‘Doctor Who,’ ‘Killing Eve’ and the female protagonists who made 2018 TV great

In 2018, characters on television killed. They healed. They conjured things out of mid-air. They traveled through time and space and practiced the dark arts. They sang and danced. They loved and lusted. And many just happened to be women.

We are currently in the midst of a massive glut of television programming, often referred to as “Peak TV,” which in 2018 alone counted nearly 500 scripted shows that aired on networks and streaming services. This means more good television, more bad television and an awful lot of mediocre television. And in a likely unintentional – if long overdue – side effect, it also generated more television stories centered on women. And in 2018, that started to feel natural, rather than extraordinary.

That’s not to say that women haven’t been on television before. Great shows about women range from “Grey’s Anatomy” to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” But for a long time,  they were the exception, not the rule. For the most part, the roles actresses could play and the stories writers wrote for female characters were limited. They were often wives, girlfriends, flirtatious co-workers. They died a lot. They were judged and hated. If they were more than a stereotype, they got slapped with the reductive label “Strong Female Character.”

This year, not just a few but many shows were led by female protagonists. These female-led stories have been hits with audiences, critics and awards voters. Their representation is not tokenism; it’s good storytelling. And it’s making TV better.

The trend is perhaps most symbolically captured in BBC America’s “Doctor Who,” a show in which actresses were once literally confined to the role of  the “companion.” But all that changed when Jodie Whittaker arrived.

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