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The Best Feminist TV Shows

10 TV show recommendations with outstanding female characters for your Women’s History Month binges

Kira Downs, Section Editor

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The Bold Type

Photo Credit Freeform
Aisha Dee, Meghann Fahy, and Katie Stevens in The Bold Type.

What it’s about: The Bold Type centers on three best friends in their early 20’s who are employed by Scarlet magazine, a publication dedicated to fashion, romance, and women’s issues, not unlike Cosmopolitan. The show follows them through the trials and tribulations of friendship, work, relationships, and life.

Why it’s awesome: The Bold Type is without a doubt one of the most female dominated shows on air right now, unabashedly feminist and optimistic in today’s divisive political climate. The main trio of friends represent all different walks of life, but come together to form an incredibly heartwarming friendship. Jane Sloan (Katie Stevens) is an up-and-coming writer for the magazine who walks the line between ambition and a fear of failure, Sutton Brady (Meghann Fahy) is an assistant with a rocky love life who dreams of becoming a fashion executive, and Kat Edison (Aisha Dee) is Scarlet’s witty social media director who undergoes some serious identity reflection in the first season. The support and love between this friend group is truly inspiring and will leave you with a deeper appreciation for your best girl friends. The supporting women are equally captivating; Scarlet editor-in-chief Jacqueline Carlyle (Melora Hardin) is a commanding presence on screen whose mentorship of our protagonists is something to be admired, and Adena el-Amin (Nikohl Boosheri) is a talented photographer with a  Twitter bio that “literally reads ‘proud Muslim lesbian’” who inspires and interests Kat. The show is a breath of fresh air when it comes to intersectional issues as well, addressing xenophobia, racism, women’s health, sexual assault, and LGBT+ issues. After its first season, it has already been approved for two more; thankfully, this show is not going anywhere.

Best feminist moment: When Jacqueline takes the weights from the street artist in the season finale, revealing that she is a victim of sexual assault.

Where to watch: Season 1 is available for streaming on the Freeform app, and Season 2 will premiere on June 12th on Freeform.

Watch a trailer here.

 

Big Little Lies

Photo Credit HBO
Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies.

What it’s about: Big Little Lies follows mothers of precocious first grade children in the luxurious, seaside town of Monterey, California through their tumultuous pasts, marriages, and secret filled lives, all culminating in an unsolved murder that is foreshadowed in the first minutes of episode 1. Fair warning, this show contains graphic depictions of violence and similar adult topics; assess for yourself whether this is a show you can safely enjoy.

Why it’s awesome: The narrative of Big Little Lies is shaped by female friendship and depictions of realistic, strong, and, most importantly, flawed women. Madeline Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon) is a snarky, fiercely protective mother and friend who tries to hold on to a crumbling family in the wake of her divorce and a myriad of other personal issues, whose best friend is Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman), the elegant and secretive mother of two who suffers in an abusive relationship. This friendship is expanded by the addition of new mother Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley), whose unsettling past causes her to be an outcast among the pristine Monterey mothers. Initially presented as antagonists, Renata Klein (Laura Dern), who fights for her daughter when she suspects bullying by Jane’s son, and Bonnie Carlson (Zoe Kravitz), the free spirited wife of Madeline’s ex-husband, play key roles in the growth of all the characters on the show.  Big Little Lies is especially strong in showing that in both the highs and lows of life for each of these women, it is their close girl friends on whom they can rely. Whether this comes in the form of playful banter over coffee or protection from an abusive husband, they have each other’s backs through it all. It also swept this awards season, winning the Golden Globe for Best Limited Series, Best Actress in a Limited Series (Nicole Kidman), Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series (Laura Dern), and Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series (Alexander Skarsgard.)

Best feminist moment: Massive spoiler ahead: When Madeline, Celeste, Jane, Renata, and Bonnie come together despite their differences to protect Celeste from Perry (Alexander Skarsgard), her abusive husband, eventually overpowering and killing him; intercutting the scene with shots of the waves pounding on the ocean rocks artfully compares the women to a powerful, unstoppable force of nature.

Where to watch: The first season is available for streaming on HBO, and the second season is slated for a 2019 release- with the much anticipated addition of actress Meryl Streep.

Watch a trailer here.

 

Reign

Photo Credit The CW
Adelaide Kane in Reign.

What it’s about: Reign is a (loosely) historical series documenting the life of revered Scottish monarch, Mary, Queen of Scots. It follows her from her arrival at French Court at 17 through her marriage to King Francis de Valois, her reclaim of the Scottish throne, her bid for the English throne, and her eventual death.

