Girl Power With Bite
August 15, 2010 1:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for TV shows where the heroine has a wry/dry/snarky sense of humor and is competent in her own right. Basically, I'm nostalgic for girl power with bite a la Veronica Mars.

I also like the heroines in these shows:

The Unusuals
Battlestar Galatica
Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles
Better Off Ted
10 Things I Hate About You

I've already tried Dead Like Me and Gilmore Girls, I couldn't get pass the first few episodes. And Alias is all badass but no bite.

I watch too much recommendations in the same vein for books and movies are also welcomed.
posted by jyorraku to Media & Arts (66 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Ummm... Murphy Brown? Sorry, that's all I've got.
posted by Menthol at 2:04 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I found the last two companions of Doctor Who, Donna and Amy, to be sassy-tacular and competent. Unfortunately, plunging into the deep dark well that is Doctor Who might be a bit too much to handle, depending on your tv watching habits. If you're a completionist like me, you might find the first few seasons of the new Doctor Who to be difficult to get through; although they're usually quality tv, they're not tops in girl power. You could just watch the last season (series 5, the one where Matt Smith is the Doctor) and not be particularly lost, however. The show is run by an entirely new person so there's a definite starting point that you can jump in on and not be put off by a lack of preexisting knowledge. The problem there is that you don't get to see Donna, who is definitely the most badass companion, but steeped in continuity. (Classic Doctor Who has some excellent competent ladies but is super dated and very hard for people to watch who aren't doing it for the nostalgia, I find.)

Dead Like Me, by the way, gets much much better, but it has a highly unsatisfactory ending point.
posted by Mizu at 2:05 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Julia Sugarbaker in Designing Women.
posted by amyms at 2:24 AM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe Roseanne Conner from Roseanne?... The first couple of seasons are a little cringe-worthy, and the final season is bizarre, but in the middle seasons when the show hits its stride, it's very relevant to your parameters.
posted by amyms at 2:31 AM on August 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Have you seen any West Wing? Ainsely Hays and Donna Moss as well as CJ the press secretary all have great writing and much snarking in a friendly way.

The first 3 seasons are the best for the women, IMHO.
posted by Saminal at 2:32 AM on August 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

In Plain Sight, Nurse Jackie, Castle...Covert Affairs might be too cringe-y, but possibly worth a look. Good question! I'd like to see more smart, smartass women in lead roles.

Seconding West Wing!
posted by eralclare at 2:42 AM on August 15, 2010

Dr. Girlfriend from Venture Brothers.

Dr. Temperance Brennan from Bones (although she's extremely confident and intelligent, her "sense of humor" is debatable and, in fact, part of the whole point of the show is that she's socially clueless.)
posted by amtho at 2:53 AM on August 15, 2010

I think you would like the Stephanie Plum books.
posted by fleacircus at 3:02 AM on August 15, 2010

Well, there's Kima Greggs on The Wire, although she's only part of a very large (and predominantly male) ensemble cast.
posted by Rangeboy at 3:03 AM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Tv shows:
My So-Called Life
Joan of Arcadia

10 Things I Hate About You
Easy A (coming in September)

Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich
Eve Dallas series by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)
Anything by Jennifer Crusie

I still miss Veronica Mars.
posted by Georgina at 3:06 AM on August 15, 2010

Firefly? I thought it had a pretty strong female cast.
posted by peripathetic at 3:10 AM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Middleman. Unfortunately there are only 12 episodes, but Wendy Watson is awesome. Farscape is another possibility, it's more of an ensemble cast but Aeryn Sun is probably the most competent member of the crew.
posted by penguinliz at 3:19 AM on August 15, 2010

posted by MuffinMan at 3:24 AM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Samantha Who? (criminally cancelled but brilliantly cast)

Cougar Town - sounds like it shouldn't work but it really gets into it's stride.

