The Countdown: Top Ten Kick-ass Female TV Characters

| August 30, 2016

There’s nothing quite like a strong, intelligent, empowered female character who doesn’t need to be rescued and isn’t defined solely by her need to get a boyfriend.  Someone who not only will keep up with the boys but put them in their place with grace and civility.  Someone who is part of the media world but seems immune to the antiquated notions of femininity that the media forces on society on a daily basis.  Someone who hears they should be modest and mild and not get too hysterical and they recognize what utter nonsense that is.  Someone to look up to, an example for boys and girls alike to see how mature and capable people function in the world, no matter how much hatred and condescension they may face along the way.  Someone who recognizes that the first one through the glass ceiling is the one who gets the most cuts and still does what needs to be done.

With that, and with great pleasure, I present my list for the top ten kickass female television characters:

Honorable Mention:  Buffy Summers
Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
Hard not to include Buffy since she is the quintessential badass girl character, but Joss Whedon is kinda known for writing quintessential badass girl characters and I wanted to limit myself to one.  Could very easily just do a top ten Whedon characters list at some point.  Buffy’s fantastic, and grows a lot over the 7 seasons of her show, and I find myself more and more able to relate to her decisions as I get older, making her a character who accepts her flaws and rolls with them.

10. Nancy Wheeler
Stranger Things
if Stranger Things keeps up like it has been, I imagine Nancy will climb higher on this list.  Going from a cliché high school girl character who’s worried if the popular boy likes her to a kickass monster hunter in only 8 episodes is remarkable.  I imagine that a lot of people will include the show’s Eleven character on their list, but I don’t see it.  Not yet.  She has super powers and broods.  Hardly original.

09. Skyler White
Breaking Bad
Can pretty much guarantee she won’t make Paul and Wayne’s lists.  I’ve heard them denigrate Skyler as the only bad thing about Breaking Bad, but I think she’s just as amazing as the rest of the show, which I consider to be as close to perfection as a TV series can get.  Sure, the first couple of seasons they don’t do much with her, but when she figures out what’s going on and makes decisions to include herself in her husband’s criminal activity instead of ripping her family apart, she becomes a fascinating character study to me.

08. Leslie Knope
Parks and Recreation
They say comedy is what’s hard but Amy Poehler and the rest of the Parks and Rec team sure make it look easy.  This show features one of my favorite casts of characters and Knope leading the way is just perfect.  It’s amazing to watch her grow from a fairly conventional sitcom character in the first season to a capable, independent, tenacious, effective civil servant as the show progresses.  Her passion for her fictional community of Pawnee, Indiana is so intoxicating, it makes me want to get involved with my community, but I don’t have a Leslie Knope or a Ron Swanson.

07. Claudia Jean “C.J.” Cregg
The West Wing
Everything I look for in a character, man or woman.  C.J. is wickedly intelligent, passionate about her job, hilarious, and maybe the most grounded, human character on this list.  This performance has made me an Allison Janney fan for life and whenever she pops up in something, I get really excited.  Though, to be fair, I haven’t seen her new sitcom, Mom, because I don’t usually care for Anna Farris’ work, but I hear good things and may get around to it if it ever comes to Netflix.  I will never stop rewatching The West Wing though, which is a phenomenal series even after Aaron Sorkin leaves.

06. Veronica Mars
Veronica Mars
This show could have just slipped into obscurity and not mattered much if it weren’t for the insanely compelling Veronica character, played by Kristen Bell.  The daughter of a private investigator and a pariah in her school populated by privileged rich kids makes every episode a film noir with a good bit of levity.  Also, the characters deal with important, real-world issues that other high school dramas either ignore or don’t do well.  I have to find time to rewatch this soon, even the weak third season that killed the series.

