In honour of International Women’s Day (8th March), the women on our team at RadioTimes.com have put together a list of their favourite female-led and female-centric TV shows.
From the portrayal of sister relationships in Fleabag, to navigating motherhood in Motherland, friendships in Girlfriends and grief (and superpowers) in WandaVision, there’s something for everyone in our list.
Celebrating women and their achievements, experiences, relationships and stories, these shows are our top picks to watch this International Women’s Day.
Fleabag (BBC iPlayer) – Flora Carr, Drama Writer
What list of female-driven television shows would be complete without Fleabag? Phoebe Waller-Bridge changed the game with the show’s first, razor-sharp season, but her second instalment was nothing short of televisual perfection, earning her more awards-season hardware than she could carry (and gifting us the viral image of her triumphant, post-Emmys cigarette break).
The world’s attention mostly focused on her character’s transgressive relationship with a Catholic priest, played by Andrew Scott (and dubbed ‘The Hot Priest‘ by the internet). But the season’s real love story was between Fleabag and her Type A sister, Claire (Sian Clifford).
In the first episode of season two, Fleabag finds Claire miscarrying in a restaurant bathroom. It’s a scene as raw and real as it comes, as Claire decides to carry on as if everything is normal – prompting Fleabag to cover for her, and paving the way for the once-estranged pair to become allies. Other highlights from their relationship include Claire phoning Fleabag for help following her ‘pencil’ haircut; Fleabag punching Martin after he made the “goldfish out the bowl” comment; and seeing the two sisters at the silent retreat their father booked them on.
But the moment that had women reaching for their phones to text their own sisters and friends came in the final episode, when Claire told Fleabag: “The only person I’d run through an airport for is you.”
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) – Helen Hackworthy, Listings and Platforms Editor
It’s the refreshing drama that has captivated millions of Netflix viewers the world over and sent sales of chess sets through the roof. Anya Taylor-Joy won a Golden Globe for her performance as flawed heroine Beth Harmon, a young woman who triumphs in the male-dominated 1960s world of chess in spite of – or because of – having grown up an orphan, mental illness and addiction.
Beth’s birth mother died by suicide and her adoptive mother has her own demons to battle, so chess offers Beth a safe place where she can lose herself, and she is determined to gain mastery of the game to the point of dangerous obsession. Her male peers play supporting roles in the drama, coaching her to progress to levels they could not quite reach.
The Queen’s Gambit is a tale of female grit to overcome adversity – adding it to your watchlist is a wise move indeed.
Orange is the New Black (Netflix) – Grace Henry, Entertainment and Factual Editor
When it comes to celebrating women, Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black does just that with its perfect mix of comedy and realism.
Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, the seven-part series begins with Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) – a woman in her 30s who has been sentenced to 15 months in a women’s federal prison for transporting drugs for her girlfriend Alex Vause (played by Laura Prepon).
During her time in jail, Piper comes face-to- face with women from all different walks of life as she learns the ropes within the racially segregated system inside. Along with the other inmates – including Laverne Cox, who plays trans inmate Sophia Burset, Selenis Laveya as Gloria Mendoza and Uzo Aduba as Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren – she learns to overcome the numerous struggles of prison life.
Featuring flashbacks to significant events from various inmates’ and prison guards’ lives, this one is sure to pull at your heart strings while also having you in fits of laughter.
Broad City (Amazon Prime Video) – Lauren Morris, Writer-Researcher
When it comes to hugely underrated sitcoms, Broad City tops the list, with its fast-paced, eccentric style of humour and the electric chemistry between its two talented leads, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Executive produced by Amy Poehler, the Comedy Central series follows best friends Abbi, an aspiring artist working as a gym cleaner, and Ilana, an extroverted care-free layabout, as they navigate life in their 20s as Jewish American women in New York City.
While the show came to an end after five seasons in 2019, Broad City is a fun, easily binge-watched series that highlights the importance of female friendship and entertains with Abbi and Ilana’s hilarious adventures, highly-quotable one-liners (“Four R’s my friend: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rihanna”) and outrageous sex lives. From tracking down an air conditioner in a heatwave to sneaking into a Lil Wayne concert, Abbi and Ilana’s ridiculous, raunchy and sometimes cringeworthy shenanigans provide the perfect escape in these hugely boring times and will leave you pining for a post-COVID reunion with pals.
