Thursday, July 14, 2011

The 5 Best Smart and Sexy Female TV Characters

Good TV shows have strong female characters. The greatest shows have women who steal the series and leave lasting impressions. This is a list of my personal favorite of all those wonderful ladies who have graced the television screen.

1. Mrs. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg/The Avengers). The Avengers was the first British series to be broadcast for a fall schedule in the U.S., but that wasn’t until 1965 with the fourth season (or fourth series, as they say in the UK). That particular year was the introduction to the beguiling Emma Peel, her name derived from a condensed version of “Man Appeal” in the original script. An agile fighter and skilled agent, Emma was most often adorned in a variety of attire, with, particularly in her second series, a predilection for jumpsuits. Her presence literally made the series glow, as The Avengers moved from black-and-white to full, radiant color, and audiences were treated to the resplendence of Mrs. Peel’s red hair. Her physical attributes were pronounced, but one of Emma’s most prominent qualities was her above-average intelligence, most amply displayed in “The Master Minds”, when she takes an IQ test on behalf of her partner, John Steed, for admittance into a school of intellectuals. She also aces her own test and later, working at the school as a secretary, must “fix” a test Steed takes on his own, even with some answers provided for him (“And now you’re brilliant,” Emma tells him, “genius level”). It is fitting that Mr. Peel is never shown (he can be seen only from afar in Emma’s final episode, “The Forget-Me-Not”), as no man seems worthy of such a woman. Rigg was irresistible in the role that made her a star: delightful, charming and undeniably beautiful.

2. Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn/Twin Peaks). Twin Peaks was a small town in Washington with a brooding, underlining evil that began exposing itself following the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer. But the town did have a pleasant side, and nothing shone more brightly than Audrey Horne. When Audrey walked into a room, everyone noticed, like in the pilot when she turned the heads of a roomful of investors. She even had her own theme, “Freshly Squeezed” (as named on the show’s soundtrack), a reference to Audrey’s breakfast encounters with Special Agent Dale Cooper at her father’s hotel. She set her eyes solely upon Special Agent Cooper, and she used her wits to conduct her own investigation (simply to help the object of her affection). Though she’s halted by being held captive, Audrey was actually a few steps ahead of the cops. The consummate professional, Cooper never reciprocated Audrey’s advances, but because Audrey craved a relationship that seemed unattainable, it’s an indication of her unfaltering determination and independence. Fenn is classically beautiful, as if she’s stepped off a film lot in Old Hollywood (and aided in Twin Peaks with Audrey’s retro wardrobe). And like a softly-lit movie star on a giant theatre screen, Audrey remains forever graceful and poetic. Special Agent Cooper dreams of Laura and the Black Lodge, but the viewers’ dreams are filled with Audrey Horne.

3. Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist/Remington Steele). In a male-dominated world, gumshoe Laura Holt creates a non-existing male detective for her agency, hoping to earn clients who are confounded by a female sleuth. With some actresses given little to do, Remington Steele is a refreshing change of pace by making a male the eye candy (in this case, the Irish Pierce Brosnan). The unnamed conman, assuming the role of Remington Steele, was the front, as Laura did the majority of the crime solving. But while having a capable, smart female character in the lead is noteworthy, the show’s most commendable trait is helping an audience see that the attractive characters in the past were more than their external beauty. Laura’s expertise and proficiency are unprecedented, but with Zimbalist portraying the detective, she was also alluring, a vision in a fedora (allowing other fedora-donning sleuths such as Sam Spade to fall into obscurity). The series title is an allusion to the agency’s name, not the man. And the responsibility of running the agency, as well as the true source of all that romance, fell at the rather adept feet of Laura Holt.

4. Amy Allen (Melinda Culea/The A-Team) It takes quite a woman to stand out among a cast full of testosterone, but reporter Amy Allen did just that with minimal effort. It was her newspaper article (which she was researching) that introduced audiences to the A-Team. She was a good fit with the men: not constantly barraged by Face’s flirtatious ways, never the victim of B.A.’s infamous bad attitude, and respected by Hannibal as if she were a soldier under his command. Amy could even understand the sometimes incomprehensible (and legally insane) Murdock. Culea played the character as resilient and flexible in largely unfamiliar circumstances, and her girl-next-door appeal was a way that young male viewers could, perhaps ironically, relate to stories involving Vietnam War vets. Unfortunately, Amy was gone halfway through the sophomore season, but Culea’s female replacement wasn’t genuinely a replacement, as she only appeared sporadically and was dropped early in the subsequent season. Reportedly, Tia Carrere, a guest star in the Season 4 finale, was meant to join the cast in the fifth season but was unable to do so (due to her role in General Hospital). In short, there was no one equivalent to Amy, as she is not remembered as a cohort, but rather a former member of the A-Team.

5. Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray/Buck Rogers in the 25th Century). In the 30+ years since its debut on television (the pilot actually premiered in theatres months before), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century has aged considerably, its more derivative features all the more noticeable with the growing popularity of 1977’s Star Wars (an obvious source of, let’s say, “inspiration”). Colonel Wilma Deering, however, was a character all her own, and her skintight uniforms and corresponding outfits made it easy to forget that she was a high-ranking officer. More significant was the fact that the presumably dashing titular character, who caught the fancy of the villainous Princess Ardala and somehow managed to bed a new woman each week, had to earn any respect and potential affection from Col. Deering. Romance between the two was not a focus of the series, which seems to suggest that even the writers did not believe Buck Rogers was a worthwhile partner for Wilma. Gray’s bright eyes and warm smile (with those impossible-to-miss dimples), along with her rank, gave her a commanding presence. Producers reportedly asked her to lighten her hair for the show, but as the series progressed, she returned to her natural brunette hue, because, behind all the spaceships and lasers, the real reason to watch Buck Rogers had not a thing to do with Buck What’s-his-face and everything to do with a certain Colonel in snug apparel.

Honorable mentions: Cinnamon (Barbara Bain/Mission: Impossible) -- The sole female IMF member (for the first three seasons), she was more than just the female agent, as she was often pitted in dangerous situations like the men. Cinnamon also had the distinction of retrieving the mission details in Season 1’s “Action!”, the only other person aside from team leaders Dan and Jim to do so. Kelly Garrett (Jaclyn Smith/Charlie’s Angels) -- A seemingly ever-changing cast did not deter from the draw of Smith or her portrayal of Kelly. She was the only actress who starred in all five seasons of the series, a beautiful constant and an incentive to continue watching. Morticia Addams (Carolyn Jones/The Addams Family) -- With her perpetual smirk and her arms generally crossed, the Addams Family matriarch evidently believes that running a household filled with eccentric characters is a cakewalk. A precursory look at promotional shots for the series is telling: Morticia, surrounded by her family, is sitting in her famous chair, the center of everything.


Mythical Monkey said...

Emma Peel gets my vote, too. Diana Rigg was (and still is) operating on a different level than everybody else.

Caftan Woman said...

Three cheers for Laura Holt! "Remington Steel" unjustly seems to come in second behind "Moonlighting" when folks recall that era.

The most endearing aspect of our leading man was his fondness for classic movies.

Rick29 said...

Sark, this was a delightful post and I fully concur with your choice of Mrs. Peel as No. 1. I forgot about the time she took the test for Steed--which was hilarious. I was surprised, but quite pleased, to see Audrey from TWIN PEAKS in your list. The show seemed to consider pairing her romantically with Agent Cooper, which I thought would have been a perfect match. Alas, it never happened (perhaps because of Audrey's old was she supposed to be?). Colonel Deering, Morticia, and especially Cinnamon are also all outstanding choices (I'm not as familiar with some of the others because I just didn't watch those shows). I would probably add Honey West, who was much smarter than her partner Sam (and could beat him in a fight, too). It's interesting that there seems to have been an increase in strong female characters on TV over the last 10 years: Fiona on BURN NOTICE, Aeryn from FARSCAPE, Starbuck on the rebooted GALACTICA, and others. A thought-provoking and entertaining article!

ClassicBecky said...

Outstanding Best Of article, Sark! I never really watched A-Team, Buck Rogers or, believe it or not, Twin Peaks (I don't know why, that one sounds like one I'd love!). But I do know the actresses and remember them. All are lovely women, it's great to know they were able to play actual intelligent people! I agree, I think Sherilyn Fenn is just movie-star gorgeous.

I loved Remington Steele, and thought Stephanie Zimbalist did such a good job of playing it smart and fully able to outdo her handsome false front! It was just a great show! And oh Mrs. Peel! She was epic. My Dad had a giant crush on her, and my Mom was sweet enough to let him! I remember loving that she was smarter than Steed. Cinnamon was classy, and I thought Kelly was the main reason to watch Charlie's Angels! But I have to say, Morticia is way up there in my estimation. Dark and hilarious, The Addams Family was one my own family never missed. Morticia was just too cool for words! Loved this, Sark!

Anonymous said...

Yep, Diana Riggs has to top this list. But what about Yvonne Craig as Batgirl on "Batman" ?

toto2 said...

I can tell you had fun with this post, Sark! I agree that Emma Peel/Diana Rigg is the perfect choice in the number one spot. Cinnamon Carter/Barbara Bain would probably rank in my number two spot. Somewhere on my list would be Veronica Mars/Kristen Bell even though it is a fairly recent show (2004-2007). Veronica proved her mettle and then some while still in high school. My list would probably include Mary Richards/Mary Tyler Moore because she paved the way for women in the work force to have respect during her show from 1970 to 1977. Mary's character Laura Petrie may have been cuter on The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) but Mary Richards had more strength and independence.
Great blog, all!

Aubyn said...

Wonderful article and of course, Emma Peel must take the top spot. Always and forever.

Lacey said...

Totally agree

Lacey said...

No list can satisfy everyone, but including Amy Allen at the expense of Honey West ? Really ?

Anne Francis was the first independent and strong, while still being sexy, woman on TV. It would be years before American networks had the courage to have a character such as her helm a TV show.