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17 July 2008 @ 14:25
my version of meta involves lists.  
NOTE: Please note the "What I Love" in the titles of the lists below. And please refrain from passing judgement on my taste in occasionally cheesy genre television, as that is very much not the point of this exercise.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of shows from the last 20 years with female leads. The point for me was to point out the female leads in stories I personally have loved. Even if I didn't love them all the way through (Buffy, for example). Even if the material itself is not Shakespeare (one more person bad mouths Special Unit 2 to me, and I Will Cut You. I Mean it).

If you are convinced I have missed a vital character/show, please go back to the "What I [Personally] Have Loved" and feel free to point out characters in stories you have loved. But remember--this list is very personal to me. I may well have forgot someone I meant to include (Vicki Nelson, from Blood Ties for example got added when someone made a meep? noise). Or it may not have made my list for a good reason (i.e. Alias. I did not love it. Nikita OTOH, was an entirely different story. Until it started To Suck. See Buffy).

Vaguely Recent (i.e. Last 10 Years) Fictional Things What I Love With Female Leads Who Are Actually Leads and Not Solely Sidekicks/Wives/Girlfriends/Supporting Cast

The Middleman (Wendy)
Bones (Brennan)
Blood Ties (Victory Nelson)
Sarah Connor Chronicles (Sarah Connor)
Sarah Jane Adventures (Sarah Jane, Maria Jackson)
Doomsday (Maj. Eden Sinclair)
MirrorMask (Helena)
Wire in the Blood (Carol Jordan)
Catwoman (Selina Kyle) [Post-Zero Hour Brubaker run]
Battlestar Galactica (Starbuck, Roslin, Six)
Howl's Moving Castle (Sophie)
Spirited Away Chihiro
Pirates of the Caribbean (Elizabeth Swan)
Spaced (Daisy Steiner)
Gosford Park (Mary MacEachran)
Red Cap (Jo McDonough)
SportsNight (Dana)
Mulan Mulan
Special Unit 2 (Kate Benson)
Dark Angel (Max)
Farscape (Aeryn Sun)

Not At All Recent (i.e. Before 1998) Fictional Things What I Love With Female Leads Who Are Actually Leads and Not Solely Sidekicks/Wives/Girlfriends/Supporting Cast

Wonder Woman (Diana)
Labyrinth (Sarah)
Jem (erm... the entire cast)
Press Gang (Linda Day)
Gargoyles (Elisa Maza)
The X-Files (Scully)*
Voyager (Janeway)*
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Buffy)*
Nikita (Nikita)*
vr5 (Sydney Bloom)
Earth 2 (Devon Adair)
Lois & Clark (Lois Lane)
Bionic Woman (Jamie Sommers)
Moonlighting (Maddie Hayes)
Scarecrow & Mrs King (Amanda King)
Remington Steele (Laura Holt)
Kiki's Delivery Service (Kiki)
My Neighbour Totoro (Mei, Satsuki)
Léon (Mathilde)
The Thomas Crown Affair (Catherine Banning)

* I did love them once, even if I still mentally add "before they started to suck", so I left them in.

ETA: I so need to work up a list of Fictional Characters What I Love And Who Are Awesome Even if They Are Sidekicks/Wives/Girlfriends/Supporting Cast, but for me today, it's really all about the Leads and Co-Leads.

Also, I define lead as "who's story is this?" Which is why Laura Holt and Wendy Watson, etc. because you cannot deny that in their cases, it is their story. They are in partnerships with men, they are co-leads with men, but the story we are being told is undeniably theirs.

