I feel as though I say this every year (but I don't), the roles for women in television have only gotten better. If you look at these six women, they represent a wide variety of women, and represent different character distinctions along with having their own journeys. Some of these women are working mothers, bad ass CIA agents, spies for other governments, or fixers.
Kerri Washington is the first lead African American actress to be a part of this category in all of the years I have watched dramas (or should be a part of this category.) Washington's Olivia Pope is one of the few strong lead African American or black actresses to be a major lead on any television series cable, basic or pay. This is odd considering the way television has grown, but I think this is a great advancement, and should be recognized. Take note television it's time for more representation, and not just the supporting characters!
Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland
Danes performance was made fun of mercilessly by Ann Hathaway on SNL this past year. While the dig was funny, I think one thing is true, Danes intensity has created on of the most fantastic characters on the air. Watching Carrie grapple with her suspension, and then get sucked right back into the CIA game. There is no greater performance than watching her go after Brody, attack him using her more together prowess then interrogate him and use him as an agent of the agency. The episode Q&A proves just how great Danes is within this role, and beyond the romantic connections, she plays every movement, tick, anxiety ridden instance with ease.
Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates in Bate's Motel
I have to say from the first time I saw previews of this show, and heard they were doing a modern take on Psycho, I was against it from the start. I watched the show, and caught up on most of it, and while I still am not a fan, Farmiga makes me want to tune in, week after week. Farmiga's dark motherly ways make this one twisted relationship, and give an interesting context to the Psycho story. Was it needed, no, but Farmiga gives one of the best performances of the year, making a so-so show even better with her strong performance. While Highmoore is great as Norman, it's Farmiga and Norma who week after week make this show something of a great character study.
Julianna Marguiles as Alicia Florick in The Good Wife
After four years not many characters stay relevant, or as fresh as when they started, but Alicia is one of those characters who continues to develop. While Robert and Michelle King have a lot to do with that development, Alicia would be nothing without Marguiles. Alicia fighting for partner, dealing with her mother, her growing children, her husband's gubernatorial election, betrayal of a new friend, her love for Will, and striking out on her own in a new firm with Carrie. What a year! Marguiles has created one of the most dynamic female characters in television history; she is so complex, and does a fantastic job with this role. Marguiles is a pro, and she is fantastic as Alicia!
Tatiana Maslany as Sarah Manning (and many more) in Orphan Black
What can I say about this performance, that critics, bloggers have not said. Maslany plays Sarah Manning and many girls who are said to be clones. Maslany kicks ass, is a soccer mom, a cop, and many more roles; she is a true chameleon within each of these of these different roles, none of them feel the same, and that's an incredibly hard accomplishment to achieve. While the show is solid it's Maslany's performance which keeps you hooked; she takes each of these roles with ease, and looks like is having a blast doing this. I burned through an entire season of this show because I was enthralled by Maslany, and I can't wait to see what she does with this role, when the show returns.
Kerri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings in The Americans
Watching Russell play the other half of the married couple pretending to US citizens while really being Soviet Spies is impressive. Russell is incredibly stoic, while being vulnerable as she deals with the trials and tribulations of finding the balance in being a mother and spy. While Rhys has gotten more credit (I agree during the evolution of the show he is better), Russell battling the thought of her rape, and dealing with this as she approaches the man who took advantage of her was one of the most intense scenes. Russell is dynamic in this role, proving she can stretch her acting muscle to newer levels.
Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal
I know I may get shit for this one because of the "soapy" nature of this show, but Washington is a force to be reckoned with, and after a roller coaster year dealing with her married lover's assassination attempt (yea he is the President too), and being forced to admit her own fault in helping rig the election; she is was off the charts great. Washington is no victim, and even though most of her emotional choices may be driven by her love for Fitz she is one strong woman, and fights back in some of the most realistic ways. Washington's performance is real, and that's one of the major reasons people tune into this show week after week!
Runner Ups: Elisabeth Moss as Peggy in Mad Men, and Emmy Rossum as Fiona Gallagher in Shameless