It's hard enough for women to gain visibility in the auteur-based world of film, where The Director is often considered the front-facing leader of a creative army, cutting the path to artistic glory. Television directors, on the other hand, haven't historically gotten the same phrase. Often, they're stepping into existing universes, focusing on competency and management — executing a specific script. Whether or not these assumptions are deserved (and certainly, every television episode and movie takes the work of many, not just a single visionary, to exist), women in television directing have a steeper uphill battle for name recognition than even their peers in film do. These
31 great TV episodes were directed by women, and they deserve to be remembered for their work.
Quite a few women on this list, including Amy Heckerling and Susan Seidelman, are better-known for their work in film, even if that work doesn't get the same recognition as their male contemporaries'. Some of these directors shifted from TV to movies later, and then back again. All of them made an impact on the series they worked on.
No matter your preference of genre or style, getting to know the women behind the camera and what makes their work so special is worth your time.
"Love's Labor Lost" — 'ER'
"One Minute" — 'Breaking Bad'
Michelle MacLaren won back-to-back Primetime Emmys in 2013 and 2014 for her work on
Breaking Bad. She also directed the episode "Salud," along with episodes of The X-Files and Westworld. In this Breaking Bad installment, Hank's assault on Jesse has long-reaching consequences, especially for Hank.
“An Open Book” — 'Six Feet Under'
Actor Kathy Bates directed this episode that seems to poke fun at the overly-close mother-daughter relationship at the core of
Gilmore Girls, while dealing with Michael's refusal to admit he's gay and Rico handling a porn star's funeral.
"The Suitcase" — 'Mad Men'
Jennifer Getzinger, who also directed "The Good News," helmed this fan-favorite episode focusing on Don and Peggy's intertwined work relationships and similar personalities.
"All Things" — 'The X-Files'
It only took until Season 7 — and for the director to be star Gillian Anderson — for a
X-Files hour to be directed by a woman. With its focus on alternative spirituality and Scully's internal life, it shows too.
"My Whole Life Is Thunder" — '30 Rock'
Leave it to Jenna to upstage a funeral with a surprise wedding. TV champ Linda Mendoza, who's produced and directed shows including
Mad TV, Scrubs and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, leads this episode named after Jenna's declaration.
"Slap Bet" — 'How I Met Your Mother'
Though most of the show was directed by Pamela Fryman, this episode, where the gang discover's Robin's dark secret — that she was a Canadian teen pop sensation — stands out above the rest.
"And They Call It Bobby Love" — 'King Of The Hill'
Cyndi Tang directed this episode where Bobby falls for vegetarian Marie (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), named by the
AV Club as one of the top episodes reflecting the show's nuanced humanity.
"Attack Of The 5'10 Woman" — 'Sex And The City'
Carrie deals with all the emotional fallout of Big's engagement as Charlotte goes spend-crazy, while Miranda and her cleaning lady square off over her sex toys in this episode helmed by Pam Thomas.
“Without a Country” — 'Empire'
After directing this episode, where Cookie and Co. form their own label but immediately squabble over differences in vision, Dee Rees went on to direct critically-acclaimed film
Mudbound, about two families struggling in the south post-WWII.
Directed by Hettie MacDonald, this all-time great episode featured surprisingly little of the Doctor, and plenty of time-bending twists involving terrifying angelic creatures known as Weeping Angels. It also stars a young Carey Mulligan.
Beth McCarthy-Miller directed this episode, where all generations of the Johnson family wait for news of the grand jury trial of a white police officer accused of shooting a black teen. The resulting fallout, both in the country and in the home, made for one of the show's best-received and most talked-about episodes.
"Bart Gets Famous" — 'The Simpsons'
Susie Dietter directed this episode with Bart experiencing overwhelming and fleeting popularity as a one-hit wonder after a flub on Krusty the Clown's show, just as Simpsons-mania was reaching a peak in real-life.
"Rest In Pain" — 'Twin Peaks'
Tina Rathbone directed the infamous episode of
Twin Peaks that cemented the show's status as pure oddball must-watch television, featuring a small town falling apart and Cooper's bizarre dream telling him who killed Laura Palmer.