The Handmaid’s Tale (All 4) – Helen Daly, Assistant Editor
Based on Margaret Atwood’s blistering dystopian novel of the same name, The Handmaid’s Tale shows June Osborne’s battle against a religious patriarchy which sees women as one thing: child-bearing wives. In a terrifying world where a woman’s only function is to serve a man, Elisabeth Moss plays June, a ferocious female with a memory of the past and how American society should be – and she will stop at nothing to make sure girls growing up in fictional Gilead are given the same freedoms she had before the civil war.
Hard-hitting, stark and at times a brutal horror, The Handmaid’s Tale serves up a timely look at equality of the sexes while also delivering superb performances from the show’s leading ladies. Moss is joined by the sublime Ann Dowd (Aunt Lydia) and Yvonne Strahovski (who plays the extremely complex Serena).
Gilmore Girls (Netflix) – Eleanor Bley Griffiths, Drama Editor
Over the years, I’ve found myself returning to Gilmore Girls and the small Connecticut town of Stars Hollow over and over again. Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (whose more recent shows include The Marvelous Mrs Maisel) gives us a dysfunctional but loving mother-daughter duo in Lorelei Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and schoolgirl Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel), as well as haughty grandmother Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop) – and over the seasons, we see their relationships change and evolve with the characters. The show is funny, witty, charming, and utterly absorbing – even if not everyone enjoyed the recent Netflix revival.
WandaVision (Disney Plus) – Lidia Molina-Whyte, Freelance writer
The MCU doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to putting women centre-stage in front of and behind the camera. Thankfully, that is beginning to change. WandaVision ushered in Marvel’s phase 4 with a weird and wonderful storyline that focuses on Wanda Maximoff, one of the Avengers’ most powerful – and underused – members. The result is a deft exploration of grief that transforms the rather neglected Scarlet Witch we know from the MCU into a well-rounded anti-heroine struggling to cope after losing everyone she’s ever loved.
Borrowing inspiration from sitcoms across the ages, the Disney Plus series tells Wanda’s story in an unusual yet compelling way which sets it apart from the rest of Marvel’s offerings to date. Elizabeth Olsen brings plenty of range to the character, whether she’s fixing dinner in full 50s housewife garb or hitting rock bottom in her pyjamas.
Jessica Jones (Netflix) – Lidia Molina-Whyte, Freelance writer
Before WandaVision, there was Jessica Jones. The second of Marvel’s short-lived forays into Netflix territory back in 2015 was the first to place a female superhero in the lead. Created by Melissa Rosenberg, it remains a powerful watch that skilfully tackles trauma after sexual abuse, turning the tired trope of sexual assault as a backstory on its head.
Much like Wanda Maximoff, Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is an unapologetically flawed heroine with some pretty unhealthy coping mechanisms – but that’s precisely why she’s so relatable. Her love-hate relationship with her best friend, noir detective tendencies and dry sense of humour make her character a refreshing change of pace for the MCU and an entertaining watch on International Women’s Day. Plus, David Tennant as Killgrave is possibly one of the best (in the worst sort of way) baddies on TV.
The X-Files (Disney Plus) – Jo-Anne Rowney, Audience Growth and Engagement Manager
As well as its cracking soundtrack, a creepy monster of the week and its mythology arcs, the FBI partnership that was Mulder and Scully was really at the heart of The X-Files’ success. Agent Dana Scully was on an equal footing in the partnership, giving us a strong feminist lead who saved Mulder just as often as he saved her. The pairing didn’t slip into the stereotypical gender roles either, instead having Scully as the voice of reason and logic and Mulder as the rogue believer.
It’s no overstatement to say Scully inspired an entire generation too. In a 2018 university study, 50 per cent of women said she increased their interest in STEM; the phenomenon even has its own name, ‘The Scully Effect’. While Scully remains a complex female character, her empathy, resilience and intelligence remains as inspirational now as it did in the 90s.
Motherland (Netflix) – Flora Carr, Drama Writer
Sharon Horgan’s offbeat comedy Motherland is less interested in parenting itself than it is in its exhausting, bone-wearying effects. A satirical, almost ruthless portrait of middle-class motherhood, the series follows a group of women (and one token man), each one of them a parent at the local school. Line of Duty star Anna Maxwell Martin leads the cast as Julia, a frazzled businesswoman who struggles to balance work with parenting two kids (one can only imagine how she’d cope during lockdown – the storylines just write themselves).
Motherhood is not a straightforward look at ‘the sisterhood,’ or even friendship. In fact, stay-at-home father Kevin (Paul Ready) openly worries about whether or not their gang are all truly friends, or “just friendly” acquaintances, their relationships born of convenience.
