Ah, to be smitten!
The real thing can’t be beat, but here, I’m talking about my new “TV girlfriend” crush. Who would that be, you may ask? It could be someone featured in a show I mentioned back when I polled the MovieFanFare readership for new series suggestions; it could be somebody else. I’m just not ready to tell; not because I have the desire to be overly coy about it, but you see, it’s early in the relationship. This particular show has been on for some time but I’ve just picked it up, so we’ve sort of just met—and I have a lot more to find out about this character before I decide to take that all-important step…of adding her to my distinguished roster of small-screen infatuations.
Plus, like many a relationship in the real world can be…it’s complicated.
In the meantime, I’m going to share this peculiar joy in the best way available to me at the moment, and that’s by fondly looking back at the many female television characters—and the actresses who have so well played them—that swept me off my feet. I think you will perceive certain patterns here, since this is not some sort of “Top 10 Greatest Leading Ladies of Television” (though they’d all qualify for that) and thus represents no attempt on my part to make a well-rounded (ahem) list with various “types.”
They are all my type, so to speak.
And what type is that? You know the drill: If I have to pick between Ginger and Mary Ann, it’s Mary Ann. I go for Janet rather than Chrissy; Bailey over Jennifer; Betty instead of Wilma.
Sometimes the line is blurred for me, I will admit also, between having a mad crush on the specific character and a more general fascination with the performer bringing the part to life. But let me get on with this brief valentine to the talented women (and unforgettable roles) that have kept me glued to the tube:
Morticia Addams, Carolyn Jones
For me, it all begins and ends with Morticia. I wrote at greater length some time ago about my long obsession with The Addams Family and my particular attachment to the slinky, saucy head of the Addams household (Yes, it’s clear to me at least that she’s in charge, and Gomez rather likes it that way). Morticia’s lust for the moment, her unquenchable thirst for romance (as long as it’s the “right” time), and her unconditional adoration of her attentive, devil-may-care, and daffy husband has long represented the ideal mate appealing to me in real life. And lucky me, for a while, I had just that.
Batgirl/Barbara Gordon, Yvonne Craig
Probably the very first of my TV crushes, Yvonne Craig was brought on to spice up the campy adventures of the Caped Crusaders as the ratings for Batman began to slip. That hasty cheesecake injection ultimately failed to long prevent the ultimate SPLAT! of cancellation, but there’s no way we’re going to count that against the spectacular Ms. Craig, who brilliantly essayed both the square personality of Barbara Gordon (the daughter of Police Commissioner Gordon and a librarian: Seriously, how hot is that combination of “forbidden fruit” and cultured cutie?) and the sass of the most shapely member of the Terrific Trio.
Coming to the part with a dancer’s background, Craig employed a fighting style (during all those BIFF! POW! ZONK! sequences) that was more balletic in execution, with spins and high kicks substituting for the straight-up fisticuffs preferred by the not-so-Dark-Knight and his Boy Wonder.
Some in the geek-nerd population may think it more stylish to appreciate her contribution to the original Star Trek series, covering herself in green makeup and exposing much more skin as alien slave Marta in the 1968 episode “Whom Gods Destroy”; to each their own. Her Batgirl costume, by the way, remains the best superhero outfit in the history of superhero outfits. Did I mention that purple just happens to be my favorite color?
Agent 99, Barbara Feldon
She never had an actual name, but that was never considered an insult to the woman who played the most valuable member of CONTROL. (Sure, Maxwell Smart might be the headline grabber, but he’d be nothing without her keeping him in check) In Get Smart, it was Max who was the ditz—which adds just one more layer of funny meaning to the show’s very well-chosen title. Feldon brought both sex appeal and intelligence to the part, and she really wears those clothes. Somehow, on her, even today, they never look tacky.
You shake your head a little when you learn from interviews that she spent most of her time onscreen subtly slouching, so as not to loom over Don Adams, who was not as tall. Whether doing so out of deference to one actor’s insecurities or the cultural “norms” of the time, Feldon’s overly accommodating gesture didn’t stop her from becoming a much-admired symbol of female empowerment.
And let’s not forget the way she would purr “Oh, Max…”—and the fact that she was terribly gifted at being the “straight man” in the midst of all the goofy farce.
Emily Hartley, Suzanne Pleshette
Pleshette’s Emily is probably the most traditionally-domesticated character of my many TV crushes. So beloved was her portrayal of psychologist Robert Hartley’s wife on The Bob Newhart Show, she returned to the part more than a decade after that show ended to participate in the final episode of her co-star’s subsequent series, Newhart—a riotous, closely guarded secret of a cameo appearance that resulted in what many consider to be the greatest finale to a sitcom ever aired.
While Emily Hartley may have indeed hewed more closely to the role of a more “traditional” (that is to say, submissive) TV wife, she was afforded many opportunities to one-up Bob by meeting his deadpan mocking with a sharp and sly wit of her own.
