It's The Golden Age Of Female Buddy Sitcoms — Here Are 7 You Should Be Watching

Photo: Lane Savage/Comedy Central.
We’ve been in a golden age of television for a while now. Many shows credited for giving rise to that proclamation, however, are stories about men — specifically, male antiheroes in dramas and men behaving badly in sitcoms. Well, the reign of male-dominated series is on the decline. Critically acclaimed and audience-beloved AMC hits Breaking Bad (2008-2013) and Mad Men (2007-2015) are over, as is CBS ratings juggernaut Two and a Half Men (2003-2015). As the sun has set on those male-centric shows, it’s risen on a glorious genre that showcases female friendship in a more specific way than ever before portrayed on TV.

The female buddy sitcom has been thriving for several seasons now, thanks to shows such as 2 Broke Girls (2011-present), Broad City (2014-present), and Doll & Em (2013-present), which returns for a second season on HBO September 13. Female buddy sitcoms are a genre unto themselves because of the unique bond between two people on which they focus. The most compelling of such characters and relationships are often portrayed by the same writers and creators who thought them up in the first place. On Broad City, for example, series co-creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer star as Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler, the more uptight yin to the other’s stoner yang.

It's worth noting that we’re not including series like Girls (2012-present) in this genre, because while the show's portrayal of its main quartet celebrates female friendship, Girls is steeped in the Sex and the City (1998-2004) and Girlfriends (2000-2008) tradition of chronicling a group. Female buddy sitcoms follow one pair, and it’s the thrust of their friendships that provides the dramatic tension, comedic fodder, and story lines for the series.

Sure, the characters go off and have adventures separately, but their worlds orbit around each other, and they’re even more dynamic as a duo. Their lives are deeply interconnected, and the world of the show revolves around them. There’s definitely an astronomy diagram with two foci to be drawn, but ninth-grade knowledge is eluding us at this moment, and you get the idea without flashy visuals of planetary orbits.

Female buddy sitcoms have certainly been on the air in the past. Some examples include Lucy and Ethel on I Love Lucy (1951-1957), Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983), Kate & Allie (1984-1989), Absolutely Fabulous (1992-1995, 2011-2012), and Sister, Sister (1994-1999). But never before have we had such a concurrent wealth of on-screen pairs whose third we’d love to be.

So, why is this genre flourishing in 2015? In recent years, female characters on TV have become more complex and three-dimensional in both dramas and comedies. Still, as Claire Fallon articulated in May on Huffington Post, “Taboo-busting female characters in comedy make many critics feel unsettled, and it’s not just the traditionalists. A surprising level of finger-wagging has been coming from feminist and pro-woman sources, the very viewers who might be expected to back this blossoming of complex female leads.”

Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) on 30 Rock (2006-2013) is critiqued for being pathetic, despite her position as a head writer who leads a staff of mostly men. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) on The Mindy Project (2012-present), an Ob/Gyn now starting her own fertility practice, is seen as abrasive and selfish. For much of its first season in 2011-2012, New Girl’s Jessica Day (Zooey Deschanel) was criticized for her adorkability and overly sunny disposition. By making her a fish out of water in a loft full of men, the show brings Jess’ extremely feminine quirks into stark contrast with her surroundings.

These female characters are fully realized and three-dimensional, yet they still face criticism for the complexities of their characters. Fallon points out that female writers, actors, and comediennes have gained parity in their field over the past few years, but progress is slow. That’s where female buddy sitcoms come into play. Not only do they provide an intimate look at how women interact with one another, bringing out previously unseen personality facets, they also allow for characters to act as audience surrogates, responding to the limited way in which the world sees female relationships.

Some viewers are critical of Abbi and Ilana on Broad City for being hot messes. Jacobson and Glazer can reference this in a story line on the show, quasi-breaking the fourth wall and letting everyone know that they hear what’s being said. The characters on female buddy comedies aren’t the sole women swimming against the tide. They’ve always got someone on their side, and that fosters a sense of camaraderie for both critics and viewers. In balancing each other out (they’re often the id to the other’s ego, or type A and type B), they also balance out the immense expectations we heap upon the sole female protagonist in shows like 30 Rock.

