8 shows featuring our favourite female cops
Wow. Type “women crime fighters on TV” into Google and the first result is “TV’s sexiest crime fighters”. There’s also a link for the “hottest”. Not quite what I had in mind, Google. Objectifying much, there?
To be fair, it’s not Google’s fault – it’s more an indication of how patriarchal television portrays its female characters; swap it for “male” or “men” and you get hits about cop buddies and articles about how they are glorified on the small screen – many pieces along this line have been written since the George Floyd tragedy.
This got really political, really fast, so let’s take a moment to step back and have a look at some of the top law enforcement series you can stream with strong women in lead roles (who are not Charlie’s Angels, and they do not do their jobs in bikinis – though Jennifer Lopez is in the mix, to be fair).
While we’re at it, let’s have a shout out to the women who fought hard to be recognised in the police force in positions other than as secretaries and coffee-fetchers, and to carry that badge with pride.
James Spader plays Red Reddington, a high-profile criminal on the FBI’s most wanted list. After being at large for decades, he agrees to turn himself in, along with a treasure trove of secrets – on one condition: that he work with a rookie FBI profiler, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).
Over the seven seasons that have already aired (six of them currently available), his reasons for this were revealed, and Agent Keen demonstrated she was more than up for the task. Blacklist has been renewed for an eighth season.
Episode 1 opens strongly with the upbeat rockabilly tune, Matchbox by Carl Perkins, and a feisty exchange between Felicity Dill (Michele Weaver) and a pants-less tenant about overdue rent. Moments later, her car explodes, with her inside it.
Enter her sister, Allegra Dill, played by Rosario Dawson (Jane The Virgin), an investigator (for a Senator) who returns to her small hometown in Texas to find out who killed Felicity, or had her killed – and why. Briarpatch comes from the creators of Mr Robot, and is based on a novel by Ross Thomas.
Look out for guest appearances by Alan Cumming and Ed Asner. New episodes weekly.
Olivia Colman (The Crown, Fleabag) stars as DC (Detective Constable) Ellie Miller alongside David Tennant’s DI (Detective Inspector) Alec Hardy as they investigate the death of an 11-year-old boy in the fictional English town of Broadchurch in Dorset.
The series ran for three seasons, although only Season 1 is available on Netflix in South Africa. The impact of the murder on the boy’s family, and how they react to the extensive media coverage, is as much part of the series as finding the killer. While Season 2 builds on the first, the third season focuses on a different crime.
The eighth and final season is currently airing on M-Net 101 (with two episodes a time allowed on DStv Now), and the previous seven are streaming on Netflix (Season 4 was shot on location in Cape Town). Claire Danes stars as Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent with bipolar.
In the first season, she believed US Marine Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis, Billions) had been turned by Al-Qaeda, and set out to prove it. Carrie’s career takes many turns over the duration of the series but you can be pretty sure at some point she’ll don a scarf and do something she isn’t supposed to.
Law & Order SVU (Amazon Prime)
One of the most successful franchises in modern television history, this long-running series comes from the Dick Wolf stable – which shows no signs of closing any time soon.
In Special Victims Unit (dun-dun) the team investigates heinous crimes of a sexual nature. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) is one of the best female cops ever, and the show has seen her career trajectory from lead detective to commanding officer, never once veering from her empathy for the victims and her pursuit of justice.
Line of Duty (Netflix)
Wildly popular, this series has been counted among the 50 best BBC Two shows of all time. In the first season we are introduced to an anti-corruption unit, AC-12, and the internal affairs investigation of Tony Gates (Lennie James, The Walking Dead).
The woman cop in this scenario is Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), an undercover specialist who will uncover (sorry) the rot in her own department as well as the rest of the force. Four seasons are on Showmax, and the fifth on Netflix.
The first thing to know about Marcella, the TV detective played by Anna Friel in her eponymous 2016 ITV series, is that it’s pronounced Mar-chella as in cherry, not Mar-cella as in Marcel Marceau. Lock that down and you’re on your way, says Den Of Geek.
“The next thing to know about Marcella is that she suffers from dissociative fugue, a psychiatric disorder that causes her to enter an amnesiac, often violent state at moments of intense stress. This means that Marcella can suddenly wake up after several hours utterly baffled as to what’s happened or why, much like the viewer after the series one finale.”
With three seasons to stream, this confusion doesn’t seem to have got any better; Radio Times answered some questions about Season 2, and Decider clears up some of the third season, while pondering if there’ll be a fourth.
Based on true events – which became a Pultizer-winning article – this limited series begins with the rape of 18-year-old Marie, which she reports to the police. Picking apart her story, they find inconsistencies, and when confronted with them, Marie admits it could have all been a vivid dream.
Later, she said she’d made it up, and faced charges in court for this gross misdemeanour, punishable by up to a year in jail. Marie took a deal, which seemed like the path of least resistance at the time. She just wanted to go home.