Now that the network season has come to a close, we can talk about some of the llllladies in the shows that premiered in the autumn of 2012. Before going further, I’ll say that I’ve done my best to avoid any significant spoilers, but you can expect a level of detail consistent with a review.
In keeping with that, if you comment on or discuss this post publicly, PLEASE AVOID SPOILERS for the sake of other readers.
I think 2012-2013 was a great season for women on primetime network television. We’ve seen some great examples of female characters coming into their own or being introduced in longstanding shows, but I’m always sensitive to how shows treat women from the get-go, and there were quite a few new shows this season with wonderful female characters.
Here are my top three. I had to leave a lot of wonderful women out for fear of making my inaugural post even more unreasonably long, so I’ve included a list of other notable female characters at the end.
#3: Nora Clayton – Revolution (NBC), played by Daniella Alonso
For all its faults and its rocky start, Revolution has become a solid series with a promising future. It passed the “Do I like how they treat women in this show?” test in the first episode. The creative team made a concerted effort to start the show off with a strong girl/young woman (Charlotte “Charlie” Matheson) as the “main”/introductory character in the LOST-style ensemble cast, and other strong women were introduced very early on. There are pretty much as many llllladies as there are dudes, which is great.
Right now I want to talk about Nora Clayton. Nora is a total effing badass. Through her it’s revealed that there’s a rebel organization aiming to bring back the United States of America, since it collapsed and broke into factions almost immediately after the Blackout. She even has a cute little American flag tattoo. Nora is an expert in explosives and firearms and can definitely hold her own in hand-to-hand combat. In a few recent episodes we’ve learned that she used to be a bounty hunter, and had pre-rebel ties not only with Miles Matheson (Charlie’s uncle, an on-and-off romantic interest for Nora and the most compelling character most of the time), but also with Monroe (boss of the badguys) himself. Mysterious! Can’t say more without wayyy too many spoilers, though.
Sometimes when I see a tough chick on a show I feel like I’m being pandered to; physical strength and dexterity alone don’t make a truly strong female character. But somehow neither Nora nor any of the other women and girls on Revolution feel to me like they’re being used for that purpose. Nora’s got impressive physical skills and a strategic mind. She makes me feel like she could probably do just about anything Miles could do as well as quite a few things he couldn’t. After all, there are plenty of real women who prove that you don’t need Buffy strength to kick someone’s ass. But her strength is also realistic for her physiology; she’s obviously not going to be as strong as many of the male characters, and I kind of like that there’s a dedication to that realism that doesn’t make Nora come off as weak. And though her wardrobe definitely shows off the fact that she’s got a killer bod, I haven’t encountered an instance where I’ve thought she was wearing something inconsistent with her role just for the sake of sexiness.
Because while I can definitely appreciate sexiness…
The kicker: Nora passes my Badass Chick Hair Test: she ties her hair out of her face! You know why? Because soldiers need to see! In fact, the times we see her with her hair down are when she’s having sex, injured, or being tortured. Speaking of the latter: In a recent story arc near the end of this season Nora withstands twenty-one days of intense torture before breaking and giving up valuable information when practically on the brink of death and whacked-out on drugs. Hardcore! (Related: I’d be interested to hear what others think of the depiction of Nora’s time in captivity and her torture with relation to her gender.)
In summary: Hey Revolution, when it comes to believable ass-kicking women, ur doin it right!
#2: Joan Watson – Elementary (CBS), played by Lucy Liu
I, like nearly every fan of Sherlock Holmes (in any of his iterations), was very skeptical of Elementary when it began. It seemed gimmicky: a tattooed Holmes living in New York City solving crimes with an attractive female Watson. It also seemed contrived: Attractive female Watson lives with Holmes because she’s his “sober companion”? I mean, I know Holmes was all over the opium and other stimulants in the original stories, but what?
However, I was ultimately unable to resist checking it out. While I did confirm that the show starts off both gimmicky and contrived, I also found elements in it from the beginning that really grabbed me. Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes is very different from any other iteration I’ve seen, especially when you compare him to Benedict Cumberbatch’s version, but he won me over pretty quickly. And Liu’s Joan Watson is, well, wonderful.
Once you get used to the genderswap, Joan feels every bit as Watsonian as Martin Freeman or Jude Law in her own way. There is a platonic chemistry between her and Miller’s Holmes that is very compelling from the get-go. Many of Watson’s characteristics are entirely gender-neutral, so Liu slips into them naturally. In addition, her gender and occupation bring out aspects of the character that we haven’t seen in the male Watsons. For example, Joan’s role as “sober companion” establishes agency and authority. The male Watsons have historically been roommates and friends to Holmes, generally observers and chroniclers overshadowed by Holmes’s brilliance. Joan has the responsibility of keeping Holmes from falling prey to a debilitating weakness: drug addiction. Weakness is not something we’re used to seeing in Holmes, and his weakness gives Joan strength. What begins as a business relationship (Joan is employed by Sherlock’s father) quickly turns into a friendship that brings out the best in each of them.
