Where Are All the Leading Women? On TV, Of Course

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Where Are All the Leading Women? On TV, Of Course

By Sarah Carlson | Seriously Random Lists | June 26, 2013 | Comments ()


As Dustin has already pointed out, this summer is a crap time for movies about women. The Heat is the only major studio release this summer that features women in lead roles, and as NPR's Linda Holmes pointed out on Monkey See, even among independent films, stories about women featuring women are scarce. If you don't live in a major metropolitan area, which most in the country don't, then forget trying to catch Frances Ha or The East. The problem of film distribution -- smaller films making it to the masses -- can seem like a side issue, but it matters here when it is those smaller films that provide the diversity that is lacking in larger studio films. I live in San Antonio (shout-out to my girl Senator Leticia Van de Putte), the seventh most populous city in the U.S., and Frances Ha was only here, at one art house theater, for one week. Of course, just because I'd like to see movies predominantly featuring women doesn't mean I'm opposed to seeing those that don't. I saw Star Trek Into Darkness, and I may catch Man of Steel and This is The End. But that's not enough.

Good thing I stopped relying on movies as my main source of entertainment ages ago. I go to the movie theater every now and then, but I learned long ago that if I want the best entertainment around, I should turn to TV. You're looking for not only great female characters, but ones that either are the leads or are among the main characters in a story? Start filling up your DVR queues. This doesn't solve the problem of a lack of female voices in film, and statistically, I'm sure women are still underrepresented on TV compared to men. (And this doesn't even cover minority and LGBT characters.) Nevertheless, TV, and especially extended cable, is where the stories are.

Here are some of our favorite leading ladies from current shows:

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), "Game of Thrones"


Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling), "The Mindy Project"

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Sarah/Beth/Alison/Cosima/Helena/Katja/Rachel etc. (Tatiana Maslany), "Orphan Black"

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Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), "Veep"


Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss), "Mad Men"


And another from Elisabeth Moss: Robin Griffin, "Top of the Lake"


Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos), "The Killing"


Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), "Scandal"

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Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco), "Nurse Jackie"


Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), "The Good Wife"


Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham), "Girls"


Carrie Mathison (Claire Daines), "Homeland"


Jess Day (Zooey Deschanel), "New Girl"


Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), "True Blood"


Fiona Gallagher (Emmy Rossum), "Shameless"


Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), "Parks and Recreation"


Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • zeke_the_pig

    Kerry Washington just cannot get any bloody hotter.

  • Mrs. Julien

    How about Kerry Washington and Monica Bellucci in the same room?

  • zeke_the_pig

    - We're sorry but zeke the pig can't come to the phone right now. Because his brain exploded. Please try again later. -

  • foca9

    Who actually watches movies anymore, anyway? Don't know if it's a generation thing, but most friends of mine watch a lot of tv shows, and rarely movies.

  • kirbyjay

    Agree. Perhaps once a year I will sit in a movie theater ( yuck) and watch a movie with other people ( double yuck) only because I can't wait for it to come out on On Demand. I actually just got two free movie tickets as a gift and they went straight to my daughter who goes weekly.

  • Jifaner

    It's a silly show, but I'd add Rizzoli and Isles to this list. The show is fun and I love that they are smart, professional women who have a REAL friendship. Too many shows pit women against each other.

  • Guest

    How about Vera Farmiga from Bates Motel?

  • atoz15

    me going down this list:

    yes, yes, yes, yess, yess, yesss, yessss, yessss!!!! fist pumping

  • foolsage

    Canadian TV has some decent (current) shows featuring leading ladies, as well.

    Lost Girl: Anna Silk (Bo), Ksenia Solo (Kenzi)
    Continuum: Rachel Nichols (Officer Kiera Cameron)

    These are the main characters in every meaningful sense; they're not just prominent members of ensemble casts (e.g. Dany in GoT). Both shows can be seen in the States on Syfy.

  • Calraigh

    I may be (literally) eviscerated for this but a guilty pleasure of mine is Rookie Blue. There's great characters in that and the three female leads are arguably the most interesting. Canada be rockin that shiz yo yo.


  • foolsage

    I sincerely hope you aren't literally eviscerated for that. That seems a trifle excessive for simply liking Canadian TV. :)

  • Calraigh

    Not so much ''Canadian '' TV but the prettiest of pretty cop shows. I mean, they're all ridiculously good-looking to the point where I've actually come to the conclusion that there is a seriously amazing, yet untapped gene pool there. They are RIDICULOUSLY good-looking.

  • apsutter

    Good looking, fucking funny, and have angel voices. The amount of amazing comedians and singers that have come from Canada is almost shocking considering that the population is so small compared to the US.

  • foolsage

    You ought to check out Lost Girl then. EVERYONE there is pretty.

    Also... Continuum = Rachel Nichols. I think that says enough right there.

  • TS

    I love Leslie Knope so much it hurts!

    The Good Wife is also excellent for female role models - some shows have few strong women outside the main character but I love that The Good Wife isn't like that.

  • E Robb

    I would add Liz Lemon, because in my heart 30 Rock isn't over.

  • ZizoAH

    Can I just say that The Good Wife is the best thing that happened in the last 4 years? I'm so obsessed.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Little off topic, but you should definitely go see This is the End. It's pretty goddamn funny. Not a whole lot of ladies in that one though.

  • DominaNefret

    Another throw in for Tatiana Maslany and Nina Dobrev.

  • Lovely Bones

    I know the series is gone, (WHY DID I HAVE TO REMIND MYSELF) but can't we include Liz Lemon for old time's sake, considering it just ended this year and how important it and Tina Fey are to this?

  • Um, Kerry Washington from Scandal?

    ...and don't laugh, but Nina Dobrev is doing a great job on Vampire Diaries. Of course, it was much more impressive before Tatiana Maslany, but still...

  • Sarah Carlson

    Kerry Washington added!

  • alwaysanswerb

    Just checking in to add my vocal support (beyond a drive-by +1) to both of these women.

  • NateMan

    I love Nina Dobrev as long as she isn't playing her main character.

  • She's definitely more interesting as Katherine, but I think it's awesome that she's created two such distinct characters. You can tell them apart just by looking at them, which is cool.

  • NateMan

    I'll echo emmalita with Tatiana Maslany, and also add Martha Plimpton on Raising Hope. An argument can be made she's a supporting actress, but her role has definitely grown as the show goes on.

  • I love Raising Hope! I wish more people watched - it's really one of the funniest shows right now.

  • apsutter

    TV is so much better than movies it's almost laughable at this point.

  • emmalita

    I would add Tatiana Maslany as the ladies of Orphan Black

  • Sarah Carlson

    Added! I can't believe I forgot her!

  • NateMan


  • Kate at June

    The Killing is still on?

  • John W

    Yes. And it's pretty good you should give it a chance.

  • Kate at June

    I did, for two seasons.

  • John W

    I think they may redeem themselves with this season. At least the actors involved are excellent in it if nothing else.

  • Kate at June

    Maybe I'll give it another shot. If they aren't dragging out good storylines to the dumbest possible ending again

  • Jifaner

    This season is much quicker and tauter than the last 2. The storyline is only supposed to last the one season and it's quite good.

  • TCH

    I am still wary.

  • TCH

    The Killing repeatedly failed.

  • John W

    Great list. You saved the best one for last. Khaleesi Knope.

  • GAftly8524

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    It's a silly show, but I'd add
    Rizzoli and Isles to this list. The show is fun and I love that they are
    smart, professional women who have a REAL friendship. Too many shows
    pit women against each other.

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