Instead, the series zeroes-in on school-gate rivalries and alliances, and the sacrifices and pressure women face to “have it all”, a theme the show leans into with the cast addition of Meg (played by Tanya Moodie) in season two. A high-flying career woman with a seemingly perfect blended family and brood of five, it turns out her coping mechanisms can all be found in her (probably custom-made) wine rack at home. When we last saw her during Motherland’s Christmas episode, she’s rocked up to the Nativity play smelling like “the carpet at a Wetherspoon’s”.
From the panic of (temporarily) losing another woman’s child during trick-or-treating, to the carousel of world-weary quips delivered by Liz (Diane Morgan), the ever-relatable Motherland will have you both laughing and cringing.
Girlfriends (Netflix) – Grace Henry, Entertainment and Factual Editor
In the mood for some lighthearted, female-led entertainment? Well, then Girlfriends is the one for you!
The 2000 American sitcom was recently revived for Netflix and follows the lives of four friends in Los Angeles – Joan Clayton, Maya Wilkes, Lynn Searcy, and Toni Childs.
From racial issues to love, dating, careers, and ageing, the series shows how the women handle various problems in their life while maintaining their strong friendships, which remain at the centre of it all. With episodes at just 20-minutes long, this is the perfect pastime for a lunch or tea break when working from home.
Call the Midwife (BBC iPlayer) – Eleanor Bley Griffiths, Drama Editor
This must be one of the most female-driven shows ever to air on TV – and it’s really something special. Based on the memoirs of midwife Jennifer Worth and adapted by Heidi Thomas, BBC drama Call the Midwife (now heading for its 10th season) follows a group of nurse midwives operating out of an East End convent in the 1950s and 60s. Current stars include Helen George, Jenny Agutter, and Laura Main. With stories about childbirth and disease, friendship and heartbreak, motherhood and love, each episode has the potential to wring and warm your heart in equal measure.
Killing Eve (BBC iPlayer) – Helen Hackworthy, Listings and Platforms Editor
Women aren’t always sugar and spice and all things nice – they can be killers, too. But not since Uma Thurman’s Bride in Kill Bill has there been such a sublime female slayer as Killing Eve‘s Villanelle.
Villanelle (Jodie Comer) puts the sass in assassin. Master of many tongues, she’s smart, stylish and skilful, deftly despatching shady characters on the orders of the clandestine organisation for whom she works. But Villanelle can also be cold and unpredictable, often leaving her handler (Kim Bodnia) despairing in his vain attempt to control her.
It’s a light-hearted drama packed full of interesting female characters – from dogged agent and object of Villanelle’s affections Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), to the unflappable head of MI6’s Russia desk Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw).
Admittedly, the quality of Killing Eve faltered in seasons two and three when head writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge gave up the reins, but season one is to die for.
Shrill (BBC iPlayer) – Lauren Morris, Writer-Researcher
SNL star Aidy Bryant shines in BBC Three comedy Shrill, an empowering look at life as a plus-sized woman in a social media-obsessed world. Bryant stars as Annie, an overweight woman in her late 20s who decides to embark on a journey of self-acceptance after realising she’s constantly degraded by people around her. From a fitness instructor telling her there’s a small person inside of her “dying to get out” to the slacker she’s sleeping with asking her to leave his house via the backdoor to avoid meeting his friends, Annie decides enough is enough and realises she shouldn’t let society’s expectations of her weight define her with the help of best friend and flatmate Fran, played by the phenomenal Lolly Adefope.
With the third and final season of Shrill airing later this year, this body-positive comedy is definitely worth a watch this International Women’s Day for its expert balancing of both heartbreaking moments and light silliness, as well as the stellar performances from supporting cast members John Cameron Mitchell, Patti Harrison, Daniel Stern and Julia Sweeney.
Diary of A Future President (Disney Plus) – Jo-Anne Rowney, Audience Growth and Engagement Manager
It can be difficult to find an inspirational – and even aspirational – female-centric show for the younger women among us, which is why Disney Plus’s A Diary of a Future President is such a breath of fresh air. The series follows Elena Cañero-Reed, a strong-minded and confident 12-year-old Cuban American girl who wants to be the future president of the United States – and, thanks to flash forwards, we know she achieves it. The series, created by IIana Pena takes us through the drama, and lessons, she learns in school, revealing how they prepared her to become the powerful leader. As well as being wholesome and entertaining, DOAFP creates a flawed and realistic female role model, showing you can really dream big and break down whatever barriers are in your way. And, even better, it’s funny and family friendly, making it a great pick to watch together, whatever age you are.
Check out what else is on with our TV Guide.