Blessedly, so far we haven’t gotten any “will they or won’t they” vibes, and I’m praying that it stays that way. As I said, their chemistry as friends is great, and while that’s illustrated in dozens of moments between them, I’ll share my favorite: Watson has become used to Holmes waking her up far too early in the morning with frantic energy about a case and demanding that she get up so they can go work on it. In this particular scene, he’s pacing back and forth telling her all about it while she casually gets dressed under the covers (like a boss). Throughout the process he idly hands her various pieces of clothing when she puts her hands out and the whole thing is just so adorably non-sexual and I loved it to bits. Having had many male friends over the course of my life, I thought it was a perfect expression of their dynamic. That’s how you do a friendship between straight people of opposite genders. Was that so hard?
So to those detractors who still think Elementary is gimmicky and contrived, I say:
#1: Anne – Go On (NBC, canceled), played by Julie White
Just thinking about Go On fills me with a level of despair I’m not sure I’ve ever felt for the cancellation of a TV show. I feel like I’ve lost a friend. I’ve gone through all the stages of grief except Acceptance; my husband and I keep re-watching the series, unable to let go.
Go On is a near-perfect smart comedy with depth and heart. Basing a comedy on a grief counseling group was pretty friggin’ ballsy, and I remain in awe of how all of the characters are hysterical, relatable, sympathetic, ridiculous, and believable all at once. They skirt so close to the line of caricature at times and then swing back the other way into deeply moving, well-rounded figures with surprising complexity. There is not a single character in its large cast that I dislike, and all of the women are distinct and wonderful and refreshing.
Queen of the Go On llllladies is Anne. Anne is a prosecuting attorney in her late forties/early fifties whose wife died from a heart condition, leaving Anne to care for their two adopted children. When it comes to the stages of grief, Anne’s stuck on Anger. Her wife (Patty) had medication for her heart condition, but didn’t take it as directed. In Anne’s mind, Patty is responsible for her own death, and it was selfish of Patty to leave her family alone. She spends a great deal of her grieving process torn between desperately missing Patty while simultaneously upset to the point of almost hating her. It’s incredibly moving to watch and I’m heartbroken that I’ll never be able to see her work through it.
At the same time, Anne is also the funniest character on the show, in my opinion. And that’s saying something considering that the show’s central character, Ryan King, is played by Matthew Perry. Anne and Ryan are one of my favorite platonic couples of all time. Anne’s story is the most similar to Ryan’s out of all the people in the group: Ryan’s wife died in a car accident because she was texting while driving. In addition, their similar senses of humor and difficulties with expressing sincerity during the grieving process make Ryan and Anne perfect grief buddies. Many of the funniest and the most moving moments in the show involve Anne’s and Ryan’s friendship.
Anne gets bonus points for being the best LGBTQ character I’ve ever seen on television. You know why? Because she’s just a person who happens to have been in love with and shared her life with a person of the same gender. Apart from some fun jokes and certain social situations that would obviously come up with “real” lesbians, there are no attributes of Anne’s character that suggest she’s any different from the straight characters. The difficulties she’s faced because of her sexual orientation are not ignored, but they’re also not belabored, which means we get to see Anne as Anne the Grieving Spouse and Anne the Badass Prosecutor and Anne the Snarky Friend rather than Anne the Lesbian. I can’t adequately express how refreshing and gratifying that is to watch.
tl;dr: Anne wins on every level.
Oh, and I’ve also got a message for the people at NBC responsible for canceling the best show of the season:
Other Notable New Primetime Network TV Llllladies:
- Mindy Lahiri – The Mindy Project (FOX), played by Mindy Kaling
- Carrie – Go On (NBC, canceled), played by Allison Miller
- Goldie Clemmons – The New Normal (NBC, canceled), played by Georgia King
- Charlotte “Charlie” Matheson – Revolution (NBC), played by Tracy Spiridakos
- Miss Hudson – Elementary (CBS), played by Candis Cayne (0ne episode)
If you missed any of these shows this season, catching up on one or two of them would be a great summer activity. Whether you’re into action/adventure, mystery/crime, or comedy, these llllladies and their costars have a lot to offer viewers.
And hey, I get to end this lovefest on one last surprising happy note! Looking at the list after the fact, I’ve discovered that I have inadvertently chosen a group of actresses who are all outside the common demographic for female characters on television: two are racial minorities and the third is over 50. The “Notable” list also contains another nonwhite woman and a transsexual actress. And if that fact doesn’t make you hopeful about the future of female characters on American television, I don’t know what will.
–Maddo is having a hard time with the end of the network season and has started using MTV’s Teen Wolf as Methadone.