Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year-End Round-Up: Top 25 TV Characters of 2014

My Annual Top 25 TV Characters of the Year list (last year's list can be found here):

1. Andy Daly as Forrest MacNeil in "Review"-In his tragically misguided (and quite hilarious) quest to push the boundaries of human understanding, Forrest turned himself into the ultimate human punching bag: He suffered the heartbreak of divorce, developed an addiction to cocaine, awkwardly made his way through an orgy, and came to the realization that he might have  pedestrian racist tendencies. On the flipside, he saw space (with the corpse of his late father-in law in tow), enjoyed a brief marriage to Maria Thayer, and rediscovered how important his family was to him. 

"Review" was one of the year's most enjoyable roller coaster rides and Forrest's discombobulation was shocking, disturbing, and extremely fun. Andy Daly, who has carved an admirable career for himself in straight man and supporting roles, has found his niche here.

Source: HollywoodReporter
2. Richard Jenkins as Henry Kitteridge in "Olive Kitteridge"-Olive's downbeat personality would give the show's tone Ingmar Bergman-like levels of depression if not for Richard Jenkins’s kind-hearted Henry acting as a counter balance. Jenkins’s presence here was enormous. The kind and gentle nature of Henry Kitteridge shines so powerfully, that his absence was acutely felt whenever he was not in the room.

3. Stephen Colbert as Stephen Colbert (with a silent t) in "The Colbert Report"-Colbert's epic cameo-saturated swan song capped off a nine-year run in which he was second to none at the intersection of comedy and politics. Brash and ambiguously oppositional, Colbert used his whip-smart improv ability when conversing with with chief political and academic figures of the era to produce some of the most memorable, hilarious and insightful interviews of the past decade. Because he was on every night, it was easy to take "The Colbert Report" for granted, but we can be thankful that Colbert and his prolific team have produced a Fort Knox's worth of comedy gold on reserve.

4. Nick Sandow as Joe Caputo in "Orange is the New Black"-Although he might have morally erred in the series finale with Fig, Caputo stepped up at Litchfield to become a hypothetical source of hope among the administration that Piper (and the audience) thought would never appear. It remains to be seen whether he will be trampled by the system like his predecessor, but for now Caputo is riding high and in a show like "Orange is the New Black," which tugs at the viewer's emotions, Caputo's ascension and (mostly) noble intentions were strangely cathartic.

5. Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates in "Bates Motel"-This mercurial woman's son will grow up to become the iconic knife-wielding serial killer. Although we know that Norma will eventually become her son's toy skeleton, the relationship dynamic was fascinating because it only hinted at dysfunction while leaving the primary impression that this is a passably healthy mother-son relationship with an extra-doting mother.  The unexpected surprise of "Bates Motel" is that "Psycho" was never a character piece and this show is a slow simmer. In another wayward season in which Norman doesn't overtly become a knife-wielding maniac, Norma pulled a "House of Cards" on us and slowly crept up the social scene of White Pine Bay. 

6. Clive Owen as Dr. Thackery, The Knick- Owen's brilliant portrayal was not particularly far removed from Hugh Laurie's curmudgeonly doctor on "House" except Thackery's backstory and emotional complications didn't get any analysis. What fascinates me about Dr. Thackery is that he's not so much a hero or an anti-hero as he is just a crusty opium addict who happens to be in charge.
 7. Chris Parnell voicing Cyril Figgis in "Archer"-Cyril finally developed some backbone. He stood up to Archer and ran a Central American country with more efficiency than the dictator who came before him (and quite probably whoever will be running that country after him). Attorney, accountant, field agent, military strategist, is there anything this guy can't do?

8. Karen Gilliam as Eliza Dooley in "Selfie"-This cancelled-too-soon show had a great pairing at its center in Eliza Dooley and Henry Higgs. Together, the two personified the changing landscape of etiquette in the media age occupying extreme ends on the spectrum between too much or too little reliance on your cell phone. Naturally, the social media-obsessive was the more fun character and Karen Gilliam goes to town with the role. I'll brushing aside the questionable plot hole of how Eliza managed to amass such a strong Twitter following so quickly and focus on how  Gilliam hit perfect notes as an aloof Millennial with an inflated ego and all the requisite vulnerabilities of a TV romcom lead.

