Here's to the Fempire: The Hottest Bad-Ass Lady Villains and Weirdos On TV
Welcome to the Fempire.
In an age where the Feds are actually investigating sexism in Hollywood, more and more women are taking charge and making their mark. Not satisfied with the damsel in distress, or happy housewife role, women are creating roles where they get to play bloodthirsty killers or off kilter kooks. Someone has to represent us.
Here’s to the Fempire. The kick ass ladies of the small screen, who steal scenes, hearts, and sometimes organs and refuse to go quietly into the night. I raise my glass to you wonderful weirdos. Long may your character arcs and seasons reign.
Here are some of the best female bad asses, villains, and weirdos broadcasting and streaming right now. Spoilers ahead. Don’t say you weren’t warned about the awesome.
Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) – House Of Cards
How many people have to die to keep the Underwoods on top and Frank Underwood in office? If you’re asking that question you may already be at the bottom of the Potomac. Frank Underwood may be the ruthless face of the power couple but Claire is the machine – the working parts. This is a woman who aborted her baby to help her husbands first campaign, and then when leaked, blamed it on the rape by a decorated General. When her husband is shot in an assassination attempt, she admits she feels nothing and goes and fucks a writer. She even told another woman who stood up to her that she wanted to watch the woman’s baby “wither and die” inside her. That is some cold shit.
Claire will look the other way at her husband’s sexual dalliances but she will not abide his weaknesses. She would do anything, including murder, to get him into the White House. When he is finally there and won’t support her bills and stops treating her like an equal, Claire decides FUCK THIS SHIT and torpedoes Frank’s re-election campaign so she can run herself.
Claire is an ice queen - steely, sinewy, can run a six minute mile and get back to the house in time to clean up the evidence of a crime. She can help take down a government in Louis Vuitton, high cheekbones, and sky-high heels without sweating or raising her voice. She is the only one that the psychotic Russian President likes and will deal with. Takes one to know one.
Where Frank is menacing bluster, Claire coldly and calmly executes the plan. A Medusa in Manolo Blahniks. She is regal, ambitious, polished and frightening. She is manipulative and malicious, but goddamn you do admire her. You have to. Anything else would be suicide.
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) – Game Of Thrones
There are many formidable women in the realm of the Seven Kingdoms. Cersei Lannister is evil enough to throw a boy out a window so she could keep on fucking her brother, plus she will have a bitch cut to keep her son on the throne. Arya Stark has gone from annoying little sister to avenging ninja slayer. Sansa stopped whimpering long enough to lead a battle against the vile Ramsay. Brienne of Tarth goes toe to toe with male knights (and bears!) to keep her promise. Then there is The Waif. There are Olympic athletes who look lazy in comparison to the drive this crazy pint sized assassin has. She’s like a Terminator with a Tracy Flick smirk. But even with all these bad-ass (and just plain bad) bitches, Khaleesi beats them all. Her credits: Storm born. Mother of Dragons – seriously, she has three pet dragons. Can walk through fire. Kicked a horde of Dothraki chauvinist pig’s asses. Freed slaves. Made pacts with other women warriors. Can rock a leather sarong with a choker in the middle of desert heat like nobody’s business. While all the other contenders for the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms have had their doubts, Khaleesi never has. She knows it is her birthright. She was born to do this. Rock on, sister.
Selina Meyer (Julia Louis Dreyfus) – Veep
If Hillary Clinton becomes president, there is nothing she can do to fuck it up (short of nuclear war), that will compare to the narcissistic, monstrous run that Selina Meyer has had as Lady President. Meyer, played brilliantly by Julia Louis Dreyfus, accidentally fell into the presidency and is hanging on with a death like grip as her inept staff bumbles around her. She double promises positions of power to senators, backstabs better than the most duplicitous politicians, sends incendiary tweets and then blames it on the Chinese, inadvertently starting an embargo. She barely has time for her daughter or her mother’s coma, both of which she sees as more of an irritant standing in the way of her obvious greatness. She plows through policy meetings and single men with no care for feelings and the potty mouth of a diseased sailor. She’ll throw you under the bus and then back it up to run over you again. Her verbal takedowns are delightfully scary and duck worthy. She has post meetings after her meetings to decide whom to fire. She schedules phone calls to scream at people as her relaxation time. She is scheming, short tempered, ladder climbing and selfish. In fact, so selfish, that she would rather help elect the opposing party’s candidate to the presidency than let her vice president and former lover, win the nomination. It’s a glorious thing to behold, watching her ego reign. Come to think of it, she is exactly the leader America deserves.
Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) - Crazy Ex Girlfriend
One of the best new comedies to join the TV/streaming fray is a musical. I never thought I’d say that. It’s all thanks to the wonderfully weird anti-hero Rebecca Bunch, a woman who has a mental breakdown, leaves her high powered job, and moves to West Covina of all places (“It’s 2 hours from the beach,” she constantly reminds us). Once there, she gently stalks her camp boyfriend, determined to make him love her. Stalking is no joke, but neither is going after the man-child of your dreams. In the hands of anyone else, you would be cuing up the theme from Psycho, but with Rebecca, you want her harebrained schemes to work. Rebecca is a plucky hot mess which is why she is amazingly likeable and why you will find yourself both cringing and rooting for her even when she is making the worst mistakes you have made, or thought of making then talked yourself out of. The songs are out of left field and funny, whether about drawing blood from waxing while getting ready for a date, or hoping a one-night stand isn’t a murderer. The show also tackles head-on the topic of depression, with balls and self-effacing humor. After pouring her anti-depressants down the drain, Rebecca imagines she is in a French film, where she is that alluring combo of sexy/sad. She smokes and watches porn, but can’t get off because she worries about what led the porn stars to their current careers. “Oui, Je suis garbage.” This weirdo is my hero.
Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) – Penny Dreadful
Let’s start off by reiterating that Eva Green is an all around badass. She already has the distinction of being the one Bond Girl who broke James’s heart. So she is already in the upper echelon of dangerous women. Vanessa Ives has to battle horrific monsters, and piss poor London weather – plus the internal tug of war of good vs. evil. I go through that battle everyday but I don’t have to wear itchy lace and a tight corset while doing it. Vanessa can be moody and dour but she has good reason. You think you had a dark side because when you were in high school you wore too much eyeliner and stole vodka from your parents’ liquor cabinet? Mortal, please. Vanessa is fighting eternal damnation. She’s busy brawling with Lucifer, Dracula and Victorian era chauvinists who want to burn her at the stake for having ideas. That would make anyone cranky. Plus she has the unfortunate habit of getting possessed by the devil as often as you and I catch the common cold. And she runs with a pretty weird crew. Her boyfriend turns into a rabid werewolf at midnight. Her doctor scientist friend likes to sew corpses together and re-animate them back to life. Her dandy friend Dorian lives alone in a house full of portraits and has really, really amazing skin. Vanessa is no straight-laced vanilla Victorian herself. She finds that she has certain psychic abilities and mines them for all she can, training with a Cut-Woman, studying the Tarot, learning the tricks of the witch trade and how to speak in tongues.
Mostly, Vanessa is a bad ass because she knows that in the fight between good and evil, she may very well lose. She has instructed her furry bf to shoot and kill her if she ever can’t control the demons inside her. That’s the ultimate control. Telling evil to go fuck itself. It’s so very Vanessa.
Leslie Graham (Felicity Huffman) - American Crime
American Crime is one of the best dramas on television, with lights out writing and acting every week. John Ridley uses a returning ensemble cast, much like the Christopher Guest movies, but instead of silly dog shows and community theater, it showcases the most unfunny social ills that we face today. This season tackled rape, vigilante justice, drugs, bullying, local politics and murder in some of the most real and raw scenes I’ve ever seen. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any dragons in this show. Felicity Huffman’s manipulative headmaster Leslie Graham is the Godzilla in the room. She constantly puts her position at the Leyland School above the mental well being and safety of her students. She won’t let the school board discuss a potential rape. She quiets the notion that one of the students might be gay, lest it hurt her donation drive. She even tries to spin a student’s suicide attempt to her favor. All of this is done with clipped steeliness, smugness, and condescension. She’ll tell you ‘It’s all about the school’ but let’s not kid ourselves; it’s all about Leslie, even if kids have to die. By the time a kid shows up to her office with a gun, looking for vengeance, you’re half hoping he is successful.
