On the fifth day of Christmas my true love – Television – gave to me…five female characters I enjoyed.
This one is a bit hard to write because it seems to me that this past TV season has not been a good one for roles for women. Oh sure, there were good parts for women in the CW’s new shows – Hellcats and Nikita – and on some of the new sitcoms, but with the exception of NBC’s Chase there really isn’t a new drama with solid female lead, and while I haven’t reviewed it yet Chase really feels like a pretty bad show. In fact at least some of the shows that were cancelled this season were better than Chase. Well at least one of them was, but we won’t get into Lonestar because I have a definite theory about why this show failed to ignite on broadcast TV…but I don’t want to get into that here.
A couple of things to bear in mind. First, I really only feel comfortable in talking about shows that I see on a regular basis or have more than one episode’s exposure to . As a result I won’t be talking about most sitcoms or extolling a member of the cast of Hellcats or Nikita, and I haven’t seen enough episodes of The Event to feel confident in saying anything about Laura Innes’s character on The Event or about Monica Baccarin’s character Anna on V despite the fact that I like both actresses. Similarly, because I had DVR problems and had to delete most of Season 4 of Mad Men I won’t comment about Elizabeth Moss or Christina Hendricks on that show even though I’m given to understand that Peggy Olsen and Joan Holloway had great storylines. The other thing to remember is that the only order that these comments are in is by the day of the week that I see the show. Finally, I don’t mention Marg Helgenberg, but she’s always a presence on any list like this.
1. Stana Katic – Detective Kate Beckett on Castle: Kate Beckett the voice of sanity on Castle. She’s always level headed and practical even as she’s surrounded by people who aren’t. Even the two detectives she works with, Ryan & Esposito, have their “goofy” moments when they’d be classified as comic relief, but there’s very little of that for Beckett. Of course, the Beckett-Castle relationship is the heart of the show. Romantically it hasn’t been smooth sledding for them, although there definitely seems to be a connection if one or the other of them can figure it out. Professionally he exasperates her, even as she recognises that he has flashes of brilliance. She’s also able to see beyond the part of Castle that is immature to the man beneath who can be serious, who cares for his friends is devoted to his daughter and worries as she grows older and more independent. It may not be the greatest role on TV, and Katic is unlikely to win an Emmy, or much else in recognition of her performance, but it’s a nice part.
2. Julie Benz – Dr. Stephanie Powell on No Ordinary Family: I’ve liked Julie Benz since she first appeared as Darla on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Given that the character of Darla seemed initially to be a brief and not terribly well developed part – a close associate of The Master who ends up dead in the first or second episode – she managed to catch both our attention and the attention of the producers so that Darla grew in importance over the course of both Buffy’s run and then the run of Angel. I came to look forward to her appearance in other guest starring bits in other shows. I’ve never seen her in Dexter but I’ve heard good things about her in the role of Rita. Her turn as Robin Galagher, the stripper who becomes Katherine Mayfair’s lover, is one of the few highlights of Desperate Housewives for me in recent years. Stephanie Powell is a different role from many that she’s played. Stephanie is a brilliant career woman who happens to have super-powers (she has super-speed). What Stephanie isn’t is a super-hero. She has these powers but she has no desire to use them to fight crime. What she wants, and what she uses the power for is to be able to have it all. Super-speed allows her to be both the high powered scientist that she’s studied to be and is very good at, and the wife and mother side that was always coming second for her. Stephanie is very different from most of the characters that Benz has played in the past, and as I’ve come to expect from her, Julie Benz pulls it off beautifully.
3. Mayim Bialik – Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory: Frankly I could also have gone with Kaley Cuoco just as easily; if you don’t think she’s essential to that show as Penny then obviously you didn’t see the episodes that she didn’t appear in after her riding injury. Still, Amy Farrah Fowler – the female Sheldon Cooper – is a dream role and Bialik is either just about perfect for it or, as is the case with Jim Parsons, she works hard to make the character her own, to the point where you really can’t think of anyone else in the part.
4. Anna Torv – Olivia Dunham on Fringe: I’ve always liked Anna Torv on Fringe. She always seemed to me to be the on the outside looking in on the in on both the insanity of the events that she’s investigating. At the same time she the observer of the relationship between Peter and Walter. It was surprising to me to find people who thought that the way she portrayed Olivia indicated that she had limited acting ability rather than it being a specific choice. With the current season and the appearance of “Fauxlivia” – the Olivia from the alternate universe – we’re really seeing that the way that Torv portrayed Olivia in the first two seasons was a conscious choice on her part. Fauxlivia was more ruthless than “our” Olivia, but at the same time she smiled more and had more of a sense of “joy” to her. It was part of the character so that Peter could look back and say that he should have realized that it wasn’t “his” Olivia that he was having a relationship with. It’s in this that most doubters have hopefully come to realise that she is a very capable performer.
5. A.J. Cook – FBI Agent Jennifer “J.J.” Jareau on Criminal Minds: I spent lot of time debating this one. I could have gone with Kirsten Vangsness as Penelope Garcia (also on Criminal Minds), or Robin Tunney as Teresa Lisbon (The Mentalist), but I think that Cook’s role in the show was unique. Her departure from the show (apparently due to the producers’ desire to reduce the show’s budget) was both highly unpopular with fans and I think that it took a vital element away from the show. Agent Jareau was the one character on Criminal minds who was oriented outwards. By that I mean that the characters role wasn’t directed primarily at the solution of the crime. J.J. was the person that police agencies contacted initially and the one who chose the cases for the team. She was the person who dealt with the families of the victims on a personal basis, and she was the public face of the Behavioral Analysis Unit because she was the one who dealt with the media. While the show has mandated that Vangsness’s character will take over at least some of JJ’s duties, I still think that eliminating the character was detrimental to the series. That alone makes her a character that I enjoyed.