Written by Lindsey Cook
“The central relationship on the show is a female friendship and not a romantic relationship, and that has always been so important.” Alison Brie made this incredible comment at a recent screening for GLOW’s third season, and it was only when I heard her say this that I truly realized why GLOW had such a special place in my heart: I am starving for more shows about female friendships.
This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of fantastic depictions of friendship between women on television. Leslie and Ann are iconic, as are Meredith and Christina. The foursome of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte was the heart of the show. The blossoming friendships between women in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin were vital to satirizing and challenging the tropes that each program was analyzing.
But as much as these pairings are #BFFgoals, they are not the central conceits of their shows. Parks and Recreation was always about government and the people within it who are trying their best. Grey’s is a medical procedural. Sex and the City would be nothing without the romantic relationships. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was always a journey of self-discovery masquerading as a romance, and Jane the Virgin, for all its progressive attitudes and general satirizing of the telenovela genre, was still a telenovela, complete with grand romantic gestures and dramatic twists. I’m not discounting these shows or these friendships, but it’s important to acknowledge that these shows were indeed focused primarily on other themes.
When it came down to thinking of television shows that truly centered on female friendships, the options became much more limited. Orange is the New Black certainly comes to mind, but these friendships are formed out of necessity more than choice. Big Little Lies is another recent favorite, but even one of the characters suggested this season that “the lie is the friendship”, suggesting that they wouldn’t be close had a group secret not forced them to come together.
There are shows like Gossip Girl, one of my favorites, where BFFs Blair and Serena spend as much time hating each other as they do glued to each other’s sides, or Girls where all the central characters are so involved in their own things that I’d argue they aren’t all that great of friends at all.
When it came down to it, there were only a few shows I could think of that truly fit the criteria of a TV show with a friendship between two or more women as the central relationship of the show: Broad City, Grace & Frankie, GLOW, Dead To Me, and The Golden Girls. At this moment, only three of those shows are still on the air (Broad City ended earlier this year, and The Golden Girls ended in 1992). I haven’t been able to watch Dead To Me and I never caught The Golden Girls, but I can say that the other three shows—Broad City, Grace & Frankie, and GLOW—have meant so much to me, and the way they portray friendship is such a big part of that.
Broad City was a revelation when it aired, coming to Comedy Central in 2014 and focusing on two wild, unabashedly self-assured BFFs in Ilana and Abbi. The duo got up to countless crazy adventures in New York City, from tracking down a package to making the most of their lousy jobs. Through all the crazy turns, their steadfast friendship remains the heart of the show, and for a lot of women around my age, Abbi and Ilana’s friendship is probably the most recognizable.
GLOW is another show that celebrates the strength of friendships among women while also acknowledging the ups and downs of adult friendships. Debbie and Ruth, the two main characters, are not always on great terms, to put it mildly, but beyond the wrestling stunts and big 80s hair, I am so drawn to GLOW because I care about how their friendship plays out. And yes, there are plenty of romances in the series, as there are with most of these shows (even the ones where friendships are the center), but the season three finale’s play on the popular “running through the airport” trope—the one that usually appears in romantic comedies—made it abundantly clear that at the end of the day, the friendship between Ruth and Debbie is the relationship we should all be rooting for.
Seeing central friendships like these ones I’ve mentioned are so important because they are much closer to real life than most of the things I see on television. Real women have friends, close confidants that they care about as deeply as they do significant others or family members. Personally, I value my friendships with other women so much, so it’s great that at least some television shows recognize just how important these relationships are.
One thing I did notice in all my research and brainstorming of TV shows that fit this mold was something very peculiar but not surprising: if there is a show that centers on adult women who are friends, the women are either a) unruly single women who cannot find men or b) older women who are widowed, divorced, and generally far past their “last fuckable day”. I could not, for the life of me, come up with a single television show that centered on a female friendship where the women are happily married, and that was incredibly frustrating.
According to Hollywood, women can either have a great friendship, or a great romantic relationship, but not both, and this is frankly discouraging. Now, at this juncture of my life I cannot say this with certainty, but I would like to think that when (if?) I find love and get married, I will maintain the great friendships I have now. Sure, friendships change as all things do, but I hope that it is unrealistic to assume that once a woman is married, her friends vanish into thin air, never to be heard from again. We women contain multitudes, and room for more than one type of relationship at a time, contrary to what Hollywood may have you believe. It would be amazing to see these many dynamics play out on the small screen one day.
At the end of the day, the more female friendships we get on screen, the better. My friends mean the world to me, and it’s sad when I have to wrack my brain for examples of similar relationships in popular culture. In the meantime, maybe I’ll binge watch The Golden Girls.
A few more shows that fit the bill that others recommended to me while researching this topic:
- Insecure on HBO
- Tuca & Bertie on Netflix
- PEN15 on Hulu
- Playing House available to stream on Amazon Prime
Tell me about your favorite female friendships on television in the comments!