Constance Zimmer – Unreal
For the reality show producing Quinn, nothing is sacred – in fact it’s ratings gold. Not quite gold, more like little blood diamonds she let’s babies harvest and then proudly wears with glee while the emotional carnage stacks up. A constant shit stirrer, she pits girl against the other. Her specialty is prying into a contestant’s background looking for any weak link, be it racism, incest, or battery and then capitalizing on it by deftly manipulating the poor sap. You can almost see her rubbing her hands together with glee inside her head when she gets to mess with one of them. She has pushed these flimsy contestants to the edge – literally. One actually jumped off a roof, after Quinn had an underling change the girl’s medication. Tough titties. That’s television. Hell bent on making it in Hollywood, which is a man’s world, Quinn will do whatever, or whoever it takes.
Allison Carr (Miranda Otto) – Homeland
In the world of Homeland, mentally unstable Carrie Mathison, the again/off again CIA operative just can’t stop sleeping with terrorists. Enter Allison Carr, the anti Carrie. Where Carrie is erratic, emotional, and always going rogue, Allison is strong, calm, and focused – a team player. Even the gruff Saul has let her melt his heart. Note to all you dudes out there – sometimes the crazy girl is a better catch than the calm and icy one. The bi polar woman may be unpredictable, but don’t be scare of crazy. Crazy is loud, but manageable. On the other hand, you never know what is under that calm, quiet exterior. That perfect woman you’re so lucky to have? Let me tell you - you’ve been snowed. She may be, say, just pretending to like you to get classified secrets. She could be so cool and collected that she’d shoot herself in the shoulder to make it look like she is on your side, and then shoot anyone who gets in her way. She could be a Russian spy. Yeah, you heard me. The quiet ones are always Russian spies.
The Clones (Tatiana Maslany) – Orphan Black
For the love of god, would someone give Tatiana some statuettes already? The woman plays eleven characters on this show. Each one is completely different, with different accents and mannerisms and those characters sometime go undercover and play each other. In this show you’ve got bad asses, villains and weirdos, all within one scene, all being played by the same actress. I think that’s worth an engraved golden trinket.
In OB, Evil corporation DYAD (fronted by the guy who played Max Headroom) cloned a bunch of girls and now they are dying one by one. Rebellious Brit scouser Sarah, is passed the torch by undercover cop Beth, and must go to work to keep the rest of the sister clones safe. There is uptight soccer mom Alison, dreadlocked lesbian scientist Cosima, Helsinki computer hacker MK, bearded transgender Tony, daffy manicurist Krystal, and feral Ukrainian assassin Helena. They’re all battling their traitor sister, the cold and calculating Rachel who works DYAD and would sell out the rest of her clone sisters in the name of science. These women go through assassination attempts and sheer hell and they have to stare at ‘poorly dressed’ carbon copy of themselves while they do it. It can’t be easy saving your umpteen sisters. There is murder, and intrigue, and genetic abnormalities. And wigs. Lots and lots of wigs.
Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) - The Good Wife
It’s no small feat to own one of the top law firms in Chicago, but Diane does it in power suits, large chunky necklaces, and a condescending stare that will put you in your place faster than you can say “I object.” The letterhead at the law firm is in constant rotation, but Lockhart is always there, as she fends off power grabbing men from the ‘boys club’. Diane is always one step ahead with her schemes, whether it is putting down fleeing partners who are trying to poach her clients, punishing the Governor for not giving her a spot on the Supreme Court, or marrying her ballistics expert, a handy witness for all her murder clients. Christine Baranski is always great, but as Diane she is top notch. The show is about The Good Wife, but every scene with Baranski in it makes you want to see Diane’s world, which is most likely why she has her own spin-off coming. Diane is a smart and formidable opponent. You don’t want to go home and drink goblets and goblets of wine every night. Tsk tsk. Stay sharp, or you will be the toast she dunks in her black espresso in the morning. You don’t want to cross her, especially if she once mentored you. As the very least, she will take away your office. At full tilt, Diane will ruin you – and Diane knows how to ruin you.
Maria (Maria Bamford) - Lady Dynamite
One of the best and weirdest voices (all of them) in American comedy is a woman. Praise baby Jesus. Maria Bamford is a true original.
The Maria of Lady Dynamite, loosely or accurately based on Maria’s real life depending on who you talk to, is recovering from a mental breakdown AND success in her career. She is someone who struggles with depression, has trouble maintaining friendships, and is horrible at being direct with people until it comes out in a scary, hurtful swipe of a badminton shuttlecock. In fact, the whole show is a window on a woman who so gloriously wants to be liked, a world with overly saturated colors and costumes, with a dark, painful truth seething underneath.