Why it’s awesome: Reign allows Mary, a lesser known historical figure, to become a fully realized, fierce, and tragic character, played beautifully by actress Adelaide Kane. Mary’s development throughout the series is truly something to be marveled at; despite the tragedies and hardships she faces, she comes out stronger and more willing to fight for her country each time. As the show progresses, the focus becomes that of not one but three queens- Mary as the Queen of Scotland, Catherine de Medici (Megan Follows) as the cunning, dynamic, and hilarious Queen of France, and Elizabeth Tudor (Rachel Skarsten) as the defiant Queen of England who takes extreme measures to preserve her reign. The narrative allows these women all to be either friends, foes, or allies while maintaining each of their individual strength and defending their countries. Of particular poignancy is the mother-daughter-esque relationship between Catherine and Mary, especially in the wake of the death of Francis, Mary’s husband and Catherine’s son. Reign is a show about politics, love, friendship, and legacy, supplemented on all sides by outstanding female characters and relationships. Plus, if all the previously mentioned reasons don’t sway you, the show is worth watching for the decadent costumes alone.

Best feminist moment: When Mary finally arrives in Scotland after three seasons, boldly declaring “I am Mary, Queen of Scots, and I have come for my throne.”

Where to watch: All four seasons of Reign are available on Netflix.

Watch a trailer here.

 

Jane the Virgin

Photo Credit The CW
Andrea Noveda, Gina Rodriguez, and Ivonne Coll in Jane the Virgin.

What it’s about: A working young woman becomes pregnant due to a medical mistake, complicating every aspect of her already hectic life. The series is stylized as a parody telenovela with plenty of over the top drama.

Why it’s awesome: Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) is a hardworking and independent woman with a strong sense of optimism and self; her positive attitude and outlook give the show a fun, refreshing tone. No matter what drama is affecting her life, Jane remains independent and focused on her ambitions. Jane the Virgin showcases a tightly knit and supportive Latina family, including her impulsive and fun-loving mother Xiomara (Andrea Noveda) and her Spanish-speaking, traditional Abuela Alba (Ivonne Coll,) both focused on giving Jane the best life possible, even if their philosophies differ. Outside of the Villanueva family, Petra Solana (Yael Grobglas) plays the scheming and manipulative foil to Jane’s sweet demeanor; however, these two eventually grow to become close friends. The show gives agency and depth to its female characters in both their individual lives and relationships, providing an uplifting and binge-worthy dramedy for all.

Best feminist moment: When Jane finally publishes her novel on which she has been working for most of the show.

Where to watch: The first three seasons are available on Netflix, and season 4 is currently airing on The CW.

Watch a trailer here.

 

The 100

Photo Credit The CW
Alycia Debnam Carey and Eliza Taylor in The 100.

What it’s about: The 100 takes place 97 years in the future after a radioactive war has made the Earth inhabitable. At the beginning of the show, the remnants of civilization are living on the strictly governed Ark, a spaceship approaching a lack of air. To test if the Earth has recovered, the Chancellor decides to send down 100 of the ship’s teenage prisoners. Upon arrival, the delinquents soon realize that not only is the Earth safe again- they are not the only humans there. The show follows the “Sky People’s” constrained relationship with the “Grounders,” with ever shifting politics, allegiances, and relationships.

Why it’s awesome: In this dystopian society, it’s the women who take charge and steal the show. This is most evident in that the rival groups of the Sky People and Grounders are both led by fully capable teenage girls- the resilient, self-sacrificing Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor) and Commander Lexa (Alycia Debnam Carey,) whose stoic and pragmatic exterior hides emotional vulnerability. However, the leaders aren’t the only girls who amaze. Arguably the Sky People’s most valuable member is brilliant mechanic Raven Reyes (Lindsey Morgan,) who manages to maintain enormous strength and wit after enduring setbacks including disability, the death of loved ones, and even mental deterioration. Octavia Blake (Marie Avgeropoulos) undergoes immense character development from a doe eyed girl chasing butterflies to the Sky People’s fiercest warrior, a veritable Grounder able to defeat the most intimidating of foes. The female cast is rounded out by a plethora of other diverse characters with distinct and engaging personalities and stories. Not only are these women individually awesome, but the show allows them to have strong relationships with each other. From the close knit friendship of Clarke and Raven to Indra’s (Adina Porter) mentorship of Octavia to the star crossed romance between Clarke and Lexa, the women are primarily defined by their relationships with other women and the show is better for it.

Best feminist moment: Clarke reassuring Raven that she’d pick her first for anything, signifying how far their friendship has come.

Where to watch: The four existing seasons are available on Netflix, and season 5 will premiere on April 24th.

Watch a trailer here.

 

Shadowhunters

Photo Credit Freeform
Emeraude Toubia and Katherine McNamara in Shadowhunters.

What it’s about: Shadowhunters, adapted from Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, is a fantasy show in which angel-blooded warriors (Shadowhunters) fight demons in a world filled with werewolves, vampires, faeries, warlocks, and the like in the shadows of the mundane world of New York City.

Why it’s awesome: The Shadow world is dominated by dynamic female characters. Main character Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara) is fiery, determined, and passionate after having her world flipped upside down by the realization that she is a Shadowhunter. Luckily, she is welcomed with open arms by Isabelle Lightwood (Emeraude Toubia,) a compassionate and confident character who is regarded as “the best Shadowhunter of her age.” These two Shadowhunters are equally, if not more so, capable of defending themselves against supernatural threats as their male counterparts. Introduced later in the show is werewolf Maia Roberts (Alisha Wainwright,) whose traumatic past is concealed by outward bravado and sarcasm. Clary, Isabelle, and Maia are all granted complex storylines and motivations that make them compelling characters- all while kicking butt in combat. Side characters such as Lydia Branwell (Stephanie Bennett,) a career focused woman determined to run an institute and Lightwood matriarch Maryse (Nicola Correia-Damude) further showcase this show’s commitment to writing incredible female characters.

