With the current situation, besides work, I haven’t had too much to do but watch TV. And, frankly, the current pickings have gotten a little slim. So, I’ve been revisiting some old favorites, and been surprised how well some of them have held up. But what’s weird is, doing a bit of looking, how many of these old favorites really don’t seem to be that popular. Less popular even than when I stumbled on them years ago. Especially with the internet, I would have expected more, not fewer, fans.
This has led to my hypothesis: The Internet Remembers Nothing. Inspired by this, I created a list of some binge-able TV shows for these Covid-19 days. In honor of Mother’s Day and Nurses Week, I’ve decided to make this list female centric. Easy to do considering so many of my favorite shows feature strong female leads. In order to keep the list fresh, we decided to only include lesser known or older shows. So, no Fleabag, even though it’s awesome. Read on for Binge-able Shows with Strong Female Characters.
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13 TV shows for female:
So we’re going to start with my personal favorite, and a show II basically grew up with. This is a show that at one point was the most watched shows on basic cable, with ratings that rivaled network television. AND I NEVER HERE ABOUT IT. In fact, googling it comes up with basically nothing in terms of articles mentions after 2012. With the exception of articles about main actress Kyra Sedgwick. And her performance as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson is an iconic one. A character that is often the smartest in the room, yet the least socially aware. Comedic, yet serious and ambitious at the same time. A woman we rarely see depicted; she is both feminine and authoritative at the same time.
A sophisticated procedural, the show is built around her charismatic lead performance, as well as a strong supporting ensemble. The ensemble was purposefully diverse, and the morals of the show are surprisingly modern. Dealing with race and lgbtq issues in ways that are respectful without being too tone-deaf, it’s weird the show hasn’t been reclaimed. The mystery and surprising comedy of the show, coupled with interrogation scenes that function as a mini-psychological dramas, make it very watchable. This is one of those shows that deserves a list of its own.
Bonus: Spinoff series starring repeat mention on this list Mary McDonell.
2.Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Ok, now for some low hanging fruit. Most of you will have heard of Buffy, the Joss Whedon created character. You might also be aware of the surprising popularity it enjoys amongst the academics and feminists. It definitely has had a lot of meaning to a lot of people, and was certainly a formative viewing experience for me. It can be a bit campy, and not every episode is a winner, but there are sure a lot of episodes to binge. I recommend you check out this guy’s YouTube channel for some recommended episodes, if you’re not into watching every episode.
Bonus: check out one of my favorite bits of media of all time. The best argument for review-as-artform, and YouTube, I’ve ever seen.
In line with the previous entry, we offer another teen mainstay. Long considered a classic, some claim the one-season wonder revolutionized TV and the rules when it came to depictions of teenagers and young women. It certainly made me queue up The Cranberries for a little day dreaming myself. Plus, you’ll get to see where Claire Danes first perfected her ugly cry.
Bonus: Virtual Cast Reunion in these corona times.
No, not the tone-deaf American remake. We’re talking the original Helen Mirren helmed, hard boiled lady cop. Arguably one of the grandames, if not the grandame, of the “Troubled Female Detective” genre, prime suspect is definitely one of the best. A complex character, who comes up against realistic obstacles, both social and criminal. And makes them bend the knee. Far from perfect, the ambitious Jane Tennison will solve her case. No matter the cost. It’s absolutely wonderful, and stands out in a very crowded field. It’s one of the shows that made me want to become a police officer and fight for justice. I didn’t. But it did make me want to.
Bonus: A very British comedy sketch affectionately mocking the crime genre’s propensity for strong female roles.
Taking a Jump to completely different genre, this remake of the 1970’s original makes all other remakes stop and take note. And it does so with a host of strongly written female characters. Strong, not in the literal sense, though some are, but in the sense of writing. Fully realized, complex, and very much a part of the action, rather than just ancillary characters. My personal favorite is the amazing Laura Roslin, played by the wonderful Mary McDonnell. The Secretary of Education is forced to become the President due to immense tragedy. A roll she falls with gusto. But there are many other complex women helping run the show. Looking at you, Starbuck. Be sure to start with the miniseries, which serves as the first few episodes, and not episode “33,” which is often listed as the first episode.
Bonus: BSG spinoff-prequel Caprica.
Another show that deserves a list unto itself. One of the only sitcoms on this list, Girlfriends is a TV show that seems to have been slept on by most of America. The African-American focused TV show, however, was extremely popular with that community, and rightfully so. It feels very modern in a way that most early 2000s sitcoms don’t at all. This could be due to being created by Mara Brock Akil, who, with her husband, is involved in running modern superhero show Black Lightning. It could be due to being executive produced by Frasier star Kelesy Grammer. But, whatever the case, it’s actually hilarious.
The adventures of the four titular girlfriends, coupled with guy-pal William, are extremely enjoyable. It’s a fairly basic set-up of odd-couple personalities playing off each other. Neurotic but successful Joan (played by Blackish’s Tracee Ellis Ross). Spoiled but confident Toni. Tough but from a lower economic background Maya. And free-spirited but unfocused Lynn. As a kid I was pretty obsessed with each of them in their own way. But deep down I was a Joan that wished she had the confidence of a Toni.
