Let’s keep the ball rolling on this countdown, shall we? Though there are far more than just 25 woman who have kicked ass (and continue to kick ass) on your television week in and week out, I have finally narrowed down (after a whole lot of triple guessing myself) my #’s 15 – 1. If you haven’t read part one of this series, be sure to check it out HERE.
And. Here. We. Go!
At the end of the day, I just couldn’t decide which female Walking Dead character belonged on this list, so I’ve cheated and chosen two (My list, my rules). Carol is the character we didn’t know would become the badass she has, while expectations for the sword-wielding Michonne couldn’t have been higher. They act as great counterpoints on the show and are both incredibly strong in their own ways, which is important considering all the zombies…
Chuck (’07 – ’12), Homeland (’11 – present), Covert Affairs (’10 – ’14)
Since I’m breaking the rules now, I decided to group some of my favorite CIA ladies together (you’re probably noticing a very significant omission here…don’t worry, just scroll down!) because it gives me room for more kickass women on the list! Anyway, each of these characters showcased a different facet of being a female spy. Strahovski’s Sarah was initially just the “straight woman” to Chuck’s nerd-turned-agent in the fun loving NBC series, but of all the “will they, won’t they” relationships in these types of shows, I’ve always loved the Chuck/Sarah pairing, and that’s largely due to Strahovski’s subtle but meaningful take on her super-spy character. Claire Danes has rightly won awards for her Agent Carrie Mathison on Homeland, a grim and often terrifying look at the emotional cost of being an agent in a world threatened by terrorism. Somewhere between those two spies is Perabo’s Annie Walker in Covert Affairs, a woman who feels like a modern take on some of TV’s original females spies, like The Avengers‘ Emma Peel or Agent 99 from Get Smart. Perabo is likable but fierce, and the USA series made the most of her winning personality and sick action moves (not to mention lots of fun globe trotting storylines).
She might not be the first person that jumps into your mind when you think “kickass” but I absolutely had to include Poehler’s eternal optimist in this list. There is something bright and refreshing about Knope as she strives to make the world a better place through her job as a mid level bureaucrat and public servant. Though sometimes naive, she is hard working, persistent and genuinely believes in making a difference in the world. Plus she decorates her office with pictures of Hilary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright, Janet Reno, and, of course, Larry Bird!
In a sprawling cast of characters it can be hard to stand out, but when you are a 6’3″ tall woman who prefers armor to dresses, and has a strong sense of duty, it’s impossible to be ignored. Brienne is one of author George R.R. Martin’s greatest creations and Christie has breathed life into her in a way that is simply astounding. She is at her most graceful with a sword in hand and at her most awkward in “proper” society circles. Her relationship with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Jamie Lannister is one of the highlights of season 3, and her ability to be so formidable, yet so human, is the reason why she’d be my number one choice, should I ever need a champion in Westeros…you know, if I ever get accused of treason for one reason or another (like, maybe, for not putting Cersei on this list…).
If you aren’t already a card-carrying member of Clone Club, please let me introduce you to the hardest working actress in show biz: Tatiana Maslany. I still can’t quite wrap my head around how she does it, but Maslany doesn’t just play one kickass character in the hit sci-fi series, she portrays four (five, if you count Rachel…plus there are a few others…but I don’t want to give away too many spoilers…!)! Each of her four main protagonists is a distinct individual, with their own quirks, fears, and talents, but they’re united as well, and by more than just genes. They all fight for what’s important: family (however you define the word) and it’s an incredibly powerful show because of that theme.
Though there have been a number of great female politician roles on television: Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyers on Veep, Téa Leoni’s Elizabeth McCord on Madame Secretary, and even Geena Davis’ stint as The President on the short lived ABC series, Commander in Chief, the one that paved the way was Allison Janney’s brilliant portrayal of White House Press Secretary-turned-Chief of Staff, C.J. Cregg, on the seminal series, The West Wing. Janney held her own against the likes of Martin Sheen, Robe Lowe, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff and John Spencer and gave us an indelible character who weathered every storm with a slightly manic grace and genuine wit. Cregg For President.
Ballsy, intelligent, driven. These are just a few of the words that describe the force of nature that was Dr. Christina Yang on Shonda Rhimes’ massive hit series, Grey’s Anatomy. Oh brought so many layers to a woman who acted like a man without any apologies, and who was one half of the best relationship the series ever produced: Meredith and Christina. It is far too rare a thing to see a genuine female friendship on the small (or big) screen and when they tell each other “You are my person” it is a true-to-life sentiment that is far more powerful than all the plane crashes, near death drownings, and crazy patients put together.
While those in charge at Marvel seem reticent to build a feature film around a female superhero (having no plans to do a Black Widow movie and also postponing the release date of Captain Marvel…) they at least had the sense to realize the star power of one Hayley Atwell, who started out in a supporting role as the love interest of Captain America in The First Avenger, only to steal just about every scene she was in. Now her Agent Peggy Carter is kicking ass and taking names in a television series that takes place during a time when women had an even harder time proving their mettle. And she does it with some serious intelligence and style (that hat!).
