Before we begin, I have a bone to pick with television producers. When it came to the male actors, I was frantically cutting and chopping my list. It was almost impossible to come up with the final five. The blokes had endless amount of roles to get their teeth into. And then I threw one together for the girls and… well, there was hardly anything on offer. This article was nearly a Top Three; it was that bad! This is very disappointing for a feminist TV fan. It wasn’t as though the female actresses were bad; some of them conveyed important emotions in the smaller, more subtle scenes. But few of them were given a scene where they could totally show off. Not one woman had a Tyrion Lannister courtroom scene to have fun with. I find that very poor.
5 – KATHERINE ISABELLE – HANNIBAL
I have already talked a lot about the surreal style of Hannibal last week, so I won’t go into too much detail again here. All I will say is that it is a tough style for an actor to take on. It is especially hard for the guest stars, who have to enter the program from the halfway point and meet the veteran acting stars blow for blow. Katherine Isabelle was sensational however, walking into the proceedings late in the day, yet totally making an impression from the get-go. I have talked about the emptiness of certain characters in this show, yet Margo is probably the emptiest of them all. She walks from scene to scene like a PTSD victim, shell-shocked at the things she has experienced from her political wrestling with her deranged brother.
Katherine Isabelle also deserves additional praise for being the only male or female actor to get into the top five list when only being given a guest role. Everyone else was a main character and had endless chances to impress us. Isabelle totally deserves to be here though, because her character was such an interesting and compelling one to follow. Simply put, whenever, Isabelle was on-screen, the show was just that little bit better, and it was already up there with one of the best shows of 2014.
4 – UZO ADUBA – ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
Orange is the New Black was terrific for giving women good performances. Just when I was giving up hope and thinking of cancelling this particular article, I discovered this show and my faith in television writers was restored. Every woman in this show deserves some form of praise, because there is so many unique and interesting people to explore. However, Uzo Aduba is one of the most memorable and fun things about this show. Crazy Eyes, despite starting as little more than an excuse to have ‘prison wife’ jokes, quickly became one of the more intriguing parts of the story.
Maybe the best thing about the performance is that underneath the jokes, the character is still developing. Once we have seen her flashback about how she was always outcast, because she sees the world differently to other people and everyone is nervous around her sudden outbursts, she becomes a far more sympathetic character. In my review of the second season, I noted that the black community were relegated to secondary parts, as they were pawns in Vee’s game, rather than developing characters. Crazy Eyes was the exception, because it totally made sense for her character to be manipulated, yet follow blindly. Your heart breaks every time she follows one of Vee’s orders, with a foolish grin slapped across her face. There is a brilliant moment where the show replays a clip from last season, where Crazy Eyes breaks down on stage. It is a funny moment, yet when replayed here, we are in on more context surrounding her upbringing and it is no longer funny; it is heart-breaking. The only downside to Aduba being so good in this role is that all Crazy Eyes jokes have lost their power: they feel like a low blow.
3 – MEGAN BOONE – THE BLACKLIST
Megan Boone was almost left off this list, because there isn’t any particular moment that I could point to and say how amazing she was. Not that she was bad at all; she wouldn’t be on this list otherwise. She was always sympathetic, conveyed her character well at all times and never flunked a line. The reason I am putting her on here though is because her character was exactly what I want from future TV shows. She was a badass action hero and there was no additional explanation for why she was awesome: she trained like a FBI agent and therefore is cool. She didn’t even have to be sexually harassed first. Sure, she has an interesting back story, with a missing father out there somewhere, but that doesn’t have any sway over how cool and good at fighting she is.
My feminist reading did get a little murky after the season break. The obvious flaw with her powerful female role is the fact that she is always pandering after Reddington. It is a hard flaw to get around; Keene is awesome, but this is James Spader’s show, not hers. It does slightly hurt my awesome female argument, when most of the episodes involve her running to her father figure for help, even if she does pretend to have moved on for episodes at a time. She is also kept in the dark by her lying husband, which makes her come across as naïve at points. Of course, she is still a strong character, but it is hard to not notice that the male characters are the ones with all of the cards in their hands. However, maybe that means that Boone deserves this spot even more. She keeps us invested in how awesome the character is, even when the actual story seems to be working against that. Of course, this could all come off the rails in Season Two, but let’s focus on the positives for now, OK.
2 – TATIANA MASLANY – ORPHAN BLACK
If I was doing this article last year, Tatiana Maslany would probably have won the top spot. She is incredible as not just Sarah Manning, but the insane amount of clones in the pot. It isn’t just the fact that she can play British characters, American, German, Russian, all with relative ease. She slips from non-stop humour of Alison, to surreal insanity of Helena, to the more serious composure of Sarah without taking a breath. Even more impressive though is the way she portrays a clone portraying another clone. Alison pretends to be Sarah to follow the police. That is a whole load of information to get across. She has to not only do an American accent, but one that is cracking around the edges, but it isn’t natural. That was amazing to watch and the best thing about both seasons of Orphan Black.
Season Two falters slightly. The big hiccup is asking Maslany to try and portray a trans-gender bank robber. It just doesn’t work and seems cringe-worthy when Maslany is acting all masculine. It serves nothing more than to show off how good their leading lady really is. However, that is the fault of the writers and not Maslany. As ever, she handles every other character with ease, taking their plot lines to whole new levels. It is impossible not to watch this show, without leaning back and just reflecting on how good an actress Maslany really is.
1 – TAYLOR SCHLLING – ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
However, I had to give Taylor Schlling first place. She goes from good to better, as the series progresses, and she started pretty damn impressive in the first place. Season Two takes her character to an interesting place and her performance gets more three-dimensional because of it. In Season One, she could have been described as a negative character. It was impossible not to like her, but she was selfish and self-centred, even if she didn’t realise that was how others perceived her. Season Two sees her grow beyond that and harden up, as she finds herself in the prison without Alex Vause looking out of her or Larry waiting for her on the other side. She becomes isolated, a tough ‘criminal’ trying to hold her own in the correctional facility.
Taylor Schilling never ceases to amaze the viewers. I said in my review that the character kind of got trampled out of her own show by more prominent characters. It was hard to care too much about the embezzling plot line when there was a prison gang war a few scenes away. However, that was not Schlling fault and in a way, she is the only reason the character leaves a mark at all. She, out of everyone, on this list has moments that just wow you. Her breakdown in the toilets of a funeral, the way she suddenly shows a nasty side, when dealing with newcomer to the prison, Soso. It is a tremendous performance, especially for someone as fresh-faced to the acting game as Taylor Schlling. I am kind of upset that I have to wait a year before I see her in action again.
Hmm. No Lena Headey? I think she’d be in my top five for sure. However, if you’re looking for an awesome show with strong female characters, might I recommend the most recent season of American Horror Story? Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates–they’re all amazing.