There has never been a better time to celebrate the multitude of incredible, women-led TV shows on our screens. Here we pick eight of our favourites to binge watch now.
When we grow up we want to be Sergeant Catherine Caywood. Happy Valley’s leading lady, played by Sarah Lancashire, flies in the face of pretty much every tired stereotype of what women supposedly aspire to: she’s a distinctly unglamorous police officer working a rough beat in West Yorkshire while trying to raise her grandson and avenge the death of her daughter. She never looks less than totally exhausted by it all. And yet she’s one of the most inspiring heroines to grace our screens in decades - head-strong, compassionate and capable of mining the dry humour of being a bobby on the beat. Creator Sally Wainwright is also the woman behind the gorgeously gentle tale of love in old age, Last Tango in Halifax. Her skill is in mining the rich seam of drama that runs through the lives of ordinary people.
At first blush the BBC comedy Fleabag looks like something we’ve seen countless times: the story of a relatable young woman navigating the pitfalls of casual sex and unstable employment in London. But it becomes clear a few episodes in that Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s hit show is not just funny, it’s also crashingly bleak. As Waller-Bridge (who plays the titular Fleabag) puts it at one point, turning to address the camera: “I have a horrible feeling I’m a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist.” Don’t we all, love. In terms of format, think Miranda, only instead of a chirpy slapstick heroine you’ve got a hungover twenty-something screaming into the abyss through our screens.
Jane the Virgin
God bless the telenovela. The TV drama format, which originated in Latin America, is like a soap opera on steroids and it’s totally wonderful. Jane the Virgin, developed by Jennie Snyder Urman, is both a send-up of the genre and a perfect example of it. The plot, which follows the lives of the accidentally-inseminated Jane (Gina Rodriguez) and her friends and family who live in and around an upmarket hotel in Miami, is far too complicated to even begin explaining - it sometimes takes the velvety-voiced narrator a good five minutes to recap at the beginning of an episode. Rodriguez is so luminous and lovely that it’s hard to believe we don’t get annoyed with her - all credit to the writers for making someone extremely nice so interesting.
We can’t stop watching Michaela Coel. A rising star of British comedy, Coel created her first show Chewing Gum out of a play she put on when she was a student. The series tells the story of Tracey, a woman who has grown up in a religious family and, aged 24, is both extremely naive and incredibly horny. It’s a comic contradiction made in heaven: Tracey has a photo of Jesus hung next to one of Beyoncé, who she prays to as she embarks on her sexual awakening: “I need the strength you had to switch from R&B to hip-hop when they doubted you,” she tells the poster. Amen to that. The show is closely modeled on Coel’s own life (yes, even the episode where she ends up in a sex club).
If you haven’t at some point turned to your best mate and asked “Which of us is Illana?” are you even actually friends? Broad City is a brilliant New York comedy written by and staring two real-life friends, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who began making a web series about two stoners but gained such traction it was quickly picked up by a network. They’ve scaled some serious heights in the seasons since: Hillary Clinton even made a cameo. The brilliance of Broad City comes partly from its totally surreal humour, but mainly from the fact that it’s a story about two friends who care about each other more than they care about literally anything else. Men, jobs and flats may come and go, but that person who’ll secretly unblock the toilet for you when your crush is round is forever.
If anyone had told us a few years ago that one of our favourite shows would soon be a musical about an incredibly desperate single woman living in small-town America, we’d have laughed them out of the bar. But Rachel Bloom’s comedy drama Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, now in its third season, is so mind-blowing brilliant that we don’t just forgive the musical numbers, we’re huge fans of them. Every time you think the show is trading off lazy stereotypes it quickly swoops in to undermine and comment on them. Like when new love interest Nathaniel arrives on the scene, and we get treated to an ensemble number that includes the rousing lyrics : “Why should we root/ For someone male/Straight and white?” Quite. It’s all gloriously meta.
Grace and Frankie
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin made one of our best-loved films of all time in Nine to Five, the 1980s classic that they starred in alongside Dolly Parton. Now in their seventies, the pair are back together for the extremely lovable comedy Grace and Frankie. The story follows two women whose husbands have just announced they are gay – and in love with each other - meaning their ex-wives are forced into sharing a beach house. What should rightly be a hellish roommate scenario (Grace is a Florida Beach type and Frankie is a die-hard hippie) blossoms into a sparky friendship through which two women build new lives for themselves. Age isn’t “just a number”, it’s a badge of honour.
Glow, co-created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, is both a send-up of and homage to the 1980s fad for women’s wrestling TV shows. Alison Brie nominally stars as Ruth, an actress who hasn’t made it so tumbles into auditioning for a TV wrestling show, with a rag-tag bag of women who’ve never met before. It’s glorious fun, with kitschy period details, and an extremely uplifting story of women taking ownership over a project created for, and by, men. The message is clear: making it in a man’s world takes innovation, friendship and the ability to body-slam your opponent to the floor while wearing a cape. Obviously.
Main image: BBC