Molly Dodd, Blair Brown
Emotionally vulnerable, frequently unsure of herself, but sophisticated and adventurous, wandering soul Molly Dodd came along at just the right time for me as I made my own transition from overconfident high-school nerd to fish-out-of-water college student. In Jay Tarses’ brainy comedy-drama The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Blair Brown played a woman often thunderstruck at her own ability to dive in too deep as well as her inability to shed unproductive feelings—while cultivating the self-deprecating and ironic posture that in times of neurotic crisis served as her only lifeline. Molly had a tough time moving on from her ex-husband, a jazz musician who was also kind of a “bad boy”; I was cheering her on when she got close to David Strathairn’s Moss, a sweetly maladjusted bookstore proprietor.
I lost touch with the show even before it made its jump from NBC to Lifetime, so I never got to see if Molly landed safely. And I never read up on any of the summaries of the show’s progression—somehow that seemed like taking a shortcut. So how about getting with it, powers-that-be, and see that this much-loved show (even if it’s a small audience that much loves it) is finally released to home video?
Laura Holt, Stephanie Zimbalist
She was a goody two-shoes whose success as a private detective working for the Remington Steele agency was built on her secret con game: there was no “Remington Steele” –she invented him to appease fuddy-duddies who couldn’t accept that a woman could get the job done. She posed as a subordinate but was really the head shamus, and she could rock the hat as well as Bogart. Steele was simply never “available” to his clients, remaining a mysterious and unseen presence… “until he walked in.”
Yes, it’s fair to say that co-star Pierce Brosnan reaped the biggest reward from Remington Steele by becoming the fifth actor to play James Bond (we all knew he could be a great 007 right away)—but to echo the program’s central conceit, I’d say that Zimbalist was indispensable to that success, since the entire show rested neither on Brosnan’s ample charisma alone nor on the intricacies of the mystery plots, but the sizzle of the two leads’ chemistry. With the show’s exotic locales, sophisticated banter, and knack for making movie nostalgia hip, Remington Steele played the “will-they-or-won’t-they” game better than most series that attempted it.
Lisa Miller, Maura Tierney
Here’s one of those cases where, in part, I’d have to admit my attachment to the actor might outweigh my infatuation with the role—since I was a spotty viewer of the terrific sitcom NewsRadio on its initial airing. Sometimes it’s just all about the timing—and I was missing a lot of these episodes before you could easily binge-watch thanks to DVD season sets or the Internet. But Lisa Miller was my kind of plucky gal. The show put a fun spin on what you might have expected with the “will-they-or-won’t-they” theme, by not stretching the question out for so very long (as in Remington Steele, Frasier, Cheers, etc.) and putting Lisa and Dave in the sack right out of the gate. Clearly, Lisa is in many ways a take-charge kind of woman.
Lindsay Weir, Linda Cardellini
I will never forget the unusual compliment one of my English teachers paid me during a visit I made back to my high school a few years after graduation: She told me, very much out of the blue, that she thought I had great taste in women. If I’d gone to school with Lindsay Weir, the heroine of Freaks and Geeks, I’d like to think I’d have had a shot—although my peers and I tended to stick very, very closely to our particular cliques, so I might have missed out because I’d never have ventured anywhere near the “freaks” Lindsay sought to befriend when the snobberies of the “geeks” became intolerable to her. OK, so maybe that started out as just an attraction to the James Dean-ish James Franco, but it was ultimately about more than that; Lindsay’s willingness to rebel against others’ insular prejudices is maybe her most appealing trait—a lot of folks have to wait until they get beyond high school to become that evolved (if, indeed, they ever do evolve).
Nancy Botwin, Mary-Louise Parker
On occasion I like to think of myself as a “thinking man”—so of course I’d be head-over-heels for the “Thinking Man’s Sex Symbol,” right? Weeds is another show I had to abandon before it ran its full course, through no fault of its own, and I am really looking forward to sandwiching in the rest of the run when I get a chance so I can see exactly what happens with pot-selling widowed mom Nancy Botwin. From the episodes I’ve seen so far, I can tell that Nancy and I both have a healthy disdain for most of the same things (and people) that get in the way of leading an authentic and satisfactory life. Nancy is also just holding on by the skin of her teeth, though, battered by the urgency and complexities of the modern world—and I can appreciate that. But she is also fearless and resourceful. OK, so technically, she’s a criminal—but I will put it to you today that it won’t be so very long before that aspect of the show will seem as quaint as bootlegging alcohol.
So this list tops out at nine—first, because like I said, I’m keeping mum as to the latest TV lady to win my fussy heart; second, because I’m turning the list over to you now to discuss any stars or characters from the past or present taking up space on your video shelves, filling your DVR, or crowding your must-see TV memories.