Sunday, December 26, 2010

15 Favorite TV Characters of the Year 2010

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List of my 20 favorite characters on TV:

1. Gus, Breaking Bad (Giancarlo Esposito)-This mysterious guy provides a voice-a rhyme and reason- to the forces across the border who previously were just standard thugs. Gus is very business-like but deceptively deadly. Much like Walter, he has a dual identity and even is a prominent member of the community. He voluntarily chooses to place himself a little too close for comfort to the local law enforcement (something which Walter doesn’t have the luxury to do) by becoming a prominent sponsor to the local department.

2. April, Parks and Recreation (Aubrey Plaza)-Much has been made of Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) as the breakout star of the Office, but April Ludgate won my heart from day one. Much like the comics of early and mid-20th Century filmdom, April’s humor comes from Aubrey Plaza's physicality: In this case her detached expressions and deadpan voice make you relish practically everything she says. Her deadpan makes the way she toys with men’s hearts (i.e. "Sister City") or prospective clients (“94 Meetings”) all the more delicious. It also makes her vulnerabilities or the times in which she’s genuinely invested in the world around her seem all the more surprising.

3. Erin, The Office (Ellie Kemper)-As a late comer to the proverbial party of Dunder-Mifflin, Ellie Kemper had her work cut out for her in order to stick out in such a large ensemble. I think she pulled it off with flying colors. In a world full of neurotic people, Erin’s unique idiosyncrasies (her naivette, eager-to-please attitude, etc.) command our attention because of the subtlety with which Ellie Kemper imbues them into the character. Kemper also commits to the littlest details in every scene. If you turn away while Erin is on screen, you usually miss some little gem that compliments the action.

4. Asha (Rebecca Hazelwood), Outsourced-As one of the few defenders of Outsourced, I gotta stack as many characters as I can in here. People criticize this show for being one-dimensional with its characters and falling on old clich├ęs, but I’m pretty impressed with how the show was able to smooth out the rough edges of its supporting cast and give us distinct characters within the first 7 or 8 episodes. Each of these characters refutes stereotypes and each character's traits are contrasted by another character on the show (i.e. Manmeet's overconfidence is contrasted by Gupta's sense of self-shame) which illustrates the diversity of this culture in terms of personalities.

I like Rajeev's passive-aggressiveness and find that it adds a healthy dose of conflict to the show in comparison to other workplace comedies. I also like Manmeet and how he mines quite a bit of humor out of his sexual repression without ever seeming to be a downer.

But the breakout star is Asha. It’s easy to see why Todd would mistakenly fall for Asha: She’s smart and relatable and to this guy who’s lost in this foreign land, she feels less foreign than anyone else. She also makes the antiquated (at least by our standards) life choice seem pretty sexy.

5. Michael Weston, Burn Notice (Jeffrey Donovan)-Apologies to James Bond and Jason Bourne, but Michael Weston is my new idea of the perfect spy. Grounded, intelligent, unpretentious and most importantly, focused when he needs to be, Michael Weston is the guy I want at 3 AM coming to my rescue when the fate of the world (or at the very least, Dade County) is on the line

6. Kate Beckett, Castle (Stana Katic)-Castle works because of the interplay between Castle and Beckett and the reason and that's because Katic keeps the will-they-or-won't-they balance in check pretty well through her deadpan obliviousness to his charms. She's a strong and grounded character and is one of the few characters from the world of TV procedurals who's troubled past angle isn't terribly overdone.

7 and 8. George (Romany Malco) and Katie (Autumn Reeser), No Ordinary Family-The sidekicks of No Ordinary Family are really what make the show. Lab assistant Katie is such a delight because not only is she beautiful yet nerdy (every fan boy’s dream), but she’s so unashamed of said nerdiness. She’s also a little bit of a neurotic mess and a lot of humor is mined out of that.

George is very much the opposite, but he adds the same elements to the show that Katie does: He provides loyal support to the hero. His presence provides a more serious take on the superhero genre: The seriousness of crime and how important it is to put a stop to it. George is a great improvement on Romany Malco’s previous TV role on Weeds.

9. Mr. Schuester, Glee (Matthew Morrison)-With many large ensemble shows and films, the protagonist is often little more than a piece of cardboard around which the rest of the cast can show off their trademark quirky characteristics. It’s the thankless straight men to all the funny men that populate the show. With that, it’s easy to gravitate towards the show’s main sources of drama (Kurt or Rachel), edginess (Puckerman), sex appeal (Emma Pillsbury) or humor (Sue Sylvester), but Mr. Schu's where it's at, folks.

Aside from giving into a few temptations when it comes to the ladies, Mr. Schu is not only a stand-up guy but he inspires passion in his students and, goshdarnit, I feel a little inspired by him as well.

Vulnerable characters are always attractive, and one of Mt. Schu’s vulnerabilities is Glee Club itself. He needs the Glee Club just as much as they need him because it becomes clear pretty early on that teaching people to sing is his life’s calling and not teaching Spanish or taking more paid vacation than your average employee. When it’s threatened (by Sue or Holly Holiday) then you feel sorry for him.