But the ultimate in televisual genius is Parks & Recreation. Takes only the premium elements of The Office, mixes it all up and gives it a competent but hilarious female lead and top notch supporting cast. I would argue to the death that this is the greatest TV programme ever produced.

Oh, for films, The Sweetest Thing (2002) with Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate. Didn't get a great reception critically but geats a lot of good recs from female viewers. And me.
posted by i_cola at 3:42 AM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Come on guys, no love for 30 Rock?
posted by Syllables at 3:47 AM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am totally with i_cola on Parks & Rec. I'll also suggest Futurama.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 4:34 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Popular. The two main characters, Sam and Brooke are great. A "minor" character Mary Cherry steals the show, although she is less witty and more outright insane. The whole program was delightfully snarky and silly and girl-centric.

I also loved the short-lived Grosse Point, which is meant to be a behind-the-scenes look at 90210 shows. The female lead who plays the Shannen Doherty-type character is deliciously evil and witty.
posted by ukdanae at 4:40 AM on August 15, 2010

posted by munichmaiden at 4:58 AM on August 15, 2010 [9 favorites]

If anime is fair game, I'd recommend Kare Kano and FLCL. Both have great female leads.

Also, oh dear god Wonderfalls.
posted by cthuljew at 5:01 AM on August 15, 2010

Absolutely Fabulous was a British comedy: "Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone are two immature, chain-smoking, alcoholic, prosperous but preposterous substance-abusing fashion and fad-obsessed Londoners who value fame and style over substance."

Also, in Arrested Development, Lucille Bluth was the most horrific matriarch I've ever seen.
posted by dzaz at 5:07 AM on August 15, 2010

Warehouse 13

I'm digging "Haven" although it's a young show and the characters are still hitting their groove. I find the female lead strong and pleasantly different from other "girl detectives" on TV.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:36 AM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding Middleman. The main character is competent and interesting in her own right, and brings the wit and snark consistently and thoroughly.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:39 AM on August 15, 2010

Wilhemina on Huge is pretty awesome.

And people always roll their eyes, but if you've never even tried Grey's Anatomy you're missing some great snarky female characters, especially Miranda Bailey who is one of my all time favorite television characters (but the titular Meredith Grey and her evil-side-kick Christina Yang are great, too).
posted by hydropsyche at 5:42 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might like Bones and Fringe. The lead is a male-female pair, but the men are mostly pretty foils for the smart, sassy women.

Also, Dexter is hilarious and smart and has some terrific strong, female characters.

True Blood is ridiculous and delicious.

Angel (the Buffy spinoff) is good, and although the main character is male, the female characters are awesome and complete.

I was always a big fan of Sex and the City. (Don't be turned off if you saw the movies and hated them--the movies were terrible, and seemed completely different from the show.)
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:53 AM on August 15, 2010

The "Charlie's Angels" movies. I want to be Drew Barrymore.
posted by dzaz at 6:16 AM on August 15, 2010

Burn Notice on USA
posted by wwartorff at 6:19 AM on August 15, 2010

posted by canadia at 6:50 AM on August 15, 2010

Best answer: Books: the Anna pigeon series by Nevada Barr and the Mary Russell series by Laurie R King. The latter is parti ularly great as they areset in the 1920s and she is so unselfconciously badass.
posted by 8dot3 at 6:56 AM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I always thought Scully from the X-Files was in this genre (but, I was a kid for most of it.) Seconding Angel, particularly seasons 2-4 (Fred and Cordy - and it's worth it just for comparing Cordy to her teenage self.) Star Trek: DS9 may be worth a look, and the handful of female characters (three are always in the main credits, from what I remember) in Babylon 5 are pretty snarky, too. And, to complete the list of Joss Whedon suggestions, I loved Adelle on Dollhouse, in the sense that I alternated between wanting to give her a "yay, you" hug and wanting to slug her. Her snark is mixed with... well, let's just say she's interesting. I don't agree with people who call the show exploitative, but you might. And the first five episodes are pretty bad until you've seen the whole show. That rule applies to great chunks of Doctor Who and Dead Like Me, BTW.
posted by SMPA at 7:09 AM on August 15, 2010

nth'ing Burn Notice, In Plain Sight, Covert Affairs, Fringe, Bones, Haven, Warehouse 13
posted by JaneL at 7:25 AM on August 15, 2010

