So recently, my good friend Emily and I were discussing some of our favorite shows we’ve been obsessing over recently, and we realized that the current crop of ladies on our favorite scripted shows are quite exceptionally talented and diverse. As a part of the Buzzfeed generation, Emily and I are both lovers of lists – especially when it comes to pop culture – so we decided to do a joint blog post listing each of our top five favorite female characters on television right now. And since I always have more to say about my favorite characters and why they’ve earned that distinction, we thought it would be cool to also include our favorite episodes and quotes of said fabulous females. Following is the list I came up with of my top five most spectacular fictional ladies on some of the most original and innovative series on television right now.
1. Jane Villanueva – Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin
Emmy award-winner Gina Rodriguez has emerged this past season as one of the most talented actresses working on TV today. Rodriguez can show more emotion with a facial expression than some actresses could do with an entire monologue. On the CW’s new breakout show, Rodriguez imbues Jane with a boundless energy. Jane is a smart, level-headed and religious young woman who gets thrust into a world of telenovela drama after being accidentally, artificially inseminated. Jane copes with the drama responsibly and realistically. For most of her life, she’s taken the role of responsible adult, acting as her mother Xo’s moral compass. As the plot frequently veers into melodrama, we the audience trust that Jane will continue to do the right thing. She is unfailingly kind and honest, no matter the situation. She always gives people second chances, which is likely why everyone seems to be their best self when they’re around Jane. You can’t help but root for her in everything she does.
MAIN TRAITS: passionate, geeky, romantic, forgiving
FAVORITE QUOTE: (On getting a babysitting gig) “You’re doing me a favor. I had no idea where I was going to get my hands on a real baby. That sounded weird.”
BEST EPISODE: “Chapter 4.” In a series where underground plastic surgery crime rings and accidental artificial insemination are par for the course, sometimes one forgets that the foundational main relationship is between the inter-generational family of the Villenueva women. Xo and Jane’s relationship is tested in this episode when Xo reveals who Jane’s real father is. Rodriguez’s expressive acting makes Jane’s pain palpable upon realizing her mother has been lying to her for her whole life.
2. Claire Underwood – Robin Wright, House of Cards
Of all the women on this list, Claire Underwood is an enigma. Just when you think you know what she’s up to, she does a 180 and surprises you. She may be married to the most powerful man in the free world, but she is relentless in her own pursuit of power. She has insurmountable odds to overcome to get what she wants, but she does not let that get in her way for a moment. Claire supports her husband immensely, but she is more than willing to undermine him if it gets her one step closer to realizing her own goals. Now entering season 3, Claire is in a much more prominent position to get what she wants and she will twist and manipulate her way to the top, even when it seems like she is putting her neck on the chopping block to do so. She is self-sacrificing but she is also a no-nonsense power player – one who is often overlooked by those around her because of her brilliantly kind façade in the face of opposition. She gets what she wants through her politeness and efficacious charm. She is the devil in a white dress with a cool head and an icy stare. She knows how to play the game – and she knows that one way or another, she’s going to win.
MAIN TRAITS: determined, intelligent, manipulative, relentless
FAVORITE QUOTE: “You know what Francis said to me when he proposed? I remember his exact words. He said, ‘Claire, if all you want is happiness, say no. I’m not gonna give you a couple of kids and count the days until retirement. I promise you freedom from that. I promise you’ll never be bored.’ You know, he was the only man – and there were a lot of others who proposed – but he was the only one who understood me. He didn’t put me on some pedestal. He knew that I didn’t want to be adored or coddled. So he took my hand and put a ring on it. Because he knew I’d say yes.”
BEST EPISODE: “Chapter 17.” Robin Wright has been doing masterful work on House of Cards for three seasons now, but during an on-air interview this episode she imbues Claire with such a subtle ruthlessness and raw emotion that is incredible to watch. Her balancing act between what she must do and what she needs to give up is so believable that walking that tightrope is all the more masterful in her hands.
3. Stella Gibson – Gillian Anderson, The Fall
When Stella Gibson enters a room, she commands respect. As Detective Superintendent Gibson, Gillian Anderson has turned in her most masterful and subtly brilliant performance in just a few episodes. Despite being a woman in power in a man’s world, Stella is unflinching when it comes her beliefs and stalwart support of other women. In the Belfast PD, she is an outsider with strong opinions and a brilliant mind for detective work. Stella may be a workaholic with a take-no-bullshit attitude, but beneath her tough exterior, she is empathetic and caring – especially towards other women. She is a force to be reckoned with and her calculated search for Jamie Dornan’s serial murderer is nothing short of enthralling.
