Saturday, June 29, 2013

Belated Top 25 characters in TV: 2012

1. Carrie Matheson, Homeland (Claire Danes)-Carrie has been through hell and back and you know the show has hooked you when you desperately want her to be redeemed. Carrie is firm in her resolve, intelligent, and has the traits of a great action hero, yet she still remains unequivocally feminine.
2. Nicholas Brody, Homeland (Damien Lewis)-It takes a great performance by Damien Lewis to pull all these contradictions and facades together. My only complaint is now having learned one of the best American characters I’ve seen on TV is British. I did not see that coming. 
3. Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation (Amy Poehler)-The year that Leslie’s outsize ambitions finally met up with reality. It’s either a testament to the show’s growth that Leslie has come a long way from the godawfully awkward version of the same character we used to have.
4. James van der Beek, Don't Trust the B--- In Apartment 23 (James van der Beek)-Celebrities satirizing themselves are nothing new (Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, the guest stars from Extras, etc) but James van der Beek one ups them by diving head-first. What I find most interesting about his character is how as a celebrity he has everything a normal TV character could want (wealth, power, fame, romance) so he seeks to reinvent himself each week in increasingly superfluous ways.
5. Olivia Pope, Scandal (Kerry Washington) - Although she's based on Washington PR's Judy Smith (with a heightened sex life for dramatic purposes), Olivia Pope is her own creation. It would be hard to portray someone so appealing and self-assured that every power player in Washington wants to hire her and and the US President is uncontrollably in love with her, but Kerry Washington (a consummate working actor for the past decade) sells it.
6. Sister Mary Eunice, American Horror Story (Jessica Lange)-She's partially being awarded a high spot because Lange is riding the residuals of her Emmy-winning performance as the playfully flirtatious antebellum-mannered neighbor Constance in Season 1. The plot of AHS's second season is a mess but there are plenty of great characters. Like the first season, Lange steals the spotlight as disciplinarian nun Mary Eunice who also turns out to be a dynamic (English literature term for characters that change, not the other definition. That's all the spoilering I'll give) character. Compliments go to whoever directed that trippy dancing sequence and to Lange's dialect coach for that wonderful variation of the traditional Boston accent.
7. Phil Dunphy, Modern Family (Ty Burrell)-Superdad made my list last year, and he's certainly worthy of return. It's no wonder that the new season of Arrested Development referenced Modern Family here and there, as Phil is truly stuck in arrrested development and happy to be there. (Also: See last year's list)
8. Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad (Aaron Paul)-My obligatory Breaking Bad inclusion. The TV Critics Association fines me if I don't include it.
9. Agent Van Alden, Boardwalk Empire (Michael Shannon)-Likely the most obscure actor to get an Oscar-nomination in the past 10 years, Shannon is a wonderful foil to Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson. He brings such an energy to the role that I'm convinced Shannon really enjoys that old-timey dialogue. More pragmatic then he is obsessive, Van Alden is very much a shade of gray.
10. Kenneth Parcell, 30 Rock (Jack McBrayer)-It took Kenneth Parcell six seasons to grow on me. Of all the characters on 30 Rock, I might very well miss this uber-morally square one the most. Especially when you consider how unlikely it is that another character on TV will ever come along like him again. Unlike Liz, Jack or Tracy, Kenneth could only exist as a funny  and effective character when sandwiched between business-savvy executive, the overworked CEO, and the two empty-headed divas.
11. Schmitty, New Girl (Max Greenfield)-Greenfield successfully convinces us that Schmitty is both the dorkiest guy in the room and someone alluring enough that Cece (Hannah Simone) would want. Getting a model as a girlfriend tends to disqualify you in the former category.
12. Margaret, Boardwalk Empire (Kelly McDonald)-If you shift the focus to Margaret, Boardwalk Empire could almost be seen as a Prohibition-era version of Breaking Bad. Margaret, being the epitome of morality, makes a deal with the devil in her marriage to Nuckie and slowly starts to accept corruption into her life. One of the stronger stories of the series.
13. Dallas Royce, Suburgatory (Cheryl Hines)-One of the more underlooked pieces of the show, she is part of the out-of-it sanitized suburbia that Tessa fears so much, yet she is so comfortable in her skin (not to mention her low-cut dresses), that it's hard not to be won over by her (inexplicable, considering we're on Long Island) Southern charm. Indeed, she has carved her way into the hearts of both father and daughter Altman.
14. Stefon, Saturday Night Live (Bill Hader)-I admit I’m a little behind the curve in recognizing Stefon despite being an avid Saturday Night Live watcher. Two years ago when Stefon and creator John Mulaney were making the press rounds, I had no idea who he was.  Well, I’m happy to report I’ve caught up on my Stefon watching and I’m equally enamored with this lovably bizarre party insider. Unlike “What’s Up With That” or half of the other SNL characters, there’s a lot of room for diverse jokes with every Stefon outing, and even more room for creativity with the sketch’s ending.
15. Wilfred, Wilfred (Jason Gann)-We still don’t know exactly what Wilfed is and here’s hoping we never will.
16 and 17. Cheryl Tunt and Pam Poovey, Archer (Judy Greer and Amber Nash)-Whoever thought that the secretarial clerk and HR rep at an international spy agency could be the most fun characters to watch? Major points go to Adam Reed and company for giving continuity to the highly tenable character bullet that Cheryl is worth a half billion dollars but still shows up to a crappy job every day that she doesn’t appear to be all that crazy about. Bonus points for giving Pam a more active sex life this year as well.
18. Anne, Go On (Julie White)-Anne immediately struck me as the most multi-layered and unique character within Go On's ensemble cast and she's paid off in dividends. She can't easily be pigeonholed as she’s a little bit of everything: Supportive and loyal yet grouchy and blunt. Both desperate and confident. Open to the world around her but wanting to shut people out. Most importantly, Anne’s a confused soul and a complete three-dimensional character. She strikes the perfect balance between individualistic instincts and the need to belong that is the show’s main theme.
19. Lana Peters, American Horror Story (Sarah Paulson)-The level-headed journalist (who's lesbianism was surprisingly well-handled for a Ryan Murphy show) kept us relatively steady in a world that got increasingly ridiculous. She sold some of the show's best moments.
20. Selina Meyers, Veep (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss)-The program of Veep is particularly original on the whole but I give JLD marks for nailing the character. It's too bad The Thick of It and In the Loop came out first.

