7 best shows with female leads to stream right now

Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel in Gilmore Girls
(Image credit: Alamy)

In an ideal world, there would be no need to write an article about the best shows with female leads, just as there’s no need to write a similar article about shows with male leads. But male characters have been the default protagonists of TV shows for decades, placing extra burdens on creators and stars when a series is centered on a female character.

Still, women have taken on lead roles in popular and influential shows since the early days of TV, and the opportunity to see female characters at the forefront has increased substantially in recent years. There’s still a long way to go, but for now, here are seven great shows to check out, led by fascinating, compelling female characters.

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) was created specifically as a response to the typical helpless female characters in horror movies, who are presented as disposable fodder for villains. She’s a bubbly teenage blonde who’s also the chosen one, imbued with special powers to take down vampires and other supernatural threats. Buffy has plenty of allies in her mission to keep her California town of Sunnydale safe, including her best friend Willow (Alyson Hannigan), a shy nerd who eventually becomes a powerful witch.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” features a large ensemble cast of male and female characters, but powerful women like Buffy and Willow are always leading the way in the fight against evil. Gellar makes Buffy a strong leader and a fierce fighter while finding room for her to be clever, sweet and emotionally open, too.

Watch on Hulu

'Veronica Mars'

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The classic hard-boiled detective is a male loner, but Kristen Bell’s title character in “Veronica Mars” is a teenage girl with a reliable support system. She still embodies many familiar hard-boiled qualities, in her cynical attitude, her keen eye for detail, and her ubiquitous, jaded voiceover narration. For Veronica, the world of high school is just as treacherous as the seedy underworld of vintage detective stories.

Veronica’s dad (Enrico Colantoni) is her biggest supporter, and he’s an actual private detective, reluctantly allowing his daughter to help with cases. Veronica is just as capable of solving crimes, and she gains respect thanks to her powers of deduction and her refusal to back down. That carries past the show’s initial three seasons into a revival featuring adult Veronica, still solving crimes and even more hard-boiled than when she was a teenager.

Watch on Hulu

'Bewitched'

Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery) may be a housewife in a 1960s sitcom, but she’s clearly the one in charge of her marriage to advertising executive Darrin (played by Dick York in early seasons and Dick Sargent in later seasons). That’s because Samantha is a powerful witch who would easily be able to bend her husband to her will, or solve all of their petty suburban middle-class problems — if she wanted to.

Despite these great powers, Samantha chooses to live a simple life with Darrin, although since “Bewitched” is a sitcom, that simple life is complicated by various factors, both mundane and magical, in each episode. Samantha’s meddling mother Endora (Agnes Moorehead) may disapprove of Samantha’s marriage, but Samantha lives on her own terms, balancing the mortal and magical worlds and keeping her house in order.

Watch on Freevee

'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend'

Star and co-creator Rachel Bloom reclaims the label of “crazy ex-girlfriend” for this creative and hilarious musical comedy series about a self-destructive lawyer who impulsively moves across the country after a chance meeting with a man she once had a crush on as a teenager. Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) is unstable and overbearing, but she’s also friendly and fun, and her journey toward establishing healthier relationships is affecting and heartfelt.

Bloom isn’t afraid to take Rebecca and the show’s supporting cast to some dark places, but it’s all wrapped up in lavish, catchy musical numbers that are worthy of a big-screen Broadway adaptation. In a show about intense, complex emotions, breaking into song is often the only way Rebecca and the other characters can truly express themselves.

Watch on Netflix

'Roseanne'

It would be an understatement to call Roseanne Barr problematic, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of her pioneering eponymous sitcom. In an era when seemingly every mildly popular stand-up comedian was getting their own sitcom, “Roseanne” stood out for its honest portrayal of Midwestern blue-collar family life, rather than urban singlehood. Barr plays the matriarch of a loud but loving Illinois family, with John Goodman as her contractor husband Dan and Laurie Metcalf as her neurotic sister Jackie.

The Conner family faces real-life working-class issues as Roseanne and Dan work multiple jobs while raising their three kids, and Barr’s biting humor spares no one. “Roseanne” loses its way in its final seasons, but most of it is a funny, unsparing showcase for Barr’s unique comedic voice.

Watch on Peacock

'Gilmore Girls'

There may not be a better mother-daughter relationship in the history of TV than the deep connection between the title characters of “Gilmore Girls.” In the impossibly quaint Connecticut town of Stars Hollow, innkeeper Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) raises her teenage daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) as more of a best friend than a parent. That lets creator Amy Sherman-Palladino write ingenious, witty exchanges between the two, and it also highlights the difficulties of blurring the line between parenting and friendship.

“Gilmore Girls” is driven by its fast, whip-smart dialogue, from Lorelai and Rory as well as from the supporting cast, but it’s not just about dazzling repartee. Lorelai and Rory endure various family and romantic travails, but their bond never breaks, and the show is a wonderful tribute to the powerful love between a mother and daughter.

Watch on Netflix

'Murder, She Wrote'

Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) is both a brilliant writer and a brilliant detective, and she seems to fulfill both roles effortlessly, churning out best-selling mystery novels and solving baffling cases with casual ease. Lansbury brings a sense of authority to her performance as Jessica, while mixing in some playfulness, especially in the more lighthearted cases of the week.

There’s a running joke that Jessica’s seemingly sleepy hometown of Cabot Cove, Maine, must be the murder capital of the world, since people are constantly dropping dead, but it somehow retains its cozy charms. Jessica travels well beyond Cabot Cove and solves murder mysteries wherever she goes, always one step ahead of whichever criminal makes the mistake of underestimating this unassuming older lady.

Watch on Peacock

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Josh Bell
Writer

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.