This is truly the golden age of TV Comedy for women. But not because we are being put on a golden pedestal, oh no. It’s quite the opposite. The funniest women are the ones who fail fearlessly, the ones who fall without grace, the ones who are so flawed that we can see ourselves in their insecurities. Women have gone from factory cardboard cut-outs to clunky handmade origami, liable to fall apart but created with love. Here are 1o of the best.
Sharon Horgan – Catastrophe
Sharon Horgan’s portrayal of motherhood in Catastrophe, written with co-star Rob Delaney, is endearing because it is so brutally honest. Sharon is thrust into motherhood entirely by accident and continues to stumble over every hurdle with very little elegance, but with endless wit and warmth. The show portrays family life without the frills, exposing the constant fretting behind closed doors, the trivial arguments fuelled by fatigue and the crippling guilt that comes as an involuntary add-on to children. And yet, the chemistry between Sharon and Rob is so effortlessly funny that every twist and turn is a joy to behold.
Tamsin Greig – Friday Night Dinner
It would be easy to call Tamsin Greig’s character from Friday Night Dinner the straight woman amidst the chaos, but really she is the glue that holds the chaos together. Her flaws are even funnier because they come largely in the form of her insufferable family. Every chiding ‘Oh Martin’ delivered by Tamsin as her husband eats out of the bin, every attempt to stop her kids lacing each other’s drinks with salt, is a reminder of the choices she made. And yet, every Friday she brings them all back around the table for another serving of madness.
Diane Morgan – Motherland
Co-written by Sharon Horgan, Motherland has a similar charm to that of Catastrophe. Though the show is led by Anna Maxwell Martin’s perpetually flustered protagonist Julia, it is held up by her emotional support, which comes in the form of the shameless Diane Morgan, a freestyle mother unencumbered by caring what anyone thinks. Ironically, though Liz’s less-than-traditional parenting tactics make her seem chaotic, her decision to let kids be kids is beautifully human. Asides from this, her ability to chop off her own finger without complaining is a perfect testimony to the sacrifices of motherhood that often go unnoticed.
Jane Fonda – Grace and Frankie
Despite her dodgy knees, Fonda’s Grace is a character you wouldn’t dare get into a fight with, especially after a few margaritas. A blunt, proud, no-nonsense businesswoman who sells sex toys to older ladies, she is in tune not only with her own needs but those of her fellow women. Her parenting style can only be described as tough love, and though her children see it as negligence, she frankly couldn’t give a toss. As a counterpoint, Lily Tomlin’s performance as the eccentric and erratic Frankie creates a perfect symbiosis between order and chaos, thawing out Grace’s frosty and quite literally stiff demeanour.
Alison Brie – Glow
Brie’s foray into female wrestling in Glow is a brave departure from the meek and nerdy Annie of Community. Ruth is still overly keen, yet she is badass without even meaning to be. Her integrity as a serious actress even in the ring is a constant annoyance to everyone around her, and yet her commitment to taking wrestling seriously makes her as resilient as she is irritating. When she finally finds her place, she embraces her role in the way that only 80s America can: by adopting an offensive and reductive stereotype in order to make money in the entertainment world.
Daisy May Cooper – This Country
Kerry Mucklowe is as bossy and deluded as she is unaccomplished. Her sole followers might be her cousin and a few local kids, but she rules the roost proudly, with the unerring confidence befitting any great (and terrible) leader. Despite Kerry’s many claims that she will rise above her rural town, she always ends up back where she started, a small fish in a small pond. The only real surprise is that the Cooper siblings have crafted such sharp comedy from a world so bleak. Nothing happens, but it happens so brilliantly that you can’t help but be hooked.
Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
In Tina Fey’s wacky sitcom, Jane Krakowski achieves the mammoth task of matching her performance in 30 Rock by entering a new dimension of well-meaning narcissism. As Jacqueline White, she manages to create a character so painfully unaware of her own privilege that you can’t help but pity her when it is taken away. This is a woman conditioned to believe it’s what is on the outside that counts, a woman so protected from the real world that she cannot comprehend a flat with only one floor. Though she may be vain, self-centred and materialistic, she proves to be surprisingly strong when the going gets tough.
Pheobe Waller Bridge, Fleabag
With a name as unrefined as Fleabag, you would expect nothing less than the refreshingly crude and confrontational performance that Waller Bridge delivers. Fleabag willingly offers up her sex life, literally addressing us mid-disappointing-encounter and never giving us the courtesy of sparing the details. She is insecure, manipulative and shallow, and yet the playful looks she shares with the viewer appeal to the rebellious anti-heroine in all of us. Relative to Olivia Coleman, who plays the wonderfully wicked stepmother, she is simply a lost sheep, struggling to reconcile her own impersonal brand of sexual liberation with the approved guidebook of feminist ideals.
Kristen Bell – The Good Place
Eleanor Shellstrop is the kind of character we know we should hate, but who we can’t help but adore. The kind of woman who tricks her friends into being designated drivers and insults people freely, a woman so contentedly selfish that on some level, we all envy her lack of scruples. As she enters the afterlife her most valuable revelation is not that she must redeem herself, but that the idea of judging people as either ‘good’ or ‘evil’ is a little extreme. As she aptly puts it, “I wasn’t freaking Ghandi, but I was ok.” And which of us can’t relate to that?
Kaitlin Olson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Dee provides a pointed reminder that objectifying the opposite sex is not a gender-specific role. Indeed, Olson has no problem matching up to her fellow male cast members in her ability to be crass, shallow and incomprehensibly arrogant. Whilst often the female character is put into a sitcom to chide her male friends and counter their testosterone-fuelled urges, Dee is too busy with her own sordid plans to even listen to anyone else’s. Though she is certainly not a role model for the female population, she represents a revolution in the portrayal of women on screen.