Before starting this article, I think I should set the rules how I pick the TV-show character in question.
Rule 1: No animated characters (because they would fall under the animated female category), no sit-coms, no soap-operas, no reality TV. And yes, I am aware that this leaves mostly Dramas and Dramedies, but that’s where you can find the most interesting female characters.
Rule 2: For now, I’ll only consider TV-shows which aired 2000 or later. I might widen the field later on, but for now, let’s see what the modern media has to offer.
Rule 3: Only one character per TV show. If I think that there are other noteworthy characters in the same show, I will mention them, though.
Rule 4: The character in question doesn’t have to be the protagonist, but she has to be a regular.
Rule 5: In order not to overpraise a character prematurely, I’ll only discuss shows which are either concluded or have at least three seasons already.
The reason for this last rule is related to the usual live circle of TV-Shows. Even if they are on air for six or more seasons, they tend to reach their peek during the second or third season. In later seasons the writing tends to decline and as a result the characters in question suffer. Psych is a good example for this phenomena. The first season was good but sometimes clunky, the second season was divine and is still widely considered the best of the show, the third was still good but suffered because of the writer’s strike and from the fourth onwards the show has been in a constant downwards spiral.
One of the victims of said downwards spiral is Detective Juliet “Jules” O’Hara, played by Maggie Lawson. This is not a matter of specifically her having changed so much, all the characters in the show have suffered by this point. It was a slow process, but watching a second season episode back to back with a current one makes you wonder if that is not the same show. To illustrate my point:
This is how Juliet used to be:
This is Juliet now:
But let’s not talk about this depressing sight too much, but about why the original Juliet deserves appreciation.
Psych is a show about a crazy observant Shawn Spencer who pretends to be a psychic in order to solve cases and his side-kick/best friend, Burton Guster. The show itself is at its best a mix of a Buddy-Cop show with surprisingly well thought out cases and a big dose of humour and spoof thrown in. To get this one extensive knowledge of American pop culture especially from the 1980th is needed, though, and the humour is not for everybody.
Psych offered during its first seasons a myriad of well-written and often unusual characters in the cases of the week. And the main cast, while male dominated, had to offer a female chief of police who was heavily pregnant during the pilot and was eventually shown balancing career and private life while still being able to keep even the resident annoying genius in line. But the stand-out female character was Juliet.
She was like a breath of fresh air when it comes to the portrayal of female police officers on TV. Most of them are pretty much interchangeable, because they follow the same template of what a female officer should be like and rarely display any notable character traits. They are overly serious and most of them have some sort of tragic past which drives them. Juliet was different, though. Unashamedly girly, but nevertheless a competent detective, she was, in a way, exactly the opposite of what you expect a police officer to be like, while at the same time there was never any doubt that she could do the job. Clad if bright colours she went through life driven by the wish to prove herself, but also wanting to be accepted and liked by everyone. And I mean everyone. Even people she arrested tended to send her Christmas cards. Her best moments where whenever she went undercover, because she tended to loose herself in the role she had to play. It was just incredible funny when she turned up clad in pink, acting all girly, pretended to be a tough roller derby girl or went all out as a dancing instructor.
As I mentioned, this didn’t last because Psych slowly lost its footing. All characters became too cartoonish and the contradictions which ones made this cast work were slowly erased by writers who were ready to put cheap jokes and contrived storylines over good character development. In Juliet’s case this meant that her perfect family was replaced with a conman father, she suddenly displayed trust issues and soon was one of those “hard-ass female cops with a vulnerable side” which are dime to dozen in TV. But for four glorious seasons, she challenged the perception of how a female detective should be. So let’s praise the character she used to be.
Best Psych episode: 2.15 Black and Tan: A Crime of Fashion
Best Juliet-Centric episode: 3.7 Talk Derby to Me
Best Alias: Mary Lou Baumgartner
Best Quote: “Okay, you guys are actually devolving.”
Normally I would do at this point a recommendation for the show, but it is honestly difficult to say who will like it and who not. It is all a matter if the humour clicks. If it does, the first three seasons are DVD-worthy, after that it is a matter of taste at which point the number of not-so-good episodes are higher than the compelling ones.