The Star Wars franchise is finally centralizing women in its storylines, as evidenced by last year’s The Force Awakens and this winter’s smash Rogue One. This got me thinking about all the SF/F television series I’ve enjoyed whose stories are driven by and/or created for women. In no particular order: Bionic Woman. Wonder Woman. Buffy. Haven. Agent Carter (RIP dear Peggy!). Orphan Black. Supergirl. Jessica Jones. Dark Angel. Xena: Warrior Princess. This doesn’t count more, ahem, secular offerings such as Charlie’s Angels, Empire, One Day At A Time, Nurse Jackie and Quantico.
As far as SF/F goes, I want to recommend three outstanding, but underestimated series focused on female leads to those of us who may have given them a pass, because these series definitely have a place in the SF/F TV canon. Submitted for your consideration, because I approve them:
Continuum (2012-2015): Did you miss it? Go watch (it’s on Netflix). Don’t dismiss it as “Time Trax with a female lead.” Canadian series Continuum wrapped up with a shortened fourth season (but a complete run) and is one of the mind-bendiest science fiction thrill rides. The Terminator franchise familiarized us with the brain-busting concept of a time loop, but Continuum played with time loops, time streams, alternate timelines, alternate characters… Whew. (There are even helpful timeline trackers on the Internet.) Rachel Nichols stars as Kiera Cameron, a cop in 2077 corporate Earth, who intervenes in a plot to send imprisoned members of Liber8, a terrorist group, back to 2012 to alter the future — and ends up trying to chase down those Liber8 members in 2012. She bullshits her way into a job as a detective and seeks help from fellow cop Carlos Fonnegra (Viktor Webster) and Alec Sadler — (played by Jericho’s Eric Knudsen), who gets a meaty role as the college-age computer genius inventor of said corporate future (the grown-up version is played by X-Files’ Cigarette Smoking Man, William B. Davis). Complications arise when Alec’s stepbrother Julian pulls people together to found Liber8. Problem is, the original timeline Kiera shares with Liber8 favors Orwellian, corporate greed, so things really get interesting when Kiera realizes she can’t go home and her priorities align with those of Liber8 — although not to the same violent degree. I’m a fan of series where the bad guys ally with the good guys, or the “bad” guys turn out to be the good guys — and Continuum does a lot of that (and does it well). But even the terrorists don’t agree on how best to alter the timeline: a minor character in the first season cashes in on his knowledge of the future and by the fourth season has become both Kiera’s and Liber8’s archenemy. Continuum asks a lot of questions about the role of technology in society, where this tech will go — and where it will take us.
Lost Girl (2011-2015): Another Canadian series! (Also on Netflix last time I checked.) Lost Girl ran for five seasons and I feel like I’m the last person to discover it. But I don’t want to be the last! So here’s what you need to know. Lost Girl is about Bo, a woman living off the grid because her power/need to suck the life out of people means the bodies have been stacking up. She meets up with Kenzie, another off-the-grid runaway, and as they gain illicit work as private investigators, the hidden world of the Fae — people of myth living right among us — is revealed to them. Bo discovers she’s part of this world — she’s a succubus. She has to have sex to heal. The Light and Dark factions of the Fae pressure her to choose a side — but Bo refuses, navigating her own path. This carries over to Bo’s relationships; as one might expect from a TV series about a succubus, the series depicts a relationship between Bo and, well, practically every other character: from Dyson, a detective/werewolf, to Lauren Lewis, a doctor initially enslaved by the Fae, to a fallen Valkyrie named Tamsin. But the series emphasizes sex-positivity; the show explores all of those connections — Bo and Kenzie, for contrast, remain best friends-without-benefits — and their ramifications. By the third season, for better or for worse, they’ve become Bo’s Scooby Gang, supporting her on her quest to find the truth about her parents.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2007-2009): Available on DVD. Yep, I mentioned the Terminator franchise, so of course I’m going to include this. The Sarah Connor Chronicles lasted for two seasons, but it added a lot of depth to the franchise as a whole, and placed the focus of the story not on John Connor, but on his mother. Before she played the devious Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones, Lena Headey took an action-packed turn as the mother to a teenage John Connor (Thomas Dekker), doing everything she could to alter his future — or, failing that, to protect him long enough to deliver him to his fated role as the Earth’s savior. Joining in her efforts are Cameron (Firefly’s Summer Glau) as a Terminator assigned to protect John, and FBI agent James Ellison (Judging Amy’s Richard T. Jones). Sarah, John and Cameron live off the grid, skipping forward in time from 1999 to 2007 (thereby erasing anything that happened in T3: Rise of the Machines). They move from place to place, trying to stay one step ahead of Skynet while at the same time trying to suss out Skynet’s origins and cut off its development. Lena Headey expanded on Linda Hamilton’s characterization from Terminator 2; she brought a complexity to the role — she clashed with John over dating issues, despised Cameron’s presence as his protector, then faced down obstacles such as a roomful of T-1000s. Plus it’s hard to argue with casting Garbage’s lead singer, Shirley Manson, as tech magnate Catherine Weaver — who has a secret or two up her sleeve (literally!) and who may or may not be a friend to the Connors. The series was really good at balancing action with character development — Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles had some of the most harrowing episodes ever to air on television — episodes like “The Demon Hand” and “What He Beheld” hit you where it hurt but made you want more. For anyone interested in the Terminator storyline, in my humble opinion, The Sarah Connor Chronicles is the best entry in the series to follow T2 (let’s not talk about Salvation or Genisys… just… let’s don’t). Warning: unlike Continuum and Lost Girl, Sarah Connor didn’t get the ending she deserved — but the crazy cliffhanger ending actually fits, and besides, we all know that within the Terminator time loop — er, franchise — nothing is really over anyway.
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