This article was originally published March 8, 2017.
If you're anything like me, and your Netflix is filled with categories suggesting films and TV shows "Featuring a Strong Female Lead", you probably have a penchant for seeing strong women taking names on screen. And luckily, at least on television, the recent rise of Shondaland and shows like Girls has made way for more stories about intelligent, complicated and funny women than ever before.
So, In honour of International Women's Day, we're taking a look at some TV favourites of old and new that have inspired and empowered us with smart, powerful female characters who challenge our ideas about what women can do and be. Streaming these picks is just like sharing a bottle of wine with your best girlfriends (if your best girlfriends always have a snappy retort at the ready and can fight like a trained assassin).
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Believe it or not, this sitcom starring human bolt of sunshine Mary Tyler Moore, who sadly passed away earlier this year, was a real game changer. When the show premiered in 1970, Moore's Mary Richards became the first ever adult single woman on television. And at 30, she was labeled a 'spinster'. The series was not only revolutionary in its depiction of female friendships, it used Mary's position as a local news producer to tackle real issues women face at work, including sexual harassment and wage disparity, was the first show to mention The Pill on air and it put its money where its mouth is by giving writing opportunities to women behind the scenes when few other shows did. It's no wonder luminaries like Oprah and Michelle Obama are huge fans.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
If you're a sucker for fearless females who can dish out sassy quips while putting men twice their size in headlocks, give this cult favourite a watch. Though she's destined to save the world by warding off vampires and other miscellaneous magical evils, Buffy Summers, played by a pitch-perfect Sarah Michelle Gellar, just wants to be a regular teen. Unfortunately, her high school sits on top of a pathway to the underworld, so that's not really possible. While driving home the 'high school as hell' metaphor, the show artfully subverts the character of the ditzy blonde (who often dies first in horror movies) by letting Buffy play in an action hero space usually reserved for men. It's a choice that undoubtedly paved the way for heroines who dominate our screens today. Without Buffy Summers, there'd be no Katniss Everdeen.
There's a lot to love about this thrilling WWII spy drama, but Evelyne Brochu's Aurora Luft easily tops the list. Not only is the former journalist and resistance fighter a trailblazer, being a female leader of a team of Allied covert agents in a time when there were few career opportunities for women, she's clever, precise and literally willing throw herself onto a truck for the job. This season, as Aurora goes deep undercover with a group of Nazis in Poland, her strength and loyalty is tested, but she proves to be as resilient as ever, swiftly taking care of those in her way, brushing herself off and carrying on. With two episodes left to go of this action-packed period drama, it's Aurora who we're going to be watching out for.
Watch online here.
Fresh Off The Boat
This family sitcom is worth making room in your TV diet for. Created by Nahnatchka Khan (of Don't Trust the B**** fame) the show applies a similar sardonic zaniness to the story of an Asian-American family chasing the American Dream in 1990s Orlando. Based on chef Eddie Huang's memoir, the comedy weaves in pop culture to talk about themes like race, representation and identity (even explaining the immigrant diaspora experience in terms of Patrick Swayze in Ghost) and has some of the best-written kid characters of all time. Fresh Off The Boat's true backbone is found in matriarch Jessica Huang, played by hilarious badass-in-her-own-right Constance Wu. A stringent perfectionist with a deadpan expression that masks her big heart, Wu's Jessica is the real reason you'll keep tuning in every week.
The Good Fight
Despite having one of the silliest prestige drama opening credits ever (yes, that's an exploding stiletto you just saw), this new arrival is smart, saucy and particularly resonant in the post-Trump era. A spinoff of the brilliant but inconsistent The Good Wife, Fight follows familiar faces Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and Lucca Quinn (Cush Gumbo), along with newcomer Maia (Rose Leslie), who find themselves working together at a predominantly Black law firm. After a ponzi scheme leaves her penniless, Diane is forced to rebuild her career, confront her own white liberalism and consider if her choices as an attorney will leave her on the right side of history. Using its predecessor as a blueprint, the series is sure to rip stories right from the headlines and wrap issues like aging, being a woman in the workforce and surviving as a minority and LGBTQ person in Trump's America into its glossy package.
On paper, Issa Rae's self-deprecating comedy sounds just like one of those 'millennials try to make it in the city' shows. And while, technically, it is, Rae's unique lens and humour make it stand out from the pack. Based on her web series, Awkward Black Girl, Insecure presents a fictional Issa who, at 28, is just treading water. She's unfulfilled by her job at a non-profit called We Got Ya'll, where she's the token person of colour, is bored of her boyfriend and gets through the day by rapping to herself in the mirror and leaning on her unlucky-in-love BFF. The show soars in its ability to take the Black female experience seriously without taking itself seriously, a talent that's crystallized early its first episode, when Issa tells a class of 10-year-olds she's speaking to: "Black women aren't bitter. We're just tired of being expected to settle for less." We sit in that for a moment before one kid makes a crack about Issa's outfit, and the entire class erupts in laughter. On a lesser show this would be a capital-m Moment, but Insecure just comfortably breezes past.
The ultimate dose of palace intrigue, this period piece offers an inside look at the Royal Family at the end of King George IV's life, as Elizabeth II prepares to be crowned Queen. Sweeping us from 1947 to 1955, the series offers stunning visuals of the British countryside, compelling supporting performances from actors like John Lithgow, who is spot on as Winston Churchill, and just enough of Princess Margaret's juicy love life to keep you enticed. But it's Claire Foy's stubborn vulnerability as Elizabeth that makes a figure known for her stuffy disposition and stiff wave feel human. With Foy leading the charge, the show becomes less like a history lesson and more of a meditation on gender roles, the strength it requires to be the face of a nation and society's enduring discomfort with women in power.
Jane the Virgin
If you love a good soap, look no further than this cheeky revamp of a classic telenovela. Though its premise is decidedly wacky (Jane, a university student who has abstained from sex due to her Catholic upbringing, is accidentally artificially inseminated with her childhood crush's baby), JtV is a witty, warm look at a family full of strong single mothers. Among them, it's Gina Rodriguez's sunny portrayal of aspiring novelist Jane that really levels the series amongst the cavalcade of love triangles and back-stabbing sultresses. By weaving Latinx culture into the fabric of its episodes while fearlessly tackling issues like religion, abortion and class, JtV has become one of the most important rom coms on television (and, no, that's not an oxymoron).