Picking the 25 best television roles for women wasn't easy. Television has been around for long enough that women have played thousands of characters ranging from presidents to gods, mothers to strippers, aliens to stripper aliens and pretty much everything in between. In devising this list, we wanted to choose women we admired, or who were pioneers (not literally, sorry Ma Ingalls), or had stories that stuck with you for years. The female characters who ended up on the list come from the Upper East Side, California, Baltimore, distant futures, and other worlds. These women are strong, sassy, determined, ambitious. They were trailblazers for women both on television and off. They tackled hot-button issues head on and changed the course of national political conversations by virtue of plot lines on their shows.
These women range from savvy to devilish to forthright and true. They were career women, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, leaders, cheerleaders, and some of them were just having more fun than anyone else in the room. They are the women we would like to be, or the women we would just like to get a drink with sometime, and, in some cases, the women we wouldn't want to be caught with alone in a room.
In short, these are the 25 best characters played by women on television.
25. Jaime Sommers from "The Bionic Woman"
Played by Lindsay Wagner, the Bionic Woman was crafted by the same team who brought us Steve Austin a.k.a. "The Six Million Dollar Man". Austin begged his boss to save his critically-injured girlfriend after she was hurt in a skydiving accident immediately after their engagement. The result was a woman stronger, faster, and with better hearing than almost anyone on earth. The cost? Amnesia and a job as an agent for a branch of the CIA. She and her bionic dog, Maximillion, fought crime, including the FemBots, and saved the world over and over again.
24. Captain Kathryn Janeway on "Star Trek: Voyager"
Played by Kate Mulgrew, Captain Janeway was the first woman to helm a Star Trek series and she did it with skill and grace. (Think less Kirk, more Jean-Luc Picard.) As captain of the Starfleet starship USS Voyager, Janeway faced life or death decisions almost daily and faced down such adversaries as The Borg and the Q Continuum with fearless resilience. She was so good at her job that she eventually rose to the rank of Admiral in the film, "Star Trek: Nemesis."
23. Blair Waldorf from "Gossip Girl"
Played by Leighton Meester, Blair is the Upper East Side's resident Queen Bee. She's a schemer, a dreamer, and always knows everyone's business. No one would ever mistake her for nice, but everyone wants to be her friend. She is an unapologetic fashion plate with a big brain under all that shiny hair. She has no tolerance for anyone not up to her standards, which is most of the world.
22. Felicia "Snoop" Pearson from "The Wire"
Played by a woman of the same name, Snoop was an enforcer for Marlo Stanfield's drug ring. The only girl in the crew, Snoop was fearsome as a street tough soldier with no fear of getting her hands dirty. Horror master Stephen King called her character "perhaps the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a television series."
21. Patsy Stone from "Absolutely Fabulous"
Played by Joanna Lumley, Patsy was always having more fun than anyone else. She claimed to have blocked out everything before 1968, but her life since then was filled with modeling jobs, time spent as a Bond girl, and harassing Saffron, her best friend Edina's dour daughter. Adamantly immature, firmly alcoholic, and devastatingly fashion forward and fad obsessed, Patsy is no role model, but you definitely want her at your party. Propped against a wall perhaps. Word is that new episodes of the show are in production, which is ab fab, because the more Patsy, the better.
20. Angela Chase from "My So-Called Life"
Played by Claire Danes, Angela was very much a regular high school girl. As she entered adolescence, she struggled to find her own identity, leaving her old best friend for new ones and pulling away from her parents as she took tentative steps toward adulthood. Of course, there was a boy, Jordan Catalano, who Angela desperately wanted to notice her. The emotional ups and downs of the slow crawl to adulthood were narrated by Angela, which created one of the most painfully emotionally honest portrayals of adolescence ever.
19. Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs from "The Wire"
Played by Sonja Sohn, Kima was an excellent detective with a flawed personal life. Working on a special narcotics taskforce, Kima proves herself to be police, through and through, but she would blow whistle on her coworkers when necessary. Her love for her job strained her relationship with her partner Cheryl and Kima struggled to remain faithful, especially after being pressured into parenting. Kima is wily and capable and truly complex.
