There are approximately 84,000 new shows debuting on television each week, or maybe it just feels like that. The vast majority are complete rubbish. That makes wading through the back catalogues of shows throughout the decades, looking for an awesome show with a strong female lead, a tedious and depressing exercise. Here’s a cheat-sheet with a few recs in no particular order to help with present-buying for the feminist in your life.
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Such a cheat to have this on the list, but like or hate Joss Whedon, BtVS was paradigm-busting. Buffy set a standard for female heroes that has been
endlessly copied since. Yes, her love life crowds into her slaying, but Buffy has always been a slayer first and foremost. The supporting characters are also pretty awesome, with strong female characters abounding. Buffy may have its weaknesses, but you can’t afford NOT to have watched it.
2. Xena: Warrior Princess
Speaking of paradigm-busting, Xena is a warrior, backed up by a bard/fighter/peacenik/yogi. Plus, the show featured one of the first canonical lesbian relationships on TV. Xena kicks arse, and Gabrielle writes about it. I love this show for many, many reasons. It runs the gamut from silly and hilarious to quite simply heart-breaking. It’s fun, and sexy, and strangely heart-warming at times, and whether you like the LARP swords or not, you can’t afford to ignore this one either.
3. Grey’s Anatomy
Caveat: I’ve only watched up to Season 5 of this show, as I understand that it looses its way quite badly later on. But the first three seasons, especially, are exemplars of career women trying to make it in a very masculine profession. The friendship between Cristina and Meredith is for me one of the highlights of the show.
Sydney! I love Sydney. And Irina, and Nadia, and Rachel, and Francie, and Emily. You may have gathered that this show is all about women. Sure, Jack and Arvin and Michael all get their turn in the limelight, but the most dangerous characters on this show are the women. They are what make the world turn and tremble.
5. Veronica Mars
This is noir in high school. Veronica Mars is one of my favourite ‘cop’ shows, and Veronica isn’t even a cop. She’s a pretty normal 17 year old girl… if by ‘normal’ we mean someone who in the last year has had her best friend murdered, her mother walk out, her father lose his job, her boyfriend leave her, oh and wake up after a party not remembering anything with her underwear missing. Yeah, Veronica is having a swell year. She joins her dad in his P.I. firm, and investigates cases in and around her school, all the while trying to find out who murdered her best friend. The second season story arc is a bit ropey, and the third season is pretty bad, but the first season (with a self-contained story arc) is some of the best TV out there. Don’t miss this.
6. Prime Suspect
Speaking of detective shows… hands down the best one out there. Is it any wonder, with Helen Mirren acting her socks off? DCI Jane Tennison is abrasive, smart, and an alcoholic. She’s investigating a series of serial killers, while dealing with sexism and hostility from her colleagues. I love this, but I can’t watch it too often; it’s too upsetting.
So the UK has Helen Mirren, and the US has Glenn Close. Why hasn’t this little show received more attention? A law student ends up the protégé of a successful female attorney, and it’s all fantastic until someone turns up dead…
Another FBI agent-investigates-the-unusual. Olivia Dunham is, however, not your average FBI agent, and a strong supporting cast
make this pretty interesting. The bits that I like are how Olivia rescues herself in the manner of awesome heroes everywhere, and how the Evil Overlady is just. So. Damn. Awesome. Nina FTW!!
Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist. Yes, I know that’s not actually a real job, but for the purposes of TV, bear with me. She works for a museum, and in her capacity as a consultant she fightssolves crime! Her partner is Seeley Booth (yes, I know, not actually a real name), and he’s a … cop? FBI agent? CIA person? I wasn’t paying attention. Anyway, there’s gross things happening all over the country, and Brennan goes around being brilliant at crime scenes and saving the day. She has a lovely team of wacky sidekicks, who are all pretty awesome actually. Angela – who is in no way shape or form any scientist I can recognise – is the best friend, and the friendship between them is real and thoughtfully handled.
10. Star Trek: Voyager
Yes, yes. Not Star Trek’s finest hour. If you want thoughtful politics, get DSN instead. But, hey, Voyager isn’t all bad. It has Star Trek’s first female captain, for starters. Janeway is pretty awesome for managing to be an older woman (40! Why, she’s practically drawing a pension) and a sexual being at the same time. When Seven of Nine came on board and Janeway started explaining This Human Thing We Call Kissing Dating, my happiness was complete. You don’t need to get all seven seasons of this, but do check out Janeway being all Die Hard in Macrocosm, and the whole of the 7/J flirting saga.
More Christmas recommendations to follow…