Sunday, September 28, 2008

Iconic female TV characters of the last 25 years

Ages ago I posted a blog on the Famous Female Characters from film, in response to a great post over at Blog Cabins. It's easily the hit on Google that brings the most traffic to my little blog. So I've been thinking about how to bring it back, and since the new season of TV started, here's the top 15 female television characters for the last 20+ years. I'm sure there are many I missed, but these are the ones from shows I actually watched to some degree and so could at least mention a little of why I think they're important. Also, the criteria from my previous post holds - these are not necessarily award winning performances, but are definitely recognizable on their own merit (and not necessarily the fame of the actress, though in most cases that helped). Let me know if I've missed any.

1. Buffy Summers (aired Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1997-2003) – Sarah Michelle Gellar

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an awesome TV show that did all kinds of teenage ansty things set against the back-drop of saving the world (secretly though). Buffy proved you can be girly, California, and still beat the crap out of evil things (dead or alive).

2. Murphy Brown (Murphy Brown 1988-1998) – Candice Bergan

Murphy Brown as a character was inspiring to women, she broke ground by making women seem powerful, in charge, and still sexy. She fought with real-life people, challenged stereotypes, and still didn't make it look easy.

3. Sidney Bristow (Alias 2001-2006) – Jennifer Garner

I loved Alias because Sidney Bristow was smart, kickass, and could wear a wig and jump off a building like nobody's business. She fought against the bad guys (once she realized she was one), and made being a spy seem like a fairy tale job.

4. Betty Suarez (Ugly Betty 2006-present) – America Ferrera

I'm sure I don't have anything to add to the many many many things written about why Ugly Betty is an awesome show, and makes real people feel like they could someday work at Mode. Betty's not perfect, and she knows how to be heard, helpful, and important without being the most beautiful person around.

5. Roseanne (Roseanne 1988-1997) – Roseanne Barr

Roseanne gave a different version of what a family could be like. It doesn't have to be happy all the time, it doesn't have to be rich, and it doesn't have to be particularly functional, but it's still a family. They were happy when good things happened and dealt with the crap just like everyone else.

6. Ally McBeal (Ally McBeal 1997-2002)– Calista Flockhart

She was crazy, she saw babies dancing, and had an unfailing faith in love. Plus, her life always seemed more impossible and crazy than ours. She was an attorney, but practicing law was always the last thing you remember about her.

7. Ellen Morgan (Ellen 1994-1998)– Ellen Degeneres

This show and Ellen Degeneres as the main character probably would be more remembered than the specific character Ellen Morgan, but it's hard to remember the show without the character. Ellen had secrets and wanted to be herself, and thus changed some of the face of TV (also written about as many or more times than Ugly Betty).

8. Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City 1998-2004)– Sarah Jessica Parker

She made all kinds of fashionista ideas household names - Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choos, fashion week, fleet week, etc. She made it okay (if not right) for people to date around (a lot) to find your true love (and it's okay if you nickname him and only call him Mr. Big for years). And that other people will come along and break your heart, but never EVER give up your UES apartment.

9. Joan Giardi (Joan of Arcadia 2003-2005)– Amber Tamblin

My mom watched this show more than I did, but she loved it and anyone else I know who watched it said it was wonderful. Joan could hear God speaking to her, and in turn would do something great to make the world better.

10. The Golden Girls (The Golden Girls 1985-1992) – Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, and Bea Arthur

All of the Golden Girls made it clear that people over 50 can still have terrific TV shows without just being the parental sidekick. They were fun, sassy, told stories and ate cheesecake. I watched reruns of this every day after school in 7th grade (can't explain why, but I did).

11. Rory/Lorelai Gilmore (Gilmore Girls 2000-2007) – Alexis Bledel, Lauren Graham

Lorelai and Rory Gilmore created new kinds of characters that talked in their own pop culture language, really fast, and basically they were the only people who really understood their world, but they often let funny colorful characters join in. Plus, they are addicted to coffee.

12. Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote 1984-1996) – Angela Lansbury

She wrote mysteries and solved all kinds of problems all over the Maine coast. She was older, single, and had all kinds of adventures. She survived all the evil plots that she managed to get involved with, with the help of lots of local people.

13. Peg Bundy (Married...with Children 1987-1997) – Katey Sagal

She was a terrible mother, a terrible wife, and not particularly good at very much. But that didn't mean we didn't want to watch her yell at the kids, and whine to Al, and basically cause mayhem and keep the family together.

14. Grace Adler (Will & Grace 1998-2006) – Debra Messing

Grace was probably the first beard or fag hag on TV, and openly so. It was her love of Will (and her relationship with Karen) that always made us tune in again. Also, it didn't help that she has the comedic timing of Lucille Ball and could hurt herself, hurt other people, fall down, or break things better than anyone. She's always hysterical.

15. Brenda Lee Johnson (The Closer 2005-present) – Kyra Sedgwick

The Closer is a wonderful show mostly because of the character of Brenda Lee (Thank you so much). She's a steel magnolia of sorts. She uses her southern charm to get criminals to confess their secrets and put them in jail. She disregards most of the rules, bosses everyone around, but she closes all her cases so she rises to the top.

Honorable Mentions – Patty Hewes – Glenn Close, Damages; Meredith Gray – Ellen Pompeo, Gray’s Anatomy; Max Guevera - Jessica Alba, Dark Angel; The Desperate Housewives, Gossip Girls, The ladies of the L Word, Sisters of Charmed, Bones/Temperance Brennan – Emily Deschanal, Bones.

Large Association of Movie Blogs


Fletch said...

Love lists!

Not my forte necessarily (the TV part, not the women part), but I'd probably add Elaine from Seinfeld and, though I was never a huge fan of the show, Rachel from Friends (more from a cultural standpoint).

Well done, though.

(Don't you hate formatting these things?)

Cat said...

I think I would add Scully from X-Files (who paved the way for Temperance Brennan in Bones who made an honorable mention). I love your description of Rory and Lorelei. I miss that show!

Jess said...

I hate FORMATTING! I definitely make the mistake of copying and pasting from Word which never works right.

Rachel and Elaine are definites and I can't believe I forgot Scully. That is definitely who I was trying to think of, but came up with Bones. Good call Cat!

David Bishop said...

I don't know if you ever watched it, but I would have picked Joey Potter from Dawson's Creek. Here's a character so interesting that by the series finale, she's the only one to appear in every episode. She was everything I wanted in a female character.

Also, Pam Beesly from The Office.

blake said...

I'm not allowed to say this on my own website...keeping pretensions up and all, but I like Rosanne, a lot. And the Gilmore Girls (but I only watch it when my sister 'makes me.'