Thursday, September 5, 2013

Jenn's Pick: 15 of the Best Female Characters on Television

As a woman, I’ve grown up admiring various television characters for their strength, wisdom, hearts, and determined natures. It’s amazing to me that fictional characters can have such an intense impact on me as an individual – that I can debate the merits of their characters with friends, that I contemplate their actions long after I’ve finished watching an episode, and that they influence my life to the point where I simply cannot help but write about them and their legacies.

The darling Maggie (@MaggieTrundles) suggested a blog post topic that pulled me out of my miniature writing rut: the top 15 female characters on television. There are a plethora of amazing female characters on television, both past and present. In Community, for example, there are three strong, independent, wonderfully flawed female characters that are featured each week. However, it was Kim (ugh, KIM) who challenged me to be more definitive in this list and only pick one female character per television series. That’s extremely difficult to do, but I think that was Kim’s point. And, if I am being honest, it really allowed me to contemplate the particular merits of these brilliant female characters and select those I would not have usually selected, had I only chosen multiple characters from the same series.

So, below the cut you will find 15 of the best female characters on television of the past and present. Are you ready to find out who I selected? Check it out, friends!

15. Lindsay Monroe-Messer (CSI:NY)

The first fandom I ever became truly involved in was CSI:NY and the first character I truly fell in love with there was Lindsay Monroe. She was an unsuspecting girl from Montana who moved to New York and became a part of Mac’s CSI team. People consistently underestimated her intelligence and her street smarts – her team and suspects alike. But the beauty of Lindsay is that she never lost the optimism that made her unique and strong. Though she was tough, fearless, and level-headed when the situation called for it (like dealing with the aftermath of a bombing or taking charge when a serial killer holds her own daughter and husband hostage), Lindsay was also compassionate and kind-hearted. She was the sugar to Danny’s spice – the optimism to his pessimism; the sweetness to his gruffness.

They made each other better, Danny and Lindsay did. But Lindsay was already pretty astounding on her own. She made her mark on the Mac and the team as a strong, compassionate, determined young CSI who had endured hardships throughout her life but didn’t let those dark circumstances define who she became. And that – among many other reasons – is why I loved Lindsay Monroe.

14. Ruby/Red Riding Hood (Once Upon a Time)

I don’t think that I ever anticipated Ruby/Red Riding Hood to be my favorite character in Once Upon a Time when the series began. And yet, I’ve become so fascinated with her stories and her growth that she is one of the few characters on the show that I truly still enjoy. In the fairy tale world, Red Riding Hood is actually a werewolf (a twist that surprised us all), utilizing her powers to try and save those she cares about while inadvertently also managing to hurt some in the process. In the real world, Ruby is Red’s alter-ego, and she’s a young woman who dreams of an exciting life, of adventure and getting out of Storybrooke.

Ruby is a free spirit and someone who is learning to build confidence in herself and her own abilities. She’s never been told that she’s worth much, and those fears and insecurities from the fairy tale realm transfer over into the real world, where Ruby is afraid to step outside of the comforts and confines of the diner because she’s afraid of failure. What she learns and why she’s such a wonderful example of a female on television is this: you have a certain set of skills and certain opportunities that no one else does. You can use them. You can make a difference. You can change the world.

13. Pam Beesly-Halpert (The Office)

Pamela Beesly grew over the course of nine years on The Office. She began the series as a timid, uncertain receptionist who allowed herself to be steered along in comfortable familiarity in her relationship with Roy. She wasn’t a bad character, by any means, but she was a bit meek. Slowly but surely, Pam began to grow into a character with her own strong and unique voice – a woman who wasn’t afraid to stand up to her boyfriend, her boss, and her co-workers. She transitioned from receptionist to wife and mother and saleswoman. She was a pillar during the difficult period in her marriage to Jim. She is by no means a perfect character, of course, because no such character exists. But I think that Pam Beesly provided such an amazing example of what it looks like to be kind-hearted, warm, and yet strong and independent in work, in love, and in life.