Say hello to another Peggy who also had to fight for her place in a man’s world, only this time the setting was Madison Avenue and the world of advertising, from the late 1950s through the early 70s,. Looking back across the series, it’s astounding and gratifying to see how far Peggy has come, especially as her story unfolded alongside Don Draper’s – the show was always at it’s best when the two worked together (without ever actually “getting together” – thank God). Peggy didn’t get everything right, but she fought the good fight and there is something to be said in regards to how creator Matthew Weiner gave both her and Joan (played by Christina Hendricks) the happy endings, career-wise, they both worked so hard for. That Peggy also realized her love for Stan, well, that was just icing on the cake.
Season two of Alias is one of the best single seasons of television I’ve ever seen. Though the show eventually went off the rails dealing with mysterious Rambaldi artifacts, it nearly always maintained the perfect balance between action and drama. The series had it all – exotic locations, amazing costumes, heart pumping action, and a truly stellar supporting cast that included Ron Rifkin, Victor Garber, Michael Vartan, Carl Lumbly, Lena Olin, and a pre-Hangover Bradley Cooper. The heart and soul of the show, however, rested firmly in the capable hands of Jennifer Garner as double agent Sydney Bristow, a woman leading multiple lives. Garner brings both the relatability and the steel needed to be convincing in the role – she could be your best friend but she could also kick your ass five different ways…
I haven’t given as much attention to early female role models in television as I perhaps should have, but I knew this list couldn’t be taken seriously if it didn’t include Mary Tyler Moore, a true icon and trailblazer. She may not have been a spy or cop, but her Mary Richards paved the way for single, career-oriented, women everywhere. Not only did she make us laugh, she made us cheer as she worked her way up to being a TV news producer and tackled such sensitive topics as divorce, homosexuality, and equal pay for women. The show boasted other great female characters like Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and Sue Ann (Betty White) but Mary was our guide and leader, encouraging women to find meaning in their lives outside of boyfriends and husbands. The television landscape as we know it, owes her a great debt.
I can just imagine the pitch creator Rob Thomas made to the network for this show, “it’s a modern take on the world weary film noir detectives from classic Hollywood, only it’ll take place in a southern California high school and the detective is a seventeen year old girl whose best friend was murdered.” Oooh-kay…and yet, it worked like gangbusters! The tone of the show is very unique, treading a line between witty and smart, and quite dark. Bell’s portrayal of Veronica is brilliant as she tackles both internal and external demons, and her ability to put on a brave face in order to face down corruption, prejudice, and many a life threatening situation, makes this a standout performance in a show more people should be checking out.
No other television show captured the yin and yang aspect of professional partnership in quite the same was as Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully did in the The X-Files. There would be no Mulder without Scully, and there would be no Scully without the stunning Gillian Anderson, who brought just the right amount of no-nonsense skepticism and heart to the role. Her capability, intelligence and slow evolution into becoming a believer made Scully an audience favorite and now, nearly fifteen years after the series ended, she and David Duchovney’s Mulder are back in a limited six episode run on Fox. Welcome back guys, we missed you.
Starbuck, to me, is the epitome of BAD. ASS. No other woman on this list has that fighter pilot swagger, sex appeal, attitude, and ferocity. She took all the qualities the original Starbuck (a man) exhibited and used them to flesh out a rich, complicated, and flawed woman who helps fight for the survival of the human race. Her relationships are as messy and intriguing as she is, and this fantastic series wouldn’t have been the same without her spark, which is saying something given how many strong women are featured in the cast, from President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), to the various iterations of Sharon/Boomer (Grace Park), and the enigmatic Six (Tricia Helfer). So say we all.
Before he took on Marvel’s The Avengers, Joss Whedon created the most kick-ass female character I’ve ever seen on television (though, to be fair, she did appear in a movie version first). Much and more has been written about the layers built into Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which, on the surface, is about a cheerleader who kills vampires, but is really a parable about the emotional hell that is high school. Buffy, by all accounts, should have been a shallow, two-dimensional character, but behind all of her snappy comebacks and cute outfits, Sarah Michelle Gellar brought an emotional depth to the role that spoke to many girls, including myself (I was the same age as Buffy when the show was airing), who struggled with identity, popularity, maturity, and mortality. And, yeah, beyond all that she took out a whole lot of monsters too 🙂
Well, that’s my list! Yes, I know I left off a number of truly great female characters, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fit 100+ names into 25 slots! But women like Kate Austen (LOST), Detective Olivia Benson (Law and Order: SVU), Felicity Smoak (Arrow), Arya Stark (Game of Thrones), Claire Randall (Outlander), Detective Shakima Greggs (The Wire), Trixie (Deadwood), Chloe Bryan (24), Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman), Sarah Connor (The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Detective Kate Beckett (Castle), Maddie Hayes (Moonlighting), Virginia Johnson (Masters of Sex) and so many others also deserve recognition for both entertaining and inspiring audiences all around the world. So I hope you enjoyed my list and please continue to help us at Geeknation celebrate women in television (and movies) by chiming in below with some of your choices for the Most Kickass Ladies on TV!
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