The Best Female Leads on TV

Our online manager (and TV addict) Nina Kenwood picks out her favourite female leads on TV right now.


With the end of Breaking Bad, I say let us now also bring to an end the era of the male anti-hero.

Look, I loved Breaking Bad as much as the next person, but I am tired of talking about Walter White, Don Draper, Dexter Morgan, Tony Soprano, Nucky Thompson, Francis Underwood, Raylan Givens and all the other flawed men that have dominated our TV screens over the past decade.

Instead, I want to spend some time celebrating all the brilliant female leads currently on TV because I don’t think they get the attention, accolades or analysis that they deserve. Here are five of my current favourites:


Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife


AliciaFlorrickI love Alicia Florrick.

I love every difficult, screwed-up, fraught decision she makes, and I love watching her work. Because that is essentially what The Good Wife is about – watching a smart, tough lawyer work hard and really, truly enjoy the work she’s doing.

Sure, Alicia has plenty of romantic and emotional entanglements, but the heart of the show is watching an ambitious woman take control of her messy, imperfect life and build a successful career for herself.

And it makes for wonderfully satisfying viewing.


Olivia Pope, *Scandal*


OliviaPopeI’m a recent convert to Scandal, a truly insane, addictive show that runs at such a break-neck pace and burns through so much plot that I’m often left feeling shell-shocked by the end of an episode.

The lead character, and the person everyone other character spins off, is Olivia Pope. Olivia is a ‘fixer’, who smooths over scandals for high-profile people. She also happens to lead a secret-filled, potentially scandalous life herself.

Olivia runs her own business, solves other people’s problems, mentors her staff, saves lives, starts and ends other people’s careers, investigates crimes and has the most amazing wardrobe of clothes I’ve ever seen.

In short, she’s basically superwoman - and so much fun to watch.


Leslie Knope, *Parks and Recreation*


Leslie_Knope Leslie Knope is the true opposite of the male anti-hero. She’s warm, funny, good-hearted, a great friend, a loving wife and a devoted employee.

You’d think this would make her boring, but actually, it’s the opposite. It turns out you can be a good person and still be entertaining, crazy, adventurous and hilarious.

Leslie has plenty of flaws, of course – she’s a bossy, workaholic, obsessive, sugar-addicted control-freak – but these flaws serve to give her character depth (and humour). The end result is that Leslie Knope is perhaps one of the most lovable characters on television.


Mindy Lahiri, *The Mindy Project*


MindyLahiri I’m a big fan of Mindy Kaling (her memoir Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? is highly recommended) and so I was excited for see what she would do with her sitcom.

And I’m the first to admit it – the show is pretty much a big mess. The characters, tone and storylines are often all over the place, and not everything works. But when it does work, it’s hilarious, and the one thing holding the show together is the main character of Mindy – a smart, neurotic doctor with a messy personal life.

There is a lot of hype around the ground-breaking work of Lena Dunham with Girls, particularly around Lena’s willingness to feature her unconventional (by television standards – perfectly regular in real life) body type. But I actually think The Mindy Project is doing far more ground-breaking work in this regard – Mindy Lahiri is the first curvy, female Indian American character to headline a popular sitcom. The show regularly addresses issues of race and body size as part of its story-lines (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) and, most importantly, it’s always interesting and entertaining viewing.


Elizabeth Jennings, *The Americans*


ElizabethJenningsThis one is a bit of a cheat, because The Americans has two leads – Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings. The show is set in the 1980s, and Elizabeth and Phillip are KGB spies working undercover in America, posing as husband and wife. (Except they’ve had two kids together, and over the years their sham marriage has merged into something more like a real marriage.)

Elizabeth is a fascinating, complex character. She’s brutal, cold, reserved and obsessively devoted to her cause. At the same time she struggles with her desire to love someone, to feel connected, overcome the traumas of her past and find a way to properly live a double-life.

I love this show – along with Orange is the New Black, it is my favourite new series of 2013 – and Keri Russell’s nuanced portrayal of Elizabeth is a big reason I enjoyed it so much.


Honourable mentions


Selina Meyer on Veep, Rayna Jaymes on Nashville, Birgitte Nyborg on Borgen, Carrie Mathison on Homeland, Hannah Horvath on Girls, Sarah Manning on Orphan Black, Stella Gibson on The Fall, Robin on Top of the Lake, Jessica Day on New Girl, Tessa Altman on Suburgatory and the entire cast of Orange is the New Black.

(See? It really is the era of the talented female lead.)


Nina Kenwood is the Online Manager for Readings.