Critic’s Notebook: Maggie Q and Lucy Liu: Asian-People in america as Leading Girls

November 26th, 2013

The CW collection “Nikita” starts its fourth and final season on Friday — an abbreviated run to tie up tale strains, as the unwilling assassin Nikita stands falsely accused of killing the president — and whilst there’s nevertheless a chance, I’d like to rejoice a little but substantial milestone. For six far more months, two of the strongest and most intriguing female sales opportunities on tv are being performed by Asian-American actresses.

Ben Mark Holzberg/CW

Maggie Q as the title character in the CW collection “Nikita.”

A sortable calendar of noteworthy cultural functions in the New York location, picked by Occasions critics.

JoJo Whilden/CBS

Lucy Liu as the feminine direct in the CBS demonstrate “Elementary.”

Ben Mark Holzberg/CW

Maggie Q, who is finishing her flip as the lead in “Nikita,” has fought some costume battles for the duration of the show’s early times.

Jeff Neumann/CBS

Lucy Liu as the apprentice detective Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in the CBS collection “Elementary.”

I’m speaking about Maggie Q, finishing her turn as Nikita, and Lucy Liu, in her second period as Joan Watson on CBS’s “Elementary,” in which she is every little bit as central as Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes. The two exhibits have their formulaic components, but Nikita and Joan are noncartoonish, moderately complex, multidimensional figures, and in prime time, there aren’t too several actresses acquiring that sort of chance in a guide part. Julianna Margulies in “The Good Wife,” Connie Britton in “Nashville,” Claire Danes in “Homeland,” Lizzy Caplan in “Masters of Sexual intercourse.” It’s a limited checklist.

Of program, that broader appear also implies that the total photograph for Asian actresses (American, Canadian and in any other case) isn’t so content. A good deal of them are doing work, but in roles far down the foods chain from Nikita and Watson, and typically playing people conceived or formed to mirror longstanding stereotypes about Asians.

Even Maggie Q and Ms. Liu have not fully escaped these archetypes. Each are enjoying the latest iterations of resilient people historically inhabited by white performers, so it would look that race should not have any certain bearing. But the reality is that they resonate with two of the most typical sets of photos — or clich?s — about Asian girls: the high-achieving, socially uncomfortable Dr. Joan Watson is a refined instance of the alluring nerd, and the deadly, at times icy Nikita, capable to dispense violence while sporting tight, microscopic outfits, evokes a lengthy line of dragon girls and ninja killers.

(You could argue that the affiliation exists only due to the fact Maggie Q was cast as Nikita, who is based on a French movie character, but it’s a self-canceling argument: The gentlemen who created the demonstrate sought her out for the part.)

In each cases, though, the actresses and their writers have avoided or transcended effortless stereotypes. A good deal of hard work has absent into humanizing Nikita, and making her a sisterly or even maternal determine for the younger assassin Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), and the emphasis on violent motion has lowered over the show’s run. In “Elementary,” Watson has embraced her part as apprentice detective soon after struggling a catastrophic failure as a medical doctor, using some of the glow off her tremendous-competence. And as opposed to other characters in the identical mold, she seems to have a standard, nonneurotic passionate life.

Garments also tell a tale. Maggie Q fought some battles more than her costumes in the early days of “Nikita,” and she has expended progressively more time in plain, coated-up (although nevertheless closefitting) work out-style ensembles and less in skimpy crimson dresses. Ms. Liu’s outfits, mainly chosen by the costume designer Rebecca Hofherr, have attracted a adhering to of their possess. The greater part impression seems to be that they mirror Watson’s quirky but assured style. To my eye, they have a clever awfulness, generating Ms. Liu seem very good while signaling that maybe she doesn’t commit as considerably time as she could in front of a mirror.

Possibly way, what Watson’s outfits really don’t do is make her appear preposterous or disguise Ms. Liu’s attractiveness. That is the destiny of some other Asian-American actresses in roles that engage in far more certainly to geekiness or braininess, and are visually coded for straightforward comprehension. Liza Lapira wears fright clothing and dowdy haircuts as the sidekick Helen-Alice on “Super Exciting Night” (ABC), anything she currently endured as the eccentric neighbor on “Don’t Have confidence in the B — — in Apt. 23” last time. On “Awkward” (MTV), Jessica Lu, as the rebellious daughter of rigid Chinese dad and mom, athletics a hat with ears although Jessika Van, as her Asian rival, is dressed in starched outfits that make her appear like an Amish schoolteacher. Each Ms. Lapira and Ms. Lu are accessorized with glasses — big black types — some thing neither seems to dress in in real existence. Also sometimes donning glasses is Brenda Song as a video-match organization executive in “Dads,” on Fox, however her most exclusive costume continues to be the sailor-female outfit she wore in the pilot, part of an extended joke about the sexualization of Asian ladies that didn’t accomplish much besides sexualizing an Asian female.

And there are other actresses taking part in considerably less evolved variations of the Nikita-style action hero. Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May possibly, the black-leather-jacketed pilot in “Marvel’s Brokers of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (ABC), is a stoic enforcer with a dragon-girl vibe Grace Park’s Kono Kalakaua on “Hawaii 5-0” (CBS) is equally lethal (she typically does most of the kicking and punching) but favors bikinis and restricted jeans. On “Once On a Time” (ABC), Jamie Chung plays the Disney version of a legendary Chinese swordswoman.

It takes some seeking to locate Asian actresses in roles that really don’t easily fit into one of these two broad types. There are a few work in a 3rd class, the manipulative or overly protective Asian mom: Jodi Lengthy on “Sullivan and Son” (TBS), Lauren Tom on “Supernatural” (CW). On the entertaining but paper-skinny “Beauty and the Beast” (also on CW), Kristin Kreuk stars as a cop who just takes place to be combined race. There is, of course, a key Asian-Canadian feminine tv star not described but: Sandra Oh, whose Dr. Cristina Yang is not the lead but is a significant member of the ensemble on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” As with Nikita and Watson, Yang shows some normal Asian markers — she’s a hypercompetitive, socially uncomfortable medical doctor — whose race is matter of truth since there is so much a lot more to know about her. Yang, along with Watson and Nikita, could be regarded exceptions that demonstrate a rule, but I consider the real lesson here is probably that Tv set would be a much better location for women of all races if Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal”) could just publish all the shows.

This report has been revised to replicate the subsequent correction:

Correction: November twenty five, 2013

A critic’s notebook post on Friday about actresses of Asian descent in key roles on television shows referred incorrectly to Sandra Oh of “Grey’s Anatomy.” She is Asian-Canadian, not Asian-American.

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