This fall’s crop of new network TV shows certainly has the ladies in mind — from sitcoms to crime dramas to 1960s-set dramas (thanks for that, Mad Men!), every network seems to have turned into Television for Women. But just because a series has female main characters doesn’t make it feminist; yes, that means you, Playboy Club and Charlie’s Angels. Here, our seasonal picks for the most female-friendly shows on the dial:
1. Pan Am (ABC): What Playboy Club botches, this drama about stewardesses in 1963 gets right. The show gives us a look at one of the few ways women then could use their feminine wiles to buy themselves some real freedom — by taking to the newly friendly skies. But it also doesn’t deny the sexism inherent in the process — Pan Am girls had to be beautiful, could be grounded for not wearing their girdles, endured weigh-ins, and had to quit at 32 or when they got married. Also a plus: It’s good, soapy fun, with affairs, broken engagements, and even undercover-spy flight attendants!
2. Grey’s Anatomy (ABC): Sorry, we still can’t help ourselves, even eight seasons in. That could be because this show continues to mature with us, already tackling abortion in the very first episode this season — even using the A-word right on screen and showing Sandra Oh’s ambitious Cristina Yang going in for the procedure, both rarities in primetime. Extra points for a continuing successful lesbian marriage and subtle wrestling with mommy-versus-work issues.
3. 2 Broke Girls (CBS): The pilot episode had the titular waitresses fighting over a guy, but only briefly before sardonic hipster Max (the illustrious Kat Dennings) realized it was her grungy boyfriend, not new coworker Caroline (Beth Behrs, making rich and blond totally likeable), who was to blame. From that point on, the two opposites form an unlikely alliance that has us thinking about the most sacred of female TV pairings, Mary and Rhoda.
4. Prime Suspect (NBC): Nothing can compete with the original, British Suspect — who doesn’t want to watch Helen Mirren solve crimes? But this gritty crime series takes on workplace sexism as well as the politics and brutality of the police world in a way that sets it apart from standard catch-the-bad-guys-in-an-hour procedural shows. Kudos to lead Maria Bello, too, for stepping up in Mirren’s role. That’s no easy feat.
5. Up All Night (NBC): This fresh take on the family-com had us swooning over its cast before it even aired: Will Arnett, Christina Applegate, and Maya Rudolf? We think we had a (very good) dream like that once. The reality, for once, is even better: Arnett and Applegate are hilariously perfect as a hard-partying couple now facing new parenthood and Rudolph is just as great as ever as Applegate’s talk-show-host boss. But even more exciting are the subtle messages underneath the comedy, with Applegate taking on the primary breadwinner role in the house, Arnett functioning as a stay-at-home dad with little fanfare, and Rudolph representing for all the baby-phobic ladies out there. That’s right, we’re allowed to be as non-maternal as we want to; even to the point where we think a wallet is a good gift for a baby.