Poor Lena Dunham. Poor, rich, successful, young Lena Dunham. The creator/writer/star/director/possible gaffer of the HBO hit Girls seems to get criticism from all sides these days. Some feminists seem a little miffed at Girls‘ portrayal of young women as self-centered, flighty, promiscuous, and downright mean (Basically real and imperfect). Dunham herself has garnered criticism for her privileged background and her frequent Girls scenes portraying her less-than-perfect body (basically real and normal). Even a few so-called fashion experts have taken catty aim at her Emmy dress and alleged thick thighs.

Dunham can take some solace that she’s not alone. TV has a long history of women-centered series generating controversy from both male and female critics. Guess that’s just a product of success. Here are a few of the more memorable female-centric shows that people criticized (and also watched):

ALLY MCBEAL (1997-2002) – Oh boy. This one really divided audiences and annoyed women. Though essentially another lawyer show, this drew immediate cult status with its cast of quirky characters, fantasy sequences (remember The Dancing Baby?) and weirdness (a co-ed bathroom?). Drawing most of the negative attention was Ally herself (Calista Flockhart), whose short skirts and scatterbrained demeanour were deemed offensive to professional women. Time Magazine eventually put Ally on its cover (alongside pics of feminist icons Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan) under the headline ‘Is Feminism Dead?’. It wasn’t, by the way:

ELLEN (1994-99)- It was a quirky, mildly-successful show about the misadventures of a bookstore owner (Ellen DeGeneres). That all changed in1997 when Ellen’s character came out. That episode – which came with a Parental Advisory warning – got huge ratings and anti-gay protests that included politicians. Eventually, even the gay community started criticizing Ellen for going too gay; abandoning its light approach for more relevant stories. It’s nice you are gay, but we wish you were still funny:

MURPHY BROWN (1988-98) – Brown (Candice Bergen) always skirted controversy. The TV anchor/reformed drinker hated liars, haters, the small-minded, and her series of secretaries. But it was the 1992 Presidential campaign where the controversy came to fruition when candidate Dan Quayle (mixing reality with fiction) criticized the character for having a child out-of-wedlock. That remark led to a funny episode and an Emmy win in which Bergen personally thanked Quayle for all the attention:

JULIA (1968-71) – Though it was a gentle sitcom about a widowed mother (Diahann Carroll) raising her six-year-old son, Julia remains a ground-breaking show that drew as much praise as criticism. Some applauded its portrayal of a single black mother who worked (and wasn’t a maid!).  Others complained the show was ‘a-political and unrealistic’ for not dealing with real black issues and for the black cliché of the absentee father. Even Carroll herself eventually came to criticize the show’s safe, mainstream approach. Today, it’s remembered largely with affection:

MAUDE (1972-78) – The angry four-time married liberal character was a reverse Archie Bunker. She was right but sometimes wrong.  And the show delighted in debating and portraying controversial subjects like race, drugs, spousal abuse, and sex. Its biggest controversy came, not surprisingly, when the 47-year-old Maude chose to have an abortion at the height of the Roe-vs-Wade controversy. That episode was pre-empted by 30 stations, though it remains a gutsy TV moment that no comedy would tackle today:

POLICE WOMAN (1974-78) – An instant hit, this was the first one-hour drama to feature a woman (Angie Dickinson) in a lead role. Feminists cheered the no-nonsense, undercover cop named Pepper. Even President Gerald Ford was a fan.Yet the show did eventually court controversy with an episode featuring evil lesbians who were murdering seniors. While gay critics appreciated the portrayal of gay characters on TV, they hated how the episode seemed to equate homosexuality with mental deviance and crime. The episode was pulled from reruns, though you can watch it on DVD today:

MIKE AND MOLLY (2010- ) – As Lena Dunham knows, it’s still acceptable to make fun of the fat. Case in point this series about two overweight people finding love. Hardly seems the source of controversy. But criticism came from writer Maura Kelly of the Marie Claire blog, who thought the idea of watching people with ‘rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other’ was gross. Wow. That’s so mean. Kelly must have been a delight in high school. Her blog remark drew rapid condemnation and a half-assed apology from Kelly. Molly star Melissa McCarthy eventually won an acting Emmy, proving folks are willing to watch and enjoy a show that might be ‘gross’. However, one does wish the characters on the show would lay off their own fat jokes: