baloney, and just look who’s talking now! (Still us– and we’re talking about all kinds of shit.) PASS.
I’m loving this. It’s been a great year, guys! That’s basically all of the TV I’ve watched in 2015, and there’s plenty more out there that passes the test. Please share them in the comments. The next question we should be asking is: if it doesn’t pass the test, why is it on TV at all? Who’s watching it? If it’s us, let’s stop. Let’s not stand for it.
Next up: E tackles the silver screen. How are women’s words stacking up in film?
*Alison Bechdel would like all of us to start giving credit to her friend Liz Wallace, who laid out these rules in a conversation with Bechdel, prompting her to include them in her comic ‘Dykes to Watch Out For.’ We’re all about credit where it’s due, so Beauty Coup will henceforth refer to it as the Bechdel-Wallace test.