I know this has been done before, but I thought it would be fun to give it a shot. In no particular order, below are some of my favourite female characters to have graced the small screen.
Lynda Day from Press Gang
Ah, Lynda Day. What a woman. Smart, sassy, successful. Press Gang was such an awesome television show. It was about a group of school kids who run a newspaper, the ‘Junior Gazette’. Lynda was the bossy, confident, bitchy and ambitious editor, and she was brilliant. The entire cast were fantastic, actually. A couple of years ago I bought the series on DVD because I wanted to re-live it’s awesomeness. I was pleased when it lived up to the fond memories I had. The Spike-Lynda relationship is full of brilliant one-liners and offers perhaps the most sparkling sexual tension ever seen on the small screen. (Is it wrong to say such a thing about teenaged characters?) For me it remains immensely enjoyable television, largely due to the clever writing and snappy dialogue by Steven Moffat. I am forever grateful to him for creating such a brilliant piece of children’s television series and for bringing to life one of the coolest female characters of all time.
Isobel Sutherland from Hamish Macbeth
Yep, another newspaper journalist. Based on my love for all these fictional journalists, it’s surprising I didn’t decide to study journalism. I do however have a massive love affair with Scotland. And I suspect it all started with Hamish, which was set and filmed in the beautiful Scottish Highlands. The series is named after the local policeman of a sleepy little Scottish village, Lochdubh. Isobel, played by Shirley Henderson, works on the local newspaper and for much of the series, her love for Hamish is painfully unrequited. Later in the series (as far as I can remember) Hamish returns her love, but he’s in a relationship with Alex, a tall blonde woman whom as an audience, we’re never supposed to like. We all know he’d be happier with Isobel, the short, sweet, softly-spoken brunette. I fear I’m making the show sound a bit naff. But it was brilliant. It had quirky and well-developed characters, surreal plots, and a wicked sense of humour. Oh, and accents. Sexy sexy Scottish accents.
In one of episode, fed up with Hamish’s inability to recognise her devotion and awesomeness, Isobel goes off to the big smoke to get a makeover. She has a job interview, joins the gym, crops her hair short, buys a convertible and scores a date with a lad from another village. Hamish is mega-jealous. However, Isobel wasn’t only there to be the love-interest. Her role as the village reporter had her involved in most of the police action, and she often uncovered mysteries or helped solve them.
Veronica Mars from Veronica Mars
I’ve written briefly about my Veronica fandom before, but I’ll say it again. This chick is awesome. She’s a highschool student by day, private detective by night. She’s booksmart and streetsmart and always manages to solve the mystery, whether it be a trivial highschool drama or an unsolved murder. She’s also very techno-savvy, and we’ll often see her using the latest gadgets to help catch the bad guy. Veronica is supported by a strong cast and the writing is full of deliciously witty one-liners and wry observations about the world.
Caitlin from the Degrassi series
The great thing aboot Degrassi – apart from the fantastic Canadian accents – was the way we got to see the characters from grade seven all the way through until senior highschool. In the process the series tackled a whole range of issues facing young people. There were lots of memorable characters in Degrassi – Joey, Spike, Snake, Melanie, to name a few – but I think Caitlin was always my favourite. She was an outspoken activist and she worked on the school newspaper (see, there’s definitely a theme here). She re-appears in the new version, Degrassi: The Next Generation. I’m so pleased they made an updated version for another generation of kids to enjoy. Caitlin appears occasionally in this season, and there’s a whole storyline devoted to Kevin Smith, who so famously admitted his crush on Caitlin that he was offered a cameo appearance as Caitlin’s partner. One of his characters in Chasing Amy says he has a “weird thing for girls who say ‘aboot’”. Thanks to Caitlin, I think a lot of people do.
Darlene from Roseanne
I was thinking I should probably have Roseanne on this list, but then I realised that my favourite character from that show was actually the sarcastic and sullen teenager, Darlene. Roseanne was a pretty groundbreaking show, in that it was one of the first to portray a working class family. And one headed by an overweight woman. Even today there aren’t many portrayals like this. I haven’t seen episodes of Roseanne for years so I can’t remember many details, but I liked Darlene. She was the apathetic sister who offset the annoying perkyness of Becky, and she delivered her lines with a deadpan humour that I remember fondly. I was also a bit jealous of her because I had a crush on her boyfriend, David.
