In television, Jill Soloway also did the impossible, launching Amazon into the stratosphere with Transparent, a boundary-pushing dramedy about a middle-class Jewish family in LA whose erstwhile patriarch comes out as trans. Outlets from Slate to TIME magazine hailed it as 2014’s best new show; Pando called it the best show ever made by a tech company, which is maybe damning it with faint praise.
The indefatigable Gaby Hoffman is terrific in Obvious Child, Transparent, and the 2014 season of Lena Dunham’s Girls, so she wins the Honorary Jewess Triple Crown. Dunham herself did quite well this year, emerging as a literary rock star with her memoir Not That Kind of Girl, which charmed both Michiko Kakutani and Roxane Gay. Her time in the spotlight was sometimes a mixed blessing, but even then, she sparked important conversations: in her case, about what seven-year-old girls – and frankly all of us – are capable of.
Following in Dunham’s footsteps, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer went from viral videos to basic cable fame with Broad City , an off-kilter, girl-power stoner comedy that “garnered Comedy Central’s best ratings for a first-season series in two years among ages 18-34, as well as among men 18-34.” They are Tina and Amy for the next generation of women, particularly the ones who don’t mind stuffing pot up their front holes.
The only woman on the National Book Awards nonfiction shortlist this year was New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, whose graphic memoir about coping with her parents’ decline, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, is equal parts hilarious and horrifying. She didn’t win, but she still did something that’s nearly impossible: she got us to laugh while engaging with the taboo topics of death and money.
From Anya Ulinich’s Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel
Two other engrossing graphic novels-from-life by Jewish women also crossed over into the mainstream this year. New Yorker cartoonist Liana Finck’s A Bintel Brief brings to life Yiddish letters to advice columns from a century ago; award-winning author Anya Ulinich’s caustic but heartfelt Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel sends up dating while divorced and, for good measure, Phillip Roth.
There are more, too: Idina Menzel belted out the children’s song that became a hit in late 2013 but ascended to classic status in 2014, “Let It Go”; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg launched a thousand memes; and perhaps you noticed that the woman in that controversial Hollaback viral video was named Shoshana?
What unites these successes is that they came mostly from the margins and concerned themselves with the experiences of people there: the incarcerated, the broke, the trans. They tackled subjects like race and abortion, the awkwardness of middle age and the indignity of approaching death. They made hot topics approachable by first making them funny — and they accomplished the task without worrying too much whether their frankness was going to make their butts look big.