Part of the initial set of original Apple TV series, ‘Dickinson’ offers an upbeat and jazzy vision of the patriarchal American society of the 19th century. A period comedy, the show recounts the life and era of celebrated, American poet, Emily Dickinson in a tone that you might have never seen. Emily Dickinson is often regarded as an independent, individualistic feminist who regularly challenged the status quo of her times.
However, the show’s creator Alena Smith purposely shies away from turning Dickinson into another drab biopic relying solely on high production value to keep the viewers hooked. Instead, as an ode to the rebellious poet, Smith decides to break the conventions of costume dramas to provide the viewers with a scintillating view into Dickinson’s times that feels extremely modern at its core and outlook. The characters are shown going to crazy parties, chasing sex and questioning gender roles to a background score from artists like Billie Ellish and A$AP Rocky. Resultantly, the character of Emily Dickinson comes off as being far ahead of her times- which she actually was.
Some critics have pointed out the lack of congruence in such an anachronistic mash-up of style, tone, language and genre conventions. On the other hand, a few critics have praised the show’s unique take and how it added impact to the coming-of-age story of Emily Dickinson. The show begins with Emily being coaxed by her mother to get engaged to a suitable man and the poet refusing every proposal coming her way.
The story takes a turn when Emily’s brother decides to get married to her best friend, Sue which Emily finds troubling. It is later revealed that the engagement is especially upsetting for Emily as she is romantically and sexually attracted to Sue. In fact, she is in love with Sue, making her a major misfit of her times. Not only is Emily averse to settling down as a housewife for a man, but she is also queer. It is evident that Emily can never be fully accepted into the society that she lives in and cannot live with the one person she loves the most.
Academy Award nominee, Hailee Steinfeld plays the role of Emily Dickinson with theatrical charm and a spirited fury. Having proven her grit for acting through movies like ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘Romeo & Juliet.’ Hailee Steinfeld’s performance has once again been revered by critics. Toby Huss essays the role of Emily’s father while Jane Krakowski plays the mother. Apart from the cast and Alena Smith, another crew member that deserves a mention here is John Dunn who served as the costume designer for his intricately detailed and designed work on the mise-en-scene. Despite its uniqueness, ‘Dickinson’ is a costume drama after all.
If you enjoyed ‘Dickinson’, here’s a list of similar shows that you are also going to love. You can watch several of these shows like ‘Dickinson’ on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
7. Veep (2012-2019)
Julia-Louis Dreyfus packs a powerful punch in her portrayal of Vice President Selina Meyer in HBO’s comedy series. Boasting of a popular cast like Tony Hale, Matt Walsh, Hugh Laurie and several others, the show does not have a single dry moment. Dreyfus’ depiction of a corruptible, foul-mouthed senator feels extremely similar to Hailee Steinfeld’s character using words like “Bullsh*t” in the 19th Century in ‘Dickinson.’
6. Orange is the New Black (2013-2019)
When Orange is the New Black premiered on Netflix, it defined the kind of ambitious, original content that Netflix planned to create: underrepresented stories with the freedom of lack of censorship. Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, this show chronicles the lives of several women at the Litchfield Penitentiary. The show’s strength lied in its ability to make the viewers feel a diverse range of emotions: from laughter to sorrow, optimism to intense guilt over the kind of society that we live in. It critiques the American correctional system and audaciously depicts a variety of sexual orientations without ever turning preachy.
5. Fleabag (2016-2019)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge steps into the shoes of actor and creator for this hilariously tragic comedy series. The show’s persistent experimentation is what makes it stand out from the large number of stories about an anxious and depressed protagonist. For instance, the main character breaks the fourth wall on several occasions with artistic symbolism each time. A lot of characters, including the Phoebe’s character are not referred to by their name. The protagonist is called Fleabag while a guy she has a one-night stand is appropriately called The Arsehole Guy. Such poignant and refreshing experiments with film-making is what makes ‘Dickinson’ and ‘Fleabag’ similarly enjoyable, apart from the kick-ass female leads of course.
4. Transparent (2014-2019)
The major theme for both ‘Dickinson’ and ‘Transparent’ is certainly queer sexuality: the former exploring the legendary American poet’s lesbian relationship with her best friend, while the latter portraying the head of a family identifying as a woman. However, the warm and upbeat tone of both the shows is what makes them similar. The Amazon Prime original luminously depicts the diversity of human sexuality as each member of the protagonist’s family explores their sexuality after the central character’s big reveal in the pilot episode. The character of Alex played by Gaby Hoffmann feels like the modern-day reincarnation of Emily Dickinson with her bold journey of self-discovery.
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3. Jane the Virgin (2016-2019)
While ‘Dickinson’ blends costume drama with modernity masterfully, CW’s ‘Jane the Virgin’ provides a satirical take on the hugely popular Latin American telenovela. The show excels at picking up soap opera clichés and satirising them. So, don’t be surprised at seeing major characters undergo plastic surgeries or returning from the dead with amnesia. We promise it never gets boring or tedious. If you enjoyed ‘Dickinson’s’ whacky anachronism, you will certainly be a fan of Jane the Virgin’s unabashed divergence from reality and embrace of guilty TV viewing pleasure. Who wants to think too hard while watching TV anyway?
2. GLOW (2017-)
The latest show by writer Jenji Kohan is another delightful mix of hard-hitting feminism delivered with impactful satire. Alison Brie takes on the role of Ruth Wilder, a struggling actress who enters the ostentatious world of women’s wrestling in the ‘80s. Consisting of an ensemble cast that is reminiscent of Jenji Kohan’s ‘Orange is the New Black,’ the show provides a truly wholesome yet underrepresented experience, teemed with references from the 1980s. Much like ‘Dickinson,’ this show can be shelved as a period comedy too. However, like Jenji Kohan’s earlier projects, one can expect a healthy dose of drama and social commentary too.
1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017-)
*Glass clinks* “Who gives a toast at her own wedding?” This is how Amazon Prime’s ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins. A period comedy set in the 1950s, the first dialogue itself sets the tone for the entire series. Played by Rachel Brosnahan, the titular protagonist is shown ditching her comfortably married life to pursue her newly-discovered passion for stand-up comedy. Just like ‘Dickinson,’ the central character is a strong-headed individual who challenges the societal conventions of her times in a carefully crafted past. Helmed by ‘Gilmore Girls’ creator, Amy Sherman Palladino, one can expect a fine balance of gags and sobs in this dramedy. Here’s another reason for you to start bingeing this show: it won a total of 8 Emmys during its first season, including Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Read More: Shows Like Marvelous Mrs. Maisel