David E. Kelley’s “Ally McBeal” was supposed to be some sort of feminist breakthrough for television, though don’t ask me why. She was a terrible feminist; Murphy Brown could’ve eaten her for breakfast (well, a light snack, anyway). There has been a fairly nice run of strong female characters in recent years — Starbuck, Veronica Mars, Lorelai Gilmore, C.J. Cregg — but they’re drying up again, unless you believe that female cops who look like supermodels fit the bill. And what we’re left with, as far as empowered women on television go, aren’t exactly your typical feminist role models. I’m certain I’m missing someone important, but looking over the current television schedule, this list is the best I could muster. Kind of sad, really.
5. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Marguiles), “The Good Wife” — Yes, she stood by her man (reluctantly) as he confessed to affairs with prostitutes, but in the first few weeks of “The Good Wife,” Alicia Florrick has shed no tears, has expected nothing from her cad of a husband, and has managed to kick a little ass in the courtroom. After 15 years out of the legal profession, Alicia has been putting on a brave face long enough now that she’s grown into it, and she sides with her dick of a husband only so far as it allows her to take down other insidious men. She probably should have kneed her husband in the junk while he was at the podium confessing his sins, but she’s fared quite well, so far, taking the more graceful route.
4. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), “30 Rock” — Not exactly a take-charge female when it comes to her romantic life, Liz has nevertheless managed to run a successful show and keep two delusional batshitters in line, and occasionally stand down her Republican boss. She idealizes a traditional family, but she’s not about to give up her job and move to Cleveland to get it. She’s content enough to buy a wedding dress for a wedding she may never have, and pursue a family in less traditional ways. She’s hot; she’s brainy; and sometimes, she’s even awkwardly sexual. Unfortunately, she’s also a little sad and misguided.
3. Peggy Olson, (Elisabeth Moss) “Mad Men” — She’s got terrible taste in dudes, but for a woman in the ’60s, Peggy has shown not just a willingness to sleep around, but an ability take responsibility for her bad choices without involving a man. Over the course of the show, Peggy has risen from timid secretary to cunning and, arguably, conniving ad (wo)man who — in less obvious ways — is as cutthroat as her male counterparts. As Elisabeth Moss told New York Magazine, “these women weren’t trying to change everyone’s lives; they just wanted to get their chance to do their job, and in that way she’s the ultimate feminist. I think she has a lot to learn about having confidence in herself. She relies too much on Don’s approval. But she’s getting there. “
2. Dee Reynolds, (Kaitlin Olson) “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” — Not someone anyone would want to consider a role model, Dee Reynolds is certainly an empowered female character, and she’s the complete opposite of the strident, sexless, humorless stereotype that the media makes feminists out to be . She’s vain; she’s morally questionable; and she will rent out her uterus to the highest bidder. Refreshingly, she’s no longer the voice of reason on “It’s Sunny,” she’s just as selfish and stupid as the male characters. It’s not exactly a win, but “It’s Always Sunny” puts its lone female regular character on the same footing as the rest of the cast. She might not represent feminism in the conventional sense, but she is the antithesis to television’s typical gendered humor. Oh, and she will eat your babies, bitch.
1. Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), “Glee” — Sue Sylvester is only slightly more awesome than she is evil. She’s scheming, vicious, demented, ambitious, righteously insane, and successful. She doesn’t use her sexuality to control her environment, she uses her drive, her will to succeed, and her toughness. I’ve often decried the lack of good female villains in movies and television alike, but Sue Sylvester is as fabulously sadistic as any male character on TV now. The world needs more kick-ass, dynamic villainesses, and Sylvester manages it while delivering the best one-liners on TV.