21. Tim, Life and Times of Tim (Steve Dildarian)-Take the most tragi-comic episodes of Seinfeld or It's Always Sunny and multiply them by a factor of 10 and you get perhaps the most unluckiest character ever conceived in the history of television. Tim is a 25-year old urbanite constantly in danger of losing his job, his girlfriend, or the respect of his friends and nothing in his external circumstances seems to be helping him any (think a walking Murphy's Law). As Tim goes out of existence this year with the non-renewal of the show (perhaps, the least buzzed-about show in HBO’s history), someone needs to give him a little love and this list might as well be it. Besides, Tim had a relatively good year: He didn’t get urine thrown at his face by a WNBA player (that was Amy), he was promoted to Vice President (likely not for long), and didn’t get caught when he stole the boss’ dog back. Of course, I haven't seen the series finale.
22.Andy Dwyer, Parks and Recreation (Chris Pratt)-See last year's list
23.Kylie Sinclair, Last Resort (Autumn Reeser)-Kylie's first on screen appearance is on the backend of a date with an aide for a senator she's trying to lobby, as she's talking about submarine schematics while making his mouth water as she undresses. Trying to introduce a character as knowledgable AND sexy within a talkative sex scene isn't anything particularly new (see Faye Dunaway in Network), but in Autumn Reeser and Last Resort's hands, Sinclair projects a confidence and duality that works here.
24. Morgan, Mindy Project (Ike Barinholtz)-It's been a few years since Ike Barinholtz was on the sinking ship known as the final seasons of Mad TV, and thank god, he found a good vehicle to return with. Morgan, the ex-con male nurse, is wonderfully unashamed of being a male nurse and pretty much devoid of inhibitions in general which makes him a wonderful foil for the uptight trio of doctors in charge 
25 (tie). Principal Stark, Unsupervised (Sally Kellerman)-Principal Stark-The kind of supporting character whose backstory could fill a novel, Principal Stark is a fine blend of pragmatism, strong-willed determination, and at times, sheer laziness. Her odd approach to running a school leads to some of the show’s funniest moments whether it's pepper spraying a kid who discriminates against a gay student or offering to send the lowest-scoring kids to grade school. And she’s voiced by Sally Kellerman who apparently is still alive. MASH fans rejoice!
25 (tie). Mr. Woolfe, Suburgatory (Rex Lee)-Chatswain High's closeted guidance counselor advisor came out of the closet in hilarious fashion at the start of the year ("Oh and one more announcement, I'm gay. So from will be driving a Miatta. Please let me know if you have any questions"). The way Rex Lee chirpily delivers the dreariest suburban platitudes gives Mr. Wolfe the most laughs per minutes on screen for a TV character with limited screen time.

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