"The Baby Shower" — 'Sex And The City'
Film director Susan Seidelman (
Smithereens, Desperately Seeking Susan) also directed the pilot episode of Sex And The City, along with this ep where all four ladies envision potential futures at a baby shower.
"Hot Girl" — 'The Office'
Clueless director Amy Heckerling helms this episode, written by Mindy Kaling, introducing Amy Adams's recurring character to the show.
"The One Where No One's Ready" — 'Friends'
Keeping with the show's signature high-scale reaction to typically low-stakes event, this real-time episode, directed by Gail Mancuso, features the whole gang taking way too long to get ready for an event and freaking Ross out.
"A Tsar Is Born" — 'Frasier'
Pamela Fryman directed this episode about the Crane boys bonding over their shared love of
"Succession" — '30 Rock'
Gail Mancuso, who won a Gracie Award for her work on the show, directed this popular episode making fun of the film
Amadeus and revolving around Jack and Liz moving up the corporate ladder as Tracy tries to win his son over by creating a pornographic video game.
"Kim Kelly Is My Friend" — 'Freaks And Geeks'
Lesli Linka Glatter directed one of the precious few of this perfect show about the awkwardness of being a teen. Lindsay gets in with bad girl Kim, only to find there's ulterior motives behind her friendliness, while her brother Sam gets bullied by Kim's friend Karen (played by Rashida Jones!).
"The Rainbow Of Her Reasons" — 'Six Feet Under'
Film director Mary Harron (
American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page) took over the first episode of the last season of Six Feet Under, where Claire deals with the banality of an office job and Vanessa has to deal with an overly optimistic Canadian nanny.
"Gliding Over All" — 'Breaking Bad'
Michelle MacLaren makes quite a few appearances on this list, but she also directed a number of extremely memorable epiodes, including this
Breaking Bad story where Walt pulls a Godfather II on his prison enemies.
"Henny Penny — Straight, No Chaser" — 'The Golden Girls'
only Golden Girls episode directed by a woman, this charming tale of the ladies taking over a school play when a round of illness takes out the star players was helmed by Judy Pioli.
"Give Peace A Chance" — 'Grey's Anatomy'
Chandra Wilson, who plays Dr. Miranda Bailey on the show, directed this episode about Derek performing surgery on an "inoperable" tumor.
Gloria Muzio helmed this episode that firms up Omar's rep and furthers Bunk and McNulty's intertwined work and lives.
"Workin' Overtime" — 'Roseanne'
Ellen Falcon (then Ellen Gittelsohn) directed an episode that focused on what made
Roseanne stand out from most sitcoms. Roseanne and Dan's blue-collar life is brought to the fore when they and everyone they know are tapped to work overtime at the expense of sanity and family.
"Demons" — 'Twin Peaks'
Lesli Linka-Glatter, who's led episodes of
The West Wing, ER, Mad Men and Homeland, directed the Twin Peaks episode featuring the first appearance of Coop's boss, partly-deaf Gordon Cole (played by creator David Lynch).
"Siskel & Ebert & Jay & Alice" — 'The Critic'
Lauren MacMullen, who also directed episodes of animated favorites
The Simpsons and King Of The Hill, led this meta-episode where Siskel and Ebert break up and court critic Jay Sherman as their new partner.
"I Saw What I Saw" — 'Grey's Anatomy'
Allison Liddi-Brown led this episode about the death of a burn victim and all hospital members scrambling to hold on to their jobs in the fallout. She's also directed episodes of
The Runaways, Scandal, and Transparent.
"Corner Boys" — 'The Wire'
The New York Times, distinguished Polish director Agnieszka Holland left her home country in 1981 when they enacted martial law, and eventually started anew in Hollywood. Among her many accomplishments since, she directed episodes of beloved TV show The Wire, including this one focused on dysfunction within all kinds of families, born and made.
"Return Of The Kane" — 'Veronica Mars'
Sarah Pia Anderson helmed the first female-directed episode of the popular detective show, where Veronica uncovers a homeless fight ring, looks into a rigged student president election, and continues trying to solve her friend's murder.
The industry still has a long way to go before there's gender parity in directing, but these standout episodes still need to be celebrated.