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Vera Farmiga, as Norma Bates, in Bates Motel.
Vera Farmiga, as Norma Bates, in Bates Motel.

JOHN DOYLE

Strong, snarling women are so much fun Add to ...

Attention Downton Abbey fans. Read this darn column to the end in order to gain vital new information.

In the meantime, you know what’s a good show? I’ll tell you what’s a good show. Nashville is good show. Loving it right now. Reason why is that it’s about strong, sometimes outrageous women characters. Maybe, just maybe that’s what the fun series are all about now – not just strong but often snarling ladies. Here’s a short list of the good, fun ones.

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Nashville

Wednesdays, ABC, 10 p.m.

Battling babes of the country-music racket

Oh, they do make a racket on Nashville, that twangy racket of country music – some of it outstanding, being in the hands of T Bone Burnett and all – but the music blends with the high-soapy action. The action is essentially about three great women – Connie Britton as old-school country star Rayna Jaymes, Hayden Panettiere as teen country idol Juliette Barnes and Clare Bowen as the unknown, shy but gifted singer/songwriter Scarlett O’Connor. The core tension is between Rayna and Juliette, but inside that, Juliette had big troubles with her mom, can’t find a trustworthy guy and has way too many hissy fits. Boy, is she a brat. The plot careens around, but always returns to the basics of great country songs – hurtin’ women singing about badass men and men singing about women who hurt them. And that tiny terror Juliette inspires all kinds of hurtin’ songs. Nashville’s season finale is on May 22 so catch it now. It looks likely to return, but you never know – some country songs end with someone dying.

Orphan Black

Saturdays, Space, 9 p.m.

Multi-multi-versions of one sassy young woman

Some say Orphan Black is “important” television because it delves deeply into variations on one female character. And because it’s about cloning. Or it might be cloning. Whatever, it’s enormous fun. The series (recently renewed for a second season) is the story of orphan Sarah (Tatiana Maslany), who witnesses the suicide of another woman (Beth) who looked just like her. Sarah assumes her identity and things get way complicated. There are many other women who also look exactly like her. What’s up with that? Are they somehow related, or the creation of some dark cloning experiment? What’s fabulous fun is the idea of countless versions of the same woman – she’s a strong cop, she’s a streetwise punk, she’s a suburban mom, she’s a science student. And all these variations are played by Maslany. There’s humour in the scenes where the women are obliged to pretend they’re somebody else, but looking exactly the same. A recent episode had one version of Sarah grow suspicious of her doofus husband and torture him with a glue gun. Delicious.

Bates Motel

Monday, A&E, 9 p.m.

The sympathetic, smothering, hysterical mama

If Orphan Black is about multiple versions of the same woman, Bates Motel is about one woman only, in all her rage, love, neuroses and sensuality. The series is an adult horror story attempting to explain how young Norman Bates became the murderous, mother-obsessed killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Fair idea. But the astonishing marvel of the series is Vera Farmiga as mama Norma Bates. This bad mother is simultaneously smothering, nurturing, protective, strong, lonely, sensuous and murderous. You are actually rooting for her. Even when she stalks and clearly loathes a young woman who has eyes for Norman. What the show achieves in the strong-woman category is a hint of camp – you can’t believe how tough and mad this woman is, and then she ups and does something unspeakable. But you cheer her on.

I Found The Gown

Fridays, TLC, 10 p.m.

Fearsome fashionistas looking for a bargain

Surprised to see a bridal reality show on this list? You shouldn’t be. I Found the Gown is terrific entertainment – women search for a bridal gown with a posse of friends and family. The catch is that the setting is a bridal bargain store and the point is the fierce bargain hunter is aiming to get a gorgeous gown at a deeply discounted price. Some are just on a tight budget. Others are allergic to paying full price. You haven’t seen determination until you’ve seen a bargain-hunting bride try to snare a Vera Wang number for a small fraction of the retail price. These women are label-conscious and fixated. There are tears of rage or outright war when a maid of honour declares that even if the dress is a bargain, it looks tacky. You ain’t see strong women shopping until you’ve seen this. Oh, there are other bridal shows, with Say Yes to the Dress being the most famous. But those shows are about joy and maybe adding bling to the gown. This one is about the war that is gown hunting on a budget.

Finally, that Downton Abbey news. You might be asking, “How long will it last?” That is, how long will Lady Mary have to be strong, resilient and super-nice at the same time? Well, it could last six more seasons. Executive producer Gareth Neame told the New York Daily News recently, “I think it is going to go on for a while. Right now, the show is still growing in the U.S. and it would be awful to think of the show ending. I would rather let the show run between four and 10 years, I imagine.” Not that Lady Mary is really in the same class as those other strong women. Heaven’s no. Different class. But strong, you will agree. Let’s see her go shopping for a wedding gown over and over. Bring it on.

 

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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