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All the best new female-led TV shows to watch in 2019

Posted by
Lucy Robson
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Sex-Education-Cast-Netflix

The season for going out is over: the season for staying in to watch brilliant new female-fronted TV is here. 

Now that Christmas party season is becoming a distant memory, we’re relieved to return to our rightful place on the sofa to see out the rest of winter. Thankfully, we have some brilliant new and returning TV shows coming our way in 2019, thanks to the BBC, Sky, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV. What’s more, 2019’s TV highlights feature a stellar cast of compelling female characters to connect with.

At Stylist, we can hardly contain our excitement for all of the fascinating biopics of trailblazing women and historical dramas due out this year. The Crown is returning to Netflix for the much-anticipated third series starring Olivia Colman, while Dickinson – an American drama based on the life of poet Emily Dickinson – is set to premiere on Apple TV.

Yorkshire-set period drama Gentleman Jack will air on BBC One, telling the story of the “first modern lesbian” Anne Lister (played by Doctor Foster’s Suranne Jones). In the works at ITV is a new adaption of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sandition, which is widely regarded as standing out from her other books due to its forthright exploration of characters’ sexuality. Genius screenwriter Andrew Davies (House of Cards, Les Miserables, War & Peace, Mr Selfridge) is working on the script, so we expect it will be unmissable.

Moving forward to more modern-day fare, Netflix has an excellent new drama up its sleeve for 2019 in the form of Sex Education, starring Gillian Anderson. Apple TV is also stepping up its streaming game with an adaption of bestselling crime novel Are You Sleeping, starring Octavia Spencer.

If dramas aren’t your thing, look out for comedy TV adaptions of classic films featuring strong female casts – from Mindy Kaling’s reboot of Four Weddings and a Funeral to a TV remake of The First Wives Club. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is also set to return to our screens with a new series of cult black comedy Fleabag.

Without further ado, here are Stylist’s top picks of all of the exciting female-fronted TV to watch in 2019.

Please note that not all of these TV series have launch dates yet – so be sure to bookmark this page and return to find out when they will be showing.

Best new TV series for 2019

Sex Education

Gillian Anderson & Asa Butterfield star in new family drama for Netflix Sex Education

Cast: Gillian Anderson, Emma Mackey, Asa Butterfield, Connor Swindells, Kedar-Williams Sterling, James Purefoy

Air date: 11 January 2019 on Netflix

Sex education was a class that few people took seriously in secondary school: we were all too busy snickering in the back of the classroom and avoiding eye contact with our crush. So it seems reasonable to expect British comedy-drama Sex Education to be reasonably cringe-inducing.

The series follows Otis (Asa Butterfield), an awkward teenage virgin who lives with his mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson). Jean just so happens to be a sex therapist – and so Otis teams up with a classmate to set up a “clinic”, designed to help their classmates with their own sex-related problems.

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“It’s unflinching in its treatment of sex, but it’s not gratuitous,” explains executive producer Jamie Campbell. “We want to move on the conversation about attitudes towards sex and identity.”

Campbell also promises that while the series does tackle its title subject, it’s much more a show about falling in love. Even though you’re (thankfully) past the awkward teenager phase, be sure to tune in and reminisce about all those times your teacher put a condom on a banana.

Carnival Row

Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne star in Amazon Prime’s Carnival Row

Cast: Orlando Bloom, Cara Delevingne, David Gyasi, Karla Crome, Indira Varma, Tamzin Merchant

Air date: Early 2019 on Amazon Prime Instant Video

Based on the novel by Travis Beacham, Carnival Row follows the lives of a group of mythical creatures who have fled their homeland to a city where tensions are rising between native residents and the immigrant population. The series looks at a string of unsolved murders in a city with many secrets.

Directed by BAFTA-nominated Jon Amial, known for his work on The Singing Detective, Copycat and Entrapment, the dark eight-episode series takes place in a neo-Victorian city. Cara Delevingne first showed off her acting chops in coming-of-age movie Paper Towns, and will continue to wow audiences in Carnival Row as Vignette Stonemoss, a refugee who flees her hometown. Orlando Bloom has been out of the spotlight for a few years, so expect him to make quite the return to our screens as a police inspector investigating the murder of a faerie showgirl.

While the show will have its fair share of mystery, expect the show to address hot button issues such as immigration and prejudice.