12. Anne (Go On)

In a show where I relate more to Lauren and Yolanda, I included Anne on my list of television’s finest female characters because of her strength, resilience, and growth in opening up to Ryan and the rest of the support group. Anne, it is revealed, is in the grief support group because she lost her partner and is still stuck in the anger stage of the grieving process. What’s wonderful about the way that Go On was constructed was this: it set up a variety of male and female characters. They weren’t archetypes – they were real, raw, individuals with their own quirks and qualities and their own set of hurts. Ryan and Anne connected on a deep level – both lost their partners and both were still figuring out how to grieve – and the show never made us believe that one person’s grief was somehow more justified than another’s. If anything, the show taught us that it is okay to grieve in whatever means necessary in order to ultimately achieve growth. And Anne DOES grow – she and Ryan grow together and in the process of grieving, Anne learns that she can also help others. Her tough, take-no-prisoners attitude in the courtroom is utilized to assist Danny and help him grow a backbone as a character.

Anne is a beautiful representation of what it means to be strong, but to also be flawed. Her anger is something that is justified, but she realizes she cannot stay in that anger forever, even though it ironically comforts her. And she’s definitely one of the fifteen most wonderful females on television. Well, was.

Darn you, NBC.

11. Lucy Ricardo (I Love Lucy)

None of the other women on this list would likely exist if it had not been for Lucille Ball’s portrayal of Lucy Ricardo in the 1950s. In an era where television couples still slept in separate beds, where the word “pregnant” was taboo, and where women conformed to stereotypical gender roles, Lucille Ball’s television alter ego broke the mold. Of course, there were still strains of patriarchy woven through the fabric of sitcoms, but Lucy Ricardo was an excellent example of a sassy, spirited, shenanigan-scheming housewife who was desperate to be at center stage.

Lucille Ball was an amazingly accomplished woman herself, and Lucy Ricardo was just as impressive. Even though she was a housewife in the 50s, Lucy had the personality, sarcasm, and wit of a female television character in 2013. She was hilarious, unpredictable, and always thinking on her feet (usually with her best friend Ethel in tow). I truly admire the way that I Love Lucy portrayed Lucy Ricardo as a character, because even though this series was in an era where it was still difficult for women to be respected and recognized, Lucille Ball made sure that no one would ever forget or underestimate her television counterpart. And since people still sing the praises of Lucy Ricardo and I Love Lucy over 60 years later, I think she’s made her mark.

10. Britta Perry (Community)

I’ve already professed my love for Annie Edison quite clearly in another blog post, so I thought I would take the opportunity to express my love for another female character on Community: Britta Perry. I began the series feeling rather lukewarm about Britta as a character, but eventually fell in love with her anarchist, cat-owning ways. Though I relate more to Annie, personally, I find that people often underestimate the significance that Britta plays in Community. She is, after all, the entire reason the study group was formed in the first place. And as I’ve discussed extensively in my blog-reviews, Britta Perry was the leader of that rag-tag group long before Jeff claimed the throne. The study group members looked to HER for guidance in inviting Jeff into the group, after all.

Britta’s contradictions only serve to enhance the one thing that is most true about her – she’s scared of who she is and she’s scared of who she isn’t. In “Modern Warfare,” Britta vocalizes to Jeff that she feels like she’s uncompassionate, so she tries to tear Jeff down and point out his flaws in order to make herself feel better about her own perceived shortcomings. In “Football, Feminism and You,” Britta learns how to become a better friend to those around her. While Annie is intentionally the best character (i.e. Jeff goes to her for advice because he knows she will tell him the right thing to do), Britta is often unintentionally the best character. In her flawed psychotherapy, she actually manages to help those around her. The inherent irony in that is what endears Britta even more to me.