MAIN TRAITS: professional, empathetic, commanding, shameless
FAVORITE QUOTE: “That’s what really bothers you isn’t it? The one-night stand. Man fucks woman. Subject, man. Verb, fucks. Object woman. That’s okay. Woman fucks man. Subject, woman. Object, man. That’s not so comfortable for you is it?”
BEST EPISODE: “The Fall.” Gillian Anderson is unflinching in her portrayal of tough-as-nails SI Gibson. For the majority of two seasons we see her dedicated pursuit of serial killer Paul Specter gradually get under her skin. She stands up for herself countless times and has to defend herself daily from the males around her, especially those she works with. That is why it is all the more powerful when we finally see her carefully constructed exterior crack as she breaks down in tears upon viewing the recording of one of Specter’s victims pleading for her life.
4. Cookie Lyon – Taraji P. Henson, Empire
Empire may as well be called the Cookie show; Taraji P. Henson steals every scene she’s in and her performance is just screaming for an Emmy nom. Cookie is not an easy character to put in a box. When we first meet her, she has been in prison for 17 years, so I often overlook her politically incorrect shortcomings. She is fiercely loyal, but if you cross her she will run you over. She always looks fabulous and oozes the kind of confidence I would kill to possess. Cookie is also sensitive and lonely. After returning to her family from her stint in jail, she wants what is rightfully hers. They did use the drug money she went down for in order to start the company after all. The most interesting Cookie moments are when she shows her vulnerability, like with Malcolm during their cabin retreat. At the end of the day, Cookie is a tigress and will guard her babies with whatever means necessary – and you don’t want to get caught between her teeth.
MAIN TRAITS: dramatic, loyal, brutally honest, vulnerable
FAVORITE QUOTE: “The streets ain’t made for everybody. That’s why they made sidewalks.”
BEST EPISODE: “Sins of the Father.” On paper, Cookie Lyon is a smorgasbord of stereotypes, but in the hands of Taraji Henson, she has become a much more layered and realistic character. In almost every episode, Cookie has a slew of one-liners, catch phrases and melodramatic blowups. However, this second to last episode in Empire’s first season is where Henson really gets to show her range. She gets to be sexy and funny and introspective and all in a way that feels more natural to her character than the often one-dimensional (but still fabulous) chaos queen.
5. Carol Peletier – Melissa McBride, The Walking Dead
Of all the characters that have survived the apocalypse, Carol is perhaps the most interesting and the most changed since everything went down. Before the virus, Carol was married to an abusive asshole and seemed to find solace only in her daughter. After her husband got bitten, she focused her energies to her daughter only to loose her too in the most horrific way possible. From there on out, Carol was her number one – likely for the first time in her life. She adapted to the new world and honed her skills to become one of the most useful members of the group. She’s sacrificed people for the good of the group and gotten them out of hot water more than once. Not only was she useful as a part of the group, but she survived months at a time all on her own. Now in Alexandria, she is proving to have learned to blend in unassumingly by using the skills she learned in her miserable marriage post-apocalypse. There really is nothing quite like seeing a true survivor become a total badass by adapting to her surroundings.
MAIN TRAITS: ruthless, survivor, pragmatic, realistic
FAVORITE QUOTE: “Look, you’re not who you were and neither am I. I don’t know if I believe in God anymore or heaven, but if I’m going to hell, I’m making damn sure I’m holding it off as long as I can.”
BEST EPISODE: “Remember.” I could easily pick a bunch of episodes showcasing how badass Carol has become (can we please talk about her crazy heroics in No Sanctuary?!) but I thought I would choose an episode that was more focused on the person Carol was and who she has become. Upon seeing Carol for the first time in Alexandria, it’s clear she doesn’t look like herself, or rather she looks like the woman she was when the world went to hell. However, it’s clear before long why she is putting on a charade: she knows better than anyone how to fit in and blend – side effects of an abusive relationship. It’s only then do we see how far she’s truly come. Of the entire group, she has changed the most and instead of shedding her prior lot in life, she chooses to embrace what she learned before and use it to protect herself now.
And now on to Emily’s list!