Mary (Mary Tyler Moore) could turn the world on with a smile. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) stunned onlookers in a new pair of sky-high stilettos everywhere she went, and Hannah (Lena Dunham), a true Gen Y-er, is generally too consumed with her own melodrama to notice anyone around her. Three very distinct women in different stages of their lives, navigating the perils of big-city life (the Twin Cities did make for one very large single place in Mary’s day), successful careers and dating.
Despite escalating sexual explicitness on television in general over the years, The Mary Tyler Moore Show is actually the most progressive of the three. Mary and her girlfriends, particularly Rhoda, discuss dating and men freely but are never preoccupied by their male counterparts the way Hannah and Carrie are. For Mary, being single is more circumstantial than it is tragic. She’s got promotions and dinner parties on the brain, not weddings and babies. And that’s okay. (Incidentally, per our calculations, she’s the most romantically adventurous of the three—having been on more than 2,000 dates.) On the other end of the spectrum is Hannah, who at just six years Mary’s junior is seemingly light-years behind her, too self-absorbed to maintain a relationship and too entitled to keep a real job. Carrie is somewhere in between the two women—driven, ambitious but still defined by her love interests.
Mary was, as her no-nonsense boss, Lou Grant, put it, “a woman’s libber,” making it on her own. Her (modest) unconformity to traditional female roles carved out a place for women on television. And here is what followed.