Hers culminated with Xena.
Maybe I'm just marching to an ENTIRELY different drummer than the rest of the world, but I bounced off the whole Xena thing so damned hard that I think I hurt myself. Yes, they TRIED to give it depth - but the it was meta-depth, not the real thing, not to me, it was a depth-measuring stick which they showed me and they said, oh, look, it's wet right up to THIS MARK which means that there had to be water there... but I never really saw that water. All I had was their word, and the stick. Sorry, Xena fans, and I know you are legion. Yes, she was a lead female character in a wasteland of male-protagonisted shows, I'll give you that. Yes, she was gorgeous and she looked damned good in that get-up. But to me that show always remained SKETCHED, like a cartoon (as opposed to a graphic novel). No depth. No REAL depth. Certainly thumbing its nose at anything resembling a suspension of disbelief.
If we're to stay with specfic TV and with strong female characters, then why not Ivanova from Babylon 5? I haven't seen a great deal of Caprica - we're watching it TiVo-taped and that means a somewhat jerky sequence of episodes which seem to come and go at unpredictable intervals, but... how about Zoe? If we're segueing away from genre and into the mainstream a little, how about Maxine from "Judging Amy"? Or Lily Rush from "Cold Case"? Or - it doesn't ALL have to be high drama - any one of the characters from the British sitcom "Coupling" (and if you haven't seen that you should go and find it somewhere, pronto...) or Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman from the (again British, and sadly I think defunct) show "New Tricks"? Funny, feisty, strong AND vulnerable women with lives, with pasts, with passion, with convictions, with... with... with, yes, depth, and this time I can SEE the water and test it for myself.
And if we're to go to the male half of the spectrum here's my list of favourites:
1) Oh, for God's sake, do I have to spell it out? The Tenth Doctor. I'm sorry, Matt Smith, but so far the first season has shown me that you can be ditzy and goofy and nervy with the best of them - but with David Tennant I could see the wounds and the hurt but also the passion for living - there was both darkness and light in there and he let it show - he was both immensely strong and utterly vulnerable - yes, I'm in love, why do you ask?...
2) When he first turned up in an Eccleston-Who episode, I thought Jack Harkness was an anooying, if entertaning, chump. I've since learned differently. Screw the pheromones of the 51st century and the not-so-latent sexiness of the man - this is somebody I would like to call a friend.
3) Sharing billing because they worked so well as a pair - G'Kar and Londo from Babylon 5. They made me laugh. They (together and individually) broke my heart. They took root in my soul. When the actor who played G'kar died, not that long ago, I felt as though I had lost family. This was a relationship between two strong characters with equally strong convictions which often seemed to inevitably put them squarely in opposing corners - but enough respect and yes, even affection grew between them that the petty enmity transformed to something that was built out of ties too strong to snap. And that initial enmity, that opposition, that was just as strong a strand in that relationship as the friendship ever was. This particular pair of characters was a masterwork. I can only wish I could ever do as well in my own work.
4) Spock. (come on, you thought I could leave HIM out of this?) He's just... iconic. He's TRUE. He has always existed/will exist. Or someone like him will.
1) Geoffrey Tennant from "Slings and Arrows" - Canadian series, also sadly defunct, but absolutely fabulous stuff about a sadly dysfunctional Shakespeare theatre troupe with a resident ghost, a theatrical director, who was (wait for this) killed in an accident involving a truck with a logo on its side that said "Canadian Hams". Yes, it's laugh-out-loud funny. It's also tragic. Each season revolves around a major Shakespearean play (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear) and the third season, the Lear season, features one of the most luminous performances of King Lear that I have EVER SEEN - all right, by somebody other than the character I have just named, but he was involved in teasing it out... and Geoffrey Tennant, the brilliant ex-actor-turned-artistic-director whose unfortunately very public nervous breakdown had landed him in a mental rehab facility for while, is also the ONLY ONE WHO CAN SEE THE GHOST. And talks to it constantly. Oh, it's just wonderful stuff.
2) Wilson from "House". Yes House himself is great be he could be a royal PITA (which I suppose is the point) - but Wilson, the faithful friend, was AMAZING. The long-suffering friend, the one who nevertheless sticks by the difficult and prickly House even when nobody else does - capable of great love, of utter pettiness, of compassion and of smugness - a thoroughly human human being.
3) Again, sharing billing because they're both smartasses but different kinds of smartasses - Rick Castle from "Castle" and Patrick Jane from "The Mentalist". Both fabulous creations. Both creating the kind of character whom you're laughing AT and laughing WITH at the same time. Both shows still running and well worth watching.
There seems to be a theme here.
I enjoy, as much as the next man, being ENTERTAINED. But I crave more than that. I am not the kind of person who enjoys vast amounts of farce; pie-in-the-face humour and slipping-on-a-banana-peel humour has never been my primary ideal. Sure I'll snigger at it, but then I'll turn away to something with, yes, more DEPTH to it. I'm far more likely to go with British comedy in this respect because somehow it has more edge; American sitcoms often appear to depend on a laugh track to get their laughs. Same goes for drama - I like my plots organic, and even if they're highly fantastical (like the genre stuff I like to watch) I like to see a layer in there that tells me that the creator of these ideas believed in them. And I don't mean as in, believed in their success. I mean believed in them as some sort of ur-truth, and able to pass that belief on to me. Xena... just never seemed to cut it in that department, for me. And if we're talking Whedon, I'll take "Firefly" over the Buffyverse any day.
This doesn't just go for main characters, this depth thing, as I think might be obvious in the lists above - often the supporting cast (yes, eneit, the secondary characters...) can shine in this regard. But for me, a perceived lack of depth equals instantly forgettable. A character with enough depth to show me only facets of his or her personality, leaving me to get to know them as I would a real person in a real-time encounter, takes me by the hand and brings me into a story and lets me live in it rather than being very aware that I am sitting in my own living room staring at the idiot box.
Take my emotions. Knead them and shape them. Make me laugh from the belly (AT you and WITH you), or make me weep. And I'm there, I'm yours.
Treat me as though I'm the laugh track, supposed to laugh at pre-arranged spots - present me with a plot with high "drama" which could have been avoided if only somebody had TALKED to somebody else, assume I am an idiot who needs to be spoonfed or who doesn't care HOW much stupidity or incoherence or anachronism I am being presented with on screen - and you lose me.
Completely and often permanently. I might give something ONE more chance - Jack Harkness was the recipient of this particular dark mercy - but that would be it, and I am rarely persuaded to go back to things I've already discarded twice.
Depth. Give me DEPTH. Let me lose my footing in a story, and have to swim for my life in unfamiliar waters. Wading in the shallows gets boring and repetitive after a while - there are only so many shiny (and frequently identical) shells you can collect before you run out of room to store them, or you lose interest in shells completely...