Whether they’re wielding lightsabers, surviving an apocalypse, confronting dark secrets of their past or finding their feet at court, strong female characters abound on television in 2023.
In the months ahead, women are making more TV herstory with performances we just can’t miss, whether it’s Caitriona Balfe returning as matriarch and series anchor Claire in Starz’s Outlander season 7, Jean Smart finding her second comedy wind as Deborah Vance in Hacks season 3, or India Ria Amarteifio and Arsema Thomas becoming ton leaders in the highly anticipated Bridgerton prequel series Queen Charlotte.
To close out Women’s History Month, Rotten Tomatoes offers this guide to a few can’t-miss women’s performances that will keep you glued to your TV for the rest of the year.
Ahsoka: Season 1 (Disney+)
(Photo by Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Rosario Dawson made the dreams of Clone Wars fans come true when she brought the live-action version of Ahsoka Tano to life in The Mandalorian season 2 and the inaugural outing of The Book of Boba-Fett. In the coming months (release date TBD), her own series, Ahsoka, will “more deeply explore” who the character is at “this point in her life,” Dawson has said. We can’t wait to see more of her Jedi knight skills as Ashoka investigates “an emerging threat to a vulnerable galaxy,” per Disney+.
Speaking of dangerous women, Fishback kicks up a storm of emotion with her performance as Dre, a celebrity-obsessed serial killer. While the character’s choices may be difficult to comprehend and her actions hard to watch, Fishback’s delivery has critics raving: “Fishback adds dimension and humanity to an inscrutable character with a nuance that elevates the series,” Shamira Ibrahim of BuzzFeed News wrote. The series is now streaming in its entirety on Prime Video.
In the Fleetwood Mac-esque tale Daisy Jones & the Six, based on Taylor Jenkins Reid’s book of the same name, Riley Keogh masterfully manages the task of playing the titular singer as she goes from unknown to superstardom. Throughout the series, Keough finds a way to make Daisy truly enigmatic as the ‘70s rock band frontwoman who makes musical history (thanks to her musical chemistry with Sam Claflin’s Billy Dunne), before dropping out of the limelight. Catch her performance in the 10-episode miniseries, with new episodes available every Friday on Prime Video, through March 24.
(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)
Anyone who saw Ramsey’s debut as a pre-teen Lady Lyanna Mormont, head of House Mormont, in Game of Thrones, knew she was destined for great things. And the actor (who identifies as gender fluid, but was OK with writers using she/her pronouns in recent articles) hasn’t disappointed. Ramsey continues to bring that fierce, independent streak to many of her characters, most recently the infected Ellie Williams, currently surviving a post-apocalyptic world alongside fellow GoT alum Pedro Pascal in HBO’s The Last of Us. (See the trailer here.) There’s a time jump in season 2, but we have no doubt the 19-year-old can play 25 without breaking a sweat (unless the role requires it, of course).
After spending the last decade voicing Bo-Katan Kryze in the animated Clone Wars, sci-fi queen Katee Sackhoff came full circle when she began playing the live-action version of Bo-Katan in The Mandalorian’s second season. Season 3 sees her playing the character again, and Sackhoff already had us cheering when she saved Mando’s life after he found himself tangled up with a Mythosaur. And there’s clearly more of Bo-Katan — and her complexities — on the way, though Sackhoff hinted (in the above video), “I don’t know if you’re going to root for her” in the episodes still to come.
The Roys wouldn’t be half as fun to watch were it not for Snook’s Shiv, the lone daughter of media impresario Logan Roy (Bryan Cox), and Waystar Royco’s general counsel Gerri, played by Smith-Cameron. Shiv brings the unpredictability the show thrives on as she frequently changes allegiances and navigates a bizarre married life with that bonehead Tom (Matthew MacFayden), while Smith-Cameron is the Roys’ much-needed steady loyalist. And let us not forget Gerri’s chemistry with younger man Roman (Kieran Culkin) is off the charts. Can season 4, now underway on HBO and HBO Max, please not be the show’s last?
Nadia Sinh is as badass as she is beautiful, and from what we’ve seen in the trailers for Citadel so far, Chopra Jonas infuses the character with an addictive watchability. The series kicks off a global project for producers the Russo brothers and Prime Video, with storylines set in Italy and India already in production. Richard Madden costars with Chopra Jones in the debut series, which premieres April 28 and features Stanley Tucci and Lesley Manville.
This summer brings the seventh season of Outlander, anchored once again by Balfe’s time-traveling nurse-turned-doctor Claire Fraser. The actress has had to portray so many devastating moments on the show across the seasons, and also the core ever-burning sexy love story between Claire and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). Starz recently confirmed season 8 will be the show’s last and undoubtedly, Balfe will fill the final two seasons with performances to remember. (Now how about some Emmy nomination love?)
