Switched at Birth gives us some great female teen characters, so in honour of the season four premiere tonight, we at Cinefilles thought we’d look at five other awesome girl teens you can find on your small screen.
Emily Fields – Pretty Little Liars
I can still remember how jaw-dropping-ly spectacular it was in season one of Pretty Little Liars when Emily and Maya had their first date at the movies and freaking went at it, making out so hard they knocked their popcorn all over the floor. When I was growing up, lesbian affection on television was tepid, if it existed at all—Marissa and Alex exchanging a chaste kiss on The O.C., or Willow and Tara gazing into each other’s eyes and making magic (wink, wink). Emily and Maya were given a kissing montage worthy of any of their hetero counterparts and it was revelatory.
Of course, there’s a lot more to what makes Emily special than how enthusiastically she makes out with ladies onscreen, but it’s an effective demonstration of why she is so important. Emily is rarely “othered” by the text. Her relationships have always been given the attention and passion that they deserve, but at the same time her sexuality has never outright defined her. Emily is not the Lesbian Protagonist—she’s the protagonist who is also an unapologetic lesbian, and that is what makes such a welcome difference.
Raven Reyes – The 100
If LOST were a sexy teen drama, it would be The 100, the CW’s answer to the YA dystopian craze. And Sayid “I can fix that” Jarrah would without a doubt be Raven Reyes. Raven is amazing: She can build a radio out of scrap metal. She can build bombs out of junkyard scrap metal. When her boyfriend was arrested and literally sent to another planet, Raven Reyes built a rocket ship and plummeted through space after him. Her wit could cut glass, her smile could power the Ark, and I heard somewhere that her hair is insured for $10,000.
Raven is brave, brilliant, and resourceful—and after being shot in the spine at the end of the first season, physically disabled. Watching Raven struggle with her pride after losing the use of her leg is heartbreaking. Watching her learn to work with her impairment was enough to make me stand up and cheer. Raven may never exist as a completely able-bodied character again, but she doesn’t let that slow her down. And perhaps most importantly of all, the show lets us see her continue to grow with her disability and not brush it off as a plot hole or crumble beneath it.
Jane Villanueva – Jane the Virgin
In a world where Latina characters are still disproportionately sexualized and celebs like Kelly Osborne think it’s okay to offhandedly imply on live television that Latin immigrants are there to clean toilets, Jane Villanueva is a goddamn gift. Jane the Virgin is a goddamn gift, really, but its heart and its soul is Jane, whose family and heritage are so important to her, who is a bit of a dweeb when it comes to book learning, who is passionate and creative and stubborn and loves to dance.
Jane is one of the most fully realized characters I have ever seen on television, full stop. She’s the worthy hero of Jane the Virgin, but even more than that, she’s so nuanced. We see Jane make mistakes and be given time to reflect thoughtfully on them. We see Jane be petty and pigheaded, and we see her be warm and impossibly kind. Teen show or not, Jane the Virgin is one of the most emotionally resonant and satisfying shows on air right now (while still managing to develop itself as a wacky nonstop telenovela!) and lovely Jane is at the core of that.
Bonnie Bennett – The Vampire Diaries
It seems impossible that The Vampire Diaries, which really ought have been sent to television Vahlhalla years ago, would have any new developments worth tuning in for (well, depending on how you feel about the Stefan-and-Caroline of it all), but then there’s Bonnie, who shone brighter in season six than she has in years. Clawing her way back to Mystic Falls from a parallel stuck-in-the-90s purgatory, Bonnie was tougher, gustier, and made of stronger mettle than, frankly,a any of the vampire brat pack waiting for her deserved. Her struggles with loneliness and depression in her isolation, and PTSD upon her return, added dimension to Bonnie that I wish had been further explored.
The Vampire Diaries is unquestionably leery when it comes to fair depictions of race (it would be hard to argue otherwise on a show where literally every black character introduced is also a witch), but Bonnie is a gem amidst all the crap. In fact, screw The Originals. Where is my Bonnie Bennett spinoff!?
Lauren Cooper – Faking It
Lauren started her run on the show as a rather cookie cutter villain—the blonde society queen bent on taking down our heroines. The quirk, of course, was that she was a Texan pageant queen living in a world without pageantry—Hester High, the centre of Faking It, is famous for its ultra-liberalism (and this is in fact the basis for the lesbian masquerade that forms the initial basis of the show.)
But in Faking It‘s second season, Lauren flipped her entire narrative on its head when she came out as intersex. I don’t think I’ve ever seen intersexuality touched upon in television outside of rude jokes about hermaphrodites, but Lauren broaches the subject with a level of humour, honestly and vulnerability that was completely powerful. What I liked best about Lauren’s reveal is that it was given real gravity, but it never acted to draw Lauren’s teeth—she’s more relatable now and to a whole new dynamic, but she’s also still the baddest bitch at Hester High, a debutante-in-waiting who we can always trust not to be too nice.