If Annie Edison is the conscience of the study group, then Britta is the heart (and Shirley the soul). And I think that all of these women completely and truly deserve those titles.

9.  Kate Fox (Ben & Kate)

Kate Fox was a single mother as a college student. Her parents had a tense relationship, and she managed to find solace and reclaim some lost innocence from her childhood in her relationship with her brother, Ben. As she grew and grew in motherhood, Kate become a standard type-A, but quirky young woman. She was organized and detailed, but often socially awkward and insecure. In spite of her shortcomings, Kate is a woman who cares intensely for her family, especially her daughter Maddie. She desires to give Maddie a stable, normal childhood, and is assisted by her lovable but childish brother Ben, and crazy friends.

Kate does all she can to make her house a home for her daughter, which isn’t always easy. It’s difficult for her to navigate the line between being a young woman and being a mother. But Kate’s sweet, endearing nature and genuine, overpowering love for Maddie caused me to put her on this list.

8. Elliot Reid (Scrubs)

I loved watching Scrubs re-runs in high school and college, and Dr. Elliot Reid was always a particularly enjoyable part of this series. Elliot is… ditzy. She’s naïve. She’s also intelligent and passionate and driven. But she’s insecure, and that usually gets the better of her during her career and her relationships. Elliot never lets her insecurities define her, though, or hinder her in accomplishing exactly what she sets out to accomplish.

Elliot was always quirky, hilarious, and also compassionate. Her relationship with J.D. spanned throughout the entirety of the series and you were truly able to see the growth that occurred both in that relationship and in Elliot as a result. She was always one of my favorite characters on this series, and still is because of her growing sense of security as a doctor and also as a person. She learns to stand up to Dr. Cox, to her other colleagues, to patients, and to her own family. Elliot truly finds herself by the end of the series, and it makes me proud to put her on this list of accomplished women on television!

7. Olive Snook (Pushing Daisies)

I will forever mourn the loss of Pushing Daisies, which was not only one of the most visually stunning shows on television, but also one of the most well-rounded in terms of comedy, wit, and heart. And Kristin Chenoweth brought life, sass, and hilarity to her character of Olive Snook.

Olive was a waitress at the Pie Hole who felt unrequited love for Ned. She was a quirky, snappy, and fun character, but was also a hopeless romantic. Why I loved Olive so much was because we (or at least I) could relate to the feelings she harbored for Ned – the knowledge that she was hopelessly devoted to someone who would never love her the way he loved Chuck. And though Olive could have been victimized – and would have – in any other show on television, Pushing Daisies presented the character as lovable and smart, rather than pining and weak. She’s loyal to those she cares about, which is a trait that – in addition to all of the others – lands her on this list.

6. Monica Geller (Friends)

I am Monica Geller, and Monica Geller is me. Hyper-organized, hopelessly romantic, and type-A in personality, Monica was always the one female in the Friends group that I identified most with. But Monica is more than her neuroses, quite frankly. She’s a woman who spent a good portion of the series attempting to prove to her parents that she was worth something and that even when she fell, she hadn’t failed for good. The determination of her character and her resilience were always characteristics that I admired. Monica was consistently the one character that everyone else approached for advice because she was trustworthy and wise. Monica made mistakes too, though. The aspects that made her approachable also made her irritating, but the beautiful thing is that she never apologized for who she was.

Monica experienced trials and triumphs – she went through the heartbreak of being unable to have kids, but managed to remain strong. And the fact that she was able to do this – in addition to her wedding binder, locked closet, and her eleven towel categories – makes her more than worthy to grace my list.

