Phoebe, Carmela, Blair: Eevee’s Hannah Staff nominates her favourite female TV characters from the last two decades…
Thanks to Netflix, HBO and the mighty box set, the recent explosion of addictive TV choices has resulted in audiences experiencing a ‘second golden age’ of television. We’ve been gripped by Breaking Bad, lusted after the curves in Mad Men and fallen even further in love with Sherlock. Watching TV has become a social requirement and a conversational necessity – and it’s not just popular amongst us ‘culturally inferior’ masses. Some of the film industry’s biggest names have got involved too, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, David Lynch and the Coen brothers all securing TV’s status within high culture. Night after night we’ve dedicated ourselves to the lives and stories of these characters and so it’s no surprise that we’ve become a little attached. With so many talented female actresses to choose from, selecting the best of the best was always going to be difficult – and more than a little controversial. These are just five of the women who have helped shape television as we know it, setting a precedent for the high quality drama we have come to expect and admire. (No spoilers, promise).
Carmela Soprano – The Sopranos
“Gentle and merciful Lord Jesus, I want to speak to you not with an open heart, an honest heart. Tonight I ask you take my sins and the sins of my family into your merciful heart. We have chosen this life in full awareness of the consequences of our sins. I know that.”
If the big hair and bold outfits weren’t enough to secure Carmela’s position in the top ten, her complicated relationship with mob boss Tony Soprano and two adolescent children firmly place her as one of the greatest wives and mothers in TV history. Fraught with guilt and resentment over her husband’s infidelity and their extravagant blood-moneyed lifestyle, Carmela, in all her floor length fur coats and diamond bracelets, is weighted in a compelling depth of character and vulnerability unrivalled by any other TV series – Edie Falco’s faultless portrayal earning the actress two Golden Globes, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series a total of three times.
Phoebe/Monica/Rachel – Friends
Ok so this might technically be cheating but these three women just cannot be separated. Whether you’re more Phoebe/Rachel, Rachel/Monica or Monica/Phoebe with that Rachel haircut, almost any woman can recognise themselves in some combination of the three – a classic 90s trio who led the way for the iconic SATC foursome and Lena Dunham’s Girls. With Monica’s OCD, Phoebe’s “smelly cat” and Rachel’s ‘will they/won’t they?’ relationship dramas, we laughed, cried and quoted our way through ten series of heartbreaking comedy and, since the show ended in 2004, the friends’ combined commitment to the Central Perk sofa has been matched by countless repeats of the sitcom’s 236 episodes. A cultural phenomenon with endless and enduring character appeal.
Blair Waldorf – Gossip Girl
“Leave it to Blair Waldorf to know bitches don’t just happen; they’re made.”
She’s the ‘B’ to Serena’s ‘S’, the brunette beauty who joined the mighty numbers of Mrs Bass’ and the esteemed title of Queen Bee in New York’s Upper East Side. She inspired us to dress up as Marie Antoinette in the bedroom and play dirty in the boardroom. She wisely avoided Brooklyn (enough with the waffles Rufus) with a weakness for pie we can all relate to. Her uniform of headband, coloured tights and pleated skirt set her up for high school fashion icon and her inevitable takeover of Waldorf designs. Her social superiority and obsession with status is riddled with an insecurity and doubt that renders her endless scheming and on/off relationship with Chuck as compelling and addictive as any guilty pleasure. XOXO….Gossip Girl.
Nancy Botwin – Weeds
“I’m a mother lion and you can’t defeat a mother lion when you’ve threatened her cubs”
Nancy Botwin is no ordinary American yummy mummy. When her husband suddenly dies of a heart attack, Nancy (played by Mary-Louise Parker) begins selling cannabis in her Californian hometown Agrestic in order to support herself and two sons. Smart, sexual and direct, Nancy’s got as much sass as she’s got hash, charming her way into becoming the female antihero TV’s been waiting for. Admittedly as the series develop Nancy’s appeal dwindles and her insolence can be a little frustrating. However, it’s this element of weakness that makes this widowed mother of two so affecting and, as the eponymous “milf” of Snoop Dogg’s “milf weed”, proves her charisma across multiple TV audiences.
Peggy Olson – Mad Men
“I don’t think anyone wants to be one of a hundred colours in a box”
Set within the male-dominated advertising industry of 1960s America, Peggy Olson is an outsider from the off – and not just because she’s a woman succeeding in a man’s world. From her working class Brooklyn roots Peggy proves herself as an ambitious career girl and undeniably skilled copywriter, integral to both Sterling Cooper and later Sterling Cooper Draper Bryce. In an era when most women reluctantly sacrificed their careers for marriage, Peggy’s refusal to compromise forces her to negotiate her future through rampant sexism and subjugation from both men and women. With her polite put-downs, cutting one-liners and delicate branding of the first female vibrator, ‘The Rejuvenator’, Peggy’s quiet confidence and brave determination present her as a feminist trailblazer and inspiring TV icon.