America in Primetime: The Independent Woman


PBS is currently airing a weekly series called America in Primetime, which looks at one TV archetype a week and discusses its evolution throughout the history of American television.  It began last Sunday, and for whatever reason, it passed me by.  But I recently was able to watch the first episode, “The Independent Woman,” and I found it to be an intriguing overview of American television history.

The episode began with analysis of The Good Wife and how it portrays a woman struggling to juggle her work, her motherhood, her relationships, and her integrity.  What was great was that it didn’t merely focus on the titular Alicia Florrick but also provided analysis of Kalinda Sharma, her best friend and foil.

After this introductory discussion, the show transitioned into a survey of the history of women’s portrayals of television, beginning with the likes of Leave It to Beaver, which portrayed women as perfect housewives.  Following that was a wonderful homage to I Love Lucy, which was followed by, among other things, an analysis of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and how it represented women in the midst of the Feminist Movement.  The show then transitioned to lauding the newer, edgier programs on cable that show a more complicated view of the independent woman. 

One thing that I felt was missing was the current portrayal of women, particularly mothers, in the family sitcom.  The episode had a segment on Desperate Housewives, but true family sitcoms, like Modern Family and The Middle, were absent.  Since the family sitcom is currently undergoing a renaissance on network television thought it would have been interesting for them to compare and contrast these portrayals from the 1950s and 1960s.  Even though I understand that this was entitled “The Independent Woman,” I think that comparing these women to other current portrays of independent women would have still been relevant.

Overall, the episode presented a solid overview of various portrayals of independent women on television.  What it does very well is show how American primetime television is intrinsically linked to American society.  I’ve always thought that television is the best way to get a grasp on what American society thinks, and I am glad that this episode focused on this overlap.  I am looking forward to rest of the series, which will continue for the next three weeks.  The next installment, “The Man of the House,” airs tonight on PBS.


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