18. Agent Dana Scully from "The X-Files"
Played by Gillian Anderson, Agent Scully was a perpetual skeptic. Well, until her partner gets abducted. A trained scientist, the FBI agent was paired with Agent Fox Mulder, a true believer, to investigate seemingly supernatural happenings for the FBI. Her Catholic faith was strained by her scientific training and her encounters with the paranormal and her own kidnapping and attempted murder. She and Mulder became increasingly entangled as the show went on, but Scully always kept a firm head on her shoulders and a sense of self.
17. Alexis Carrington Colby from "Dynasty"
Played by Joan Collins, the love-to-hate Alexis was the perfect arch-nemesis for the Carrington family. Her elaborate coiffure covered a cunning mind and a devilish ambition. While she was willing to cat fight when necessary, she was also a wily business woman who frequently out-maneuvered Blake Carrington in the high stakes oil business.
16. Captain Kara "Starbuck" Thrace from "Battlestar Galactica"
Played by Katee Sackhoff, Starbuck is tough as nails. As a captain on the Galactica, she is hot-headed, cocky, and nihilistic. She fights fearlessly as she defends the remains of humanity from the enemy Cylons. Over the course of the show, her character evolves from hard-drinking pilot to wife and surrogate daughter to eventually becoming a beacon of hope for humanity. Kara is truly one of the most complex characters ever on television.
15. Mary Richards from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"
Played by Mary Tyler Moore, Mary was an ambitious associate producer for a television news show in Minneapolis. More important, Mary was single, which was a prime-time breakthrough. Mary did not take her role as a trailblazer lightly, and the show tackled issues such as equal pay for women, pre-marital sex, addiction, death, and workplace politics. Despite challenges, with her best friend, Rhoda, and her surly but loveable boss Lou by her side, you knew Mary was going to make it after all.
14. Gemma Teller from "Sons of Anarchy"
Played by Katey Sagal, Gemma Morrow isn't a member of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, but she is a full-fledged partner in her husband's extra-legal activities. Gemma acts almost as a den mother to the MC and in that role, she is fearless in the face of guns, rapists, racists, gun runners, and the law. Her soft side is saved for her family, friends, and occasionally the old ladies of the MC.
13. Sydney Bristow from "Alias"
Played by Jennifer Garner, Sydney kicked ass, literally. As a spy for SD-6 and the CIA, she was well trained in the art of espionage. She spoke over two dozen languages, was an expert in Krav Maga, and could have out-MacGuyvered the man himself. She endured significant trauma during the series, ranging from the death of her fiancé to the discovery that her mother was KGB informer to a strained relationship with her father to a brutal car crash. Through it all, Sydney kept her cool and always remained a step ahead of her enemies.
12. Jessica Fletcher from "Murder She Wrote"
Played by Angela Lansbury, Jessica Fletcher was a mystery writer and amateur detective in the small (yet crime-plagued) town of Cabot Cove, Maine. Her generous, polite, and affable exterior, hid the heart of a hard-boiled detective. Jessica always got her man and lived to tell the tale. Plus, one time she got to solve a crime with Magnum P.I. a.k.a. Tom Selleck, which puts her squarely in the gold medals of great women.
11. Xena from "Xena Warrior Princess"
Played by Lucy Lawless, the Warrior Princess once led an army of outlaws that terrorized the land, but she began to regret her life of crime and set out on a quest for redemption. As she fought evil, fell in love, and saved the world, she also blazed the trail for a new generation of female action heroes becoming a feminist and lesbian icon along the way.
10. Veronica Mars from "Veronica Mars"
Played by Kristen Bell, Veronica was an intrepid girl detective on the hunt to find her best friend's murderer. Working as a private investigator for pin money, with the backing of her detective father and her friends, Veronica unearthed her town's darkest secrets. Veronica was simultaneously vulnerable and tough, canny and naive, and wise to the world despite being a high school student.
9. Liz Lemon from "30 Rock"
Played by Tina Fey, Liz Lemon produces a (mostly) successful late night comedy show, despite juggling a cast of egomaniacal artists and a crew of immature misfits. She manages the show with dry wit, intellect, and a good-natured world weariness. She has a deep understanding of who she is and what she wants in life, be it a bag of Cheetos or a man who has no fear of whatever foot issues she is hiding. Plus she threw a birthday party for her TV, which is quite admirable.
