IFC recently put together a list of the 25 best TV roles for women. It’s a great list with many strong characters from shows we love — Xena, The Wire, Veronica Mars among them — and Buffy comes out on top.
So it’s clear we enjoy slayers, female drug dealers and warrior princesses, but what is the best role a woman could play on TV? That’s the question I posed this week to our bloggers. Here’s what they had to say.
Courtney Gillette: Here’s a ’90s classic: Clarissa Darling (from Clarissa Explains It All). All I wanted as a teenager was an audience for the rambling, diary-like observations constantly running through my brain. Clarissa had all that, plus some really awesome style. What better teen girl lead than the one when the show mostly takes place in your bedroom, narrating the ups (They Might Be Giants albums) and the downs (annoying little brothers!) of being fourteen. I’d love to see more smart and confident girl narrators like Clarissa on the screen.
Mia Jones: My favorite type of female role is the strong, whip-smart woman who can be sexy, smart and funny all at the same time. I’ve actually been enjoying a Veronica Mars marathon as of late, and she perfectly encapsulates all of those qualities. Sure, sometimes she makes stupid decisions and gets herself into trouble, but in the end she always gets to the bottom of things.
My favorite character on television, though, is probably Sophia Petrillo from The Golden Girls. I’m obsessed with old people, what can I say? She is smart, wise-cracking, a little senile and most of all, unapologetic for who she is. Also, I’m fairly certain that is exactly what I’m going to look like by the time I’m 70.
Karman Kregloe: When I was growing up, I loved shows like Charlie’s Angels and Laverne & Shirley for (now) obvious reasons. But one of my early heroes was Bea Arthur in the title role on Maude.
Yes, it was probably strange for a second grader to admire a 50-something women decked out in a matronly blouse, but I loved her unapologetic feminism, her strength and her withering gaze. She ruled her roost and I thought her daughter was hot, too. Years later, I loved the title character of the show Roseanne for all the same reasons. Except for the daughter part. I didn’t want to make out with Darlene, I just liked her as a friend..
The Linster: Claudia Jean “C.J.” Cregg (Allison Janney). C.J. was taller than the men she worked with and very likely smarter. And, as usually happens with successful, independent, witty women, she was surrounded by rumors that she was a lesbian. (Her response: “It’s none of your damn business.”) Over the course of The West Wing, we watched C.J. grow from uncertain Press Secretary to strong and confident Chief of Staff — and loved her every minute along the way.
One of my favorite moments — C.J. does “The Jackal.”
Bridget McManus: The President. Cherry Jones played President Taylor on Fox’s 24 and emulated that women can really do anything. P.S. I voted for Hillary.
Heather Hogan: One of my favorite female character archetypes is the Business Badass, played to perfection over the years by folks like Dixie Carter as Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women and Allison Janney as C.J. Cregg on The West Wing. I think my real fondness for the Business Badass, though, rests firmly on the shoulders of Jennifer Beals as Bette Porter on The L Word and Simone Lahbib as Helen Stewart on Bad Girls.
Maybe it’s the power. Maybe it’s the way Bette Porter makes it rain F-bombs. Maybe it’s the way Helen Stewart barks at people to sit in chairs. Probably it’s a combination of all those things that make Bette and Helen two of the most swoon-inducing ladies in the lesbian TV canon. The Business Badass is a great role for women. It’s always refreshing to see a female character rising to the top of her game in a man’s world, especially when that woman is a lesbian.
Dara Nai: Daria Morgendorffer. Originally a recurring character on MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head, Daria was so deliciously sardonic and unapologetically smart, the show couldn’t contain her fabulousness, and in 1997, she got her own eponymous series. I’ve been told that I remind people of Daria, and can’t think of a better compliment except maybe the one time someone said I was like a “hot Daria.” But enough about my girlfriend.
What I love most about Daria was her utter lack of pep, derision for anything popular, and honest, irascible assessment of idiocy anywhere she found it, which was pretty much everywhere. While the kids of Glee are fun and funny, they’re outcasts that long to be “in.” Daria wasn’t burdened with such dubious goals because in her mind, being “in” only makes you lame.
And let’s give a long overdue shout-out to the voice of Daria , Tracy Grandstaff. Her perfect monotone delivery made these lines that much more awesome:
“Smart is not a four-letter word. That would be smar.”
“Don’t worry. I don’t have low self-esteem. It’s a mistake. I have low esteem for everyone else.”
“Welcome to Lawndale, where style meets substance and says, ‘See ya.’”
Jane: Do you know CPR, or something?
Daria: No, but I once gave Quinn the Heimlich maneuver.
Jane: Did it work?
Daria: She wasn’t choking.
Trish Bendix: I love a woman in uniform, but I also don’t mind if they prefer business casual while doing their detective work. My favorite role for women is the one where they are tracking down perps and using their intelligence to outsmart them all. Mariska Hargitay perfects this on Law & Order: SVU, but there have been so many other women in this kind of role that do it justice. See: The Closer, In Plain Sight, Saving Grace, Rizzoli & Isles.
What is the best role a woman can play, in your opinion?