Top Five Male Antihero TV Shows That’d Be Better Off Female

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We’re celebrating Autostraddle’s Fifth Birthday all month long by publishing a bunch of Top Fives. This is one of them!

I’ve never been super into TV, but this past year something in me snapped. Shows that centered around male antiheros were suddenly HUGE — I couldn’t get through a conversation without someone bringing up Breaking Bad. It wasn’t just me — other people were noticing too. My indifference towards most television turned into PASSIONATE LOATHING; I have had to spend so much of my real life with narcissistic dudes who thought their inner landscapes were the most fascinating thing in my life that I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to spend their free time on it. I get that the shows themselves present their protagonists as bad dudes, but acknowledging that you’re doing something annoying doesn’t make it not annoying. The only thing I did feel interested in was the women in the show — the Skyler White effect is so upsetting! The only way I’d ever be interested in watching any of these stupid shows would be if their female characters were upgraded from subplots to the main event. Actually that would be AWESOME.

1. Mad Women

Peggy, Joan and Dawn have suffered for years under the team of self-obsessed sociopathic manchildren they have to work with, and have finally reached the end of their collective rope. When they finally open up to each other, they realize that they share the same problems and can work together to end them. Via a complex strategy involving booby traps and capturing Don and Roger in one of their basements and sending Pete away to a reeducation program, they take over the office and run it themselves, instituting flex time and daycare on the premises. Yes, this is basically the exact plot of 9 to 5, which is why it would be excellent. Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda would have guest episodes.


2. First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage To A Terrifying Secret Kingpin

Skyler White already has things kind of rough — her husband has cancer, her sister is a kleptomaniac and also an incredibly annoying person, she’s having a baby, and also her hair is so great that it’s actually a burden. Then she starts to suspect that her husband is maybe using his cancer as an excuse to become a murderous self-mythologizing drug kingpin. Her suspicions are confirmed when he essentially forces her to help him and also constantly endangers their family and threatens her. All while dealing with abusive relationship patterns ratcheted up to an insane extreme, Skyler has to try to protect her children, constantly negotiate her safety with her awful husband and keep everything a secret from everyone else. Heroically, Skyler manages to concoct a plan along with Walter’s sometime partner Jesse to kill him and end the nightmare that her life has become. Skyler then buys herself a lake house with Walter’s money and also is crowned queen of a small principality that welcomes her with open arms and builds a statue of her; she goes on to give a series of TED talks about identifying and calling out abusive behaviors.


3. Oh My God Sherlock What Have You Done Now, Jesus Christ

England is forever indebted to the eccentric genius who sometimes solves their implausible national-level crimes, but is also burdened by him, because he’s outrageously narcissistic and obnoxious. In a lighthearted and clever farce recalling Dennis the Menace, Mrs. Hudson, Molly Hooper and, eventually, Mary are constantly running around London trying to clean up after this detective and his best bro who have no concept of how to interact with other humans and can’t even hold their liquor. When Sherlock and Watson take off on a harebrained caper to protect the Queen from an evil clickbait blogger and somehow leave three crashed cars, a broken engagement, a defaulted bank loan and a case of food poisoning in their wake, Mrs. Hudson and Molly have their work cut out for them. Later in the season, during “The Case of the Foreign Minister and the Biore Pore Strips,” Irene Adler gets called in to consult on what to do about the fact that they’ve trapped the duke’s infant son in a hot air balloon. At no point is Irene Adler required to have a romantic interest in Sherlock because Jesus have you seen Benedict Cumberbatch’s face, also see earlier re: narcissism. This concept is transferable to Elementary if you prefer.


4. Debra

A talented rising star in the Miami police force begins to realize, via her superior policing instincts, that her adoptive brother is maybe probably a serial killer. She has to struggle with complex moral and ethical conflicts as she deals with this knowledge, and in the meantime does a bunch of badass detective stuff. At no point does she have to be in a relationship with a serial killer or fall in love with her foster brother, because both those storylines are fucked up and unimaginative. Instead, she gets to do detective work that is unrelated to her romantic and personal life, and catches a million serial killers. Her crowning achievement as a detective is when she successfully outwits the What Would You Do For A Klondike Killer, after which she is given the keys to the city and a lifetime supply of Klondike bars. Mariska Hargitay guest stars for that arc, and once it resolves she and Debra go on a cruise together. Season Eight never occurs.