Albee from Love is a Four Letter Word
Perhaps the most obscure on my list, Albee was a character in a short-lived Australian drama called Love is a Four Letter Word that screened on the ABC in 2001. It was set in the innerwest of Sydney (some of it was actually filmed at one of my favourite pubs) and featured a cast of twenty-something characters. I remember longing to be like Albee and her grunge-trendy (and troubled) friends. The stories revolved around their love lives, failed attempts at careers and the ongoing battle against the poker machines that were threatening to ruin the live music scene. In fact, one of the coolest aspects of the show was that it featured a different Australian band each week.
I just found this archived website, with a page about Albee. She worked in publishing and I think she was writing a novel. She was in a relationship with Angus, played by Peter Fenton (actor and lead singer of Sydney band Crow). I liked Albee a lot. Apparently in one episode she said: “They accused me of being a shit-house feminist because I couldn’t quote the great ten female novelists of all time. I got a couple but they weren’t from my top ten”. I’m sure this line must have endeared Albee to me even more. Even though I was enrolled in Gender Studies when this was on air, I remember feeling like I was a bit of a shit-house feminist at times, too. Before I learned that there’s no “proper” way of being feminist. I’d love to re-watch this series to see if I still think Albee is fantastic. I even tried to emulate her outfits.
Joan Holloway from Mad Men
I’m having a tough time deciding on my favourite female character from Mad Men. Peggy, Betty and Joan are all pretty awesome in different ways. You’ve got the ambitious career woman in Peggy, and the downtrodden, depressed and lonely housewife in Betty Draper (perfectly epitomising The Feminine Mystique, and constantly reminding me how fortunate I am to have been born post-second-wave-feminism). And then there’s Joan, the bitchy, beautiful and va-va-voom curvaceous office manager. Even though she doesn’t have any official power at Sterling-Cooper – she’s only a woman after all – she’s definitely the queen bee of the secretaries and you wouldn’t want to cross her. She’s confident and self-sufficient and knows how to use her assets to get what she wants. [I've only seen up until the end of Season Two so no spoilers please!]
Lisa from The Simpsons
Ah, Lisa, the little girl doomed to wear that red dress and be eight-years-old forever. She’s the yellow, spikey-haired over-achiever we all love. She’s passionate about the environment and social justice issues, and always stands up for her beliefs, despite what her family or the Springfield townsfolk think of her. She’s headstrong and clever, with a big heart and a love for her family that doesn’t go away no matter how infuriating they can be.
Kate from The United States of Tara
I love all the characters in Tara. The gay teenage son, Marshall. The loving and patient husband, Max. The ditsy sister, Charmaine. And of course there’s Tara, and her “alters”, brilliantly played by Toni Collette. But my heart lies with the outspoken, sarcastic and somewhat troubled teenage daughter, Kate, played by Brie Larson. In the second season she starts dressing up as comic book character Princess Valhalla Hawkwind. I loved this postfeminist superhero persona, but for Kate dressing up as the Princess was just an escape. She acts all tough and knowing, but really she’s sensitive and doesn’t always deal very well with her mother’s mental illness. In the end she ditches Princess Valhalla, saying: “I’m mad at myself. I wanted to be an adult and I settled for a costume”. Kate is strong, but there’s also a vulnerability to her that I like, that makes her seem very believable as she navigates her way to being a ‘grown up’, whatever that means.
Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
And last but not least, Buffy, our real postfeminist superhero. Wise-cracking, vampire-killing tough chick, Buffy Summers is probably Joss Whedon’s most famous character. The show ran for 7 seasons and developed a cult following. Buffy is independent, smart and incredibly physically strong. She’s also surrounded by a fantastic group of friends whom we also grow to love over the years. In the early seasons, we see Buffy as a schoolgirl, trying to balance the dramas of being a teenager with her demon-slaying responsibilities. Later in the series, she’s more mature but still wrestling with who she is and what she wants from life. Buffy has an incredibly strong cast of characters, but what I love the most is the humour. The clever dialogue, the mid-battle banter and the witty one-liners always have me coming back for more.
Also, if you haven’t seen it already, check out Joss Whedon’s Equality Now speech, where he discusses the answers he usually gives to the rather ridiculous question that he is most often asked: “Why do you write these strong women characters?”.
- Brenda Chenowith, Six Feet Under (lots of great female characters in that show!)
- Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife
- Miranda, Sex and the City
- Lynette, Desperate Housewives
- Shane from The L Word
- Teresa Lisbon, The Mentalist
- Sookie, True Blood
Who else?! Who are you favourite female television characters? Why do you love them?