There are currently only a few series on
television that have strong, independent, non-cliched female leads. They are also some of the best series on television. None are on broadcast TV. Here are the six best.
“Game of Thrones” – HBO: Seven seasons of epic drama have been defined by the rise to prominence of its female protagonists. Virtually all of them have defeated, pushed aside, or killed domineering men that threatened or abused them. All have become forces in their own right – from Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), the newly crowned Queen of the Iron Throne, and Daernerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), the Dragon Queen (both of whom killed all the men who stood in their way), to Sansa and Arya Stark (Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams), who both overcame and killed the men who abused them, to Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), a female warrior who defeats any man who threatens those she is sworn to protect.
“A Handmaid’s Tale” – Hulu: Many reviewers have commented on the timeliness of this series about a male-dominated society and its subjugation of women (including state-sanctioned rape). Unlike most dystopian dramas, which take place in a distant future where the protagonists were born into their bleak societies, this takes place in the near future, where everyone remembers their previous existence. That makes it even scarier. Elizabeth Moss is remarkable in the lead, as are the other women who drive the story forward.
“Marvel’s Jessica Jones” – Netflix: She is a reluctant hero, brooding and haunted by her past, who nonetheless plays by her own rules. She swears, drinks too much, and is equally likely to explode in desire (and casual sex) as in violence. Its first two seasons were surprisingly strong social commentaries on male/female relationships and the abuse of privilege and power, focusing on topics like mind control, addiction, sexual harassment, rape, retaliation, and redemption – subjects seldom dealt with on television, and never in the Marvel universe at large. Normal female roles — sidekicks and “the girlfriend” — are the male characters in this world. All 13 episodes of season 2 were directed by women. Jessica Jones is brought to life by Krysten Ritter, one of the most charismatic actors on television.
“Westworld” – HBO: What happens when cyborgs, or “hosts,” created (by Anthony Hopkins, no less), to fulfill the darkest fantasies of guests who plunk down $40,000 a day to play in a giant Wild West theme park, start to become self-aware and remember the abuse they’ve endured for years at the whim of humans? Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton give great performances as hosts. The slow build has several twists, some you might see coming, others you won’t. But the women are clearly taking over.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" – Amazon Prime Video: A housewife living “a perfect life” on the Upper West Side in 1958 discovers she’s not so happy after all. When her not-so-talented stand-up comic husband cheats on her, she leaves him. She takes the stage herself and a female agent convinces her she’s a rising star. She has to navigate a man’s world and a man’s profession. The first season was marvelous. Rachel Brosnahan portrays Midge Maisel with a perfect blend of strength and vulnerability.
“The Good Fight” – CBS All Access: The great Christine Baranski stars, along with Cush Jumbo and Rose Leslie, in this female-driven legal drama (and spinoff of CBS’ “The Good Wife”). A woman over 50, a woman of color, and a lesbian make a diverse team that is as much in control professionally as they are in their relationships. The show has dealt with the topic of sexual harassment in a more thought-provoking way than is typically seen on television. “The Good Fight” is great TV: well-written, well-acted, and it has something to say.