5. Mistress of the House

Dean of Medicine Lisa Cuddy and hot supercompetent openly bisexual doctor “Thirteen” team up to try to control a giant asshole of a doctor who they have to put up with because he occasionally manages to be good at his job despite his overwhelming failure of a personality. In the meantime, they develop a healthy and nuanced female friendship in which they discuss issues related to their careers and inner life and Thirteen’s dating life, which isn’t portrayed as deviant or fetishized, and only occasionally mention House. When Thirteen discovers and cures a previously unheard of disease that causes your liver to consume all the other organs inside the body every time a Gilbert & Sullivan song is played, she is crowned Queen of Doctors. Cuddy adopts a local shelter cat. The two of them run a successful fundraiser to buy Wilson a personality. Every episode ends with Cuddy and Thirteen getting late-night pancakes at a 24-hour diner, rehashing the events of the episode and strengthening their friendship. Thirteen likes chocolate chip pancakes while Cuddy likes plain with blueberry syrup.


Header Image by Rory Midhani

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. omg literally the other day (is that an oxymoron?) i was wishing someone would write ‘debra’ (i mean the show, not just the word) thankyou so much

    • I can think of Cersei from Game of Thrones/ASoiaF and Alex from Orange is the New Black, but they’re antiheroes only in the loose sense of the word (neither is particularity heroic) and don’t match up with the wish-fullfilly character type lampooned in this excellent article. I also love byronic, tormented antihero types, but it’s so easy to turn them into overblown wish-fulfillment fantasies, which translates into a lot of annoying, self-centered men on TV.

  2. I wish you would write for tv and create shows with drama and comedy with women as the main characters. Your piece really highlighted to me that I am not alone in being very bored with House played by Hugh Laurie, Sherlock by Jonny, and Benedict (missing comedy/irony/sensitivity/lets just go there no personality) Cumberbatch?Cumberpatch?Cabbagepatch?

    I just wish that these dramas when they feature people were well written, and revolved around women. I have wished this for a long time. And not just prison dramas – that is not the only place of note where women come together and be real. This is good Caroline.

  3. I want all of this to be made. Also if you want a misanthropic female detective show try Vera, a fairly recent British show about a curmudgeonly female police detective, and if you haven’t seen the Bletchley Circle you should. Women solving all the things!

    • The Danish show “Forbrydelsen” is also really really good! Just try to forget that they ever adapted it into “The Killing” and you’ll be okay.

    • Love both those shows! Bletchley Circle is also one of the most feminist british crime shows that I’ve watched.


    though somehow I feel like transferring #3 to Elementary would just involve Watson dealing with saving the world while dodging Moriarty’s psychotic affections. Which is p much the plot of Elementary already.

      • Dormer is Moriarty?? Holy shit, my heart stopped for a second. I have to watch this show NOW.

        • She’s only been in 4 episodes, I think, but they have a permanent spot on my dvr. She is absolutely brilliant.

  5. I love the show Sons of Anarchy even though I know that fact alone probably loses me about a million feminist points, but I often wonder what would happen if the female characters were actually allowed to take over. I mean, Gemma often does to an extent (but she’s also arguably the worst person on the show), but, like, if Tara, Wendy, and Lilah were actually allowed to be as smart and cunning and level-headed as they are without constantly being either killed or foiled by their completely insane attachment to the godforsaken motorcycle gang.

    • Oh, and if the women were actually allowed to drive the motorcycles. Because chicks on bikes are pretty much the hottest thing in existence.

  6. Haha these are all great–I’d totally watch them. It isn’t just TV shows–I came up with an alternate Batman plot after seeing and feeling really angry about what happens to Rachel in The Dark Knight. Instead of being pointlessly blown up so that Batman can have more manpain, the ADA Rachel survives being kidnapped. Her ordeal causes her to reconsider her strategy for improving Gotham by being a defense attorney, and while taking some time off she realizes that there are lots of people trying to improve Gotham through community action and electoral politics. Rachel spends the next several decades working with a diverse coalition of Gotham citizens and leaders to improve Gotham’s schools and public transportation, fight police corruption, increase small business opportunities, create jobs, and get some damn streetlights already. Thanks to community empowerment, better educational opportunities, and smart policies, Gotham ceases to be moodily lit and crime-ridden. Rachel is too busy to date Bruce Wayne and maybe goes out with a civil engineer or something instead and has a happy life and gets elected mayor at some point. Batman doesn’t have much to do except scare the sh*t out of people who litter or park in front of fire hydrants.