Mr. Schu has taken a lot of flack from the critics this year, so I feel an extra strong need to step in and defend him.

10, 11. Phil/Lem, Better off Ted (Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Barrett)-When I referred to protagonists being carboard for the other characters to bounce off, Jay Harrington in BoT would be the perfect example of cardboard extroadinaire. Then again, you have to give credit to the four other cast members for being fantastic that anyone playing Ted would have a hard time keeping up.

If I made this list last year, it might be girl-next-door Linda (Andreas Anders) making the cut, but I’m going to use this space to explore the wonderfully peculiar creations known as Phil and Lem. These two are fundamentally out of touch with the rest of the office (and by extension, all of humanity excluding people who went to MIT or pretended they did) is hours of endless fun.

The apotheosis of office nerds, Phil and Lem are so lovable because they embrace their status as outcasts. Additionally, the way they worship Ted and are scared of Veronica indicates that the two will stay that way forever. The highlight for Phil and Lem this season was the episode where they tried to scientifically devise the perfect system of insulting someone. It's possible that Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation could have come up with insults more organically than those two.


12. Jay, Modern Family (Ed O'Neill)-Sofia, Haley, and Manny are all funnier but Jay really is at the heart of the show and I have to admire Ed O’Neill because in the 90’s, he single-handedly tarnished the image of fathers in pop culture with his negative portrayal of dads in the lazy, misogynist slob that was Al Bundy. Jay, on the other hand, is just a little rough around the edges, but he emanates such warmth. It’s a remarkable balance and a remarkable transformation.

13. Fa’ad, Running Wilde (Peter Sarifinowicz)-Creator of The Hangover and Old School, writer-director Todd Phillips referred to Zach Galifanakas in the Hangover and Will Ferrell in Old School as “That's the Third Lead, which is the best comic position you can have. Todd used Ferrell like that in Old School. We had it with Steve Carell in Anchorman. It's the guy who gets to break all the rules. He has no story responsibility. He just gets to fuck shit up.”
(source: GQ magazine)

Fa’ad falls under this newly coined trope. He is entirely unnecessary to the plot. The screwball romance between Emmy and Steve could play out just as well without him there, but Fa’ad works his way into the schemes nonetheless and always managed to punch up the action in interesting ways. He single-handedly made the episode "Trade-Off,"* simply because of Fa’ad’s mispronunciation of “A-list” and his discussion of his competition with his brother “Fazul.’

*Not sure, if that's the name of the episode. Don't make me have to look it up, people. "Trade Off" is an apt name for the episode. Just roll with it.

14. Andy, Parks and Recreation (Chris Pratt)-Parks and Recreation has a pretty strong ensemble, in fact. Andy is another guy worth singling out because he’s come around so much since the first season. He started out as basically “the other guy” for an eventual Mark/Anne romance with his unattractive immaturity. Along the way, he’s retained a certain naivette and youthful exuberance (much like Erin on The Office) but he’s definitely grown up quite a bit. I admire how Chris Pratt has been able to make the growth happen in a way that’s been convincing to the character while simultaneously retaining the humor in Andy.

15. Senor Chang, Community (Ken Jeong)-I'll give this year’s most inexplicably suddenly critically respected show it’s due by throwing in Senor Chang to my list.

What a wild card, huh? The guy is a brutal dictator of a teacher and then it turns out he’s not a teacher at all. Now, he wants to be friends with the group or possibly destroy them. It feels like the writers just stick him with whatever label they want whenever it’s convenient, but I don’t really mind because Ken Jeong can be entertaining with whatever circumstances you give him. You also relate to Chang: Teachers want to be popular and well-liked too and if they could get away with it, I could see them wanting to trade places with the coolest guy on campus.

16. Ron Donald, Party Down (Ken Marino)-Ron Donald spent the first few episodes of the season in a Shakespearean downfall from his throne as head of his own Soup 'R Franchise. Then he came back as team leader and entertained with his one-of-a-kind style of mangement. The Ron Donald Do's and Don'ts, people. That's what it's all about.

17. Manny Delgado, Modern Family (Rico Rodriguez)-Manny probably ranks in the top 3 in maturity among the entire Prichett/Delgado/Dumphy clan and he's only 11. A perfect foil to the ADD-riddled Luke as well as new stepfather Jay, Manny is a lovable lug.

18. Avery Jessup, 30 Rock (Elizabeth Banks)-Finally, a woman who can keep up with Jackie D. Her introductory scene on a news talk show in which she and Jack connect through their mutual rudeness to the third guest was pure comic gold.

19. Jamie Oliver, Food Food Revolution (Himself)-How I wish I had an enthusiastic grown man running around my high school cafeteria and trying to get me to eat my vegetables. A class act, Oliver was a man who was very easy to root for in this very moving reality show which brought the issues of obesity to light.

20. Kelinda Sharma, The Good Wife (Archie Punjabi)-This was a year in which Indian women proved more sexy than their caucasian counterparts. As investigator to Alicia's law firm, she really elicits a lot of attention whenever she's in screen.

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