11 awesome series with powerful female lead characters

Source: Supplied
Source: Supplied

For years, women were relegated to the ‘supporting role’ categories of television and film awards. But thanks to awesome actresses who hold their own in TV series and films, the road for women in Hollywood is now paved blood red from all the queens who keep killing it with their performances on screen.

Here are shows with badass, fascinating females in lead roles to binge-watch this Women’s Month:

1. HBO’s Westworld

At first glance, a fantasy park filled with human-like robots where it’s possible to live out your darkest desires (think violence, murder, sex and everything in between) doesn’t seem like the best place for strong women. But the females are leading the revolution in this brilliant sci-fi series. After years of abuse at the hands of humans, the robots in Westworld, including Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), one of the oldest “hosts”, who plays the role of a sweet-natured farm girl, and Maeve (Thandie Newton), the madam of Mariposa Saloon who is tough as nails and won’t back down without a fight, are gaining consciousness - and they want revenge.

Watch Westworld now »

2. HBO’s Big Little Lies

With some of Hollywood’s most famous female heavy-hitters in the cast, from Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon to Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern, it’s not surprising that this critically acclaimed miniseries is one of the first on our list. But it’s not just in the casting that this show embraces the idea of female empowerment - as Glamour writes, “instead of presenting women through an idealistic lens, Big Little Lies offers its female characters with a sense of bluntness. These women are all finding their voices in their own way, and they’re done apologising for it.” Reese Witherspoon announced on Instagram recently that filming of Season 2 had just wrapped, and we can’t wait to see it.

Watch Big Little Lies now


There is nothing ladylike about Bridgette Bird, the foul-mouthed, single-mother protagonist of SMILF, which was written, created and directed by lead actress Frankie Shaw. Any single mother will relate to Bridgette’s struggles - she has to fight to keep her low-wage job as tutor and general dogs’ body to a rich woman’s spoiled children while also being there for her young son Larry. There are no holds barred in this show, and no punches pulled. The sex scenes are cringe-worthy and raw, and Bridgette’s relationship with her depressive mother (played by Rosie O’Donnell) is as real as it gets - probably because the show is based on Shaw’s real life.

Watch SMILF now »

4. Younger

Ageism is something women all over the world have to deal with, and 40-year-old divorcee Liza Miller, played by Sutton Foster, is no exception. But what sets her apart from the rest of us is that she refuses to sit back and take it. Liza takes matters into her own hands and poses as a 26-year-old to get a job in the publishing industry, which she left when she got married and moved to the suburbs all those years ago. Her plan works - but how long can she keep up the charade with her new friends, her new love interest(s) and her colleagues? The fun, sexy romcom is lifted into another league by Foster’s portrayal of Liza - even The New Yorker agrees: “Sutton Foster, the Broadway actress … is a persuasive, joyful actress – bright and sensitive, with a tinge of improbable musical-theatre pluck.”

Watch Younger now »

5. Sex and the City

We can’t talk about powerful female leads without mentioning Sex and the City, now an iconic part of 90s pop culture. This was the series that showed that women could, and should, enjoy casual sex just like men did, and not be shamed for their sexcapades. Sarah Jessica Parker plays the protagonist and narrator Carrie Bradshaw, who falls in and out of love with a series of men in the show’s eight-season run; her best friends Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) are there beside her through it all, alternately struggling with and celebrating their own love lives or lack thereof. Even though we know that Parker and Cattrall can’t stand each other IRL, we can’t deny that this fierce foursome is a force to be reckoned with on-screen.  

Watch Sex and the City now »

6. HBO’s Succession

HBO’s latest drama series, which recently aired in the States and is now exclusive to Showmax in South Africa, received heaps of critical acclaim - and when you watch the trailer, pretty much wall to wall with powerful men in suits, you might be surprised to see it on this list. But watch the show, and you’ll understand. Every female character stands out - from Connor Roy’s girlfriend/sex worker Willa (Justine Lupe) to corporate dragon/diplomat Gerri (J Smith-Cameron). But the two we admire most have to be: Siobhan “Shiv” Roy (Sarah Snook), the only daughter of ageing patriarch Logan Roy, who sets out to destroy her father’s media empire by working for a Democrat politician who is Logan’s sworn enemy; and Logan’s third wife Marcia (Hiam Abbass), a quiet presence in the background who we start to realise may in fact be the brains behind Logan’s whole operation.

Watch Succession now »

7. Call The Midwife

In this heartwarming British period drama set in the East End of London in the 50s and 60s, the female agenda is the lead. Almost all the characters are women, from the midwives at Nonnatus House to the nuns they work with and the women they help give birth. The series is based on real-life midwife Jennifer Worth’s memoirs, and you can’t help but fall in love with the way Jenny Lee (Jennifer Worth’s character skilfully played by Jessica Raine) draws in all the other female characters.

After Season 3, Raine left the show, but the other beloved characters more than made up for her departure - we are especially fond of clumsy, posh midwife Chummy (Miranda Hart), bubbly but troubled Trixie Franklin (Helen George) and Sister Bernadette (Laura Main), the nun who chooses love over her calling as a nun.

Watch Call the Midwife now

8. The Fixer

If Shonda Rhimes wrote it, you best believe there will be strong women front and centre of the production - think Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy or Annalise Keating in How To Get Away With Murder. Enter Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington) in The Fixer. She is sassy and stylish but crucially, she has the most important job at her firm (handling the Oval Office) and the most fiery lines in the entire show.

Watch The Fixer now

9. Reverie

As women of colour start to increasingly play important roles in Hollywood, statements like ‘First Persian actress to play the lead in a US network drama’ will start to fade into obscurity. But for now, we have to appreciate Sarah Shahi, who plays a former hostage negotiator sent into an alternate-reality video game to rescue the consciousness of people who have been taken hostage in this sci-fi action series. Not only does Shahi do epic justice to her role, but she is also quite literally the future!

Watch Reverie now

10. Lockdown

This is one of the most interesting dramas to come out of South Africa in recent years. Following on the success of Hollywood’s Orange Is The New Black, Lockdown dares to ask the question, ‘what happens when the inmates are women and in charge?’ The answer is a symphony of jaw-dropping, heart-stopping and praise-worthy performances by powerful local actresses playing nuanced, complex characters. Shout out to Lorcia Cooper for kicking ass (literally and figuratively) in her role as Tyson.

Watch Lockdown now

11. Dark Angel

Playing the role of a real-life British serial killer with a body count of at least 20, with a number of her victims suspected but never confirmed, can’t be easy. However, for Joanne Froggatt, playing the role of Mary Ann Cotton in Dark Angel must’ve been something of a reprieve from her role as the lovely servant Anna Bates, who was a rape survivor in the series Downton Abbey, as well as her role as another rape survivor in the ITV drama Liar.

Watch Dark Angel now

Why not celebrate these and other powerful female leads with a series marathon this Women’s Month on Showmax? If you have DStv Premium Showmax is available at no extra cost. If you’re on DStv Compact or Compact Plus get Showmax for just R49. Don’t have either? Sign up for a 14-day free trial now.


This post is sponsored by Showmax produced by Brandstudio24 for Channel24.

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