Maria is at her best when showing us the honest dark and twisted side. Sure, the bright and silly world with fake commercials like Pussy Noodles, is cute and entertaining. The meta inside jokes don’t so much break the fourth wall as torch it and watch it burn. That provides laughs for those in the know. There is great comedy to mine in her stretching, Gumby style, way beyond her comfort zone to hide her weirdness and illness so people will accept her. However, the goldmine is when she sits in the uncomfortable stew of her struggle and lets us watch. That is about as badass as you can get.
Martha (Martha Kelly) – Baskets
Martha is an oddball sad sack insurance adjustor from Costco, who is so nice that she acts as free Uber for her rodeo clown client, Chip. Just as bulls constantly knock down Chip, Martha constantly gets bowled over by Chip’s stream of insults hurled at her. Martha is a champ and takes it like a Weeble. When you add Martha’s Kelly’s earnest, weird blank expression to the mix, your heart breaks every time Chip batters her with criticism.
Martha is so pure of heart that when she rescues a dog, she won’t bring it to the pound, even after it destroys her house, tearing up everything in sight. She is so myopic (literally and figuratively) that she doesn’t realize the stray dog is actually a rabid coyote.
Kelly’s perfect line delivery is so dry it’s parched - which fits in perfectly with the show’s melancholic tone and dusty Bakersfield landscape.
Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane) – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Kimmy Schmidt’s world is full of weird misfits. Kimmy herself is a cheerfully weird upstart who is learning to live life after being seriously stunted by a fifteen-year captivity. As is her self-promoting Broadway hopeful roomie Titus, and her self obsessed Park Avenue monster of a boss Jacqueline. However the most wonderful weirdo on the block is Carol Kane’s Lillian Kaushtupper. It is such a joy to see Carol Kane back in action and she is in rare kooky form. Lillian is landlord and confidante to Titus and Kimmy, Lillian “Rear Windows” her tenants and is prone to crawling into their apartment whenever she feels like it. She is a pickpocket, a drug look out, and a process server – a tough broad who killed her husband when she shot him in the face. In her defense, as she explains, it was dark and a black man was trying to get into bed with her. Lillian is such a fixture in the neighborhood that when she strays from her block she is startled to realize that New York is near the ocean. And woe be the new money gentrifiers trying to move in. Her hatred of hipsters runs so deep that she wishes for another Titanic disaster to thin out the crowd, and she’d probably hunt down and kill off each member of Arcade Fire.
Lillian is a great sidekick, enabler and schemer which is perfect for Kimmy and Titus who are always knee deep in a hair brained plan. Lillian is there to offer advice (Boys 2 Men funeral serenade or hard boiled egg cleanse anyone?) or back up. That is, until things get too out of hand. Lillian knows when to bail, because she’s got priors, man. In fact you know things are about to get real, when you hear is Lillian yelling to herself “Run Lillian!” If you hear that, it might be too late.
Madame Kali (Helen McCray) Penny Dreadful
A power hungry priestess who makes life size Voo Doo dolls by cutting out the hearts of babies and placing them inside creepy puppets she crafts to look like her targets. Oh, and she also has a coven of bald, naked, shape shifting witches who can seamlessly come out of the walls to attack her targeted enemies. You will never feel the same about flocked wallpaper again.
Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash) – You’re The Worst
I’m tired of defending LA, telling east coasters that it isn’t that bad. If you ever eavesdropped on a conversation that the pretentious, self destructive, perpetually bored hipster Gretchen was having, you’d realize why I often lose that fight. Gretchen can’t get it together: burning down her apartment, stealing the neighbor’s dog so they’ll invite her in for a drink, snorting Adderall, starting a beef to up her client’s street cred that gets them beat up by a girl gang. However, she gets some leeway, because she battles massive clinical depression. She asks her friends to accept her the way she is. And for that courage and badassery, I’ll hop on the bar stool next to her. Cue Randy Newman.
Angel (Polly McIntosh) Hap And Leonard
I’d give Angel a mention just for the outfits alone. Anyone who can rock fluorescent pink tights, a latex body suit, and a Mohawk in the wilds of Tennessee is already a major bad ass. Add to that Angel’s bloodlust and you have some kind of punk princess monster -Peaches if she went on a killing spree. Angel travels with her boyfriend Soldier, inflicting as much pain as possible. She’s good with a crossbow and even better at strangling a man with her thighs. In fact, you don’t ever want to let her get that close or you’re done for. Like the song goes: psycho killer….run, run, run, run away.