Featuring A Strong Female Lead: The Best Women On TV In 2018
Women have ruled TV in 2018.
The best television of 2018 has absolutely been dominated by women — it’s just a fact.
Tired: emotionally distant lady businessman with a short temper and substance reliance.
Wired: a cunning MI5 security officer queering TV’s het-male gaze by eating leftovers with her would-be killer.
This year has been quite the mixed bag for women in what I bitterly refer to as ‘real life’ — but for those of us who worship the dissociative shelter of scripted TV, our small screens glowed with blue light and relief.
While Netflix spruiked its ‘Featuring a Strong Female Lead’ taste cluster, despite Michelle Wolf’s delicious skewering, we saw a heap of new women characters arrive on all platforms.
The best of them moved past the Strong Female Character’s tropey restrictions and into more nuanced, complex territory.
In case you missed ’em, here are some of the strongest, strangest, most vulnerable and empathetic wom*n in the best television of 2018.
Leila: The Bisexual
Sometimes she’s painfully awkward. Sometimes she’s totally self-assured. But, for better or worse, Leila is always her unapologetic self.
Showrunner, director and star Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour) dismantles taboos in this perceptive series. She plays newly-single Leila, a brash young woman exploring heterosexual sex for the first time, after leaving her long-term partner.
Though her intersecting identities are largely shaped by her age, race and sexuality, the usual labels of ‘millennial’, ‘Iranian’, ‘American’ and ‘bisexual’ just won’t stick. Liminal Leila defines her own slice of queerness, and TV’s all the better for it.
Binge The Bisexual on Stan at your earliest convenience.
For more self-effacing strength during bitter break-ups, see Issa in Insecure (Foxtel On Demand).
Michelle and Chloë: Homecoming Queens
What’s stronger than a ferret for a patronus? Two best friends riffing on the physical and emotional impacts of living with chronic illness.
Homecoming Queens stars Michelle Law and Liv Hewson as ribald Brisbane babes Michelle and Chloë, respectively. In the first episode, Chloë stands in her backyard, flapping her chicken fillet at her mate, and says, “I can do what I want. I survived cancer.” Pretty much sets up the tone for this web series about wellness, friendship, beauty and bucket lists.
SBS On Demand’s first commissioned drama, the sitcom uses Aussie irreverence to transcend comparisons to shows like Broad City. It also draws on Law and Hewson’s true-life experiences, rendering characters who are relatable homegrown heroes.
Frankie Shaw is a singular talent. As creator, writer, director and star of bittersweet dramedy SMILF, she gives her character Bridgette a sharp tongue and bright wit — offset by self-doubt and a shaky moral compass (maybe don’t take your toddler to a horror film, or bump uglies with an ex while your kid’s asleep in the same bed).
But judging her choices defeats the show’s purpose. Bringing up baby Larry in South Boston, Bridge deals with underemployment and unfulfilled dreams. The long shadow of childhood trauma looms over every scene with her own mum, Tutu (MVP Rosie O’Donnell, whose turn as the family’s disillusioned matriarch is truly gutting).
SMILF portrays parenthood, class and transgenerational pain with the gentle pragmatism of a pin prick. Season one arrived on Stan in October and season two starts 21 January 2019.
Set in New York City, 1987, Pose vivifies the world of ‘ball culture’ — an underground LGBTQI+ soirée that celebrates dance, costume and the spirit of competition. Created by TV mogul Ryan Murphy, Pose features the largest ever cast of transgender actors in a scripted series, to date.
When Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) leaves the fictional House of Abundance to become the mother of her own abode, she has nothing and no one to count on but herself. She then single-handedly founds the House of Evangelista, soon welcoming her first wards Angel (Indya Moore) and Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), who’ve been disowned by their biological parents because of their identities.
Blanca’s compassion, patience and empathy shows how families are often built, not born. (The Christmas scenes in episode 3, ‘Giving and Receiving’, are poignant examples, if you’re emotionally fortified.) She’s a mother, dancer, stylist, protector, confidant and mentor to those who need her strength — all while processing her own diagnosis as an HIV-positive woman.
Everyone on Claws
The ties that bind by this rag-tag group of semi-professional crims brought me to tears roughly 983,582,395 times this year.
Led by dazzling Desna Simms (Niecy Nash for President), these Floridian nail techs break laws and hearts to take care of their own — and they look a million dollars in the process.
The cast boasts Judy Reyes (Scrubs) as the salon’s muscle Quiet Ann, and The Good Wife’s Carrie Preston as manicurist-cum-con-artist Polly. Former personal shopper Karrueche Tran is super endearing as Virginia, Desna’s mouthy apprentice who just wants to be wanted.
Claws has punched above its weight since it debuted in 2017. Season two kicked up a gear, culminating in this year’s cliff-hanger finale that proves women are tough as hell. Catch Claws on Stan. For more mums-with-guns dark comedy capers, see Bad Girls on Netflix.
Connie: Big Mouth
Look, Connie the Hormone Monstress has the best of intentions. It’s just that she’s a tad zealous when it comes to hedonistic pleasures like Cotton Candy Brandy and bubble baths.
Maya Rudolph lends her legendary pipes to Big Mouth’s brassiest broad (and a few other characters, to boot). Wild as she is, the progesterone junkie is hopelessly devoted to her precious little ravioli, Jessi. For two seasons, Connie’s done her darndest to steer her protégé into adolescence. With Big Mouth freshly renewed for a third season on Netflix, she shows no sign of stopping.
You can see Maya Rudolph take an introspective turn in Amazon Prime’s Forever (a 2018 highlight). For more kick-ass animated ladies on Netflix, watch She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
Eve: Killing Eve
Police assistance? I need to report a robbery. The fact that Sandra Oh didn’t take home the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series is an unsolved mystery worthy of Dennis Farina.
Sandra Oh’s Eve Polastri is the Strong Female Lead of my wildest dreams. She’s wily, determined, hilarious, shit-scared, looks bangin’ in a satin dress, probably gay. Hunting hitwoman Villanelle (Jodie Comer’s pink dress) in a tantalising game of cat-and-other-cat, she lives every true crime weirdo’s ultimate fantasy: chase a trained killer across Europe, eventually lay down with them for a nap.
Adapted for TV by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, binge Killing Eve on ABC iview, then smash her previous shows Fleabag (Amazon Prime) and Crashing (Netflix). You’re welcome.
Aimee Knight’s words appear on and in The Big Issue, Little White Lies, The Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings, Broadly and more. Dancing on stage with Bruce Springsteen didn’t cure her anxiety, but it sure did help.