I don’t watch a lot of TV, because it means my brain has to be focused for longer than 3 minutes. Whatever shows I do watch need to be worth keeping me from the intense pull that is the internet. Most that do make the cut are either from American cable or British networks, and are usually dramas. It’s hard to find a show with good comedic value, so I tend to stay away from sitcoms and the like. I truly don’t understand the popularity of The Big Bang Theory, laugh tracks being the cheap persuader of bad jokes. And if the shows don’t have strong characters, I’d really prefer to not watch anything.
Shows I do watch: Homeland, The Good Wife, Luther, Suits, Downton Abbey, Sherlock (even Elementary isn’t too bad). Most of these not only have strong characters, but strong female ones. Carrie Mathison, Alicia Florrick, Alice Morgan, Jessica Pearson, et al are all tough, intelligent, confident, but are also human, have flaws, and our empathy for them can at times be challenged.
Homeland follows CIA operative Carrie Mathison voraciously hunting down a terrorist in order to stop a retaliatory attack on American soil. She’s compelling for a number of reasons: her intense passion for her work, which often involves taking insane risks both professionally and physically; her struggle with bipolar disorder; and her use of love and sex, both for her own needs as well as those of her country. It’s obvious she isn’t using these merely for exploitative reasons, but to sometimes fulfill a deeper emotional need.
I’m enthralled with the idea that both sex and love can be used as tools for a purpose other than to further a romantic plotline. It’s the first instance I’ve seen in either TV or film that love for a person isn’t trumping all else, that all cautions aren’t being romantically thrown to the wind just so the two leads can walk into the sunset together. It’s been interesting to watch Carrie and her CIA team struggle with this duality.
Another show with strong female characters is The Good Wife, lead by actress Julianna Margulies. Alicia Florrick is a junior litigator at a law firm whose life has been wrecked by her States Attorney husband imprisoned for his involvement in a high profile sex scandal. While her life had been defined as political wife and mother, the series follows her carving her own niche as a brilliant lawyer as well as taking control of her own sexuality that is no longer determined by someone else. The series is loaded with strong female roles, including Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, senior partner of the firm, and Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma, the firm’s tough as nails, leather-clad house investigator.
I’m not usually a fan of shows cast full of female characters since most of them fall within typical tropes of what happens when too many are in the same room — all their menstrual cycles align. They’re too horny. Their bosses are male. Blah blah blah. Please. The Good Wife is antithetical to most of these stereotypes and the writing team is doing a fine job of creating more dimensional characters. It slips a bit with Kalinda, as she’s almost a caricature of a strong, hot woman with lesbian tendencies, but I’ll forgive it. The rest of the show is too good.
Perhaps the most delicious character on television is Dr. Alice Morgan, the psychopathic murderous muse to British Detective Inspector Luther. Not burdened with ‘useless’ emotions, Alice is intriguing in her conviction that nothing truly matters and she is one of few characters in a grey world who makes black and white arguments completely persuasive. Her character isn’t there to be a sexual foil for Luther, as would be typically expected. She fucks with his mind, not his body. How she insinuates herself like an oil slick into Luther’s life makes the show worth watching, and her smile is the best one I’ve ever seen on screen – you know there’s something sinister behind it.
There’s still some work to be done within other shows I enjoy, like Suits, especially with women of colour. Although the one strong female lead played by Gina Torres is a senior partner at the law firm, her character is fairly one-dimensional. Intelligent and driven, we don’t see too much else of her personality. She almost seems a token placement, and her character hasn’t lived up to any potential (from being anything other than a sounding board for the male lead and looking fabulous in the most amazing TV wardrobe I’ve seen). I hope this changes in the upcoming season.
It’s refreshing to see television writers finally creating female characters that are strong enough to enthrall a finicky audience, used to seeing men in lead roles and women as accessories who blow loosely in the wind until they find a male to ground them (this, despite the mix of female and male writers creating these characters). Infusion of sex and love as things that are more complicated than a mere staining of sheets and purpose for living is a good sign that women’s sexual worth is being considered on the same plane as that of men’s ambition.
Got a question about sex in art, relationships, parenting? Send Sonya a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymity assured.