5. Robin Scherbatsky (How I Met Your Mother)

There are few times in How I Met Your Mother history where I actually relate to Robin Scherbatsky as a character, but there are numerous times where I respect her as a woman portrayed on television. Robin is a career woman throughout the series – she’s someone who works tirelessly in order to achieve her dreams. It’s a wonderful, inspiring message because Robin is shown as not always having the most glamorous of circumstances to contend with. Those circumstances never hinder her, though. Even when she quits her position, it’s not out of arrogance or the belief that she is somehow better than those around her. It, instead, derives from Robin’s belief that she deserves the best out of life, and she’s willing to do what it takes in order to achieve the best. Robin, as a character, is sarcastic and often portrayed as “one of the guys” (especially with Barney in “Zip Zip Zip”). But what television series have taught me is this: never underestimate a character or force them into a box of preconceived notions just because they act or look a certain way. Though Robin is portrayed as independent and self-confident, that does not make her cold and calloused in the least bit (“Symphony of Illumination” proves this ten-fold).

Robin is a genuinely delightful character because she possesses traits that make her confident, but also sympathetic. She genuinely loves her friends and makes sacrifices for them, as they do for her. We have seen Robin with her heart broken, with her spirit crushed, but also with her career successes and personal victories. She’s managed to handle each circumstance that she has encountered with confidence (even if she is confidently WRONG). And truly, that is the mark of a determined and inspirational television character.

4. Jessica Day (New Girl)

One of my absolute favorite Jessica Day moments occurs within the New Girl episode titled “Jess & Julia.” It’s the moment that is GIF’d above, and the entire exchange occurs because Julia and Jess are at odds throughout the episode. Julia is a tough, stoic lawyer and Jess is… well, Jess. She wears pajama sets, teaches children for a living, and loves anything with ribbons. She’s stereotypically “girly,” and Julia is not at all. But this moment is so powerful because it exemplifies everything that Jess is as a character. She loves glitter. She enjoys skirts and pajamas and colorful patterns and desserts. But as she points out to Julia in this confrontation, just because she enjoys “girly” things doesn’t mean that she is somehow less strong, less fierce, and less of a woman than Julia.

Jessica Day is easily underestimated as a character. She’s dismissed as childish, naïve, or too feminine by other characters on New Girl quite frequently. She’s never taken as seriously as she desires to be, and “Jess & Julia” explored WHY: because to be a “girly girl” in a world of Julias is considered to be a sign of weakness. But, as Jess proves over and over to herself and those around her, just because someone is compassionate does not mean they’re weak. Just because a woman enjoys polka dots, glitter, or dessert does not mean that she is somehow less of a feminist, less of a woman, or less of a person than someone who dresses in dark, tailored suits and never cries. I love Jess because she’s independent, strong, bright, and idealistic. Are there better qualities to possess than those?

3. Jessica Pearson (Suits)

I was tempted to include Donna Paulsen on my list of the fifteen best women in television, but since I have already devoted an entire blog post to her, I figured I would focus on another powerful and fantastic female on Suits instead: Jessica Pearson. Jessica is one of the managing partners of a prominent law firm, and achieved her position through years of hard work and trying times. This is a woman who has been consistently stabbed in the back by those she trusts most, mind you. But instead of crumbling under the pressure of high-profile cases, she asserts herself and her dominance time and time again by devising ways to save her firm and the people within it. It’d be easy to portray Jessica as a cold, detached leader. But she is not. While Jessica is a commanding presence in Pearson Darby (or… Pearson Specter? Is that what we’re calling it now?), she is not a cold, calculating shadow. She’s shared personal stories with Mike while attempting to teach him lessons. She’s had heartfelt conversations with Louis and Harvey. She takes charge and action to be in control of the firm because she CARES about the people WITHIN the firm itself.

Jessica’s struggles would have caused most people, and most women, to run away. But I think it’s telling that in a show primarily dominated by men (in a profession primarily dominated by men), it is the WOMAN character who is the head of the law firm and the WOMAN who defeats those who dare to double-cross her. Jessica’s had to make difficult decisions regarding her firm before, and though she hasn’t always made the right decisions and hasn’t always garnered complete support, it’s important to recognize that people RESPECT Jessica. Even Harvey, who has been at odds with Jessica throughout the course of this past season, recognizes that she has always tried to do right by him, even when he couldn’t see it clearly. But Jessica, in a beautiful moment of humility, recognized that her actions caused Harvey to think about betrayal in the first place. Jessica is not above apologizing to those she has wronged, but there is one thing she will never apologize for and never should: her leadership and resilience. Because Jessica Pearson is a woman to be admired, respected, and yes, even feared.

2. Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation)

Leslie Knope is, quite frankly, one of the best women to ever be portrayed on television. It’s not merely due to the fact that she is depicted as a career woman who consistently rises above men in order to claim positions of power. And it’s not just because she is the Deputy Parks Director for the Parks and Recreation Department. It’s not even because she has an intense (and justified) love for waffles.

The reason that Leslie Knope is a wonderful female character is because she is respected and adored by nearly everyone she comes into contact with and because she grows in those relationships. It is easy, on television, to portray a female in power as respected and admired. It is common to portray a female character as beloved and adored. But it is something special and noteworthy to portray a woman in power as BOTH. Leslie Knope is a smart, dedicated woman who has goals and ambitions and strives to achieve those without compromising elements of her character. But Leslie is much more than that – she is loved by her co-workers. She genuinely cares about them, but they return the love by providing her emotional support during her campaign, by standing beside her in her triumphs and toughest moments. They think about Leslie’s well-being and care about her because of – partly – the fact that they recognize how much they mean to HER. Leslie is funny, intelligent, driven, and compassionate. She loves Pawnee and the people in it with such fervor that she cannot help but DO something to make a difference in the world. And truly, she is an amazing female television character who deserves to be represented on this list.

1. Rose Tyler (Doctor Who)

Rose Tyler was always ordinary – she lived in a normal town, had a normal job, worked a normal schedule, saw normal people, and ate normal food. She was, for all intents and purposes, unassuming. But then The Doctor arrived and opened Rose to an entire universe of potential. She could have adventures, see planets and worlds and times that she could have only ever dreamt about. And when Rose took The Doctor’s hand, she also took a chance… on herself. What I love most about the story of Rose Tyler is this: she never truly changes who she is as a person. Rose never inherits any magical powers or properties (save for absorbing part of the TARDIS’s time vortex, that is). She grows into who she was always meant to become, but does so on her own terms. When she becomes trapped in a parallel world, she MAKES her way back to The Doctor. She works tirelessly to save the entire human race. The Tenth Doctor calls her the “Defender of the Earth,” after all. Rose begins Doctor Who as an ordinary shop girl who never believed she could be anything extraordinary.

But the most beautiful thing in this story is that Rose became an extraordinary young woman and person on her OWN. She possessed the power to change her destiny all along, but Rose needed to BELIEVE that she possessed this power in order to actually change. The Doctor provided an open door for Rose, and the young woman saw people and aliens and worlds that changed her life because she chose to take a risk. But it was Rose herself, ultimately, that made the biggest difference of all in terms of her destiny. Rose Tyler was a young woman who had her life saved by The Doctor multiple times, but she saved HIS on numerous occasions. She became braver, stronger, and more confident because The Doctor allowed her to learn what she was capable of and because he taught her that one person could make a difference in the world. Jackie and Mickey always loved Rose, but no one believed in her more than The Doctor did. And that belief changed the entire course of her life.

Rose Tyler has always remained my favorite companion because of her strength, her endearing personality, and her complete and utter normalness. She’s a reminder to every Whovian (as are the vast majority of the companions, to be quite frank) that it doesn’t take someone with superpowers to change the world. Even if you enjoy eating fast food and work a part time job in a clothing store, you possess the qualities to make a real and lasting impact on the people around you and potentially on people you have never even met.

Isn’t that an amazing message that we could all learn and take to heart?

So what about you all? Who are some of your absolute favorite television female characters? Hit the comments below and let me know your thoughts. And, as always, have a great day (or night)! :)


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