Press play on these excellent feminist TV shows, all available to stream now, on BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Netflix and NOW TV.
2018 was a brilliant year for fantastic, female-fronted TV shows, with a wonderfully diverse array of hugely successful debut series hitting our screens, featuring some of our new favourite heroines (Villanelle in Killing Eve anyone?) and plots that pass the Bechdel test with flying colours.
Feminist TV shows airing for the first time last year included Sky Atlantic’s TV adaption of cult favourite novel series, Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and William Makepeace Thackeray’s classic feminist masterpiece Vanity Fair on ITV, as well as the fantasy TV reboot The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix.
Of course we couldn’t make this list of our favourite feminist TV dramas without mentioning the return of a certain Doctor (Who), back with a fabulous feminist lead in Jodie Whittaker, for the first time in the show’s 13 year history. Nor could we neglect to mention the return of empowering female wrestling show GLOW, the smash hit Netflix Original hit from 2017, following the trials and tribulations of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
Essentially, when it comes to the female led drama series category on Netflix, you are now spoiled for choice. So, to help you refine your binge-list, we’ve picked out the best feminist TV shows you can watch now, as well as some details on where to stream them.
Killer chemistry between Jodie Comer’s assassin and Sandra Oh’s M15 agent turns Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s merrily murderous script into the best show of the year.
With delicious support from Fiona Shaw as the big boss woman, Killing Eve is an eight parter that turns the spy drama on its sexist head, giving women all the wittiest lines, love interests (each other) and Stylist cover star Jodie Comer a star making role. The fashion’s a knockout too.
Watch Killing Eve now on BBC iPlayer.
A riot of hot pink leotards and 1980s nostalgia, GLOW series 2 sees the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling commissioned for a TV show, a move that allows the female show-runners to tease out the thin line between empowerment and exploitation for Ruth (Alison Brie), Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and co. Moreover, GLOW shows what a collective of women with entirely different personalities in a TV show looks like.
Watch GLOW series 2 now on BBC iPlayer.
My Brilliant Friend
An entirely faithful adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s beloved Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend stays true to the four-part series exploration of female friendship and oppression in mid-20th century working class Italy. Elena and Lily are the girls whose relationship drives the story, with director Saverio Costanzo collaborating with the publicity shy novelist Ferrante… via email of course.
Watch My Brilliant Friend now on NOW TV.
She arrived without a sonic screwdriver and some were not best pleased, but Jodie Whittaker’s historic turn as the 13th Doctor (she’s the first woman to ever take on the role) has been a triumph, drawing the biggest launch audience in a decade and reinvigorating the iconic sci fi show. Whittaker’s Doctor was wonderfully northern and worldly whose time travels took her to meet other ground-breaking women. Think a certain U.S. civil rights icon named Rosa Parks, for one.
Watch Doctor Who now on BBC iPlayer.
The Handmaid’s Tale
After a stellar first season based closely on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name, the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale saw the show go off-book. It did, however, have plenty of real life crises to draw from, so storylines felt eerily similar to real life events 2018. Between the scary contemporary resonance, Elizabeth Moss’s complex lead performance and some big twists, The Handmaid’s Tale continued to be appointment television.
Watch The Handmaid’s Tale now on NOW TV.
The unsatisfied sexual desires of a woman are usually unmarked territory on television, which makes Toni Colette’s turn in the BBC drama Wanderlust such a revelation. Colette (who received critical acclaim for her role in this year’s horror smash Hereditary) plays therapist Joy Richards, a woman who finds herself in the troubled waters of a sexless marriage with husband Alan (Steve Mackintosh). Together, they investigate new approaches to relationships, fidelity and sex.
Watch Wanderlust now on BBC iPlayer.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Mad Men’s Kieran Shipka plays the half mortal, half witch whose 16th birthday on Hallowe’en is also the occasion for her baptism into the dark arts. Sabrina is a fable about female power, with this show from the comic of the same name establishing early on a power struggle between the young witch and society. The original TV show was an empowering series for young women; this Netflix reboot from the makers of Riverdale, strikes a darker, albeit still empowering, tone.
Watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina now on Netflix.
An investigation of gender, sexuality, and the sticky stuff of human relations, The Bisexual has a relaxed attitude to nailing the zeitgeist, but nails it nonetheless with its dry humour and bang on observations about contemporary dating. Creator Desiree Akhavan stars as Leia, a New Yorker in London who splits up with her girlfriend of ten years (the brilliant Maxine Peake) and decides to start dating men, a move that upends everything she and everyone around thought they knew about swiping, left or right.
Watch The Bisexual now on Channel 4 On Demand.
A show about the Times Square porn industry of the Seventies, from the creator of The Wire, The Deuce has prestige TV all over it. But it’s taken until season two for the drama to hit its feminist stride, telling its story about the commodification of women’s bodies from a female perspective. The lead, Maggie Gyllenhaal, is unflappable as Candy, a prostitute whose brains and ambitions lead her to want more. And, in a series that reimagines the gendered dynamics of the era, there is a refreshing amount of male flesh on show.
Becky Sharp is a female lead in a period with that unusual thing: incredible agency. In this smart adaptation by screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes of the classic 1848 novel from William Makepeace Thackeray, the heroine – played with aplomb by Olivia Cooke – frequently breaks the fourth wall to let the audience know just how ridiculous she finds the disadvantages of class and gender she’s working under and what she’s going to do about it.
Watch Vanity Fair 2018 on the ITV Hub now.
A political thriller that put women front and centre of the action, Bodyguard exploded the myth that only men can play the tough guy. From the off, Sergeant David Budd (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden) faces off with women in all manner of positions of power from police chief super intendent to suicide bomber. His biggest challenge, arguably, is the woman he’s assigned to protect: home secretary, Julia Montague, who, played by Keeley Hawkes, is every bit as ruthless as any of her male counterparts.
Watch Bodyguard now on BBC iPlayer.
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel comes highly recommended. The brainchild of Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of Gilmore Girls, this is a whip smart show about a Fifties Jewish housewife who finds she has a talent for stand-up comedy.
Rachel Brosnahan is a knockout in the title role; Sherman-Palladino, made history as the first women in the awards’ history to win both comedy and directing. The whole thing is proudly feminist and incredibly funny.
Watch The Marvelous Mrs Maisel now on Amazon Prime Instant Video.
Images: ITV - BBC - Getty - Netflix - Channel 4