Gentleman Jack 

Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack

Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack 

Cast: Suranne Jones, Sophie Rundle, Gemma Whelan, Timothy West, Gemma Jones

Air date: Spring 2019 on BBC One

Gentleman Jack is the upcoming British-American historical drama series created by BAFTA-winning director Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley). Set in the 18th century, the series follows the “first modern lesbian” Anne Lister, who recorded her sexual adventures with women in her diaries.

The name Gentleman Jack was given to Lister by locals in her hometown of Halifax in Yorkshire, and referred to her conventionally masculine interests of shooting, riding and - most controversially for the time - women.

“The originality and ambition of the writing in [Gentleman Jack] is Sally Wainwright at her boldest and best,” says Piers Wenger, BBC Drama controller. “In dramatising the life and loves of Anne Lister, Sally might just have found her most complex and uncompromising female character yet and I’m so proud that they will be making their home BBC One.”

The First Wives Club

Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn & Diane Keaton in the original First Wives Club

Cast: Michelle Buteau, Jill Scott, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Mark Tallman, RonReaco Lee, Malik Yoba

Air date: TBC 

The First Wives Club will be a modern spin on the classic 1996 film of the same name. Set in New York City, the TV series will follow the lives of friends Ari, Bree and Hazel as they plot revenge and band together following the collapse of their marriages.

A TV adaptation of The First Wives Club has been some time coming. In 2016, a pilot starring Alyson Hannigan and Megan Hilty premiered for TV Line but never made it past that stage. Two years later, the series has been recast and Girls Trip writer Tracey Oliver has come on board.

“I think the premise is really timeless,” says Oliver. “You can tell this story at any point, and it’s really relatable. We’re in a time right now where women are speaking up and it wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t, with The First Wives Club, actually address some of these issues.”

Girls Trip was one of the funniest films we’ve seen in recent years – so if Oliver’s writing on The First Wives Club is just as good, we think this has the potential to be one of 2019’s most hilarious shows.

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Dickinson

Hailee Steinfield will play Emily Dickinson in Dickinson on Apple TV

Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Jane Krakowski, Toby Huss, Anna Baryshnikov, Ella Hunt, Adrian Enscoe

Air date: TBC on Apple TV

Apple TV is set to launch this 10-episode scripted comedy series at some point in 2019. A light-hearted retelling of the life and work of much loved 19th century poet Emily Dickinson, it will star Golden Globe- and Oscar-nominated actress Hailee Steinfeld in the title role.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Jane Krakowski will star as Emily’s mother, while brilliant writer-producer Alena Smith – whose previous work includes The Affair – is also on board. Expect a witty coming-of-age tale about a young female writer who’s frustrated by the limitations placed on women by society.

Are You Sleeping

Octavia-Spencer

Octavia Spencer will star in Are You Sleeping

Cast: Octavia Spencer, Reese Witherspoon, Lizzy Caplan, Aaron Paul, Elizabeth Perkins, Mekhi Phifer, Michael Beach, Tracie Thoms

Air date: TBC on Apple TV

In 2019, our obsession with true crime stories and real-life cold cases shows no sign of abating. This 10-episode TV series is based on Kathleen Barber’s novel Are You Sleeping, which takes a deep dive into our cultural fascination with true crime and unsolved murders.

Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water, Hidden Figures, The Help) is both producing the show and starring in it, as a reporter who tries to uncover the truth behind murder verdicts through an investigative podcast. Emmy-winning Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul stars alongside Spencer as a convicted murderer whose guilt or innocence has remained a mystery for 20 years.

The series is impressively star-studded, with a cast that also includes Reese Witherspoon, Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us), Elizabeth Perkins (Sharp Objects) and Mekhi Phifer (Frequency).

But perhaps the most interesting thing about Are You Sleeping is that Paul’s character is based on the real case of Adnan Syed, the central figure in Serial – and Sarah Koenig (the journalist behind Serial) has consulted on the series. One not to miss.

Sandition

Portrait of Jane Austen

Sandition by Jane Austen is being developed for TV by the BBC

Cast: No cast announcements yet

Air date: TBC on ITV

After Jane Austen passed away in July 1817, she left behind two novels that were published posthumously. But one Austen manuscript remained unfinished: a romantic, family saga with the working title of Sandition.