Laura House in "Austin Stories" rules! But you'd need to buy the DVDs from Howard on eBay.
posted by GaelFC at 7:37 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not totally caught up on it, but so far I'm liking Huge on ABC Family, which is produced by the same person who did My So-Called Life and which has the virtue of not treating the fat characters like "fat characters," since most of the characters are fat.
posted by craichead at 7:45 AM on August 15, 2010

Did no one mention The Closer? Really? Really?

Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson kicks ass, takes names, solves crimes and earns her team's devotion. And she's got a generous dose of that 'Bless Your Heart = You're an Idiot" Southern Snark.
posted by Caravantea at 7:56 AM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

DOLLHOUSE (but the first four or five eps are pretty bad-- but then it gets so, so good).

I freaking love Greek on ABC Family. Yes, it is a show about sororities and fraternities on a family network. But it's very witty, fun, and spunky, and has colorblind casting and a bunch of gay characters. Many of the female leads are terrific (smart, articulate, and funny), although they tend to be more perky than misanthropic.

Seconding Fringe, great and underappreciated sci-fi.

The female lead on Party Down (created by the Veronica Mars showrunner) has a lot of the same snarky bite as Veronica.

It's a different type of show, but I really love United States of Tara. Tara's great but not exactly competent, but the teen daughter is a Veronica type.
posted by alicetiara at 8:03 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thirding Middleman. And Freaks and Geeks.
posted by Gortuk at 8:31 AM on August 15, 2010

The Gilmore Girls gets far better by the end of the first season and on through about the fifth. During those years it is positively snark-tastic - I really like it.

However, it doesn't do badass since it's about life in a weirdo New England town.
posted by jenmakes at 8:32 AM on August 15, 2010

Best answer: Seconding Warehouse 13, which has two "wry/dry/snarky sense of humor and competent in her own right" heroines. Plus the boss-of-the-boss is a woman, too!
posted by vorfeed at 8:33 AM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Dead Like Me. The main character, Georgia, starts out doubting herself but ends up a badass. Roxy, one of her fellow reapers, is possibly my favorite t.v. badass of all time.
posted by corey flood at 8:40 AM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Thin Man (film series)
Alias (the comic, not the tv series)
posted by mkultra at 10:07 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing The Closer. I love Kyra Sedgwick's Deputy Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson.

And female pyschologist business partner Gillian Foster, played by Kelli WIliiams, in Lie to Me has got a very dry sense of humor/is super competent.

Speaking of crime shows with smart and witty women, the basic Law and Order series has had a series of smart and witty female prosecutors, for all that they play second banana to the male lead prosecutor, and for season after season, S. Epatha Merkerson has been dry, competent, and in control as the female murder Lieutenant Anita Van Buren.

The Sopranos also featured two very tough, smart women in very different roles: psychologist Dr. Jennifer Melfi, played by Lorraine Braco, and Carmela Soprano, played by Edie Falco. They both deliver frequent zingers.
posted by bearwife at 10:46 AM on August 15, 2010

No one's suggested Chuck yet? I think Sarah is pretty awesome.
posted by pecknpah at 10:49 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

About Dead Like Me (which the OP already said they'd tried): the original showrunner, Bryan Fuller, left around the fourth episode, and the character of the show changed from that point onward. Easy way to tell: is Betty (Rebecca Gayheart) still on the show? Then it's a Bryan Fuller episode. (Her character got written out around the time Fuller left.) I don't remember much from those first episodes, but my impression is they were a bit more whimsical and a bit heavier on the deadpan humour. In contrast, later episodes (and especially the second season) concentrate a lot more on how George grows as a character, and are generally more serious.

