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Forums » General Discussion » Female-Non-Main-TV-Characters. Like Kate.

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  • Tim
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    Female-Non-Main-TV-Characters. Like Kate. Link to this post

    [Minor Spoilers for "The Walking Dead", some Kate-related Spoilers for "Lost"]

    Hey everyone!

    Like - probably - most of you, I'm very interested in how people react to tv-storytelling, from the mass movements of online forums and comment sections to just... My own circle of friends.

    And while I don't have any statistical data to back this up, it seems to me that (particularly?) on otherwise very popular shows, there's one female character that is somewhat controversial.

    There's Kate from "Lost", Laurie from "The Walking Dead", there are Rita and Skyler in kind of similar roles on "Dexter" and "Breaking Bad", respectively, and while I've so far only watched season one of that show, Betty Draper from "Mad Men" seems to have made some enemies as well. There are also a lot of discussions involving Catelyn from "Game of Thrones", although that might be more of a thing in the book-specific part of the fandom.

    Now, obviously, there is a difference between "not liking a character" and "not liking the way a character is written". Two (female) friends of mine have a considerable problem with Kate and Ana Lucia ("Lost") and I'm not sure if it's because the writing is bad or because the writing is good. (Or because Kate is stranded on an island full of beautiful people while they are stuck with... Well, me. I'm okay, but maybe I should get some mysterious tattoos that don't mean anything.)

    I consider Skyler and Rita to be good people that I probably wouldn't have any negative feelings towards in real life. But they are functioning at times as a "problem" for the (not quite as good) main character of the show. The constant questioning of "What is going on?" can get annoying, even if it is completely justified. (And with Walter White, you usually get a very quotable answer for the ages, so... I'm glad, Skyler asked!)

    And my theory is that - in these cases - viewers dislike the role, when they seem to dislike the (fictional) person. However, I'd argue that someone needs to play that role. If you want to have a story where the main character has two lives, it would be weird if those two worlds didn't come into conflict with each other and if nobody made the case for the family, so to say, if nobody represented the life that the main character either had or could have.

    In other words, this might not be about how the writers portray female characters. And it might not be about male 20-something viewers having trouble empathizing with a mother. Maybe both those things play into it, but the problem might just be the role of the wife or the role of the mother.

    And then there is "The Walking Dead" and Laurie. Now... I liked Kate. I don't think "Lost" had as much story for her as it had screentime, but I still liked having her around, even if she was the weakest part of anything. Even if she didn't have a lot of impact on the main plot and the subplots that she was involved in were often very typical "female-but-not-main-character" storylines (the love triangle, being or playing a mother, etc.). I could still understand why Kate did what she did.

    With Laurie, these problems feel bigger, to the point where 1) she's made "jumps" or decisions that I just couldn't follow and 2) she's not involved in any subplots that don't revolve around her being a wife or her being a mother or her having (had) an affair. Maybe I have those problems with her storylines because I'm a guy. Or maybe it's because a lot of writers are guys? Still, why can't she be more like Buffy? ;-)

    Anyway, before I ramble on and on... I'll stop here and ask if any of you have thoughts on this issue?

  • TheTVCritic
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    Re: Female-Non-Main-TV-Characters. Like Kate. Link to this post

    SPOILER WARNING

    Hi Tim,

    That's a brilliant question. It's something I've often thought about because the vast majority of my favourite TV characters are male. Is that because I'm a guy or because Hollywood is dominated by men writing for female characters?

    I think you nail the problem with Rita (Dexter) and Skyler (Breaking Bad). Both are presented as perfectly reasonable women and yet they "get in the way" of their partner committing the crimes they do. We know both Dexter and Walt far better than their wives and so naturally sympathise with them when their actions are thwarted.

    For some of the other characters you mention I suspect there is a problem portraying female psychology. Kate (Lost) was meant to be an emotional person who would be drawn into a bond with someone and then suddenly become afraid and run. I don't think this was ever portrayed (through writing or acting) in a way that felt convincing. I think Deb (Dexter) gives a better portrayal of this kind of emotional conflict.

    But similarly with Ana Lucia (Lost), Lori (Walking Dead) and Catelyn (Game of Thrones) I think there is an attempt to show a person having a change of heart and it comes across as inconsistent or poorly constructed.

    When I think about the female characters on TV I have really enjoyed I think of Samantha and Miranda (Sex and the City), Lucretia and Illithyia (Spartacus), Stacy (Spin City), Rachel (Friends), Deb (Dexter) and of course Buffy and Willow (Buffy).

    I'd say there is a commonality there of characters who define their own destiny and perhaps step into traditionally male roles. If that's stating it too much then they are certainly all characters who take charge of their own destiny.

    In general on TV we are used to seeing men have goals, hobbies and different sides to their personalities. I think a big problem with the Skyler's and Rita's is that they are defined largely by their role as wife or mother. The characters I mentioned above all got to have proper shading and their own careers.

    I'm a big believer in seeing a character's desires and urges explored. Shows like Mad Men (Peggy, Joan) and Game of Thrones (Cersei, Arya, Sansa) portray pretty interesting female characters because they give us an understanding of their lives.

    Perhaps what television shows have the most trouble with is giving fully rounded characters to women in fairly passive roles in a story. It can be too easy to leave those characters undefined or defined only by their relationships to men.

    Marge (Simpsons) might be the ultimate example of this character and of course over 20+ season there have been ups and downs in her portrayal as a confirmed home maker. I think there are some characters who can occupy that steady role and be important and interesting. Carla (Scrubs) didn't get much time to be a protagonist but was an important ensemble player. Ros and Daphne played similar roles on Frasier. For me, seasons one and two Monica (Friends) was a lovable and delightful character who just wanted to find a husband and have children. That desire wasn't portrayed as a negative or limited thing.

    Final point, as I'm giving you an awful lot to take in is this. Female strength is sometimes portrayed on TV as being when women adopt an unemotional state. From my experience of the real world I'm always drawn to female characters who can show strength while not hiding their emotional reactions (Deb, Buffy). One character who I always saw as a pretty interesting and enjoyable example of this was Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City). Of course she is a very divisive figure. Where do you guys stand on her as a TV character?

  • Yogabon
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    Re: Female-Non-Main-TV-Characters. Like Kate. Link to this post

    Carrie Bradshaw was a lot of fun to watch. She pursued gratification at all times. Yet she had a core group of friends that loved her just as she was.

    Talk about wish fulfillment!

    Women are usually the givers, sacrificers and supporters. Carrie just impulsively lived moment to moment with a longing for something more.

    We women lived vicariously through her.

  • TheTVCritic
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    Re: Female-Non-Main-TV-Characters. Like Kate. Link to this post

    I also really liked that Carrie's relationships all ended because of a difference in readiness to get serious. Big was never ready, Aidan was too ready and Berger ran from it. That just seemed to simulate real life far more than shows where relationships have to end because something dramatic breaks them apart (cough Smash cough .

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