Best Characters — Supporting Female
Who are the best characters on TV, past or present? A couple of years back, I wrote a post giving a personal top 50. That post has received more comments and readership than any other I’ve written. I still get complaints about omissions, sometimes with great suggestions, sometimes with awful ones. So I thought I’d give it another crack.
But this time I wanted to break them down into four categories, parsing out leads and supporting characters. Also, since my previous list waxed more decidedly male, I’m dividing these into genders too. I admit to struggling a lot more to eliminate men than women when making the lists. Maybe that’s because television writers on the whole haven’t done as good a job of creating female characters, maybe it’s because I’m personally more drawn to the tales of masculinity, or a bit of both.
Anyways, here’s the first of four. A caveat — I don’t intend this to be a master list, like the AFI Top 100 Films or something like that. It’s the characters that I like at this moment in time. Some aren’t here because I don’t watch that show, or never watched enough of it to allow them consideration. (And since I grew up outside the US, I don’t know a bunch of older shows). Some aren’t because, hey, it’s my list and I do what I want. I also had to draw some odd lines regarding who is a lead and who isn’t, though I usually defaulted to who the advertising treats as the lead. But please, tell me who you’d put on your own lists, and tell me when I’m wrong.
Now, without further ado:
Best Supporting Character, Female
Honorable Mention to Betty Draper (January Jones) and Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), both from Mad Men. The former in particular was great early on, and worthy of taking someone’s spot on this list … but Season 4 gave her nothing to do, so her stock dropped.
20. Trixie (Paula Malcolmson), Deadwood
We expect either a prostitute with a heart of gold or a foul-talking prostitute from westerns, but Trixie manages to be something unique. There’s a lovely unpredictability to her as a result, which Malcolmson and the writers extend to all her relationships, with Sol, Al, Alma, and others. I like, too, how she’s developed as much by Al and how he talks about her or maneuvers around her as by the performance itself.
19. Elaine Benes (Julia-Louis Dreyfus), Seinfeld
Seinfeld can be such a guy’s world, but Elaine manages to hold her own. She’s also the most complex character in the group. Granted, New Adventures of Old Christine eventually died, but it’s no surprise to me that she’s the one of the four who found the best work after the show.
18. Deborah Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter), Dexter
Deb gets a lot of hate directed her way on fan boards, but I don’t see why. In a show that doesn’t really let anyone other than Dexter develop, Carpenter finds a way to sell her moments, and she clearly worked out the character really well from the beginning, so there was already a lot to work with.
17. Alma Garret (Molly Parker), Deadwood
She can do the lemon face a little too much for my liking, but Parker still manages to add nuance to a lot of other moments. Kind of like Betty Draper for the Wild West, she’s wonderfully likeable at moments, a spoiled brat at others, and yet she navigates the room between with skill.
16. Gloria Delgado-Pritchett (Sofía Vergara), Modern Family
I really disliked this character in the pilot, as she seemed such an awful stereotype. But I like how she often gets the laughs going the other ways, and how the character manipulates people’s stereotypes. She also has an infectious enthusiasm and energy.
15. Dr. Neela Rasgotra (Parminder Nagra), ER
Nagra was a wonderful addition to ER, its best character in my opinion. I don’t have much else to say other than she was awesome and very interesting: while she was on the show, she wasn’t billed as its star, but certainly was.
14. Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), Glee
The writers on this show really, really need to learn consistency, and Sue’s often a victim of their struggle to find its meaning. She’s evil, evil, evil … but then she’s oh so lovely. Sounds like I’m not a fan, right? Well, the show’s not so hot. But Jane Lynch is Jane Lynch, and takes pretty much every laugh she’s given and sells it at a massive profit. I’d love a Sue spinoff, though I’d rather if she did the writing herself.
13. Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth), Pushing Daisies
Chenoweth is in good company in this little bracket with Lynch and Vergara as someone whose personality makes her characters so much more. I miss Pushing Daisies, and Olive Snook’s spontaneous eruptions into song and erratic energy are a large part of what I’m missing.
12. Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), Battlestar Galactica
I haven’t finished BSG yet, but I’m already very impressed. She can be a little too wispy at times, but I like that, as with Trixie, I don’t know what to expect from her. At times, it’s very obvious that I’m seeing a Minister of Education thrust into being President, while other times she’s an extremely powerful leader.
