×

‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ ‘Orange Is the New Black’ and the Rise of the Female TV Ensemble

Between the current political climate and the money-making reality that women watch a lot of television, it’s no surprise that networks have seen the benefits of backing programs loaded with female talent.

What is also a relief is that so many of these series are also quite good. Hulu’s dystopian drama “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Netflix’s prison dramedy “Orange Is the New Black” are Emmy darlings. They also enjoy the critical acclaim that’s also been generated for newer shows like BBC America’s cat-and-mouse assassin chase “Killing Eve,” Starz’s family drama “Vida” and Netflix’s “GLOW.”

None of these facts have gone unnoticed or unappreciated by the women who star in these programs.

“One of the genius things about ensembles is that once there’s a level of trust that’s created, you can fly; you can soar,” says “OITNB” star and previous lead actress Emmy nominee Taylor Schilling. For her, this means that “there’s a lot more room to be braver and take risks” when filming various takes in scenes.

Schilling says that, after seven years on creator Jenji Kohan’s series, she’s not sure what came first: the camaraderie or the comfort. But they’re both definitely still there.

“We talk oftentimes about that first year we were making it and nobody really knew what Netflix was, but there was a certain level of comfort that comes from being in a group with all females and a certain primal basic level of safety,” says Schilling, who stresses that the few men who are on her show have also fostered this community.

She says this comes with the territory of doing a show “where it was never about makeup or tight jeans, it was never about anything other than putting on a jumpsuit and going to work.”

These safe environments are especially poignant now, as movements like #MeToo have brought to light how toxically sexist (or worse) some sets can be. “Vida’s” Melissa Barrera says that, in addition to being able to tell a story of a minority family debating concepts like inclusion and gentrification, creator Tanya Saracho’s series has a welcoming and diverse cast and crew. Barrera says this means she no longer has to put up with “those kinds of people who have been working for a long time and just really feel like they can call the shots.”

There is also a support system that comes with sticking to these kinds of projects. Sandra Oh received multiple Emmy noms for her work on Shonda Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy” and is now in “Killing Eve” — another series created by a woman (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) with a lauded female cast. None of this is lost on Oh, who says, “I’ve only gone to where the work has been for me and the work has been for me with these women.

“Once there’s a level of trust that’s created, you can fly; you can soar.”
Taylor Schilling

“I’ve worked with a lot of women; I’ve worked with a lot of women of color; I’ve worked with a lot of women and women of color who are first ADs; who are directors,” Oh continues. “And the reason why I work with them and I’ve had a lot of experience working with women and women of color is because that’s who hires me. Along with it being my choice, it is who has decided to work with me.”

Perhaps one of the most obvious benefits of working on these shows is the confidence it gives actresses just coming onto these shows. “OINTB’s” Schilling humbly says she doesn’t know if she’s ever imparted wisdom onto anybody, but, “I think freedom in work is kind of what everybody is after.” After awhile, she says she can see this feeling “permeate in the bones” of new cast members.

“I think that for some of us who have been around for awhile, it’s a well-oiled machine,” Schilling says. “We really know how to get to risk-taking and joy in the work quickly and to cast inhibition and vanity aside and I think that permeates the world of the show.”

More TV

  • 'Game of Thrones' Cast Calls Final

    'Game of Thrones' Cast Calls Final Season Backlash 'Media-Led Hate Campaign'

    What is life like now after “Game of Thrones?” That’s the question that fans have been asking themselves and that cast members had to answer at the show’s final Comic-Con panel. But first, Conleth Hill, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and several others cleared the air and addressed the perceived negative response to the final season. “I don’t [...]

  • SDCC Roundup: AMC Drops 'The Walking

    SDCC TV News Roundup: AMC Releases 'The Walking Dead' Season 10 Trailer (Watch)

    San Diego Comic-Con has become a hotbed of entertainment news in recent years, especially for the television industry. In today’s SDCC TV news roundup, AMC dropped a trailer for the 10th season of “The Walking Dead” and FX released a first look at “Mayans MC” Season 2. FIRST LOOKS AMC debuted the trailer for Season [...]

  • ARCHER: 1999 -- "Cubert" -- Season

    'Archer' Renewed for Season 11 at FXX

    “Archer” has been picked up for an eleventh season. The announcement was made Friday at San Diego Comic-Con. The news comes less than a week ahead of the Season 10 finale. Season 11 is slated to debut on FXX in 2020. While the show initially focused on the agents and support staff of a covert [...]

  • Carnival Row

    Amazon Debuts New 'Carnival Row' Footage at Comic-Con (Watch)

    San Diego Comic-Con attendees got an extended look at the upcoming Amazon drama “Carnival Row” during the show’s panel at the annual fanfest on Friday. Two new featurettes (see above and below) offer in-depth looks at the backstories of the two main characters — Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevigne) and Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom). Delevigne plays [...]

  • Emmys: 'Better Call Saul' Short Loses

    'Better Call Saul' Short Loses Emmy Nominations in Light of Category Rule Violation

    Better Call AMC: Two Emmy nominations for the network’s short-form series “Better Call Saul Employee Training: Madrigal Electromotive Security” have been pulled after it was deemed ineligible for competition. The Television Academy recently discovered that the series didn’t meet the minimum required runtime of two minutes for at least six episodes — a new stipulation [...]

  • The Boys Amazon Prime

    ‘The Boys’ Lands Early Season 2 Renewal at Amazon

    Amazon has renewed “The Boys” for a second season ahead of the show’s series premiere next week. The streamer also announced that Aya Cash will join the show in the second season. Season 1 of “The Boys” will debut on July 26. It is based on the New York Times best-selling comic of the same [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Big Blackout Looms as CBS, AT&T Go Down to Wire on Renewal Talks

    A blackout affecting CBS stations in major markets throughout the country looms as CBS and AT&T executives go down to the wire on negotiations for a retransmission consent deal covering 28 O&O stations. The sides have sparred publicly during the past few days as 11 p.m. PT Friday expiration of the previous contract approached. AT&T [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content