9. Katja Herbers as Helen in "Manhattan"-I've always read "Manhattan" as a show about brainy outsiders at heart and Helen is no different. She's a woman in a man's club and is (secretly) Dutch, but she mixes that peripheral perspective with a swagger that makes her stick out in a good way. Her no-nonsense demeanor allowed her to cut through the BS (a trait that's useful for a drama set in the repressed '50s). She was not just refreshingly unapologetic about her sex life, but always could be counted on to stir up the pot. 

10. Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot in "Gotham"-In its first half-season, "Gotham" has had its share of flaws for such an ambitious comic book adaptation, but the show deserves a lot of credit for bringing back a potentially campy character and fleshing him out. Ultimately, you could see Robin Lord Taylor's Penguin fitting in with one of Batman's better adaptations. Hid performance was rich with nuances from the physical to the tics that slyly hint at a sociopathic mindset.

11. Yael Stone as Morello in "Orange is the New Black"-We came in to the season thinking of Morello as the sweet but impressionable romantic and soon learned that she was Litchfield’s own version of Kathy Bates in Misery. And yet, even though we knew the other side of the story, it was hard to stop seeing her as a sweet well-intentioned character. The show challenges us to look closely at society's miscreants and reassess whether they really are bad apples. Morello’s storyline fell into the middle of all that with heartbreaking poignancy.

Source: ABC/Bob D'Amico
12. John Cho as Henry Higgs in "Selfie"-John Cho is rapidly climbing up the list of most underrated TV actors and "Selfie" was another home run for him. As Eliza's other (platonic) half and counterpoint in the culture wars, Cho's Henry Higgs (like Eliza Dooley, he's modeled after a "Pygmalion" character) isn't just a straw man for stodgy old luddites who are unable to get with the times. Higgs is a thoughtful man with a critical eye towards the latest app and an old-school sense of etiquette and style. He might even be classified as suave. Cho deserves a lot of praise for breaking the mold of Asian-American stereotypes as well.

13. Jim Jefferies as himself in "Legit"-Jefferies and his sitcom fall under the category of "Goshdarnit, I like this guy!"Jefferies doesn't do much of anything except hang out and fuel his two roommates' moral depravity but he has an amicable style that wins me over because the show is so tonally congruent with his style of comedy. The show's second season saw Jefferies grapple with death, friendship and love a little more than the first, while still hinting at a slow evolution.

14. Ramon Franco as Fausto Galvan in "The Bridge"-With his casual sloppy attire and his penchant for buying boats, Fausto Galvan does not conform to the typical image of a mob boss, but he's a brilliant tactician and knows how to intimidate an enemy. As a childhood friend of Detective Ruiz, Galvan is also an ever-present reminder of another direction Ruiz's life might have taken in the show's morally ambiguous world. I, for one, enjoyed the show's more Fausto-centric view of Juarez.

15. Mark Feuerstein as Dr. Hank Lawson in "Royal Pains"-Even if "Royal Pains" isn't one of the most respected shows on TV, Hank Lawson deserves praise for being such an uplifting and relevant character. He's just a desperado concierge doctor equipped with a scalpel, lightning-quick diagnostic skills and the mysterious ability to constantly be around some of the rarest medical emergencies ever recorded. He was my #2 character last year (and yes, I pretty much copied and pasted his entry from last year as well).


16. Ashley Zukerman as Charlie Isaacs in "Manhattan"-It was partially due to a strong ensemble of characters that "Manhattan" made its way onto my viewing schedule this year. Charlie Isaacs is the hot-shot alpha male of the bunch with his dashing good looks, a smoking hot wife, and (considering this is Los Alamos) his brains. Because my basis of comparison for this show is the 1989 film "Fat Man and Little Boy" and there are inevitable similarities between Charlie and the John Cusack's character who was heavily colored by 80's conventions, I see Charlie as a rebellious bad boy of sorts. Charlie was also an interesting character because he seemed destined for adultery until the plotline was sidestepped (his marriage fell apart and his wife cheated first) making him, in essence, an individual of "good" character.