This doesn’t mean that female buddy sitcoms are a perfectly formed pieces of television. While not scarce in number, this genre is still suffering in terms of representation and diversity. Most, if not all, friendships showcased involve two thin, attractive, heterosexual, white women. There’s a duo in almost every age bracket, from Faking It's (2014-present) teens all the way up to Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, which features heroines in their 70s (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin). But, the majority of these female characters are on the younger side (late teens through 30s). There’s still a lot of ground to be covered and paradigms to break.

But, we can still celebrate the shows and characters we do have. These series, with their wise-cracking, codependent (in a way viewers want in on), ride-or-die besties, showcase the type of bond that goes beyond even sisterhood. Because as we all know, you can choose your friends, but your family is preselected for you. Ahead, we explore what makes these duos so infinitely watchable.
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Photo: Darren Michaels/CBS.
2 Broke Girls (2011-present)

The Leads: Max Black (Kat Dennings) & Caroline Channing (Beth Behrs)

The Gist: When Caroline Channing’s father is sent to prison for running a Ponzi scheme, the disgraced former rich girl moves in with Max Black and starts working with her at a Brooklyn diner.

Why It Works: While the jokes can be cringe-worthy, the chemistry between Dennings and Behrs keeps the series afloat. There’s a smart, entrepreneurial spirit that runs through the show — thanks to the MBA-holding Caroline and to Max, who wants to overcome her humble beginnings and put her culinary skills to use by opening a cupcake shop.

"It’s an exciting time for women to be allowed to do certain things on television. The jokes all come from a real place, and they’re very true to the characters — making the story line and characters so relatable," Behrs told Refinery29. "In every single show I watched growing up, women were funny. Carol Burnett, Will & Grace, Friends, etc... I think we are in a wonderful time right now in films and TV, where the majority of people want to tune in to casts led by funny women. We are pushing limits, and it feels great to be a part of this wave."
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Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
Doll & Em (2013-present)

The Leads: Em (Emily Mortimer) & Doll (Dolly Wells)

The Gist: Lifelong best friends Doll and Em have always been there for each another — but this proves to be a more difficult than it used to be when Doll breaks up with her longterm boyfriend and needs support from Em, who’s now a Hollywood star. Doll relocates from London to L.A. to become Em’s assistant (and receive that emotional support), which doesn’t go well at all.

Why It Works: Real-life best friends Mortimer and Wells play fictionalized versions of themselves on the show, which is one of those series that’s so hyperrealistic that the palpable awkwardness makes you squirm in your seat. They co-created, co-wrote, and co-star in the series together, and the ease with which they interact is one that only exists between two people who have known each other for a very long time. Doll & Em is an interesting study in how female friendships evolve over time as relationships, careers, success, and other life events put distance, jealousy, and other complications between two people for whom everything was once so easy and halcyon. Not all of us have a best friend who became a famous actress, but you’ll find yourself commiserating with both Doll and Em at different points in the series.
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Photo: Walter Thompson/Comedy Central.
Broad City (2014-present)

The Leads: Abbi Abrams (Abbi Jacobson) & Ilana Wexler (Ilana Glazer)

The Gist: Two twentysomethings have adventures in New York City, often fueled by weed.

Why It Works: Broad City has been called a "bra-mance," and this 2014 New Yorker profile of its creators and stars offers a great explanation of why this female buddy comedy works so well. It's "an unpretentious portrait of a friendship between women in which they don’t undermine each other or fret over how they look or define themselves by whom they’re sleeping with." Ilana is the id to Abbi’s ego, the Cheech to her Chong, the Tina to her Amy, and they need each other to survive in the big city. Their gamboling about town is fun to watch, and their loyalty to one another is unparalleled.
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Photo: Courtesy of MTV.
Faking It (2014 -present)

The Leads: Amy Raudenfeld (Rita Volk) & Karma Ashcroft (Katie Stevens)

The Gist: Tired of being nobodies, two best friends pretend to be a lesbian couple to become popular at their alternative high school in Austin, TX.

