Strong Female Characters Aren’t Always Leading Ladies
Shelby Rosten | On 26, Jul 2013
While we love and enjoy watching women take center stage in television and movies, sometimes great female characters are overlooked because of their place in the background of their television shows. These are just a few of those standout ladies.
Skyler White – Breaking Bad
Wife of mild-mannered science teacher-turned-drug dealer Walter White, Skyler White (Anna Gunn) is constantly misconstrued as a “bitchy” character in reviews and by fans. If she comes off as “bitchy,” she definitely has a reason to be. Skyler has been thrust into an impossible position by her husband, from which there is no way out for her. Every action she takes is careful and planned, because she is always trying to protect her children in the best way she can. She is not unreasonable, she is not perfect, and she is not a stereotype.
Jessica Williams – The Daily Show
Along with Samantha Bee, Jessica Williams is one of only two on-screen “correspondents” for The Daily Show. We all love host Jon Stewart (and at the moment John Oliver), but Williams brings biting satire to American culture, and she has become a favorite to many despite her short tenure on the show. Williams often does pieces for the faux-news show on civil rights issues and also on youth culture. She is always spot on with her observations and acting, as well as being hilarious while doing it.
Shirley Bennett – Community
In the always diverse and on-the-brink-of-cancellation Community, Shirley Bennett rounds out the study group as a devout Christian and middle age mother. A fan of baking, Shirley attends Greendale in the hopes that she will open her own business. The beauty of Shirley is that even though she is surrounded by a group of very different people in the show, she is never afraid to be herself and to use her voice to advocate her opinion.
Jill Taylor – Home Improvement
Jill Taylor (Patricia Richardson) always made Home Improvement worth watching, as wife of macho-tool man Tim Taylor. Not the perfect housewife of sitcoms past, Jill progresses from stay-at-home mother of three to college student to a professional workingwoman. Throughout the series, Jill and Tim go head to head, disagreeing on gender roles, especially when she decides to go back to school and to work. Jill is a vocal feminist on this series that showcases the grunting masculinity of Tim and his sons.
Lane Kim – Gilmore Girls
Lane Kim (Keiko Agena) is Rory Gilmore’s childhood best friend in the idyllic small town of Stars Hollow. Besides being a great friend to Rory, her mother, the always-suspicious Mrs. Kim, raises Lane, and even through seven seasons, there is curiously no mention or appearance by a Mr. Kim, despite Mrs. Kim’s apparent conservatism. Lane spends much of her time on the show scheming to live as a normal teenager, finding ways around her mother’s strict rules to be who she really is. Eventually, Lane breaks out of her shell as a drummer in her own band, and later happily a wife and mother of twins. Lane’s journey ends with her in a life she never expected or wanted for herself, but she finds happiness and contentment in it admirably.
Mellie Grant – Scandal
Alright, Scandal is a haven for wonderful diverse characters and I love Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) as much as the next person, but the reaction to Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) is extremely similar to Skyler’s. Mellie is constantly dismissed and underestimated by the other characters on the show, and confined to the White House, a boy’s club even in this show. Like Skylar, Mellie is in an inescapable position as First Lady, married to a man who shows almost nothing but contempt for her. Mellie is unforgiving in her desire for power, and unlike many other characters in the show, is candid about her motivations. She stays with the president in the hope for a political career of her own. She is an honest character in a show full of schemers.
Donna Meagle – Parks and Recreation
Though she does not get half the amount of screen time she deserves, Donna Meagle (Retta) steals each scene she appears in. Donna works in the Parks department along with Leslie Knope and all the others, and from what we have learned about her, she is one of the senior most employees in the department. Known for her killer one-liners, Donna is independent and proud and a surprisingly well-rounded character, given her background position in the show.
Joan Watson – Elementary
The much-contested casting of Lucy Liu as Joan Watson on the CBS incarnation of Sherlock Holmes is as good an example as any of the still existent misogyny and racism in fandom communities. However, Joan Watson is the reason Elementary works. In most other recent Sherlock adaptions (which I have seen and love and have nothing against), Watson is reduced to a sidekick who follows Sherlock around and has no independent role of his own. With Joan, she has a huge amount of agency and throughout the first season of the show has grown from being an obstacle and a bother to Sherlock to being shown as a partner and an equal. Her journey from sober companion to consulting detective is not without obstacles and self-doubt, but Joan manages to make the change freely on her own terms.
C.J. Cregg – The West Wing
In another White House-set drama, C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) is the face of the Bartlet Administration as press secretary, later promoted to chief of staff. C.J. is the only female member of the White House senior staff, but is never doubted because of her sex. Although her personal life is intriguing, and does occasionally make its way into the show, it never affects her work. C.J. is smart and witty and capable, and holds her own in the male-dominated universe of The West Wing.
Let us know in comments if you have any favorite female characters that often get overlooked!
Written by Shelby Rosten