A lot of people preferred Fuller's version of the show to what followed, but you might have the opposite reaction. At the very least, I grew to like Daisy Adair, Betty's replacement, a lot more than the original. Skip past Betty's disappearance (and past the flashback episode—yes, there's a FLASHBACK episode in the FIRST season) and see if it strikes your fancy a bit better.
posted by chrominance at 10:51 AM on August 15, 2010

Ugh, apparently I'm illiterate before I have my coffee. Yeah, I definitely agree that the later episodes of Dead Like Me are much, much better than the early ones. There is far more badassery from far more characters as the show goes on. And Daisy Adair is not to be missed.
posted by corey flood at 11:06 AM on August 15, 2010

Dark Angel.
posted by emilyw at 11:08 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aeryn Sun from Farscape is one of my all time favorite fictional people. She is unquestionably badass and the actress, Claudia Black, has this wonderful dry delivery.
posted by colfax at 11:09 AM on August 15, 2010

Kick Ass has a fair bit of girl power.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:10 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wizards of Waverly Place. That Selena Gomez sure is wry. Of course, no one likes the Disney Channel except me.
posted by oreofuchi at 12:06 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wizards of Waverly Place is actually pretty great for girl power, oreofuchi. Also good in Disney Channel terms is Phil of the Future. The little sister of the titular character is amazing, and I'm not sure that I've ever seen a children's show that treats the one-off insane Halloween episode where a previously friendly character turns out to be an evil cyborg as canon, other than Phil of the Future.

Disney also has Kim Possible, which is maybe the best superhero cartoon made in the last twenty years? There are arguments one can have about this, but it's chock full of girls being awesome. Most of the humor comes from silly sight gags and goofy sidekicks, but there's plenty of Peter Parker/Buffy-esque one-liners when fighting bad guys and a bizarrely reasonable homelife for the main characters. I also love the villians for the most part, and the sidekick of the arch nemesis is a kickass woman who actually manages to have a fleshed out character and set of motivations by the end of the show.
posted by Mizu at 12:23 PM on August 15, 2010

Archer (available on hulu & Netflix) is an animated series from FX about a spy agency featuring Aisha Tyler voicing a pretty badass, snarky lady spy. (Also, if you're a fan of Arrested Development, it's got Jessica Walter reprising the role of boozy WASP matriarch, Judy Greer as a regular cast member AND Jeffrey Tambor appears in a few episodes. I normally hate cartoons but I love this show so bad.)
posted by cosmic osmo at 12:30 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

30 Rock. 30 Rock. 30 Rock. And then there's 30 Rock. Oh! And there's this show called 30 Rock. It's got wry, dry, snarky AND screwball slapstick.
posted by macadamiaranch at 12:49 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by halogen at 1:05 PM on August 15, 2010

"Sports Night" (from the same writer as "West Wing") had quite a few tough, competent witty women.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:19 PM on August 15, 2010

Best answer: You might enjoy the Nickelodeon show Avatar: The Last Airbender. The females are part of a gender-mixed ensemble cast (but if you enjoy BSG and SCC I'm guessing you won't mind this) but almost without exception they are highly competent and have very interesting personalities.
posted by fearthehat at 2:47 PM on August 15, 2010

No one has mentioned NCIS, but I think both Kate and Ziva would fulfill your requirements. Ziva is more badass, but Kate was no slacker in that department.
posted by timepiece at 2:57 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot to mention The Shield. Although it's ostensibly focused on the corrupt Vic Mackey and his Strike Team, CCH Pounder's character plays a major role in the series. She's not only extremely good at her job, she's the moral center of the entire show. Her relationship with her partner, Dutch, is also one of the few good depictions of a nonromantic relationship between a man and a woman.
posted by Rangeboy at 4:20 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

How I Met Your Mother has a very strong female character in Lily (played by Alyson Hannigan!) 30 Rock's Liz Lemon might fit. You'd probably like Nina on the first season of 24 (which just happens to be the only one that's a must-watch). Lindsay from Freaks and Geeks definitely fits.
posted by EarBucket at 5:55 PM on August 15, 2010

Leverage has two very strong, snarky female characters in Sophie and Parker, as well.
posted by EarBucket at 5:56 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nth-ing West Wing - Abby Bartlett, CJ Craig, Donna Moss.... the list goes on.