17. Annaleigh Ashford as Betty DeMilo in "Masters of Sex"-The practical-minded ex-hooker was a curious foil to Michael Sheen's Dr. Masters last season as he only paid her begruding respect despite his supposed sexual tolerance. Nonetheless, DeMilo dealt with Masters with swift resolve and dangled the use of her brothel as a bargaining chip. In an expanded supporting role this season, DeMilo provided some of the heart-rending ups and downs. Her marraige fell apart while she succumbed to the temptations of Sarah Silverman's Helen (to be fair, Silverman in a 1950's accent certainly would be hard to resist). Nevertheless, she showed a touching solidarity with Dr. Masters simply by showing up for work when everyone else abandoned him.  
18. Olivia Cooke as Emma Decody in "Bates Motel"-The first season left me wanting to see more from Emma Decody's POV. She is quietly drawn to the tumultuous Bates family but it's clear that she exists on the periphery of their trials and tribulations. The show's second season gave us a better glimpse inside Emma's world. It showed us a character who's relatively comfortable in her own skin as a disabled teenager but who's also self-aware of her desire to belong. Her relationship was also one of the sweetest examples of teenage romance on television.

19. Kat Dennings and Beth Behr as Max and Caroline in "2 Broke Girls"-Part of what keeps "2 Broke Girls" among the most comfortable shows on television is the chemistry between Max Black and Caroline Channing. They're rat-a-tat dilaogue is a stylistic throwback to the days of vaudeville. Caroline lobs the set-up and the acerbic Max hits it out of the ballpark. The humor isn't necessarily the most sophisticated on TV but the chemistry between the two best friends of circumstance is immense.

20. Kristen Schaal voicing Mabel Pines in "Gravity Falls"-Between "Bob's Burgers", "BoJack Horseman" and this (not to mention the countless gigs she's involved with that I'm not watching), Schaal deserves all the praise she's getting and more as a voice-over actor. She has a unique voice that creates a recognizable comic personality (in this case, the overexcited child) and has shown enough versatility with it to create three memorable and distinct comic characters. Mabel Pines' never-ending positivity is just infectious on and, on a visual level, her sweater designs and stickers are the show's Easter eggs.

21. Emily Rios as Adriana Mendez in "The Bridge"-Daniel Frye, Adriana's partner-in-crime, occupied a high spot on last year's list and while that entry was a way of honoring the touching Frye/Adriana relationship, I didn't anticipate that Adriana would become so much more fleshed out this year. While the Frye and Adriana are still one of the underrated crime-fighting duos on television, Adriana became a fully realized character in her own right. Her response when Galvan's goons victimized her was one of the dramatic high points of the season and a poignant reminder that no one is really a passive spectator to this conflict. It also helps that I have a soft spot for reporter characters.

22. Megan Stevenson as AJ Gibbs in "Review"-Stevenson does so much with every facial reaction and stilted smile as Forrest's sidekick AJ Gibbs. The result is a mercurial character that makes a very strong impression with very little screen time. With "Review" renewed, the increased presence of AJ Gibbs as sole host of the show is on the top of my anticipation list for this coming year in television. 

23. Aaron Paul voicing Todd in "BoJack Horseman"-Satirizing the empty lives of the Hollywood rich and famous, "BoJack Horseman" is largely about characters going nowhere and repeating the same patterns, and no one is staying still faster or as consistently hilariously as Todd. His severe ADD ensures that nothing will ever get done as long as he's around. Todd bounces off others with supreme comic ease as evidenced by his teaming up with Quentin Tarantulino to produce a movie that morphed into a bimonthly snack subscription followed by a business partnership with Mr. Peanutbutter that produced some of the most absurd ideas to ever hit animated TV. It is also Todd's childlike need for approval from BoJack that keeps the tone of the show positive.

Source: Yahoo Screen
24. Cecily Strong as The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation with at a Party in "SNL"-As someone who is generally sober in situations where other people are drunk, I know the experience all too well of talking someone who thinks they're the most interesting person and is on a different planet regarding their definition of interesting conversation. So yes, this character certainly resonates with me on a personal level. A shout-out here to my other Weekend Update favorite: Kate McKinnon's economically depressed Russian version of a Borsch Belt comedian.

Source: NY Post
25. Eliza Coupe as Nina Whitley in "Benched"-Coupe is the rare stunningly beautiful actress who can dive into the part of a flawed woman so thoroughly that you actually believe she would have trouble getting a date. Coupe charms her way through the series in a way that makes you forget this has been done before in many screwball comedies before and after her. Through Nina Whitley's slow learning curve at adapting to the upside-down world of public defending, I have learned more about the nuts and bolts of the legal system (and its shortcomings) than from many a pedestrian legal drama.

