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5 Butt-Kicking Brunettes on Television

It occurred to me, while I was mentally compiling a list of my top three TV action/adventure heroines (Buffy Summers, Veronica Mars and Kara Thrace), that they are all blonde.

This could mean one of two things: as a blond, my tendency to re-cast myself in daydreams cherry-picked from TV shows has been aided and abetted by my sub-conscious identifying with women who look vaguely like me. Or blondes still tend to be somewhat over-represented on television (off the top of my head: Heroes, Fringe, No Ordinary Family, and The Closer all star blondes).

It’s likely a combination of the two scenarios, but in any case, I decided to compile a list of brown and black-haired actresses (sorry, redheads, you actually are under-represented) who are currently kicking ass and taking names on the teevee. Here, in no particular order, are my top 5:

1. Kate Beckett from Castle

While a weekly dose of Nathan Fillion never hurt anyone, Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) is the real reason I keep watching Castle. She’s perfect as a hard-boiled detective whose professionalism never wavers, though she does drop the most hilarious bon mots about her past, which includes dating “a grunge rocker who smelled like wet flannel and clove cigarettes.” Fun fact: Actress Stana Katik, who plays Beckett, had a bit part in an Alias episode as a flight attendant.

2.  Fiona Glenanne from Burn Notice

I really hate Burn Notice’s protagonist, Michael Weston, especially his bad accents and martyr complex, so it’s a good thing Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) is around to blow things up and keep things chill (simultaneously, because she’s awesome like that). Fiona is the pragmatist with a heart of gold–one minute she’s assisting Michael in his personal vendetta du jour, the next she’s helping some poor, unfortunate soul get the mafia off his back. Of the show’s characters, she’s by far the most charitable with her time and ability to cook bombs.

3. Ana Ruiz from The Good Guys (apologies for the heinously blurry pic)

Lt. Ana Ruiz (Diana Maria Riva) started off as a bureaucratic killjoy, but thankfully her role has been expanded to that of reluctant love interest (not as pigeon-holing as it sounds, I promise) and rule-bending ally. She plays a particularly prominent part in the latest episode, wherein she encounters a Peeping Tom. The male characters freak out and vow to act as her bodyguards, but Ruiz remains calm and winds up taking down the Peeping Tom herself. The damsel-in-distress reversal would have put Daphne and the writers of Scooby Doo to shame.

4. Ziva David and Abby Sciuto from NCIS

I couldn’t choose between Ziva (Cote de Pablo) and Abby(Pauley Perrette), so they both made the cut. One of my favorite things about NCIS is that it is equal-opportunity in both the parts its female characters play and the screen-time devoted to their personal development. Abby is the epitome of a confident super-geek and Ziva is a brusque, often emotionally detached professional, both parts with ties to stereotypically male traits. Both women save the day on as many or more occasions as their male counterparts, and Abby gets to wear combat boots while doing so.

Favorite Ziva quote, in response to a query about how many languages she speaks: “Including the language of love, 10.”

Favorite Abby quote: “Oh my God. I got this email that says I may have already won fifty million dollars and I’m really, really psyched!”

5. Diana Barrigan from White Collar

Diana (Marsha Thomason) just became a regular on White Collar this past (2nd) season. I’m so glad that the producers decided to give her a chance, because she is one of less than half a dozen lesbian characters currently featured on an action show. Also, kudos to the writers for refraining from littering the script with lesbian jokes (ok, one or two have slipped through). Diana is a protégé for one of the main characters, ridiculously smart and fleshed out enough for us to know she’s the daughter of diplomats and lives with her partner. Hopefully we’ll find out more about her as the season progresses.

Writing this list left me with one major observation: Not only are a good number of female action stars blonde, they are overwhelmingly white.

I don’t own a TV (but I promise I’m not saying that sanctimoniously–I watch tons of television on Netflix and Hulu) so I don’t always have access to the latest cable shows, and maybe that’s limiting my scope. But trying to find women of color who currently star or even have bit parts in action shows was ridiculously hard. And it didn’t help that NBC just cancelled Undercovers, which starred an African-American man and woman who play a married spy team, just as the show was starting to hit its stride. Hopefully network execs will wake up and realize white-washed shows miss out on talent and alienate people.

If I had been including characters from shows that are off the air, I would definitely have written up Zoe Washburne from Firefly and Sharon Valerii from Battlestar Galactica. Who are your favorite female action stars, past and present?

7 replies on “5 Butt-Kicking Brunettes on Television”

If we’re including brunette icons from cancelled shows (though Kara and Buffy are my heroes, and I adored Veronica’s powers of snark), I present to you the following:

Here’s more ladies not noted in the post:
1. River Tam of Firefly/Serenity- she started off a mess, but definitely gathered exponential ass-kicking power by the end of the show.
2. Cameron of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Summer Glau seems to do exceptionally well at this kind of role, she was and still is the girl I see in my head as Lisbeth Salander)
3. XENA(!!!!)
4. Sydney Bristow of Alias (Syd annoyed me sometimes, but she did have definite ass-kick ability). Also her mother Irina, while I’m at it.
5. Max Guevara of Dark Angel (cancelled like a decade ago, but def. counts as part of the post-Buffy wave of female ass-kicker-centric shows)

Grace Park (Sharon/Boomer on BSG) is still kicking asses on Hawaii Five-O, although I’m not terribly impressed with the show.
The sadly canceled Undercovers gave lovely British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw lots of opportunities to be an action hero, but the show didn’t get a chance to find it’s groove.
In the 21st Century Doctor Who, all four of the companions got to kick some ass in one way or another.
I don’t watch that new Incredibles-like super hero show, do the Lady Heroes get good scenes?

I haven’t seen No Ordinary Family yet, but it looks promising. And yes, Undercovers getting cancelled was such a blow, especially considering tons of far crappier shows get a second season to prove themselves.

Battlestar was an embarrassment of riches as far as active female characters go. A lot of them weren’t heroes and many of them weren’t even likable, but in terms of portraying women as physical, active, able bodied equals, I can’t think of another show that’s made as much of an effort.

I enjoy the usual suspects of the tv action heroine field — your Xenas, and Buffys, and Zoes and Scullys, but I was also quite fond of the women on Hex and I might be the only person in the universe who will admit to being fond of Rose Tyler.

haha, I didn’t know Rose was so unpopular, but the first 2 or 3 episodes of the new Doctor Who and I thought she was very likeable.

One of my favorite things about BSG was the co-ed bathrooms. It makes so much sense, yet that would never fly in the U.S. military.

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