EMETA: And before you ask, I left out Doctor Who and Torchwood on purpose. Cos if you ask me, Gwen and Rose, Martha, and Donna are all co-leads. But if you ask large chunks of fandom, they're sidekicks or love interests or both. And that's not a question I really want to get into here or now, cos I'm holding onto my sanity by a thread. But I'd say Gwen, at least, is presented from day one (literally) as a lead. As was Rose, tho by the time we hit the third series, it's more equally the Doctor's story, than his companions' stories. Which is a shift the series had to make (which I fully support), once it had been successfully relaunched.
(Deleted comment)
ljc: alias smith and jonestaraljc on 17th July 2008 19:52 (UTC)
I think she's seen as "Jack's sidekick" by a lot of people, with Jack as the lead. Same deal with the DOctor's companions. You ask one chunk of audience, they say it's an equal partnership. You ask another, it's Doctor-and-sidekick. Hence me not opening that can of worms if I can avoid it.

But I come down on the side of Leads, me.
soren_nyrondsoren_nyrond on 18th July 2008 07:08 (UTC)
When Jack isn't there, it's Gwen who "leads". Not Owen or Tosh, although they've been there longer (Ianto, poor lad, will forever be for me Tosh's Alfred -- the loyal butler, who suddenly demonstrates previously-unsuspected skills in fighting things off), but Gwen. Suzie Costello was overtly Jack's deputy, but from quite early on, it's clear that Gwen is meant to fill that role (as well as the audience's PoV for the first episodes).
So, she can't be supporting cast -- she has to be "co-lead". Besides, stucturally, she is Jack's conscience (and Owen's).
ljc: lost (gallifrey)taraljc on 18th July 2008 13:41 (UTC)
I'm not talking about what the character's role in the team, so much as the character's role in the shape of the story, to determine whether or not she is a lead or supporting. And even that differs from how the industry actually defines "leads" (For example, look at any actor's resume some time. If their name is in the credits and they're in every episode, they're called "leads".)

My main thought, when looking at the shape of a story, is "whose story is this?" Who is the agent of change, or the person on whom the plot turns? Who do we spend the most time with? Whose relationships are at the core of the series? Whose POV are the stories most often told in?

I think The Middleman and Doctor Who series one are similar, for example, because the audience was following Rose's journey the way they're following Wendy's journey now, as she discovers a whole new world. But the time will come when that balance will shift, when it becomes practical to make the Middleman less of a cipher, and more of a character in whom teh audience has emotionally invested. When he is no longer a Man of Mystery, but the shape of the story shifts so he is solidly at the center. The same way the new series did with the Doctor. Particularly as in Who, the Doctor is the only character who remains constant, even if the companiosn coem and go, and ge regenerates. it's vital that, no matter how the series started, it's the Doctor's story as much or more than the Companion's. But by the nature of the character, we will almost always see him through the eyes of his Companions.
soren_nyrondsoren_nyrond on 18th July 2008 15:05 (UTC)
By your definition -- "the character's role in the shape of the story" -- I would still argue that many of the classic-Who Companions were co-leads. As someone else (sorry for forgetting the name) said, the early stories are seen from Ian and Barbara's PoVs, and what we would now call the "B-plot" is their accustomisation to the Doctor's world(s). As early as the 2nd story, we see Ian coming nearly to blows with the Doctor over what he perceives as callousness in the old man, and it is as much Ian and Barbara as it is the Doctor who finally decide to "interfere".

Recently, almost the whole of D-9's span deals with the evolution of how Rose sees him,and how she will react when he regenerates (as well as the fact that, in one perspective, she becomes the Bad Wolf). The second season, I will admit, is more the development of D-10, but Rose (and Mickey, and Sarah-Jane) play a role in moulding him. As to Dr. Martha Jones, she doesn't even panic when she sees that the hospital is on the Moon. And she is the driving impetus behind keeping the Doctor on track with the blood-drinking alien, rather than sidetracks like Confusing the Judoon, Making Witty Comments, and "Ooh -- Sparkly Shop!".
As to Donna Noble, can anyone see her as a mere supporting character [OI! D*mn good temp 'ere! Ge'cher skates on -- wi've a world to save -- again !!"] ?
ljc: alias smith and jonestaraljc on 18th July 2008 15:24 (UTC)
As I've said several times, I see them as Leads. But not all of fandom does, and for the reasons stated above I did not want to get into that with this post.