One of the OG inspirations for Downton Abbey, itself inspired by Upstairs-Downstairs, this show is basically my comfort food. A period piece based on real life character Rosa Lewis, the show is focused on the absolutely single minded and ambitious Louisa Leyton. This focus makes the show much more enjoyable, in my opinion, then many of the other shows it can be compared to. A fun period romp with some serious issues and a wonderful main performance in Gemma Jones, this show deserves to be remembered. I stumbled on it when I was in college, and the all-nighters she starts pulling in about thee second episode were the closest thing to my life at the time I could find.
Bonus: the period piece that started it all, Upstairs-Downstairs.
8. Mad Men
So, let’s go for some more low-hanging fruit. Mad Men, one of the most famous TV Shows of all time, and as of now the greatest American period piece of all time, needs no introduction. Or maybe it does. Basically as soon as it was off the air TV writers were positively giddy talking about how little influence it has had. Besides style, no one really seems to talk about it. I was surprised to find how many of my girlfriends view it as a “guy show,” and won’t even give it a look.
And that’s a surprise to me, considering how the core cast and major character arcs are very much focused on women. This is a show in which one of the main character’s primary roles is to be a mother. She’s bad at it. And we are still meant to empathize with her and her place in society. There are several other major female characters in different walks of life, each with probably the most compelling arcs of the show. Even the main character Don Draper is based around critiquing and analyzing American ideas of what it means to be a man. In a way that criticizes without condescending. So, for the show to get dismissed as just a “style icon” is something to be fought.
Bonus: if Peggy walking down a hallway with her tentacle porn, smoking a cigarette, isn’t empowerment then I don’t want to be empowered.
Not the new revival, which was disappointing even before the star’s racism got her fired from it. The original, which was a show marked for both its progressivism and accurate depiction of working-class America. Roseanne was a show that fought to include minority characters and tackle tough issues. Being one of the first shows to include openly gay characters, Roseanne Barr herself pushed for this inclusion. One of the original sarcastic-but-loving matriarchs, Roseanne was matched by the equally competent and goofy Dan (John Goodman). A rare dynamic that didn’t fall into the tired ‘dumb-fun husband with hot-competent-boring wife’ style of comedy. Plus, they were actually parents that realistically dealt with tough issues. The real shame is how much Roseanne Barr has tarnished her own legacy with her racism. Don’t meet your heroes, I guess.
Bonus: Oldest daughter Becky asks for birth control.
10. Getting On
This is a quiet little ensemble piece set in the world of medicine. This comedy, with humorous turns by Laurie Metcalfe and Alex Borstein, is anchored by a reserved and very realistic performance from Niecy Nash. Who I’ve been a little enamored with since watching Clean House marathons with my mom. Often more genuinely moving than laugh out loud funny, this little watched show got plenty of accolades. But not as much in the way of viewers. Another crying shame.
Bonus: The original British show it’s based on.
British mystery and then I’m done. Although, I could honestly make a list of just them they’re so good. This series of miniseries is based on the Dorthy L. Sayers, the “godmother of feminist detective fiction,” novels. And they are some of my favorites. So much of the relationship focus is on the partnership between the two characters. A relationship that is based around the fact that Wimsey pursues and helps Vane because he views her as an intellectual equal. Explicit in the novels and films is that he does not expect to dominate her in marriage, but to be an equal partner. Certainly, a big step up from the 1930s idea of marriage.
Bonus: Some adorable fan’s YouTube video of the relationship with the mystery bits stripped away.
One of the only shows to have the distinction of being canceled in the place of a Joss Whedon show, this is one of my favorite action shows. With an awesome turn by GOT actress Lena Headey, this is a show that does not disappoint. With the exception of early cancellation. But there are still 3 binge-able seasons to enjoy.
Bonus: if you don’t mind spoilers, the best use of Johnny Cash in an action sequence.
We’ll end this list the way it began. With an L.A. set cop show. Southland is less of a mystery show, and more of an anthropological look at the L.A. police force. The show was often plagued by ratings issues and potential cancellations. Which seems in direct opposition to its quality. The ensemble cast was pretty spectacular. With great performances from all the actors. One of the key performances was from Regina King, who at this point needs little introduction. Her character was one of the most nuanced, and believable, of the show. Really enjoyable to watch, and a character-an African American woman in the police force-I hadn’t really seen before. At least not examined so closely. It’s the role that made me a King fan for life.
Bonus: The later season addition of Lucy Liu was also a nice surprise.
So, as mentioned, we chose to keep this list to lesser known, or older shows. Therefore, there are many female lead shows that have been left out. For example, Sharp Objects, The Leftovers, Fleabag, Watchmen, Killing Eve, The Good Wife/Fight….tons actually. Enough for several other lists. But I picked the shows I picked because-even though they aren’t the product of these ‘woke’ times-I still think a lot of them stand the test of time. I’m always a little depressed when I hear people saying there aren’t enough strong women in the media, because, honestly well written compelling women are the tv characters I grew up with. Sure, we could always do better I guess, but I don’t like ignoring the characters and shows that came before. What about you guys? Any other shows you think are criminally underrepresented?