Why It Works: “My premise for the show has always been that this is a romantic comedy about two best friends,” series co-creator and showrunner Carter Covington told Refinery29. Yes, it’s set in high school, so it’s ostensibly a coming-of-age teen show, but Faking It is Amy and Karma’s story all the way — with a very of-the-moment twist. “I knew that I wanted to have one of the best friends fall in love with [the other], and I wanted it to be a journey exploring that,” Covington elaborated.

Amy falls in love with Karma, but it remains unrequited, and that’s one of the central conflicts of the show. It’s unexplored territory for the female buddy sitcom — although Ilana on Broad City is forever playfully flirting with Abbi, it’s unclear if she’d want to follow through on her verbal provocations — and Faking It manages to mix it into a high school show with levity and heart.
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Photo: Nicole Wilder/USA Network.
Playing House (2014-present)

The Leads:
Emma Crawford (Jessica St. Clair) & Maggie Caruso (Lennon Parham)

The Gist: After 11 years in China, Emma returns to her hometown to help lifelong best friend Maggie raise her baby, after Maggie finds out that her husband (Brad Morris) has been having an online affair.

Why It Works: St. Clair and Parham have been best friends and writing partners for years. Before Playing House, they co-created a series for NBC called Best Friends Forever, which aired for a brief six episodes in 2012. BFF proved to be a testing ground that died so Playing House could rise from its ashes. On House, St. Clair and Parham have created an entire quaint and charming Connecticut town full of eccentric, lovable characters.

"We’ve been playing out these dynamics you see in the show on a stage in a dark theater [at the Upright Citizens Brigade] in Chelsea for many, many years. Hopefully, the audience can feel that playful energy, and that it all comes from a place of love," St. Clair and Parham told Refinery29 via a joint email statement. They call creating and starring in a show with your best friend "basically a dream come true. And it makes things easier to have a partner riding beside you on the roller-coaster ups and downs this business brings."

Audiences have definitely responded. When USA kept hedging about a season 2 renewal, fans begged the network for more episodes. The network listened, and viewers rejoiced.
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Photo: Melissa Moseley/Netflix.
Grace and Frankie (2015-present)

The Leads: Grace Hanson (Jane Fonda) & Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin)

The Gist: Grace and Frankie have never been the best of friends, but they’ve always put up with one another because their husbands (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) are business partners. When the men announce that they’re also lovers and are leaving their wives for one another, Grace and Frankie move in together.

Why It Works: This show is given life by a woman who knows friendship: Marta Kauffman, the co-creator of Friends (1994-2004). Whereas most of the friendships on this list come from a place of love and affection, Grace and Frankie’s is entirely due to circumstance. “What’s intriguing to me about the show is that these two women don’t like each other, but they're the only ones who understand,” Kauffman told Refinery29, reasoning that basing their relationship in conflict makes for a "more interesting story." Grace and Frankie are extremely different, but they’re showing that you can make what Kauffman calls a “forever friend” later in life, even though it’s difficult.
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Photo: Courtesy of Comedy Central.
Another Period (2015-present)

The Leads: Lillian Schmemmerhorn-Fish (Natasha Leggero) & Beatrice Downsy (Riki Lindhome)

The Gist: The scheming Bellacourt sisters, Lillian and Beatrice, do everything they can to ascend to the top of Newport, RI, society during the Gilded Age.

Why It Works: Leggero and Lindhome also co-created the series, a humorous historical commentary on the roles to which women were confined in the late 19th century. Another Period is an entertaining and — for all its crassness — surprisingly educational(ish) complement to Comedy Central’s other feminist dynamo, Inside Amy Schumer. Even Shonda Rhimes wishes she'd thought to create it.
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