Hard acts to follow: ballsy TV heroines keep on coming

Chloë Sevigny is the latest actress to square up to a masculine role

In his book The Essential Difference, Simon Baron-Cohen, Cambridge University professor of developmental psychopathology, wrote that "the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy". Not on TV drama, they aren't – or not any longer.

The modern television heroine is increasingly likely to act like an anti-social, obsessive male. Or as Danish actress Sofie Grabol famously said to the writers of The Killing when they tried giving her workaholic detective Sarah Lund a love life: "I am Clint Eastwood... he doesn't have a girlfriend."

After Lund, there was the self-medicating bi-polar CIA agent Carrie Mathison in Homeland, picking up men in bars for functional sex, a trait shared with Swedish policewoman Saga Noren in The Bridge, a seemingly undiagnosed case of Asperger's syndrome.

It's a trend that is taken to its logical conclusion in Sky Atlantic's first homegrown drama, Hit & Miss (written by Shameless creator Paul Abbott), in which Chloë Sevigny's Mia is both a sociopath and the owner (albeit reluctantly) of a penis. Mia is a transsexual saving up for her gender-changing operation by professionally murdering people to order, her clinically ruthless day job suddenly messed up by the discovery that she has fathered a ten-year-old boy.

Hit & Miss is an unusual concoction – La Femme Nikita meets Shameless, you could say – which perhaps reflects the inspired/random way in which it was created. "I had two concepts that I had been working on and that I fitted together," says Abbott, "the domestic story of a transsexual and a separate drama about a hit man. Singly they didn't add up to a five-course meal, but put together..."

One of the chief delights of Hit & Miss is watching Mia deal with big bullying men who think she is easy prey. It's a fantasy of female empowerment, although one, as with all of these anti-social heroines, created by men. And in the case of Saga in The Bridge, like God forming Eve out of Adam's rib, woman was created to complement her male colleague, Martin.

"We started out with Martin first," says Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of The Bridge. "We wanted to get away from a Swedish cliché of what middle-aged male police officers are like... We put more female characteristics on him."

It was Saga, Martin's Swedish partner, who was given what might be called the male traits – although you don't have to be a feminist to ask why, for a woman to be single-minded and very good at her job, she has to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum. "We didn't diagnose Saga," says Rosenfeldt. "But then when we aired the show it turned out that we'd created an Asperger's personality. There are a lot dysfunctional female police officers right now. I guess it's something in the air."

These driven, complicated women are forever being told to go home/take a holiday/get off the case – and they equally invariably ignore this advice. Sofia Helin is brilliant in The Bridge, while Claire Danes justly won a Golden Globe for Homeland and Chloë Sevigny brings her characteristic fearlessness to Hit & Miss. They are part of a wider evolution of female characters that really got going with Edie Falco's pill-popping anti-heroine in Nurse Jackie and Mary-Louise Parker's pot-dealing Nancy in Weeds.

Abbott thinks that the boom in dark, complex heroines stems from writers being inspired by watching other writers expand the horizons for their leading female characters. "Every time you see one work as special as The Killing, it inspires other writers to be more confident with outspoken female roles," he says. Expect more of the same, in other words, and hooray for that.

'Hit & Miss' begins tonight at 10pm on Sky Atlantic

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
books50 Shakespeare phrases still in use, to mark the bard's 450th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio (left) could team up with British director Danny Boyle for the Steve Jobs (right) biopic
film
Arts & Entertainment
The next wig thing: 'Drag Queens of London'
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Bear Grylls’ latest television show has been labelled sexist by female survival experts

TV
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams as Arya and Rory McCann as The Hound
TV
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Rush hour: shoppers go sale crazy in Barkers, Kensington
film
Arts & Entertainment
Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes play Catherine and Heathcliff in Pete Kosminsky's 1992 movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights
booksGoogle Doodle celebrates Charlotte Brontë's 198th birthday
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Robin Thicke with his Official Number 1 Award for 'Blurred Lines', the most downloaded track in UK music history
Music
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello
Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

Arts & Entertainment
Tom Baker who played the Doctor longer than any other actor
tv
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival

film
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

    It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
    Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

    Migrants in Britain a decade on

    They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
    Why musicians play into their old age

    Why musicians play into their old age

    Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
    How can you tell a gentleman?

    How can you tell a gentleman?

    A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
    Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

    Sam Wallace

    Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
    Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

    Through the screen

    British Pathé opens its archives
    The man behind the papier mâché mask

    Frank Sidebottom

    The man behind the papier mâché mask
    Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
    Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

    Boston runs again

    Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
    40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

    40 years of fostering and holding the babies

    In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents