17 shows streaming on Netflix with female leads you aren't watching — but definitely should
While there is still a long way to go, we’re glad that the entertainment industry is finally recognizing the importance of female representation in movies and television. As a result, there is now a huge crop of female-led films and shows available for our viewing pleasure — and you can find a whole lot of them in the massive black hole of insanely good TV called Netflix.
If you’re already enjoying the lines of Orange Is The New Black, Jessica Jones, Jane the Virgin, Scandal, there is an entire hemisphere of female-driven programs available on Netflix just waiting to be added to your watch list. And lucky for you, we did all the digging, so you no longer have to. As viewers, we have the power to pave the way for more female-led shows to be produced. All we have to do is press play! By giving these programs their much-needed exposure, we’re giving female directors, writers, producers, and actresses a way to be granted more opportunities. And isn’t that the goal all along?
Below, you’ll find underrated shows with strong female leads that never really got the attention they truly deserve. They feature characters of nuanced substance that bring a different flair to their respective narratives. So get your popcorn, grab your blanket, and prepare to witness female badassery and hilarity.
1. Chewing Gum
A British comedy written and starring the brilliant Michaela Coel, Chewing Gum follows the life of Tracey Gordon, who, after 24 years of living a sheltered life, finally decides to get laid. Between a ton of Beyoncé references and slapstick jokes, this show addresses what it’s like to explore sexuality despite a religious upbringing. Watch it here.
2. The Killing
At long last, a crime drama sans egotistical male leads! The Killing chronicles the life of Sarah Linden, a homicide detective who is not only weighed down by the complexities of the crimes she has to solve, but also has to deal with raising her angsty teenage son on her own. Add that to the fact that she has to fight off people who are so adamant about branding her as an unfit mother. Watch it here.
Similar to The Killing in terms of badassery, Nikita tells the story of a daring young woman who was given a new lease on life by a secret government agency called Division. Little did she know, Division is implicitly training her to become a cold-blooded assassin. Nikita escapes, switches over to the good side (for the most part), and vows to destroy her old bosses. In short: Nikita makes ass-kicking look insanely good. Watch it here.
4. Anne With An E
Based on the book we loved as children, Anne of Green Gables, Anne with An E chronicles the life of a fiery, bright-eyed girl, who’s continuously jousted by her peers and treated as a pariah. Guided by the strong women in her life and due to her own unfettered brilliance, she rises above her naysayers and chases her dreams, charming everyone around her along the way. Watch it here.
5. The Blacklist
The Blacklist does a good job of keeping you on the edge of your seat every episode. It also does a good job of portraying a woman who has to choose between starting a family and focusing on her high-stakes profession. Can Elizabeth Keen handle chasing the bad guys and her family life all at the same time? You’ll just have to wait and see. Watch it here.
What’s better than an FBI-centered show with badass characters? An FBI-centered show with FEMALE badass characters, that’s what! Quantico follows Alex Parrish — portrayed by the amazing Priyanka Chopra — on her journey to becoming an FBI agent. During her training, a terrorist attack destroys New York City, and as they investigate who’s behind the crime, she is suddenly pegged as the suspect. Now, she must find a way to prove her innocence. But the show doesn’t revolve entirely around her. Parrish is joined by a strong band of diverse ladies with equally complex storylines. Watch it here.
Magic. Family secrets. Girl power. Chic outfits. What’s not to love? Charmed follows three sisters — Prue, Piper, and Phoebe — who all possess supernatural powers and must fight the forces of evil. At the same time, they have to grapple with the typical problems that come with their careers, friendships, and love affairs. Watch it here.
8. Cable Girls
You think being a woman in the 21st century is hard? Try being a woman in the 1920s. Cable Girls follows four women working as switchboard operators. Each one tackles a different set of struggles, but all have one thing in common: they yearn for independence from oppressive men and societal pressures. Watch it here.
9. Madam Secretary
All retired CIA operative and college professor Elizabeth McCord wants to do is to take good care of her family. That all changes when she’s abruptly appointed to be Secretary of State and suddenly has to balance dealing with both politics and her complicated family life. She also needs to stave off all the men always trying to get in her way. The show is so good that even former secretary of state Hillary Clinton enjoys it! Watch it here.
10. Drop Dead Diva
Deb Donkins was once a self-absorbed model who only cared about superficial things. Jane Bingum was a successful lawyer struggling with self-esteem issues due to her weight. When both women get into accidents, and both die, Deb finds a way to return to back to earth. However, she finds herself stuck in Jane’s body, one that she mocked in her previous life. With such an engaging premise, the fat positive show tackles the realities plus-sized women continuously struggle with, like extreme dieting, sizeism, and more. Watch it here.
11. Alias Grace
Coming on the heels of the success of The Handmaid’s Tale is Alias Grace, another Margaret Atwood-based show that describes it’s like to live in a world where you’re not accepted. The Netflix miniseries recounts the tale of Grace Marks, a woman who is imprisoned due to a crime she may or may not have committed. To find out the truth, the show takes us back to her past, and shows her struggles with social hierarchies and societal prejudice. Oh, and did we mention that it’s based on a true story? Watch it here.
In a television landscape where teen dramas usually empower young characters only by giving them supernatural powers or extraordinary abilities, Reign shows what it’s like to live in a time when teens actually ruled the world. Set in 1550’s France, the show follows the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and her struggle with living in a society where women are denied a sense of autonomy and where virginity is highly fetishized. Watch it here.
If you’re a big fan of Netflix original Orange Is The New Black, then you already love Wentworth, you just don’t know it yet. Like the aforementioned, the gritty show features a stellar ensemble cast and accurately depicts the realities of prison. Then again, unlike OITNB, Wentworth isn’t fairly sprinkled with a dash of comedy. Instead, it deeply explores issues like gang beatings, rape, and murder. Watch it here.
14. Dear White People
While Dear White People has its fair share of male characters, it’s the women who shine the brightest. The ones to watch: Samantha White and Coco Conners. This Netflix original reveals the perspectives of a group of black students studying in a predominantly white Ivy League college. Through satire and self-deprecation, it tackles with different themes like colorism, internalized racism, and faux wokeness. Watch it here.
15. Nurse Jackie
Though Nurse Jackie is labeled as a comedy, it gives a serious and honest depiction of a person living with addiction. The Emmy-winning show revolves around the story of Jackie Peyton, an emergency room nurse powering through shift after shift at a busy New York City hospital. On the outside, she appears as a highly-competent nurse. But she has a deep, dark secret — she has to rely on Vicodin and Percocet to get through every day. Watch it here.
16. Call the Midwife
Set in the 1950s, Call the Midwife is based on a true story and follows four women who all work as nurse midwives in London’s impoverished East End. Set in a time where oral contraceptive, “The Pill,” has just been introduced and legal abortion is refused to women, the show depicts how these nurses do everything to help fellow women through every adversity. It also sheds light on various social issues like domestic abuse, prostitution, homophobia, and racism. Watch it here.
17. The Mysteries of Laura
Starring the phenomenal Debra Messing, The Mysteries of Laura tries to answer the age-old question, “can women have it all?” It is centered around Laura Diamond, a brilliant NYPD detective who has to balance the demands of her job, raising her unruly twin boys, and dealing with an ex-husband who refuses to succumb to her request for a divorce. Watch it here.