Smart and Einbinder are pitch-perfect as older comic Deborah Vance and her not-very-professional assistant Ava, respectively, in one of the best HBO Max series to date, Hacks. Season 2 had us belly laughing at the women’s performances as Deborah sued Ava after she broke their non-disclosure agreement by telling a comedy TV producer what Deborah was really like. The actresses also left us misty-eyed watching Ava read her nasty email ripping Deborah apart at the diner. Now that the characters have worked out some kinks in their relationship — and Deborah’s new show material — the sky’s the limit in season 3, especially with these two actresses in the lead.
Golda Roshuevel’s delicious portrayal of the gossip-hungry ton leader made her character, the royal Queen Charlotte, a breakout of Bridgerton season 1. Equally delightful was Adjoa Andoh as the lovingly manipulative Lady Danbury. This May on Netflix, Amarteifio and Thomas imagine the young Charlotte and Lady Danbury in a prequel series. From the trailer of this Shonda Rhimes–helmed show, these actresses are already delivering the goods, bringing the spirit and some pre-polished shine of two of the franchise’s most beloved characters.
Secret Invasion: Season 1 (Disney+)
(Photo by Marvel Studios)
Two of Britain’s biggest female television stars — Game of Thrones alum Clarke and former The Crown queen (and Oscar winner for The Favourite) Colman (pictured) — are ready to launch Marvel’s Secret Invasion. (See the trailer here.) Plot details are thin for the Disney+ show, but from the teaser, it appears the women will join Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in fighting off the Skrulls, who have infiltrated Earth. It’s exciting to see the actresses in the same series, and we can only hope there will be a number of scenes between them.
Black-D’Elia navigated a tricky story arc with the character Samantha Fink in the first season of Freeform’s drama. While playing a young woman in recovery from alcoholism, the actress had to find a way to balance the series’ comedy (like those flashback blackout nights at the club) with heart-wrenching stories about trying to maintain a sober life — and adulting (while living with a mom who doesn’t get it). Black-D’Elia has more of that on her plate when season 2 premieres on April 12 on the network (the following day all episodes drop on demand and on Hulu), and we are here for it.
The Bridgerton franchise is giving us the Queen Charlotte origin story at the same time that PBS’ Masterpiece offers us Marie Antoinette’s. In Masterpiece’s case, Schüle takes on the young future France royal. In what’s set to be her breakout role, Schüle plays the young Austrian archduchess, who leaves her home to marry the Dauphin of France (eventually Louis XVI). Beginning March 19, viewers can watch Schüle play the queen long before she became the most stylish and copied woman among the French nobles, and her extravagant spending made her an enemy of the people, eventually landing her in the guillotine.
(Photo by Frank Ockenfels/FX)
Edebiri is a kitchen culinary queen as Sydney in FX on Hulu’s comedy, which returns in June for its second season. The first season saw her showing off Syd’s fearlessness as she stood her ground in the kitchen working alongside a team full of shouty and oftentimes angry men. Now that she’s returned to the Beef and Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) has mended fences, we can’t wait to watch her deliver dialogue where she swoons over food and high-end restaurants.
Cooper is a funny and creative Brit who is ready to show off her talents Stateside as the star of Hulu’s new comedy-thriller, which she also co-wrote. Premiering April 11, the series sees Cooper showcasing her forte for comedy, as she plays a paranoid mom named Nic, who can’t crack the cool moms club at her son’s school, and is absolutely nowhere close to adulthood as she deals with grief following the loss of someone close. Bonus points for giving this series a thriller twist when Nic befriends another mom who secretly films Nic making a confession, and is quite probably not who she appears to be. Get a double dose of Cooper this year with her HBO Max series Rain Dogs, which has a 100% Tomatometer score.
After her stunning television debut in WandaVision on Disney+, Olsen’s next TV project is for HBO Max, a limited true crime series that focuses on the Candy Montgomery story (also recently depicted in Hulu’s Candy). As the trailer hints, Olsen is about to bring trouble as Candy, a housewife who lights a spark when she seeks out an extramarital affair with the husband of another churchgoer. It all leads to a raging confrontation and an ax murder in a small town in Texas. Olsen’s second TV project kicks off with a three-episode premiere on Thursday, April 27, with additional episodes dropping weekly.
The Morning Show’s Powley shows the incredible heroic courage of one person — Miep Gies — a Dutch secretary who, emboldened by the dark times of World War II, hides the Frank family from the Nazis for two years. But following her conscience and doing what is right also causes conflict with her new husband for not talking him through her brave decision (which puts them both in peril). The National Geographic series for Disney+ also features Boulet, who plays famous journal writer Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl trying to find joy in life during dark times.