Best feminist moment: Isabelle telling Clary “You have me now. That’s not going to change.”

Where to watch: Season 3 premieres on Freeform on March 20th.

Watch a trailer here.

 

How to Get Away with Murder

Photo Credit ABC
Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder.

What it’s about: A law professor at a prestigious Philadelphia University becomes entwined in a murder plot with five of her students.

Why it’s awesome: The cast of How to Get Away with Murder is filled with strong, interesting, and flawed female characters. Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is the self sufficient and powerful professor you’ll wish you had, commanding the screen throughout every episode. Despite her troubled past, she is revered by her students and exceedingly good at her job. Especially impressed by Annalise are ambitious law students Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King) and  Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza) , who share a similar knowledge and capability of their field. Every character on this show is written with a morally gray complexity, but the women especially dominate the show with their unique personalities and relationships.

Best feminist moment: Annalise declaring “I am who I am. If you don’t like it, I don’t care.”

Where to watch: All four season are available on Netflix.

Watch a trailer here.

 

Brooklyn Nine Nine

Photo Credit FOX
Stephanie Beatriz, Melissa Fumero, and Chelsea Peretti in Brooklyn Nine Nine.

What it’s about: Brooklyn Nine Nine is a sitcom that take place in New York’s 99th police precinct, focusing on a group of detectives headed by a newly appointed captain.

Why it’s awesome: This ensemble comedy is strengthened by several well written and hilarious female characters. Type-A perfectionist Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) is the smartest person in the room, and her competitiveness and drive is inspiring- even when stress causes her to take a police baton to a microwave. Fellow detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) is a mysterious and hard-core, with a tough demeanor and dry sense of humor. However, she grows to trust the police squad as her family in some masterful character development, eventually even sharing her most personal secrets with them. Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti) works as Captain Holt’s assistant; her self confidence and out-there personality provides a perfect compliment to her stoic boss and hardworking friends. The female characters on this show get to be capable and intelligent while also getting plenty of genuinely funny comedy to work with, from physical comedy to clever sarcasm to silly slapstick. Their interactions give the show an excellent balance between heartwarming moments and laugh out loud antics.

Best feminist moment: Rosa telling Amy that as female detectives, they need to have each other’s backs.

Where to watch: The first four seasons are available on Hulu, and season 5 picks back up on March 18th.

Watch a trailer here.

 

Scandal

Photo Credit ABC
Darby Stanchfield and Kerry Washington in Scandal.

What it’s about: Scandal takes place in the midst of Washington D.C. politics, following a crisis management firm who helps diffuse the various “scandals” of the White House.

Why it’s awesome: Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is a prime of example of an incredible role model for a driven and intelligent woman in politics. Her tenacity and capability in the face of adversity is admirable throughout the series. Equally interesting is Olivia’s close friend Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield) who climbs the ranks to eventually become White House Chief of Staff. These two women, along with many other supporting characters, make the show an eye-opening look into the lives of powerful women involved in high-stakes politics.

Best feminist moment: Every time Olivia says “It’s handled” after fixing a scandal.

Where to watch: The first six seasons are available on Netflix, and the seventh and final season is currently airing on ABC.

Watch a trailer here.

 

Parks and Recreation

Aubrey Plaza and Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreation.

What it’s about: Parks and Recreation is a sitcom about a group of local government employees working at the Parks and Recreation Department in the small town of Pawnee, Indiana.

Why it’s awesome: Few television characters are as inspiring as Deputy Parks Director Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), whose love for her job and city are only rivaled by her love for her friends- and waffles. Leslie’s relentless optimism and passion as a female politician has often been a rallying cry for real life feminist activism. Whether Leslie triumphs or fails in her political aspirations, she never loses her spirit and love for what she does. This show is also heavy on the importance of female friendship; Leslie’s commonly refers to her best friend, nurse Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), by nicknames such as a “poetic and noble land-mermaid” and a “beautiful tropical fish- smart as a whip, and cool under pressure.” Even the department’s resident darkly sarcastic young person April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) is eventually won over by Leslie, inspiring her to pursue her dreams and express her feelings. Parks and Recreation is funny, feel-good, and uplifting, making it a perfect show for anyone looking for some girl power.

Best feminist moment: The entire Pie-Mary episode, but especially Leslie’s affirmation to women that: “If you want to bake a pie, that’s great. If you want to have a career, that’s great too.”

Where to watch: All six seasons are available for streaming on Netflix.

Watch a trailer here.

 

About the Writer
Kira Downs, Section Editor
I’m Kira Downs, a 12th grade Telstar Writer. I am a lover of books, coffee, and striped shirts. If you’re wondering who smells like chlorine in your class, it’s probably me.
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