While it can be argued that there are never enough leading female roles on major TV series, it’s hard to deny that there are currently a ton of them, in shows encompassing all genres and networks. Women are kicking some serious ass out there, guys, and the “people” have spoken about who they think the best of the bunch is.
Over 1,200 men and women were polled by Trailer Park and QC Strategy, and they were presented with 17 of the highest-rated series that also passed the Bechdel test (which involves at least two women characters who talk about something besides men). Here are their six favorite female characters, according to Mashable.
6. Olivia Pope (Scandal)
How could someone, at least those outside of her target area, not like Olivia Pope? Played by Kerry Washington, Olivia was the rare black female lead when Scandal started in 2012 – not that things have changed too drastically – and as the leader of a crisis management firm, she has proven over the years that she will do whatever it takes to get shit done. She demands loyalty and she earns it, and she’s quite brilliant, even if her relationship with President Grant wasn’t exactly the greatest idea. Plus, she stays so amazing despite having a truly horrible father that clearly doesn’t know how to treat women. That said, it’s still somewhat surprising that Olivia only received 6% of the total votes.
5. Meredith Grey (Grey’s Anatomy)
In the past 11 years, Meredith Grey has been through just about every emotion imaginable several times over, and Ellen Pompeo has delivered as dependable a performance as anyone else on Grey’s Anatomy. Oddly enough, she also received 6% of the vote, but I can’t help but think that the number would be even higher after Season 12, as Meredith experiences life without her love Derek for the first time. Sidenote: if you happened to start reading this entry by pretending that Meredith was narrating, that just proves how big of an impression she’s made.
The only entry on this list that encompasses several different characters, Jessica Lange’s four American Horror Story roles were almost always the best parts of the seasons. With a cigarette seemingly glued to her fingers, Lange mothered a ghost in Murder House, was an iron-thumbed nun in Asylum, was an age-fearing witch in Coven and was a legless sideshow owner in Freak Show. There wasn’t a world of difference between the performances, but it didn’t matter too much, considering the bar was set so high from the beginning. She also only brought in 6% of the votes, and her absence from American Horror Story: Hotel – unless something changes that – will be oh so obvious and unfortunate.
3. Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones)
When you’re talking about powerful women on television, you can’t really go wrong with a character who survived a trouble-filled childhood and ended up become the leader of an entire people with the belief that she should be the most respected queen in the land, all in the name of peace. Being able to rightfully take on the moniker Mother of Dragons definitely doesn’t hurt. (Well, it hurts the people who cross her and her dragons.) The Game of Thrones standout took in 7% of the votes, but she had the distinction of topping the charts with 14% for the age-specific 18-24-year-old crowd.
2. Cookie Lyon (Empire)
There are very few mothers and ex-wives on TV quite like Cookie Lyon, and though part of that has to do with the character’s wild and sometimes unsavory decisions, most of her signature style can be attributed to actress Taraji P. Henson’s attention-demanding performances. Cookie sacrificed a chunk of her life in jail in order to keep Lucious and her kids on a path to happiness through music, but she returned as a phoenix of epic proportions, and her wardrobe is just as on fire as her attitude. She got 8% of the vote, but you can bet Cookie would be making moves to try to get even more somehow.
1. Olivia Benson (Law & Order: SVU)
From a character who has been on TV for just one season, we move to Law & Order: SVU’s Olivia Benson, a character that has graced our screens with strength, wits, and a morally sound mind for 16 years now, with a 17th starting up later this month. Mariska Hargitay’s Commanding Officer took in a whopping 21% of the votes in this survey, proving beyond a solar eclipse of a doubt the massive impact that Benson has had on the show’s giant fanbase since 1999. She has been a victim of numerous wrongs over the years, both on the job site and at the hands of a kidnapper, but she perseveres and comes out as tenacious and durable as ever. Congratulations, ma’am, you’ve earned it.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper. Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.