8. Murphy Brown from "Murphy Brown"
Played by Candice Bergen, Murphy Brown was a national news reporter long before Katie Couric sat behind the anchor's desk. She was smart, driven, ambitious, and loved a good practical joke. Her decision to have a child as a single mother caused her to be rebuked by none other than Vice President Dan Quayle. Not many fictional characters can include that on their fictional resumes.
7. Blanche Devereaux from "[The] Golden Girls"
Played by Rue Maclanahan, Blanche was the opposite of a knitting granny rocking on the front porch. She didn't bake or sew, she was brazen, unabashed, and determined to have fun. After being faithfully married to her high school sweetheart, as a widow, Blanche was a woman determinedly on the prowl, teaching generations of women (and men) that life didn't stop after retirement. Her friendship with her roommates Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia kept her grounded, but [Blanche] was a woman of her own mind and morals.
6. Julia Sugarbaker from "Designing Women"
Played by Dixie Carter, Julia Sugarbaker was the quintessential strong, smart Southern woman. Never one to shy away from a fight, Julia would argue eloquently with passion and with style. She defended her beliefs even to the point of running her car into a newsstand that was selling pornography. She was a tireless supporter of her sister, her friends, and her political beliefs and she did it all with ladylike grace even in the Georgia humidity.
5. Maude Findlay from "Maude"
Played by Beatrice Arthur, Maude was a liberal outspoken upper middle class woman who handled tough situations with panache. Originally a spin-off of "All in the Family" the show quickly became a success on its own terms due in part to Maude's ability to face challenges with a dash of sarcasm and an iron will. Maude forced national conversations on controversial subjects like abortion, alcoholism, and suicide and she did it all with humor, grace, and intellect.
4. [Lucy Ricardo] from "I Love Lucy"
Played by Lucille Ball, Lucy is the grandmother of comedians. Each week audiences tuned in to watch Lucy's antics and to see what wacky hijinks she would get up to next. Aided and abetted by her trusty accomplice, Ethel (Vivian Vance), Lucy got into all kinds of trouble that usually required her mostly patient husband, [Ricky Ricardo] (Desi Arnaz), to bail her out. "I Love Lucy" was the most watched show in the United States for four years and sixty years later the re-runs can still be seen on air.
3. Wonder Woman from "Wonder Woman"
Played by Lynda Carter, Wonder Woman was fighting for her rights and the red, white, and blue. Emboldened by her divine mission and her trusty lasso of truth, Wonder Woman flew the globe in her invisible jet fighting crime and working for justice. The fact that she did it all in go-go boots and star-spangled underwear just made it all the more wonderful. Now fans must wait and see if the impending re-boot of the show can compare.
2. Clair Huxtable from "The Cosby Show"
Played by Phylicia Rashad, Clair Huxtable managed to do it all: Successful lawyer, mother of five, patient wife to Cliff. She is equal parts silly, smart, and strict. She could deliver eloquent lectures on everything from discipline to dancing to secret chili recipes. She had an easy elegance about her that made all she did look simple and plausible. Her ability to juggle a partnership in a New York City law firm with caring for her rambunctious children and husband, makes her a role model for working mothers everywhere.
1. Buffy Summers from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
Played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy was strong, sassy, smart, and stylish. Sure she killed vampires, demons, and monsters, but she was also a teenage girl who struggled with friendship, family ties, love, loss, betrayal, and growing up as The Slayer. She accepted her fate and went from cheerleading to walking fearlessly into battle against the forces of evil again and again. She saved the world from the Apocalypse (frequently), fell in love, was fiercely loyal, died twice, and survived going to high school on the Hell Mouth. She was an understated proponent of girl power, who knew that one girl was strong, but with some help from her friends, she could save the world over and over again and still make a smart-mouth when almost certain doom was avoided. Over the course of the show's seven season, Buffy proved that an action show with a girl as the action star could earn devoted and lifelong fans. While the clip below isn't traditional, it does sum up everything we love about Buffy's no-nonsense approach to life and slaying.
Kim Kelly from "Freaks and Geeks," played by Busy Phillips
Ellen from "Ellen," played by Ellen DeGeneres
Tami Taylor from "Friday Night Lights," played by Connie Britton
Peggy Olson from "Mad Men," played by Elisabeth Moss
Agent Olivia Dunham from "Fringe," played by Anna Torv
Florida Evans from "Good Times," played by Esther Rolle
Mary Cherry from "Popular"
Leslie Knope from "Parks and Recreation," played by Amy Poehler