Community - Britta is pretty awesome.

Oh, and although not a TV show, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has some pretty awesome kick-ass ladies.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:52 PM on August 15, 2010

The Avengers.
posted by condour75 at 5:27 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, Avatar: the Last Airbender (the cartoon, not the movie!) fits this to a T. Much more so in the 2nd and 3rd books than the first, though the first does have Katara so that's something. But Toph, one of the main characters in the 2nd and 3rd seasons, is a snark machine. Despite the fact that it's a kids show, it really is fantastic. It has strong, competent (but really not perfect) female characters, excellent mythology and world building, and a very fun, sarcastic/snarky sense of humor. Cannot recommend it enough!
posted by ashirys at 9:02 AM on August 16, 2010

"Star Trek: Voyager" had a remarkably strong female cast. Farscape did too.
posted by chairface at 12:08 PM on August 16, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, thanks guys. I've dabbled in/been following some of the suggested ones already (30 Rock, Bones, Popular), but there are definitely new ones that I need to try. I'm probably going to start off with The West Wing (I know, what rock have I been under?), Avatar, Warehouse 13, and the Mary Russell series by Laurie R King.

And because I like lists, I've made a list of all your suggestions (including my own for the sake of completion) in case anyone else wants a summary:

TV Shows:
24 (1st Season)
10 Things I Hate About You
30 Rock
Absolutely Fabulous
Arrested Development
Austin Stories
The Avengers
Babylon 5
Battlestar Galactica
Better Off Ted
Burn Notice
The Closer
Cougar Town
Covert Affairs
Dark Angel
Dead Like Me (Gets better)
Designing Women
Dollhouse (Bypass 1st 5 eps)
Dr. Who (w/ Donna, Amy)
Freaks and Geeks
Gilmore Girls (towards end of 1st season)
Grey's Anatomy
Grosse Point
How I Met Your Mother
In Plain Sight
Joan of Arcadia
Kim Possible
Law & Order (original)
Lie to Me
Murphy Brown
My So-Called Life
Nurse Jackie
Parks & Recreation
Phil of the Future
Roseanne (Mid Seasons)
Samantha Who?
Sex and the City (the series)
The Shield
Sports Night
Star Trek: DS9
Star Trek: Voyager
Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles
True Blood
United States of Tara
The Unusuals
Venture Brothers
Warehouse 13
The West Wing
The Wire
Wizards of Waverly Place

Avatar: The Last Airbender
Kare Kano

Anna pigeon series by Nevada Barr
Anything by Jennifer Crusie
Eve Dallas series by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)
Mary Russell series by Laurie R King
Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich

10 Things I Hate About You
Charlie's Angels
Easy A (coming in September)
Kick Ass
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
The Sweetest Thing
The Thing Man


Hope I didn't miss anything.
posted by jyorraku at 8:20 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

It just occurred to me to add "Friday Night Lights" to the list. To the casual observer it might appear to be a very blokey show about football, but it's really not that at all. And it has some very admirable female characters, just the way you like them.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 10:40 AM on August 17, 2010

You're welcome, WCityMike! :)
posted by pecknpah at 11:29 AM on August 22, 2010

Because you love lists, and thus I suspect you love *correct* lists, you should know that Kim Possible is also animation, as well as Venture Brothers and Futurama.

(and I'm sure there's something else I missed, as is the way with being pedantic on the internet.)
posted by Mizu at 6:52 PM on August 22, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, there's where the 'making a list and checking it twice' should have come in...
posted by jyorraku at 8:35 PM on August 25, 2010

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