My top 5 female sitcom characters
Numerous funny ladies have graced our screens over the years, but due to the domination of men in comedy, it is often male faces that come straight to mind when we think about the most iconic comedic roles.
Improvements are being made with the breakthrough of writer/performers such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Michaela Coel, Aisling Bea and Roisin Conaty, however, there's still some way to go until we achieve parity.
That's why I wanted to put together a selection of my all-time favourite female sitcom characters, and celebrate the writers who have opened the door for more dynamic and interesting female creations.
1. Jill Tyrell (Julia Davis) Nighty Night
Jill Tyrell isn't the first example of an evil woman on screen, but when you watch her antics it is hard to think of anyone who has done it better. Absolutely Fabulous brought the idea of women behaving badly to the mainstream, but Julia Davis added her own unmistakable darkness to the proceedings. It is not just Jill's actions that shock, it's her cold-blooded put-downs, disinterested gaze, even her breath seems to insult. I was stunned by the first few episodes of Nighty Night – in awe of the way this female character embedded so many horrifying traits. It would almost be accurate to say she had lots of traits more commonly associated with male characters, if it wasn't for the fact she was even worse than that. The Times puts it nicely when it called Nighty Night “a blistering wall of superbly unredeemed cruelty that manages to trample over every social convention in a pair of cheap stilettos”. We owe Davis, who has gone on to create Sally4Ever and the equally outrageous Dear Joan and Jericha podcast, for so much when it comes to paving the way for future female shitbags.
2. Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) Fleabag
Phoebe Waller-Bridge's creation Fleabag is more lovable than Davis' monster and yet there is a similarity between the writers, with both of them looking to shock the audience by playing with traditional ideas of femininity. Seeing Fleabag masturbate in front of a video of Barack Obama felt shocking, but in retrospect why should it? The sanitisation of female characters on mainstream TV at that time, years after Davis' groundbreaking Nighty Night, meant Waller-Bridge's portrayal of a woman who shags, swears, steals and seduces priests was ready to be lapped up by an audience craving something different. In fact, Waller-Bridge was motivated to write Fleabag after being frustrated by the lack of interesting female roles she was offered as an actress. Thankfully for the future of female writers and female representation on TV, she did it bloody well. By speaking directly to us and breaking one of the walls (fourth potentially), we let this broken and humorous soul enter our hearts and it felt like we were all sharing the crazy together. How great would a third series have been right now, eh?
3. Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) Friends
Bouncing from one Phoebe to another, Friends' Phoebe is probably my favourite female character of all time. Phoebe has her own moments of mischief, but ultimately she is a nice and warm lady in the midst of a nice and warm series. However, I feel she is important when it comes to the evolution of female characters because she displays a trait not always associated with females - an intelligent kookiness. Phoebe has a razor-sharp wit, a habit of taking conversations to unexpected places and an enduring self-confidence. There is a delightful surrealism and escapism to her dialogue, and although it may not crash down on you like The Young Ones or The Mighty Boosh, it tickles enough to entertain, but not alienate, a mainstream audience. I love all the characters in Friends, but I wonder whether Phoebe would be the one most missed if she suddenly disappeared. Phoebe seems cut from a slightly more unique and special cloth, one which allows her to switch from sane to weirdo, rebel to traditionalist, and ditzy fool to wise old owl.
4. Karen Walker (Megan Mullally) Will & Grace
Sticking to the United States of America, I reckon it probably took Karen Walker just a few seconds to make a mark on me, and it is a mark I want to keep. Proudly alcoholic, unapologetically vulgar, shrieky as hell, she was the type of female character I had never seen before. Although a subsidiary character, Karen's energy, sheer noise and consistent outrageousness ensured she stole every scene she was in. Really, every one. And that takes some doing when you are going up against the flamboyant and brilliant in his own right Jack, played by Sean Hayes. There was a cocksure boldness to Karen's character and she didn't give a damn what people thought about her, which was unique for women at that time. Even being a snob with highly questionable morals wasn't enough to turn on her, because she was so interesting and fun to be around. Oh yes, she was funny alright, and I think the writing for her character is some of the best I have heard. But that is because she gave the writers so much to work with as nothing was off limits. If I wasn't teetotal, I'd raise a glass of something terribly strong to you this evening Karen, you fine thang!
5. Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
And last, but certainly not least, it's that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I remember watching the pilot on a plane and thinking it was one of the most perfectly crafted opening episodes I have seen. The series and Rebecca are both unapologetically fruity, and it is full of fun, musical numbers, desperation and friendship. Although the driving force of the series is a woman who up-sticks and travels across America to follow/stalk her first love, it is really so much more than that. It starts off with infatuation, but really Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about the exploration of a woman who is battling mental health issues and just wants to be accepted. Creator Rachel Bloom managed to do something that not all sitcoms achieve, provide entertainment but also explore a serious issue that affects and hinders so many people. Instead of the traditional sitcom where everything resets each episode, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has character development built into its DNA and people change and grow. It leaves you with the feeling that you have been on a therapeutic journey, with a very complicated and interesting young woman.
Due to the importance of brevity I have stopped at five, but rounding out my top 10 would be Sybil Fawlty (Fawlty Towers), Tracey Gordon (Chewing Gum), Roseanne Conner (Roseanne), Dorien Green (Birds of a Feather) and Clair Huxtable (The Cosby Show). Please feel free to let me know about your favourites, old or new, but definitely female!
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