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Top Five Lead Female Characters in Television

Television has changed significantly over the past 20 or so years for female protagonists. Women continue to become more prominent and powerful figures on the screen and can captivate audiences in ways past performances may not have been able to. These five characters have helped redefine what is expected from the “strong female lead” in a television series. I chose these characters based on their long-term impact on television and personal opinion. I included characters who give varied performances across their time on the show and by the versatility of the actress portraying them. Some of the actresses are award winners for their roles, others are not. Here are the top five leading female characters for the past 20 years:

5. Olivia Benson

Mariska Hargitay portrays Olivia Benson on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”


Debuting in 1999, Olivia Benson has become the face of not just Law & Order: SVU, but for the entire franchise. She is the emotional voice of sex crime victims on this show, and she is empathetic and determined in her job to be an advocate for people who have been victimized. Her strength is commitment: She is powerful, and Mariska Hargitay brings power to her role. She is the daughter of a rape victim and feels a connection with the victims on the show. Critics and viewers laud Hargitay’s performance as Benson and rightfully so, as Hargitay won an Emmy and Golden Globe for her portrayal.

4. Carmela Soprano

Edie Falco portrays Carmela Soprano on “The Sopranos.”


Edie Falco is captivating on the television screen. Her work on her current Showtime show, “Nurse Jackie” is great and entertaining, but you can’t forget her work as Tony Soprano’s wife Carmela on HBO’s megahit “The Sopranos.” She’s doesn’t take crap from anyone, especially her unfaithful mafia boss of a husband. Her interactions with her family show her as the prominent Italian women with a heart of gold and a fiery tongue. She’s an imperfect character, who harbors internal struggles between her religious views and her husband’s work in the mafia. Falco is heartwarming and at times fierce as Carmela, just the way she should be.

3. Veronica Mars

Kristen Bell portrays the title character on “Veronica Mars.”


I recently started watching “Veronica Mars” since it began streaming on Netflix, and I must say this is one show I got hooked into almost instantly. The show ran for two years on UPN before transferring over to the CW for a year, but the show was canceled after only three seasons. The show was a critical success and should have been on for much longer. Why? Kristen Bell. Sure she might be far from engaging in movies like “When in Rome,” but her sassy tone and bubbly personality as a private investigator’s daughter make her an under-appreciated force. Mars works cases for her father’s Private Investigation agency, including looking for the person who murdered her best friend and caused her family to become blacklisted in the town of Neptune. The show’s strength comes from the titular character, whose persona is familiar but fresh enough for a show that focuses on a high school girl’s adventures into adulthood.

2. Dana Scully

Gillian Anderson portrays Dana Scully on “The X-Files.”


Dana Scully: The new sleek and sexy look of government agency professionalism. When FBI Agent Scully is assigned to help Fox Mulder with the X-Files, she is portrayed as a fashion-less science prude who must prove supernatural phenomena through scientific means. Over time, she becomes the ideal woman with work ethic and high. Her character paved the way for the next 15 years of television, including boosting the likes of Olivia Benson and several procedural shows such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

1. Buffy Summers

Sarah Michelle Gellar portrays Buffy Summers on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”


Joss Whedon is truly one of television’s unofficial geniuses, and his cult classic “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” holds testament to his brilliance. The show as a whole was superior to many in its genre, with awesome action sequences, witty humor and a great cast of characters. Sarah Michelle Gellar became television’s biggest female badass in the mid-1990s as Buffy Summers, the vampire slayer and frequent vampire lover. Her campy nature made the show fun for the young crowd and captured an essence of transitioning from irresponsible teenager into full-fledged super hero. Buffy Summers would be nothing without Gellar because of her line delivery, versatile control of emotions and athletic capability. Kristy Swanson cant’ hold a stake to Gellar.

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  • A

    apeironJun 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Dana Scully, my god, she is so sexy, so redhead, so angelical

  • A

    Andrew & Nicole BrownAug 14, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Buffy was always my favorite, but honestly Mariska would be a great date for me

  • C

    CléciaAug 9, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I love Olívia Benson. Mariska is so beautiful and talented.