Best Characters — Lead Female
Continuing on with my lists, let’s shift to leads:
20. Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer), The Office
In a show full of unreal characters, to even keep the semblance of a “realistic” style of camerawork requires someone identifiable, and that’s Pam. While almost everyone else is larger than life, Fischer does such a good job of being funny in a subtle, quiet way.
19. Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore), The Mary Tyler Moore Show
We can’t really have a top women on television list without Mary, can we? Mary Tyler Moore rocks, from The Dick Van Dyke Show onwards, and so it was nice to see her get to carry this show. She might just make it after all.
18. Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney), The Big C
I’ve only seen the one season, and it was a short one, but Linney struck me as doing an especially wonderful job of playing a character who is equal parts winning and affable, and reprehensible. In other words, she comes across as a very real person. In true Showtime form, she’s not really funny, in a show that’s often billed as a comedy, as those around her handle the comedy, but she handles the drama with deft skill.
17. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), The X-Files
I gravitated away from the show after its initial seasons, but back in its first season when I loved it, Scully was a rich and interesting character, who did all the heavy lifting of the show dramatically.
16. Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel), Pushing Daisies
I have a serious weak spot for the work of Bryan Fuller. Yeah, yeah, it’s twee, and cutesy, but so charming, especially in short bursts. And Chuck’s incredible energy and enthusiasm fill the color-saturated screen. She also captures the rhythm of Fuller’s dialogue better than most of his actors and actresses do, making for consummately poetic delivery.
15. Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), The Gilmore Girls
I grew sick of the patter between mother and daughter, but for a couple of seasons, the dialogue and energy demanded my attention. Nice to see a “cool” mom who is more than just that too.
14. Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel), Bones
For all the celebrations and plaudits that House gets, I’d put this quirky doctor right up there as a fascinating individual. Kind of like House meets Scully, I guess, but Deschanel handles her with real ability.
13. Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I should admit to liking most of the other characters in Buffy better, or at least I’ll often say so. Yet she’s the engine that makes it all move, and that brings and holds them together. So as much as it might seem to be Willow and Spike and Xander and co. who interest me more, Buffy deserves credit as the ringmaster and producer.
12. Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur), Maude
And then there’s Maude indeed. Such strop, such power. Bea Arthur commanded each and every scene she was in. Nice to see a feminist on television too. I just wish she and Lisa Simpson could have met each other.
11. Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton), All in the Family
As much as Meathead and Archie are the official sparring couple, it’s Edith who usually gets in the best and most (unintentionally) caustic attacks on Archie. Indeed, while Archie’s daughter and son-in-law usually come across as intensely smug and annoying, it’s therefore left up to Edith to bring the audience over and away from Archie’s side.
10. Sarah Silverman (Sarah Silverman), The Sarah Silverman Program
Few comedians or comediennes alive do inappropriate humor with as much commitment and follow-through as does Silverman. Along the way, she manages to challenge how women can be funny in a more unique way than many other comediennes whose work I admire greatly. Plus, she sings and talks about poop, so what’s not to like?
9. Tara Gregson (Toni Collette), The United States of Tara
Collette manages a rarity for Showtime by being the funniest thing in the show, not letting the supporting cast provide on that score. It’s a bumpy script, for sure, but she takes a rather unbelievable premise and gives a lot of personality and humanity to it. She’s a joy to watch, and easily the best thing about the show.
8. Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren), Prime Suspect
Television’s best female detective, and one of the few to develop a character (or to get the chance to develop a character), and boy does she. This show is justly loved and applauded by many, and its about 95% the character and the performance.
7. Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Mad Men
Some will definitely question my classification of her as a lead actress. But the first day of hers at Sterling Cooper is our first day, and she’s easily the viewer surrogate in many episodes and scenes. So I stand by my classification. Moss does brilliant things with her too, The character is written very well, but the acting adds a great deal. Nice to see Zoe Bartlet all grown up.
6. Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball), I Love Lucy
You didn’t think we could get through this list without her, did you? Few funny people can do physical humor as well as her. Indeed, there’s a reason almost everyone in this country has seen her chocolate eating scene and loved it. Amazing, too, that we’ve gone fifty years since without anyone coming close to mimicking or copying her schtick. Kudos to Lucy.
5. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), 30 Rock
Rumors of the show’s demise are over-stated. Liz continues to be brilliant, even if Tracey and Jenna are often lame. Fey has a unique style, too – neither acting “ugly” (despite her protestations to the contrary) nor pretty, and hence already in a very small minority of comediennes. So often in control of the humor, and responsible for most of the jokes on a funny show.
4. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), Battlestar Galactica
Starbuck is another person who might be seen as supporting, but she powers so many of her scenes. The range of those scenes is impressive too – she can do humor, badass fighter pilot, drama, and punk behavior. Dirk Benedict complained about her being cast, ranting about Starbuck being a woman, but this Starbuck could kick the old Starbuck’s ass in so, so many ways.
3. Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), Friday Night Lights
In the Emmys’ long history, few crimes are as inexcusable as Britton being denied an award. I love my mother deeply and am proud to have the kind of mum who all of my friends growing up wished they could have. But if I had to have a different one, Tami Taylor would be it. I’m so tired of television parents who sound like after-school specials, but Tami’s a blessed original.
2. Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr), Roseanne
Sarcasm has seen no greater practitioner on this side of the Atlantic. After years upon years of perky, impossibly happy and content, comfortable middle class sitcom mothers, Roseanne was such a wonderful breath of fresh air, as she and #1 on the list blasted a massive hole in the side of American television and culture.
1. Lisa Simpson (Yeardley Smith), The Simpsons
Find me an academic who doesn’t love Lisa Simpson, and I’ll show you a bad academic or at least a bad person. She’s one of television’s only environmentalists, one of its only bona fide feminists, she’s one of it smartest characters, and she’s awesome. Homer gets the press, and you won’t see me putting him down, but Lisa belongs up there as one of television’s best offerings. Many would see her as supporting; I’d argue that her awesomeness makes her a lead.actress, actresses, Buffy Summers, Cathy Jamison, Charlotte Charles, Dana Scully, Edith Bunker, Jane Tennison, Kara Thrace, Lisa Simpson, Liz Lemon, Lorelai Gilmore, Lucy Ricardo, Mary Richards, Maude Finlay, Pam Beesly, Peggy Olson, Roseanne Connor, Sarah Silverman, Starbuck, Tami Taylor, Tara Gregson, Temperance Brennan