TV’s lead female characters preferred by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. are no wilting flowers.
From Elisabeth Moss’ feisty copywriter in “Mad Men” to Edie Falco’s brusque pill-popper in “Nurse Jackie” and Kyra Sedgwick’s take-charge police detective that rises above the sea of her sexist male colleagues in “The Closer,” these women on the smallscreen are tough, sensible and prove they’ve got more mettle and moxie than a boatload of testosterone.
“Women have transcended the traditional role that has been previously ascribed to them in television,” says Matt Corman, series creator of USA Network’s “Covert Affairs,” the cabler’s action-crime thriller starring nominated thesp Piper Perabo in the role of an undercover spy. “They’re not just the wife and girlfriend roles anymore. They’re very powerful women, but are also very nuanced, even more so than the males. There is complexity in these characters and are fully realized human beings.”
“Affairs” co-creator Chris Ord suggests that, ironically, what makes female characters today often fiercer than their male counterparts is their ability to expose their emotional side.
“Spies aren’t supposed to show their emotions,” he explains. “They’re supposed to stay Sphinx-like. But Piper’s character shows her vulnerability and her weaknesses, and this often helps her succeed.”
For most of these fiery female characters, it’s not their physical prowess — Moss and Perabo, for example, are definitely not foreboding in stature — but their high levels of intelligence that give them the gumption and edge needed to outwit the men in their worlds.
“Jackie is emotionally and intellectually stronger than the people around her,” says “Jackie” creator Liz Brixius. “I don’t think she’s physically stronger, and that’s where the drug addiction comes. She’s overextended herself. She wants to be the best nurse and the best mother, but she’s committed 26 hours of the day out to people when she really only has 24.”
It’s her struggle, says Brixius, that makes Jackie compelling and keeps her humanity intact.
“Nurses are like firemen,” she continues. “They’re heroes, but they’re walking among us every day. We latch on to the heroism, but we also want her to be relatable. You make her real with drug addiction and a family, and she gets really interesting really fast.”
But are some of these characters a bit too far-fetched and over-the-top?
“There seems to be a limited range of female characters that are allowed in the inner circle in TV,” posits AOL critic Maureen Ryan. “We want to see conflicted characters, but at the same time it seems like there’s this idea that they need to be sort of extreme in their flaws or their behaviors.”
While Ryan responds to the ass-kicking, gun-wielding antics of Globe nominee Katey Sagal’s “Sons of Anarchy” character, it requires an ongoing suspension of disbelief. She cites Julianna Margulies (also a Globe non) in “The Good Wife” as one example of a protagonist — successful lawyer and doting mother — with whom many women can identify, but she deems many of the female characters on TV outlandish.
“Most people don’t live lives like these women,” Ryan continues, “which is fine because they are a little bit larger than life. But it would be nice if the women on TV were a little bit more relatable to us.”
But for Brixius, today’s women on TV — namely Falco’s character — are constructed very much so in the vein of classic male Hollywood figures (think James Dean, Clint Eastwood and even Don Draper of “Mad Men”). They’ve got pluck, guts and are imperfect in many ways.
“We’re just writing women like we used to write guys,” Brixius says. “Jackie Peyton stays ahead of the law. She’s grappling with rights and wrongs. She’s tragic, but every day she does a little bit more good than she does bad. She’s romantic, a loner. She’s a miracle to me.”
No changes set for HFPA voting process | Feisty femme characters raise TV stakes
And the nominees are:
Drama | Comedy/Musical | Drama – Actor | Drama – Actress | Comedy – Actor | Comedy – Actress
Cecil B. DeMille Award: Robert De Niro
De Niro ranges from epics to Fokkers | Dangerous De Niro brought electricity to screen