Upon reading the incomplete novel, Austen fans were surprised and intrigued by the first eleven chapters, in which she most fully confronts the nature of sexuality – a theme left mostly unexplored in her other novels.

Sandition will be adapted into a TV series for the first time ever in 2019, by heavyweight screenwriter Andrew Davies (War and Peace, Pride and Prejudice). The novel follows Charlotte Heywood, a young woman who moves to Sandition and meets a charismatic man trying to turn the small village into a resort.

ITV’s head of drama Polly Hill said she was delighted that Andrews will take the reins on the adaptation with his “track record for bold and original adaptations”.

Best female-led TV series returning for 2019

Fleabag

Phoebe Waller Bridge in Fleabag

Phoebe Waller Bridge in Fleabag

Cast: Phoebe Waller Bridge, Sian Clifford, Jenny Rainsford, Brett Gelman, Bill Paterson

Air date: February 2019 on BBC Three

Bafta award-winning Fleabag is a black comedy about a bunch of unlikeable people, created by and starring the unbelievably talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who also wrote Killing Eve).

Highlights of this groundbreaking British series include seeing Waller Bridge’s character masturbate to Barack Obama’s television speeches, as well as pondering why her boyfriend keeps leaving her. Waller-Bridge’s comedic timing is impeccable and her character’s self-loathing escalates as the season goes on.

Shane Allen, comedy commissioning editor for the BBC, says: “The series two scripts are knockout – sparkling with Phoebe’s unique voice that combines a whip-smart complexity of character with pin-sharp funny lines scattered everywhere.”

The Crown

Olivia Colman in The Crown

Olivia Colman will take over as Queen Elizabeth 11 in The Crown Series 3

Cast: Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, Josh O’Connor, Marion Bailey, Ben Daniels, Claire Foy, Matt King

Air date: TBC on Netflix

This award-winning smash hit TV series tells the personal story behind the reign of Queen Elizabeth II (so far). In the first two series, the historical drama gave us a fascinating insight into the Queen’s relationships with Prince Philip and her troubled sister Princess Margaret. We also witnessed the struggles the Queen faced behind the scenes while handling huge world events, such as the demise of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Suez Crisis of 1965.

While we adored Claire Foy’s Golden Globe and Emmy-winning portrayal of the Queen, it’s time for us to bid (a very fond) farewell and say hello to Olivia Colman, who will be stepping into her court shoes for The Crown’s next two seasons. Tobias Menzies will be taking over Matt Smith’s role as Prince Phillip, while Helena Bonham Carter will portray Princess Margaret (played previously by Vanessa Kirby).

According to showrunner Peter Morgan, the show will cover the period from 1964 to 1976, which means it could explore everything from Harold Wilson’s two terms as prime minister to Princess Margaret’s elicit affairs. We can’t wait!

Big Little Lies

Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley and Reese Witherspoon run on a beach in a scene from Big Little Lies.

Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley and Reese Witherspoon in Big Little Lies

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Zoe Kravitz, James Tupper, Meryl Streep

Air date: June 2019 on Sky Atlantic

This critically-acclaimed and extremely star-studded TV show follows four mothers whose children attend the same school in Monterey, California. Gradually, the women’s lives become entangled via a series of complicated family dramas and the unveiling of dark secrets.

Stars Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman are teaming up again to produce Big Little Lies’ second series, which will also have a new director in the form of Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey and Amazon Prime’s Transparent).

The brilliant first series was based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, with exceptional performances from Kidman, Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley. Moriarty never wrote a second BLL book, but the huge worldwide success of the TV adaption has led to the development of a second series – featuring an all-new story.

With the departure of first-season star Alexander Skarsgard and the entrance of movie star royalty Meryl Streep, how could you not be excited for series 2?

The evidence of stress in our lives is everywhere, from bad sleep to increased anxiety. So in January 2019, stylist.co.uk is dedicated to creating a life less frazzled. We’ll be focusing on uplifting news, feel-good features and recommendations for fun things to do, with the goal of making you feel calmer and more positive about the coming year.

Images: Rex Features / Getty / BBC

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Lucy Robson

Lucy Robson is an SEO writer for Stylist.co.uk, who enjoys chasing trends and writing about books, film, TV and other lifestyle and feminist news.

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