My top female TV characters of the 2000sI started this list on a whim thinking it would take me a few minutes to compile: it ended up taking a few hours. There are just so many women I love that it was hard to narrow them down (plus, I had to find pictures for them all, which was sometimes surprisingly difficult, and then write blurbs about each one).
I was going to use an icon of one of my list, but then I decided instead to go for a Gina Torres icon, because she has played two characters who almost made it onto my list, but not quite (Anna Espinosa from Alias and Zoë Washburne from Firefly).
The list is in no particular order. I wouldn't have a clue how to rank them if I tried.
Feel free to comment with your own suggestions. I'm sure there must be women I've forgotton, as well as some from TV shows I've never seen.
Spooks (known in the US as MI:5)
Ros Myers is one of the most convincing spies I've ever seen on-screen or in fiction. She's a complex, layered character: she's ruthless but compassionate, capable but flawed, able to take orders and to give them, cold but able to cry, and prepared to do anything it takes to do her job (even shooting through her friend and colleague to take down a terrorist). She isn't the stereotypical female character worrying about the ethics of her job, and she's not being driven by sad events from her past: she simply loves her work and does it to the best of her (considerable) ability.
Temperance bases her life around science. She analyses everything; even normal life is often talked about in terms of anthropology or logic. Social interaction isn't easy for her: probably a consequence of growing up in foster care after her parents disappeared. She does, however, have a few close relationships, especially with Angela and Booth - both of whom are her complete opposites. I love the way that she's grown subtly over the course of the series, but still remains very much herself.
I also have to give a mention to Angela Montenegro, who came very close to making this list.
There's a long history of great female characters on Doctor Who, but Donna Noble is by far and away my favourite. She's the perfect match for the Doctor - brave, compassionate, and willing to give him a good slap when he needs it. I love their dynamic together, they really are best friends. Donna can be loud and even a little obnoxious at times, but it's just a cover for her insecurities. She's not especially intelligent (save for her short time as the DoctorDonna) but she more than makes up for it with both fierce determination and common sense. Plus, for one shining moment she was the most important woman in the whole wide universe.
There are two other Gilmores I could have chosen for this list (Emily and Rory) but really, it had to be Lorelai. Of all the women on this list, she's perhaps the most real, the most believable - a woman who constantly makes mistakes, and has vulnerabilities, but is still strong, energetic and charismatic. She's a businesswoman, but it doesn't take over her life; she's a mother, but not anywhere close to the stereotype so often seen in fiction. She often makes a mess of her romantic relationships; but she's not defined by them (unlike the vast majority of TV shows, Gilmore Girls could not only pass the Bechdel test in almost every episode, but at times would probably fail a "reverse-Bechdel" test). Lorelai can also be really, really funny.
The Women of Buffy
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel
Okay, so I'm cheating a little here, but if I didn't put all of these women together in one entry, they'd be taking over the entire list. Buffy Summers would probably make many people's lists of the greatest female characters ever (certainly in the fantasy genre), but there are so many other great women in these two TV shows. Cordelia Chase, Willow Rosenberg, Anya, I could continue on for quite a while. Even the evil women (Darla, Drusilla, Lilah) are layered and brilliantly acted.
Sydney is unbelievably amazing (and I mean "unbelievably" in both possible senses of the word). She's incredibly intelligent, has a brilliant memory, is an expert in pretty much any kind of fighting, speaks dozens of languages, is an excellent actress. Those things are not why she made this list, though (although certainly being a super-spy is cool). She's brilliant because of how emotionally connected the audience gets to her. She has many crappy things happen to her, and we feel the shock and horror every time, even though it's Alias and we know another plot twist will be around the corner. Sydney wants a normal life, wants to teach and spend time with her friends and have a family; but instead she dedicates her life to bringing down the bad guys because somebody has to.
There are of course other fantastic women to be found among the cast of Alias - for example Nadia Santos, Francie Calfo and Rachel Gibson.
Easily one of the best characters of either gender on Alias (and to be honest one of my favourite villians from any TV show ever) is Irina Derevko. Formerly a KGB agent who was assigned to marry CIA agent Jack Bristow, she later became the leader of a major organised crime organisation. She's a complex characters whose motives are frequently in question. She clearly desires power, and has an obsession with Rambaldi devices. She evidently cares about both of her daughters and perhaps even for Jack, but despite that she is completely capable of manipulating them or even physically hurting them.
The strong tradition of great female characters in Alias applies just as much to the enemies as heroes: others include Anna Espinosa, Lauren Reed, Kelly Peyton and Elena and Katya Derevko.
Legend of the Seeker
I won't deny that Legend of the Seeker has its problems, but treatment of its female characters definitely isn't one of them (the same applies to the book series it is based on, although in a different way). Kahlan is strong, feisty, loving and dangerous. Her Confessor's power allows her to enslave any person to her will with a touch; while this can be useful, it can also be a burden as she cannot be with the man she loves without enslaving him. I honestly think that Kahlan is a far better character than Richard, who is the lead.
I'm also rather loving Cara (who is my favourite character in the books) but she hasn't been in the show long enough yet to deserve her own place on this list.
Brenda Leigh Johnson
Brenda Leigh is an intelligent, capable woman who has achieved the very rare distinction of being a female character in a cop drama who's actually both the lead character and in charge (her title is Deputy Chief). Trained as an interrogator by the CIA, she has a very distinct style of solving crimes, often resulting in confessions. She's a workaholic, she's obsessed with sweets (especially chocolate), has a very abrupt manner of dealing with people that earns her a lot of enemies, and basically has a pretty quirky personality. She also has a lovely if complicated relationship with FBI agent Fritz Howard that has the notable distinction of being long-lasting - it started in early series 1 and is still going strong five years later, rather unusual in TV drama these days.
The West Wing
I seriously contemplated doing a "women of the West Wing" entry instead, because there are other female characters I adore - chief among them Ainsley Hayes, Joey Lucas and Donna Moss. Eventually, though, I decided that C.J. deserved the spot for herself. Initially the White House Press Secretary, she later becomes Chief of Staff. She is professional, intelligent and hardworking, but also funny and prone to overreaction. In a political world that's overwhelmingly male-dominated (sadly in real life as well as on the show), she more than holds her own.
In Plain Sight
Mary is one of those characters who is loveable mostly for her flaws. A US Marshal working in the Witness Protection Program, she's irritable, disrespectful of authority, and has real trust and abandonment issues due to her parents (her father was a criminal who ran off; her mother an alcoholic). Even her boss tends to be a little scared of her. However, she is also incredibly protective of her witnesses, and spends a lot of her time looking after her mother and sister. The relationship between Mary and her partner Marshall Mann can be both argumentative and at times quite touching.
A genius of extraordinary intelligence, as well as athletic ability, River was experimented on as a child, turned into an assassin, and this resulted in her losing her sanity. She's also capable of reading minds and perhaps other psychic abilities. I find it hard to articulate exactly what it is about River that I love: perhaps the fact that her insightfulness and character comes through so strongly even despite the insanity. She looks like a fragile, innocent little girl, but she's capable of taking on an entire army of armed men and coming out of the fight more or less uninjured.
Zoë Washburne is also a great character, and I have a certain fondness for Kaylee Frye too.