These are shows to watch if you like Veronica Mars, pre Season 4. They are not necessarily like Veronica Mars, though some have similarities. They do all have a main female character who is written as a complex and three-dimensional person.
These shows all have a main romance, complex female characters, and essentially happy endings, which is not to say they all end with the main romance staying together. But as everyone knows, there are ways to write that without completely depressing and traumatizing your audience.
Some of the shows have ensemble casts, so I’ve listed the main character as the female character we start the story with, and who generally has the most screen time.
Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Genre: Fantasy, Action
Main Character: Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar)
Why She Is Important: She is a/the vampire slayer
Main Romance: There are two main romances, between Buffy Summers and Angel (David Boreanaz), and between Buffy Summers and Spike (James Marsters).
Female Friend(s): Outside of Pretty Little Liars, Buffy is the only show on the list where the main character has more than one female friend, which is a depressing view of television as a whole. Her best friend is Willow Rosenberg.
Parental Relationships: Buffy lives with her mother, Joyce, and has a father figure who is the main adult in the cast, Giles.
Goal of the Main Character: To save the world from vampires and demons.
Similarities to Veronica Mars: Veronica has a similar quippiness to Buffy. Both also will go far to protect their friends and family.
Why I Recommend It: Buffy is one of my favorite shows of all time. It features a complex female character before there really were shows other than sitcoms with female main characters. Many shows that came since probably wouldn’t exist without Buffy. It has also contributed to the cultural zeitgeist through it’s dialogue and speech patterns, such as the idea of a Big Bad, a villain that carries through an entire season, adding -y to words where it didn’t belong, etc. The show also makes great use of symbolism if you pay attention to it, far too much so to discuss in a paragraph. It is also a show that successfully did a silent episode and a musical episode, and both of them were actually good. Also, “The Body”. A lot of bad stuff happened to Buffy, and sometimes it got very dark, but it never felt like the character was being tortured for the sake of it, but rather to bring the audience on a journey of empathy or compassion (sometimes metaphorically, as people can relate to someone dying, but few can relate to their boyfriend turning into an evil vampire). The bad situations had a purpose for the story, not the writer. Also, The end of “The Prom” still makes me cry and season 7 was underrated.
Any seasons you should skip: Season 4, which has a less interesting Big Bad, and features the worst romantic love interest in the history of most shows, Riley Finn, a character that could have been replaced with a cardboard cutout and not hurt the story. This refers to the writing of the character, not the actor who played him. There are some great episodes in season 4 though, such as the aforementioned silent episode, and the episodes where Faith returns.
Where You Can Watch It: Hulu
Genre: Action, Spies
Main Character: Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner)
Why She Is Important: She wants to take down a spy group called SD-6.
Main Romance: Sydney Bristow and Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan)
Female Friend(s): Her best friend is Francie (Merrin Dungey).
Parental Relationships: Sydney works with her father in her goal of taking down SD-6. Her mother is a whole ‘nother story…
Goal of the Main Character: To stop SD-6, a spy group.
Similarities to Veronica Mars: It’s a spy show, which Veronica Mars used elements of, and Sydney also has a male best friend. Another similarity is the focus on the relationship between Sydney and her father, though it is a very different relationship than the one between Veronica and Keith.
Why I recommend it: It’s a fun action show that takes place in the real world, meaning there are no magic powers or superheroes or monsters. It also gives Sydney dimensions and some great relationships to explore. It also stars a young Bradley Cooper. The first season also has a female foil played by badass Gina Torres, who you may recognize from Suits or Firefly. The villains in Alias are also great, and always surprising.
Any Seasons you should skip: Season 3 is VERY shaky.
Where You Can Watch It: You can buy it on Amazon Prime, or get it from your local library.
Genre: Action, Spies, dramedy
Main Character: Chuck Bartowski, Sarah Walker
Why Sarah Is Important: Sarah is a CIA agent assigned to protect Chuck.
Main Romance: Chuck Bartowski and Sarah Walker
Female Friends: None of significance.
Parental Relationships: Chuck’s parental relationships play a large role in the show, but through their absence.
Goal of the Main Character: To stop terrorists and bad guys while having a normal life.
Similarities to Veronica Mars: Sarah Walker is similar to Veronica in that she is closed off and can tend towards being more cynical. It’s a much lighter show, though, so not nearly to the extent of Veronica. Sarah also has the greatest character arc of the series, much like Logan, changing significantly from the cold, closed off person she is in the pilot.
Why I Recommend It: Chuck is a spy show, but it’s light-hearted and fun. There are still a lot of dramatic elements, and it would probably fall into the genre of dramedy. It is also a little subverted, with Sarah being the typical “male” characterization to Chuck as the typical “female characterization”.
Any Seasons You Should Skip: No, all the seasons are great.
Where You Can Watch It: Amazon Prime
Genre: Action, Spies
Main Character: Nikita
Why She Is Important: She wants to take down a government black ops group that sponsors terrorism, which also happened to train her.
Main Romance: Nikita and Michael
Female Friend(s): Alex, who works with her.
Parental Relationships: Nonexistent. The show is about adults and their parents don’t really play a role. The only potential role in the emotional harm Nikita has from how she grew up.