    • I don’t think that I can truly explain the brilliance of this post in words because…YES! First of all manpain made me LOL so much. I’m going to legitimately use this word a lot even if it doesn’t make sense. Second of all I agree so much about Rachel’s mature and actually workable plan. This would actually work! Yeah it’s all fun to punch out sociopaths with face painting but does it actually solve the issue of crime in this city? Being that baddies keep showing up forever I think we know the answer. No it doesn’t. Of course as in real life if you want real progress it’s going to take a long time. It’s not going to be overnight. Hell it’s not going to be during one office term. It might take decades. Of course that’s not as fun as punching dudes in clown makeup.

      Also engineers are hot.

  7. I’m really glad that I’m not the only one who feels this way about Benedict Cumberbatch’s face.

    • Attractive or not (I’m on team yes but understand the opposition) BC actually seems like a pretty awesome human, as far as celebrities go.

      • Yeah I read an article on him and he seems alright. I can never get his name right, or anyone elses, for that matter.

      • His fans have dubbed themselves “Cumberbitches” which embarrasses him mightily. I think he’s terrific and that his Sherlock is really amazing.

  8. my hatred for benadryl cucumber aside, this article completely reignited my fierce love for the characters lisa cuddy and thirteen who were SKEWERED by the writers of that show, and reminded me of all the angry injustices i felt as a teenage girl fan of house who couldn’t stand the way the ladies got shoved around.

    i will say this about mad men though (ugh, mad men stan for life I’M SORRY GUYS) — the show pretty much poses peggy as the star as much as it does don, maybe even MORE SO than don at this point. we were a bit devoid of the joan episodes last season but seasons before that had her getting as much screentime as anyone else. the ladies are VERY MUCH their own on mad men, to the point where i have 9 times out of 10 praised this show for how it handled the leading ladies. dawn unfortunately didn’t get tons of screentime this season, but none of the secondary characters got lots of screentime this season because it was more about the downfall of the agency heads and the “lead players” of the first season being brought to their knees. idk idk i have a lot of feelings about mad men and most of those feelings are that people who think the show is glorifying the antihero of don draper have not watched the show. because it’s wringing don draper out to dry, every episode since maybe episode 6 of the first season. he is a dried out husk of a person at this point because he’s also an allegory for the fall of 1950s masculinity and the ladies are rising to the top in his place. IT’S AWESOME EVERYONE WATCH THIS SHOW

    • Yes, agreed about the primacy of Peggy. And also, for instance, Megan! And, for that matter, Sally! Also agree, though, that the first season seems to have defined how the show gets used in lazy pop-culture references. It took me a long time to get on board with it precisely because it did come off so schematically as a Troubled But Suave Male Antihero Show at first.

    • ‘Benadryl Cucumber’ had me in hysterics! Thank you so much for writing that, you’ve made my day.

  9. Well, now I just want to watch Cuddy and Thirteen go for pancakes and talk about stuff and competently solve medical mysteries without suffering from personality fail. Irene Adler can join them too.

  10. This list pretty much just crystallizes why I’ve never watched the man-led versions.

  11. You are a genius. Also I want to see Mistress of the House so bad. In the end, I want House to die as a fire, and for a doctor to immediately declare “it looks like he died in a fire.’

  12. I love how many people get crowned in your re-imaginings. Also I would watch Debra a thousand times (Season 8 never happens lmao). Did anyone else have confusing crushes on Jennifer Carpenter before they came out??

  13. I am going to be honest and say that I had a huge rant post about the horrible General Hospital characters of Sonny Corinthos and Jason Morgan. Wow are they horrible and the biggest example of how a male anti hero on a soap opera is a bad idea. This is especially true when the head writers generally hate women. Any strong woman on the show is broken down and destroyed to the degree of being irredeemable. General Hospital could be a great show if they had a decent female anti hero that didn’t feel that they needed to sacrifice their dignity for a man who has no respect for women. Claudia Zacchara played by the swoonworthy Sarah Brown had that chance. Wow did they destroy her character.

    Then again any woman involved with Sonny Corinthos has this happen to her.

  14. There’s posts on tumblr of fem!lock where sherlock is played by eva green while watson is carey mulligan and they’re wonderful.

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