Aimee Carrero as Lucia, The Americans; Alison Pill as Maggie Jordan, The Newsroom; Andre Holland as Dr. Algernon Edwards, The Knick; Barbara Rosenblat as Rosa Cisneros, OitNB; Demian Bichir as Marco Ruiz, The Bridge; David Harewood as Saperstein, Selfie;  Franka Potente as Eleanor Nacht, The Bridge; Frances McDormand as Oliver Kitteridge, Oliver Kitteridge; Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein as Toni and Candice, Portlandia; Kate McKinnon as Olga Povlatsky, SNL; Keegan Michael Key as Mark, Playing House; Kimiko Glenn as Brook Soso, OitNB; Leslie Bibb as Dakota, About a Boy;  Minnie Driver as Fiona, About a Boy; Natasha Lyonne as Nicky Lyons, OitNB; Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbath, The Newsroom; Parvesh Cheena and Hong Chau, Dinesh and Lora, A to Z; Sarah Silverman as Helen, Masters of Sex; Zoe Kazan as Betty, Olive Kitteridge

Here's a list of all shows I watched this year, for reference (that aren't in my Top Ten):
About a Boy (NBC) , Americans (FX), American Dad (TBS), American Horror Story (FX), America's Got Talent (Fox), Awesomes (Hulu), Bad Teacher (CBS), Bad Judge (NBC), Black Box (ABC), Blacklist (NBC), Broad City (Comedy Central), Brooklyn Nine Nine (FOX), Benched (USA), Crazy Ones (CBS), Chicago PD (NBC), Comedy Bang Bang (IFC), Conan (TBS), Colbert Report (Comedy Central), Daily Show (Comedy Central), Deadbeat (Hulu), Family Guy (Fox), Finding Your Roots (PBS), Flash (CW), Fugget About It (Hulu), Gotham (Fox), Glee (Fox), Gravity Falls (Disney), Ground Floor (TV Land), Hannibal (NBC), Houdini (History), Halt and Catch Fire (AMC), House of Cards (Netflix), Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central), Key and Peele (Comedy Central), Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel (NBC), Late Night with Seth Meyers (ABC), Larry King (Hulu), Librarians (TNT), Louie (FX), Marry Me (NBC), Mulaney (Fox), Madam Secretary (CBS), Mindy Project (Fox), Modern Family (ABC), Mother Up! (Hulu), Mysteries at the Museum (History Channel), NCIS: LA (CBS), Newsroom (HBO), New Girl (Fox), Nathan For You (Comedy Central), Playing House (USA), Portlandia (IFC), Red Band Society (Fox), The Strain (FX), Saturday Night Live, Tonight Show (NBC), Turn (AMC), Under the Dome (CBS), Video Game High School (YouTube), Veep (HBO), Vikings (History Channel), The Voice (NBC), Web Therapy (Showtime), The Wil Wheaton Project (SyFy), Welcome to Sweden (NBC)

Additionally, my top 12 TV shows can be found at this year.
They are:
1. Archer, FX
2. The Bridge, FX
3. Orange is the New Black, FX
4. Review, Comedy Central
5. The Knick, Cinemax
6. Manhattan, WGN
7. Olive Kitteridge, HBO
8. Selfie, ABC
9. Late Night with John Oliver, HBO
10. Quick Draw, Hulu
11. Masters of Sex, HBO
12. Silicon Valley, HBO
Runner-Ups: 2 Broke Girls (CBS), A-Z (NBC), Bates Motel (A&E), Bojack Horseman (Netflix), Crossbones (NBC), Finding Your Roots (PBS),  Legit (FX), Portlandia (IFC), Royal Pains (USA), Suburgatory (ABC)

Additionally, I had the honor of participating in Cory Barker's end-of-the-year round table at TV Surveillance, where I contributed thoughts on the best performances in 2014 on TV, the best new TV show, the worst TV show and the best performances.

I also have just been hired at TV Fanatic and contributed to all their year-end slideshows including best plot twist, most underutilized character, best breakout character, and several more.

In short, I've now analyzed 2014 in TV to death at this point, but being included on Cory Barker's year-end roundtables and TV Fanatic's year-end polls have been a goal of mine for four years so I'm quite pleased. Some people want to build mountains or create great paintings and I just want to watch a lot of TV and discern obscure categories within that medium.

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