11. Sharon Valerii (Grace Park), Battlestar Galactica
As noted above, I haven’t finished BSG yet, but she handles the various Sharons with skill. So far, the Cylon unpredictability and unreliability is handled best in the writing and acting of Boomer. As a result, so much of the dramatic tension of the show revolves around her and what she’s trying to do in any given scene.
10. Sun Kwon (Yunjin Kim), Lost
A lot of Lost‘s heart, for me at least, was embedded in Sun and Jin, with Sun punctuating many of the show’s most emotional moments, and becoming an incredibly interesting character too. We often learned more about characters through the flashbacks, but Kim took her character on an impressive arc without much being given to her in flashbacks. Kim’s one of the best actors on this list.
9. Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn), The Wire
McNulty’s the louder example of a cop with not enough pay, too much alcohol, and too many cases to close, but Greggs’ subtlety is in many ways more fascinating to watch. She’s trying, but there’s not much traction. Her scenes with her kid are always wonderful too (Goodnight Moon was never so good!), and every scene including her is better for her presence. Pity there weren’t more.
8. Karen Walker (Megan Mullally), Will and Grace
I was never much of a fan of Will and Grace, so this may be an odd pick, but Karen’s such a unique character, and Megan Mullally did so much with her comically. Not a deep character by any stretch of the imagination, but not at all paint-by-numbers. Very few women are allowed to be this edgy on network TV either, something that’s often lost in the mix when W&G is praised.
7. Snoop (Felicia Pearson), The Wire
I thought that Omar was intimidating, but then I met Snoop. So very bad ass. The nail gun didn’t hurt either. And her final scene is a thing of beauty. Yeah girl, you look good.
6. Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), 24
24 needed comic relief for two reasons: (1) when good, the tension built up and needed some release, and (2) when bad, it would have been way too easy to laugh at many other things in the show, and some comic relief allowed the show to get away with a lot. Enter Chloe. The kind of character one would expect on The Office, but all the more captivating when outside of that realm as a result. O’Brian owned many a season too, and Chloe ended the show its ultimate hero, a nice way to honor her efforts.
5. Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner), The Simpsons
Some might quibble with me classifying her as supporting yet Lisa as the main thing, but Marge is nearly always on the outside, just as is the case with most of her sitcom mother counterparts. But Kavner does such a lovely job with Marge. Homer and Lisa are more like stark contrasts to their sitcom counterparts, but Marge is trying to be June Cleaver, yet stuck with all the wrong moving parts. It makes her very funny and very endearing. The episodes when she loses it are great too.
4. Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan), Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Willow was so often the heart of Buffy, and for many seasons was the “regular” person at the center of it. Hannigan then transitioned well to being something more. She was pretty cheesy as The Big Bad, I’ll admit, but she and Xander alone were responsible for most of the geek chic of the show, and for a lot of my love of it (see supporting males for the other reason).
3. Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert), Deadwood
I loooooove Jane in Deadwood. If there’s a great crime of the show only having three seasons, it’s that we don’t see any more of her. Weigert’s performance is so without parallel in this. She takes a famous character and makes her worthy of all the more fame. Best drunk acting ever.
2. Miss Piggy (Frank Oz), The Muppet Show
Okay, so there’s never any real development with Piggy, so it might be odd to rank her this highly. But she’s just perfect the way she is. A pig with a karate kick who likes a big of romance, but needs to be in charge. And she sounds like Yoda. What more could someone want? Every boy should grow up with Piggy as his ideal woman.
1. Claudia Jean “CJ” Cregg (Allison Janney), The West Wing
And when that boy grows up, his ideal woman should be Claudia Jean Cregg. Allison Janney’s performance is brilliant. She has a good script, but she also does so much with it. Sure, Jed Bartlet was pretty cool, but my vote’s for CJ as Prez. That will be all.Alma Garret, Calamity Jane, characters, Chloe O'Brian, CJ Cregg, Deborah Morgan, Elaine Benes, Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, Karen Walker, Kima Greggs, Laura Roslin, Marge Simpson, Miss Piggy, Neela Rasgotra, Olive Snook, Sharon Valerii, Snoop, Sue Sylvester, Sun Kwon, supporting actress, Trixie, Willow Rosenberg