(Photo by Christian Black/Hulu)
Two seasons in and we just can’t get enough of Fanning’s take on empress Catherine in Hulu’s historical comedy. In her quest to wrest power from her husband Peter (Nicholas Hoult), we’ve seen her mastermind schemes that haven’t quite gotten the gorgeous royal to where she wants to be. Fanning confirmed season 3 finished filming last year — Huzzah! — so there’s not long to wait until we see the actress bringing the funny, clever, gorgeously costumed, sometimes manipulative, and most recently a murderess, to life once again.
Garner is delivering pure Alias vibes in the trailer for her new Apple TV+ series. The show, based on Laura Dave’s bestseller, sees Garner starring as Hannah, a woman whose husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) disappears, leaving a big mystery that forces her to forge a relationship with her teenage daughter to figure out exactly what is going on. Gripping thriller-type drama is Garner’s sweet spot, so we’ll definitely tune in when the show premieres (with two episodes) April 14 on Apple TV+.
(Photo by Katrina Marcinowski/HBO Max)
After HBO Max pulled the plug on Minx as filming on season 2 wrapped up, Starz swept in to save the comedy, which stars British actress Lovibond. As the show’s center — Joyce — Lovibond nails her performance as a 1970s feminist, overachiever and editor-in-chief of Minx, a magazine for the modern woman that happens to feature nude male centerfolds. Lovibond excels when Joyce lets Jake Johnson’s Doug get under her skin. The performances in this show are both hilarious and complex — from Lennon Parham’s sexually unsatisfied mom (and Joyce’s big sis) to Jessica Lowe’s not-really-ditzy Bambi, part-time nude model and growing Minx contributor. And Idara Victor’s Tina storyline hooked us even more when some of her past secrets began to unravel.
American treasure Hahn plays Clare, a woman recruited by an old editor to write an advice column, just as her family life falls apart in Hulu’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Based on Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling collection of novels, the series also stars another American treasure, Merritt Wever, who will surely bring a big heart to Clare’s mom in flashbacks as Clare looks back on pivotal moments in her life. With the show dealing with reflection, parental loss, teenage rebellion, marriage woes, and personal growth and toplined by Hahn, we’ve got our tissues at the ready for the show’s April 7 premiere on Hulu.
Fans of female-fronted stories can still look forward to the 10-episode drama Three Women, which heads to Starz after Showtime dropped it pre-premiere. Based on show creator Lisa Taddeo’s bestseller of the same name, the series introduces us to three women — Gilpin’s Lina, Wise’s Sloane, and Creevy’s Maggie — who are all about to have their lives upturned. It’s a show exploring female desire, with Woodley playing a grieving writer who convinces each of the women to tell their stories — one of which includes some steamy adultery — leading to deep reveals. There’s no premiere date yet, but that won’t stop the anticipation for these actresses to disrupt our emotions on a weekly basis.
It’s impossible to get enough of Gilpin, who makes her second appearance on this list with Peacock series Mrs. Davis, premiering April 20. The trailer for this original series from producers Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof is, in a word, bonkers, as Gilpin plays a nun tasked with taking down an AI named Mrs. Davis. The show looks to be sailing into uncharted TV territory, but it’s undoubtedly in safe hands with Gilpin at the mast.
(Photo by HBO)
The Gilded Age’s look at the turn-of-the-century conflict between old money and new in New York City became addictive television largely due to its impressive female cast. The Good Fight’s Christine Baranski brought snobby perfection to her role as Agnes Van Rhijn, while The Leftovers alum Carrie Coon was en pointe as new-monied social-climber Bertha Russell. Creator Julian Fellowes knows how to write for women, and the cast, which also includes Louisa Jacobson, Cynthia Nixon, Denée Benton, and Taissa Farmiga, has made this drama truly addictive. No official premiere date has been announced yet for season 2, but we expect it later this year on HBO.
Australian actress Sophie Wilde is poised to breakout with her role as Sophia Western, the true love of the titular character, roguish Tom Jones (House of the Dragon’s Solly McLeod). Based on the 18th-century novel The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, don’t expect Wilde’s Sophia to be a lovelorn lass lamenting the wild ways of Tom. The four-episode drama premieres April 30 on Masterpiece on PBS.
Since she first made her mark Stateside, starring as Elizabeth in Starz’s 2013 historical drama The White Queen, Ferguson has largely stuck to film (Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, The Greatest Showman). She’s taking a trip to an underground silo, however, in the upcoming Apple TV+ drama based on Hugh Howey’s best-selling trilogy. Ferguson is an executive producer in the show and stars as engineer Juliette who investigates a solve a murder, which leads to a complex underground mystery in the community of Earth’s last survivors. We’ll be sure to dig into this one beginning June 23.
Thumbnail image: Prime Video, Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios