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TV’s newest heroines are a reply to all the Kevins who can [expletive] themselves

Rose Byrne and Rory Scovel play husband and wife in the new Apple TV+ series "Physical."
Rose Byrne and Rory Scovel play husband and wife in the new Apple TV+ series "Physical."Apple TV+

We need to talk about “Kevin.”

The new AMC series “Kevin Can F**k Himself” is a surreal vision of a sitcom wife. We follow Annie Murphy’s Allison away from a multi-cam comedy where her husband gets a guffaw every time he taunts her, and into her single-camera personal life, which is unhappy and bleak. She hates her toxic man-child husband, and it’s hard to blame her. She’s starting to plan his demise, in an effort to silence that biting laugh track for good.

Just the fact that “Kevin” is on TV, a portrait of a woman choosing a narrative of self-worth over one of oppression, is a good thing. Sure, those sitcoms rooted in misogyny do still exist, but so, more and more, do antithetic shows like “Kevin.” At the moment, there are a bunch of stories like “Kevin” on TV, comedies and dramedies that give us women in flight from the sexist tropes that have distorted their lives for years. Each of these shows, joining the likes of “Fleabag,” “Shrill,” “Insecure,” and “GLOW,” features a heroine finding her way out from under a suffocating situation.

“Physical” on Apple TV+ is the most recent addition to the list of empowerment-centric series, and it gets at the depth of the wounds that come from relentlessly living under the male gaze. Set in the 1980s, it’s about Rose Byrne’s Sheila, whose husband, Danny, is a grown child. As she becomes more engaged in the world of aerobics, and makes an aerobics video that becomes popular, she hides her progress from Danny, aware that he’ll feel threatened and make it harder for her to triumph. She’s tiptoeing away from him, but, as the show makes loud and clear, her biggest barrier is still in her way: That would be her own self-image, which has suffered after decades of seeing herself through the eyes of men who are judging her body. She still has to deal with her internalized sexism.


One of the wonders of Peacock’s outstanding “We Are Lady Parts,” about the members of an all-female and all-Muslim punk band, is its comic approach to that same internalized sexism. The story is told largely through the experiences of Amina, a twentysomething who’s bent on finding a man to father her children. Early in the six-episode series, you easily assume that she’s being pushed into a conventional arranged marriage by her parents — but gradually we see that they truly don’t care what she does, as long as she’s happy. Our assumptions about these Muslim parents are false; Amina is choosing to settle for wifely servitude on her own. The more she gets drawn into the band’s orbit, though, and the more she sees their liberated approaches to being Muslim and women, the more she sheds the sexism embedded in her own consciousness.


Speaking of embedding in consciousness, HBO Max’s “Made for Love” gives it a literal interpretation. The light sci-fi show stars Cristin Milioti as a woman whose possessive tech billionaire husband plants a monitoring device in her brain. Wherever she goes, whatever she looks at, he is able to see it. After living with him in his Atlantis-like world for 10 years, passively allowing him to control her, she flees and returns to her father’s home (where the dad, played by Ray Romano, is having a romance with a life-size sex doll). She gets out of her husband’s world, but now she needs to get his eyes out of her head. The process of doing that causes her plenty of distress, but it also forces her to become an active participant in her own life.


The other Peacock comedy about an all-female band is a lot sillier and far more joke-driven than “We Are Lady Parts” — but no less driven by women seeking self-realization. “Girls5eva” is about a one-hit girl group from circa 2000 that is considering getting back together. In their first iteration, they were sex kittens who were discouraged from having brains. Now, they want to go back at fame and fortune, but they’re trying for a more mature and independent-minded approach. It’s their chance for a re-do, both in their careers and in their psyches. Underneath all the banter and excellently bad pop songs on the show, there is a solid theme of liberation, not just from bad husbands (although there is at least one of them, played by Andrew Rannells) but from a pop music world that prefers to treat women like objects.

The band could use a few tips from Jean Smart’s Las Vegas comedian in HBO Max’s “Hacks.” She has fought the battle in the entertainment world a hundred times, and she knows how to push back when she’s underestimated. When Christopher McDonald’s casino owner threatens to cut back on the number of her performances, she doesn’t submit politely. She fights back one more time, because, alas, there is always one more time.


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.