Because no matter how prolific Peak TV has been over the past ten years, the flood hasn’t exactly resulted in boundless perfection. Between all the tacky revivals, franchise renewals, true scandal dramas, and star-studded gimmicks, this season I found myself reaching for simple shows that exuded unaffected warmth and vulnerability. I wanted sincerity. I wanted rest. I wanted friendships.
This spring I’ve stuck faithfully to a few comedies that have captivated me with their peerless leads, all middle-aged actresses whose characters are experiencing artistic rebirths in the latter half of their lives. Few shows this year have given me greater viewing pleasure than someone somewhere better things, Julia and Chop because it’s wonderfully invigorating to watch women of a certain age be themselves, no apologies needed. These series are as nourishing as they are fun, making them irresistible at a fragile time when the art we consume needs to become part of our self-care routines.
The protagonists at the heart of these midlife coming-of-age shows are just beginning to carve out identities beyond “caregivers.” About HBO’s semi-autobiographical half-hour dramedy someone somewherePrickly and lovable Bridgett Everett, executive producer and real-life comedian, plays Sam, a listless woman who has spent the last few years in her small Kansas hometown caring for her dying sister. Now that her sister has passed away, her home is harrowingly quiet, much like the formerly bustling LA home that was the focus of FX’s long-running comedy better things. Pamela Adlon’s lovable Yenta mama, Sam Fox, has defined herself as a single mother of three daughters for the last few decades and barely knows how to cope when faced with a slowly emptying nest.
Such transformations don’t have to be defined by loss, as the heroines of two HBO Max series prove. JuliaBrave Julia Child (Sarah Lancashire) has been a devoted wife to a diplomat for so long that when she’s ready to step into the limelight herself – literally as a celebrity TV chef – she lies about her financial contributions to the production so much that her husband becomes his concerns put aside and support their project. While ChopNever the instinctively maternal type, comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) must make tough decisions in season two about how to mentor her charge (Hannah Einbinder) so both women can reach higher heights in their careers together.
These series underscore the power of creativity, regardless of age or status. someone somewhere‘s Sam, bored with her job as a standardized test grader, finds purpose when she rediscovers her love for singing, a passion she gave up after graduating from high school. When she befriends a group that has started their own underground open-mic cabaret at a nearby church, she relearns how to use her voice to communicate what lurks in her battered soul. Fortunately, the stakes remain medium-low. While you can sense in the season finale that Sam may be growing into the persona of the tinny, gritty singer that Everett embodies in real life, we don’t think the character needs to be insanely ambitious to “make it.” She just does her thing. It doesn’t have to be about profit or fame, but about expression itself.
The protagonists of better things, Julia and Chop, are of course careerists. But even her own creative renaissance is more about self-realization than reaching the next boss level. Adlon’s Sam has been in the public limelight her entire life, first as a child star and then as a voice actor and character actress. in the better thingsIn its final season, which ended in April, the character finally steps up as a television and short film director, doing something she’s never had the chutzpah to do before: turning down a perfectly fine (and decently paying) acting job just because she’s doing it I don’t want to wear a corset. Sam resents this gut choice, but ultimately it becomes a symbol for herself that she is willing to make her own decisions about her creative life and no longer let fear drive her.
Julia and Deborah each have their own “fuck you” moments that crystallize their confidence, Julia wins the battle against the network when her unexpected popularity offers her bargaining power, and Deborah shuns lowball offers for her introspective new stand-up special to distribute them yourself instead . They don’t care about the money anymore. It’s about self respect.
This story first appeared in a standalone June issue of The Hollywood Reporter Magazine. To get the magazine, Click here to login.