Every year, television debuts new shows that are packed with a variety of (male) characters. When each TV season starts, we hope this will be the year of “strong female characters” who are complex, intelligent, and interesting. We wish for a woman who exists for reasons other than either gently nudging forward her male counterpart’s narrative or bitchily nudging forward her male counterpart’s narrative. This year, we are blessed with so many different women: a detective who struggles to balance her work and personal life, a Secretary of State who struggles to balance her work and personal life, a CIA analyst who struggles to balance her work and personal life, and so on. Once again, TV wants to know: Can women have it all?
This work-life balance problem isn’t a new one — not on television and certainly not in real life — and it surfaces as an underlying theme in many comedies and dramas premiering this year. But there are a few shows that are more explicit about exploring this idea than others, so here, we try to guess which one of these four new TV characters can truly, honestly have it all. I’d include betting odds, but I’m a woman and don’t know how they work.
Laura Diamond, The Mysteries of Laura (NBC Drama)
In The Mysteries of Laura, Debra Messing stars as “a brilliant NYPD homicide detective who balances her ‘Columbo’ day job with a crazy family life that includes two unruly twin boys and a soon-to-be ex-husband.” The mysteries that Laura has to solve range from serious whodunnit murder cases to, “Oh no, why is my sons’ principal calling again?”
Can Laura have it all? Probably not. See, when you’re a detective and a mother, things can get a bit dicey. Her husband Jake (Josh Lucas) has no trouble — the kids love him, he’s never stressed out, and he takes all the children’s problems in stride without missing a beat at work (all while refusing to sign divorce papers, for some reason) — but Laura’s woman brain can’t quite multitask that well and even gets so overwhelmed that she drugs her children with cough syrup. It’s only a matter of time before she gets confused and brings a toy gun to a real crime scene or accidentally locks her son in a jail cell overnight because she’s just so frazzled!
Elizabeth McCord, Madam Secretary (CBS Drama)
Elizabeth (Téa Leoni) might be the most powerful woman in the United States, but try telling that to her children! In Madam Secretary, Elizabeth becomes Secretary of State (the President calls her directly; she thinks it’s the PTA president calling), although she’s considered an outsider in Washington. As CBS puts it, Elizabeth “battles office politics and circumvents protocol as she negotiates global and domestic issues, both at the White House and at home.” Two houses! How will she keep them both clean (literally and figuratively, of course).
Can Elizabeth have it all? Not likely. Sure, she’s likable, intelligent, has a helpful husband, and knows what she’s doing, but she’s still a mother and that’s three strikes against her. Maybe this could work if she had a lower-profile job, but she’s working in DC politics, and that’s no place for a mom with emotions that could cloud her judgment. (The pilot already contains a political conflict that involves teens.) And what’s going to happen when her children inevitably find themselves in danger from terrorists during sweeps week?
Peggy Carter, Agent Carter (ABC Drama)
Agent Carter is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and revolves around Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in 1946. She has to balance two jobs — secretarial work for the Strategic Scientific Reserve and secretive work for Howard Stark on his missions — with her personal life as she tries to “navigate life as a single woman in America, in the wake of losing the love of her life – Steve Rogers.”
Can Peggy have it all? Of course not! Being a single secretary in 1946 is even harder than being a Detective Mom in 2014. Trying to find a boyfriend while also working for Tony Stark’s father is damn near impossible. Peggy’s actually a great, skilled character who knows her way around a gun, but that’s not going to help her on the dating scene. She’ll eventually find a nice guy — she’s as good with lipstick as she is with firearms — but it will just be a countdown until she’s forced to choose between him and her work with Howard Stark.
Charlie Tucker, State of Affairs (NBC Drama)
Katherine Heigl’s Charleston “Charlie” Tucker (what a name! What a masculine name!) is a CIA analyst working closely with President Constance Payton (another woman!), who has to balance “a complex personal life and a pressure-cooker profession” that causes her to “sometimes engages in boundary-pushing behavior to avoid facing her grief.”
Can Charlie have it all? Possibly! She doesn’t have pesky children to distract her from serious world issues, so that definitely gives her a leg up in the world. However, her personal life is still an obstacle, as she was engaged to the President’s son before he was killed in a terrorist attack. Now she has to do her actual work while distracted by also trying to catch the love of her life’s murderer. Plus, according to the trailer, Charlie engages in destructive behavior like drinking, laughing, and having sex. Surely this will affect her job performance, especially when she ends up sleeping with the enemy — as all women in Washington do.