Goal of the Main Character: To take down Division, a black ops group that trains people to be killers.
Similarities to Veronica Mars: They are spies, so again there is that element. Nikita also has some quippiness, and tends to be closed off to people, but much more self-aware of it. It also starts with the main romance as adversaries just as Veronica Mars does.
Why I Recommend It: Nikita is a feminist show about women. It portrays them as three dimensional characters, with flaws and all. It’s also really fun.
Any Seasons You Should Skip: No, but the first season does start out a little slow. It doesn’t get really good until the second half of season one.
Where You Can Watch It: Netflix
Pretty Little Liars (2010-2017)
Genre: Suspense, Drama
Main Characters: Spencer Hastings, Hanna Marin, Aria Montgomery, Emily Fields
Why They Are Important: They are four friends who had another friend murdered, and a year after her death begin receiving messages from a stalker that goes by A.
Main Romances: There are fourish, not all of which are great. They are Hanna Marin and Caleb Rivers, Spencer Hastings and Toby Cavanaugh, Aria Montgomery and Ezra Fitz
Female Friends: The main characters are all friends.
Parental Relationships: All of the parents show up, but the parents of Spencer and Hanna have the most importance. Spencer never feels able to live up to the high standards set by her parents and seemingly met by her sister, and Hanna lives with her mom, who is a single parent. Hanna is an only child, so their relationship is closer than any of the other parent-child relationships on the show.
Goal of the Main Characters: To find out who A is.
Similarities to Veronica Mars: It’s about high school students solving mysteries, with complex female characters. The story and tones are quite different though.
Why I Recommend It: It has a mystery, but at its base, it is a show about friendship. It’s definitely overdramatic sometimes, but it maintains a sense of humor about itself. It’s also a fun show.
Any Seasons You Should Skip: No, each mystery regarding “A” builds on previous mysteries.
Where You Can Watch It: You can buy it on Amazon Prime or get it from your local library.
Once Upon a Time (2011-2018)
Main Character: Emma Swan
Why She Is Important: Her biological son Henry seeks her out to help him break a curse on the town where he grew up in Maine because she is the only one who can break it.
Main Romance: Emma Swan and Killian Jones
Female Friends: In season 1, Mary Margaret, then later, Regina is a sort of frenemy. Other friends include Belle and Elsa.
Parental Relationships: This is too complicated to even try to explain. The only thing a new viewer needs to know is Emma was abandoned as a baby and grew up with no parents.
Goal of the Main Character: It begins with her goal of making sure her biological son is okay, and goes from there, changing many times throughout the series.
Why I Recommend It: It’s a fun show with many complex female characters. It also tips many of the known Disney stories on their head. If you like fantasy and Disney, you will like this show.
Similarities to Veronica Mars: In many ways, Emma Swan could be Veronica Mars if Veronica lived in a fairy tale world and was more mature and self-aware. Emma is maybe even more closed off than Veronica, and probably equally cynical.
Where You Can Watch It: Netflix
Marvel’s Agent Carter (2015-2016)
Genre: Marvel, Spies, Action, Sci-Fi
Main Character: Agent Peggy Carter
Why She Is Important: She is a female spy in post-WWII, who is helping Howard Stark and also uncovering a conspiracy involving WMDs. She’s also one of the few early complex female characters in the Marvel Universe.
Main Romance: None really, as Peggy is in love with Steve Rogers aka Captain America.
Female Friends: Angie, Ana, and Rose.
Parental Relationships: Not applicable.
Goal of the Main Character: To prove Howard Stark is innocent and stop the real bad guy.
Why I Recommend It: Again, it is a show about spies, with a focus on a complex female character. It is one of the few feminist stories within the Marvel Universe, and Hayley Atwell is fantastic as Agent Carter.
Similarities to Veronica Mars: More than you might think, as Peggy has the same kind of woman in a man’s world that Veronica has, only in the 1940s. She has lost someone she cared about, she is a detective of sorts, and a spy. She’s also always the smartest one in the room.
Where You Can Watch It: Hulu
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action
Main Character: Lucy Preston
Why She Is Important: Initially, Lucy is a history professor who has been recruited to go back in time and stop Flynn, who is trying to destroy history, unless he’s not.
Main Romance: Lucy Preston and Wyatt Logan
Female Friends: Jiya and Agent Christopher
Parental Relationships: As good a relationship as Veronica has with her dad, is how bad a relationship Lucy has with her mother.
Goal of the Main Character: To stop a time-traveler from destroying history and to save her sister.
Why I Recommend It: It’s a creative new take on time travel that has a sense of humor about it. The interactions between the characters are a highlight, and having a group of time travelers that include a woman and a person of color give the time travel a perspective that films like Back to the Future are lacking.
Similarities to Veronica Mars: There are episode goals that are sort of like mysteries, and an overarching mystery. Lucy is a much more well-adjusted adult than Veronica.
Where You Can Watch It: Hulu
Additional shows that I recommend but have not ended so I can’t vouch for what the writers will do:
Orphan Black (it’s actually over, but I haven’t seen the end yet)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
A Discovery of Witches
Follow @Music_IntheDark on Twitter