Wither the television villain? That’s the question we found ourselves pondering after last night’s deliciously convoluted edition of Gossip Girl, which prominently featured the show’s resident bad girl, Georgina Sparks. As played by Michelle Trachtenberg, Georgina is like the demon child of Melrose Place’s Amanda Woodward, and, frankly, we cannot get enough of her. We also find it fitting that Ms. Trachtenberg borrows so heavily from Heather Locklear’s seminal manipulator—there is a very good chance, prior to Georgina, she was the last great villainess to grace our television screens.
While thousands of words have been written about the lack of ethnic diversity on primetime television, people seem to be ignoring the fact that nearly every show has become one big blob of grey matter. To wit: while we love that the white-hat wearing heroes of yesteryear have been replaced by dark and twisty characters like Jack Shephard from Lost, Jack Bauer from 24 and even Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy (the very definition of dark and twisty), the muddying of the waters has had a boomerang effect on villains. Basically: they aren’t bad anymore! Even people ostensibly set up to be heartless bastards—Benjamin Linus on Lost and, recently, Tony Almeida on 24, to name two—have been given shades of ambiguity and motives that could possibly be construed as righteous. Don’t even get us started on the ladies! Not to focus solely on Lost, but remember when Juliet was this foul wench of manipulation? Now she’s shacking up with Sawyer and making sandwiches, teary eyed at the mere thought of losing her domestic bliss. Then there’s Gossip Girl’s Blair and Serena, both equally set-up to be Mean Girls and yet reduced to frenemies who routinely share warm hugs.
It seems then that only Ms. Trachtenberg has been given the freedom to embrace her inner scoundrel. And thank goodness! Even while she was behaving like a Bible-thumping, Carrie Underwood fan (if you haven’t been watching, just go with it), it was clear that Georgina’s menace lurked just below the surface, waiting to lash out like the shark in Jaws. Television needs more actresses like Ms. Trachtenberg, unafraid to go totally bad. (That she’s trapped in something as benign as NBC’s Mercy has us a bit concerned, but since we fully expect that show to get canceled before the New Year, we’re not that worried.) To quote Georgina: “You can tell Jesus that the bitch is back.” Amen, sister. And not a moment too soon.