05. Katara
Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra
There were a number of animated characters I was considering for this list, but when asking myself who kicks the most ass, I had to go with Katara from the Last Airbender TV series.  I love a good character arc, and when Katara discovers she has a rare and dark ability to manipulate the blood in people’s bodies, it sends her down a very interesting path, giving her a temptation and a vindictive side, a means to protect the ones she loves while losing herself a little along the way.  It’s great to watch.  Skip the movie, whose biggest sin is ruining Katara’s character.  And every other character, and the bargain basement special effects, and mispronouncing everything!  Man, what a trainwreck…

04. Claire Underwood
House of Cards
On a recent re-watch of House of Cards I made a point of focusing on Robin Wright’s performance specifically.  Frank’s motivations are clear because he whispers them to us through the fourth wall, but Claire is a wonderfully complicated character who doesn’t give up anything she doesn’t have to, not even to the audience.  Her relationship with Frank is one of the most compelling I’ve ever seen on film or television and when they’re working together for a common goal, it’s magnificent.  She is the lady Macbeth to his Richard III, and they are unstoppable.

03. Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen, First of her Name, The Mother of Dragons, The Breaker of Chains, The Queen Across the Sea
Game of Thrones
I put off getting into Game of Thrones for a long time.  I watched the first season when it came out and thought it was fine, but had other things I preferred wasting my time on.  Last year, I got caught up and Daenerys quickly emerged as my favorite character in the series, which is full of rich, interesting, female characters, but not all of them kick ass.  Daenerys is ruthless and cold, which shouldn’t be that interesting, but the fire in her eyes when she’s liberating cities from tyranny, or plotting her conquest to the iron throne is awesome.  I would say that I’d stop watching the show if they ever killed her off, but with only two short half seasons left before the finale, I’m all in.

02. Winifred “Fred” Burkle/Illyria
Easily my favorite female Joss Whedon character, and easily the most heartbreaking death in Television history to me.  Even when Fred is found late in the second season of Angel, alone and afraid in a cave in another dimension, driven to the point of insanity, she is still surviving and taking care of herself.  She’s a genius, a sweetheart, and as she grows within this family of a paranormal investigators, she kicks so much ass.  And then her body is taken over by an ancient demon who scoops out Fred’s essence, burns her soul, and walks around in her body for the rest of the series, and it’s crushing to me.  But seeing Amy Acker transform from sweet, perfect, amazing Fred to the regal, calculating, psychopath Illyria makes her one of my favorite actors.  I was considering Zoey Washburn from Firefly because she’s awesome and it would add a little more diversity to my list, but how often am I really going to get to sing the praises of Acker’s performance here?  Plus her character arc is much more interesting to me than Zoey’s, who was cursed by much less screentime.

01. Professor River Song
Doctor Who
It was hard to pick a number one from these ten amazing characters.  Really, the ranking here is totally arbitrary because I love them all and so many others.  Professor Song is a character who pops up from time to time in Doctor Who.  She’s not my favorite female companion (if you can classify her as a companion); that would be Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), but River is definitely the ass-kickiest character on the show, man or woman.  She’s brilliant, funny, and her devotion to the Doctor and the other characters is awe inspiring.  What gives her the edge maybe over the other women on this list is how her story is woven throughout the Doctor’s narrative, so we see the events of her life out of order, starting with her death when the Doctor first meets her, and progressing through a series of fantastic adventures that are tainted by knowing how and when she eventually dies, sacrificing herself so the Doctor can still experience their time together.  It blows my mind, and makes me extremely nervous for Steven Moffat to leave the series as showrunner.  I doubt Chibnall or anyone who takes over the show in the future will ever come close to achieving what Moffat has done with the series since his first episode in 2005.

Next week will be the Top Ten Most Ridiculous Action Movies/Scenes.  Not sure if “ridiculous” means good or bad to Paul and Wayne, but I’m going to go with the most fun, over the top, crazy action movies and scenes.  For better or worse.  This will require some thought.

Don’t forget to check out The Countdown: Movie and TV Reviews podcast and follow them on twitter @TheCountdownPC

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.

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