Film & Television

Wonder Women: Fall’s Network TV Lineup Promises to Be Empowering

Above my desk, I have a shadowbox frame containing one of my most cherished possessions. In it (alongside a curvy action figure that an art director I work with once gave me) is the very first issue of Ms. magazine, inscribed to me by Gloria Steinem. Under the masthead reads the headline “Wonder Woman for President.”

Whether you’re a Hillary fan or not, I think we can all agree with that sentiment.

Three years after Ms. launched, ABC created an action series around the Amazon princess turned American superhero. The series was later picked up by CBS, the executives of which changed the setting from WWII to the 1970s for budget reasons. It ran a total of three seasons.

It’s hard to believe that it has been 40 years since Lynda Carter first transformed herself from Navy Yeomen Diana Prince into the statuesque (and almost impossibly shapely) Wonder Woman. At the time, it was a refreshing change from more typical damsel in distress stories. Not only did Wonder Woman have super powers (and cool accessories), but she also saved handsome Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner of Carol Burnett Show fame) on more than one occasion. It was 1975, and she was a solid role model for a preteen women’s libber.

Whether it reflects a renewed commitment to feminism, a sense that our society needs to be saved, or simply shrewd economics — the comic book industry did $935 million in sales last year — all three broadcast networks are investing in super powerful females this fall.

In Blindspot (Mondays at 10:00 pm on NBC premiering September 21st), a mysterious duffel bag is left unattended in Times Square. Just as the bomb squad is about to prophylactically detonate it, a beautiful, naked amnesiac emerges. She’s covered from head to toe in tattoos, including the name of a handsome FBI agent (how convenient). The ink must be deciphered in order to thwart a terrorist plot and, presumably, uncover the woman’s identity. Lest we think she is merely a human roadmap or the victim of some fraternity prank, Jane Doe soon reveals herself to be a trained assassin — she may have lost her “narrative memory,” but she definitely remembers how to kick bad guy butt.

The show stars Jaimie Alexander, known to action adventure fans as Lady Sif, warrior goddess of Asgard from the Thor movies and Joss Whedon’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series. Other cast members include Sullivan Stapleton, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Rob Brown and Audrey Esparza.

Also on NBC, you’ll find Heroes Reborn (Thursdays at 8:00 pm starting September 24th), an extension of the popular series Heroes, which ran from 2006 to 2010 and helped launch the careers of Hayden Panettiere, Kristen Bell and Zachary Quinto. Billed as a 13-part miniseries, Heroes Reborn tells the story of a new group of “Evos,” people with evolved abilities, coming to terms with their powers in a world that sees them as dangerous threats. Blamed for a terrorist attack that leveled a city in Texas, Evos are hunted by the authorities, big business and off-the-grid vigilantes. Embracing their destiny, clearing their name and saving the world? All in a day’s work.

Both the network and the show’s creators are being very secretive about the new group of heroes, but they’re promoting at least two young women who seem to have superpowers up their sleeves. “Coming from a very sheltered upbringing, a bold and ethereal teenager, Malina (Danika Yarosh), has been told she is destined for greatness. In Tokyo, a quiet and unique young woman, Miko (Kiki Sukezane), is trying to track down her missing father while hiding an extraordinary secret that will make her a force to be reckoned with.”

Don’t expect any answers yet, but the Heroes Reborn trailer certainly sets the mood.

Quantico on ABC (Sundays at 10:00 pm, starting September 27th) involves another hero falsely accused of terrorism. (Do we notice a trend here, ladies?) In this case, Alex Parrish is a promising new FBI recruit, one of the agency’s “best, brightest and most vetted.” Arrested for treason, she escapes and races against the clock to uncover the real terrorists before they strike again.

Bollywood’s Priyanka Chopra stars as Alex and praises the show for its diversity, inclusion and female empowerment. “It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m Indian or whatever my ethnicity is,” she explains, describing her character as a ‘female Jason Bourne.’ “It gives females an opportunity to be equal with the boys, and I think that’s really progressive.”

Call me a traditionalist, but the girl power show I’m most looking forward to is on CBS. As its ads tease, “It’s not a bird. It’s not a plane. It’s not a man.” It’s Supergirl. (Mondays at 8:30 pm, beginning October 26.)

The show is based on the DC Comics character Kara Zor-El, Superman’s ingenuous cousin, but it’s added a contemporary career girl twist. Ambitious young Kara is frustrated fetching coffee for her dragon lady boss. Like many young women, she worries that she’s not living up to her potential. It’s just that she has a bit more potential than her peers.

Melissa Benoist, an earnest and talented young actress best known for being the show choir’s good girl on Glee, fought hard to land the leading role. And from the clips CBS has shared, she looks like she’s loving it, even doing many of her own stunts, including flying. Calista Flockhart (once Time’s “new face of feminism as Ally McBeal) returns to the small screen as Cat Grant, media mogul and superhuman bee-yotch. The cast is rounded out by Mehcad Brooks as James (no longer Jimmy) Olsen and Chuyler Leigh, as well as musical theater charmer Jeremy Jordan.

Television has always provided escape from real-world worries. And, in the last few years, it’s given us some strong and memorable women in shows like The Good Wife, Scandal, Veep, and the more recent Madam Secretary and How To Get Away with Murder. But, with all of today’s troubles, lawyers, stateswomen and professors may not be enough. Maybe we need someone a little faster, stronger and more invincible. It’s nice to see so many super-powered women on the networks this fall.

Now, if we can just get one into the White House. . .


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