Thursday, August 18, 2016

Top 25 TV Characters of 2015

It's a bit late for my Top 25 Characters of TV List but better late than never. Here's last year's edition

1. Julianna Marguiles as Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife

Florrick is the epitome of professionalism under pressure. As her principal law partner is alternating between prison and parole, a shady drug lord threatens to pollute her agency's reputation, and the construction of her new office keeps hitting snags, Florrick navigates a political campaign and high-level clients who don't tolerate slip-ups with inspiring levels of grace. And she even has time to go out for an occasional drink with the district attorney who's using every trick at his disposal to keep that aforementioned law partner behind bars.

2. Nick Sandow as Caputo, Orange is the New Black-For many readers of Piper Kerman’s memoir and viewers of the resulting TV adaptation, "Orange is the New Black" is an eye-opening wake-up call on prison reform. It’s impossible to get engrossed in the series and not put yourself in the shoes of those running the joint and going through a million “what if”s before stopping with the realization that the people in charge just don’t care. He might not be a great role model (his weird relationship with Fig hasn't endeared him to certain corners of the internet) but at the end of the day, he’s someone who cares about improving conditions for the inmates and has some semblance of a pragmatic plan to do so. In Litchfield that’s a rarity. Watching him hold onto that glimmer idealism was a fascinating ride in OitNB’s 3rd season.
3. Constance Wu as Jessica Huang, Fresh off the Boat-As this is a show told from a child’s point of view, Jessica is everything an alpha mom should be: Terrifying, authoritative, unable to be outsmarted and full of charisma. Jessica’s brash indifference to tact and her steadfast belief that no penny should be wasted has led to an endless supply of great quotes. I have an immigrant mother like Jessica and there's an almost frightening degree of verisimilitude between the two.
4. Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyons, Empire-Since breaking out a decade ago in "Hustle and Flow", Terrence Howard has always had a big presence and the role of Lucious Lyon is one ambitious to accommodate that gravity. He is a complicated guy who can navigate street culture and business culture adeptly (note to self: consult with a black friend to phrase that in the best way). More importantly, he has the pretense of a good heart but a bottomless reserve of capacity to do bad and because he can turn on a dime with utmost slyness, that has made him a lot of fun to watch long after the show got overly soapish to hold my interest.
5. Will Forte as Phil Miller, Last Man on Earth-Phil Miller is the type of slacker who chooses to spend the apocalypse shooting pool with bowling balls and making margarita pools rather than worry about running water. When his prayers of finding another surviving human are answered, he discovers that post-apocalyptic social interaction isn’t all it’s made out to be. Watching Forte’s Phil Miller weasel his way out of situations he put himself in is cringe-worthy comedy on par with The Office. It’s been nearly five years since Will Forte left Saturday Night Live and as Flavorwire points out, he is “the rare Saturday Night Live alumnus who actually deserves a sitcom and has taken far too long to get one.”
6. Taraji P Henson as Cookie, Empire-An actress who's been steadily rising in popularity over the last decade, Cookie is an apt breakout role for someone who can deliver sharp dialogue with oomph. Like Constance Wu's Jessica, she's an alpha mom of epic proportions, but she varies in that she can simultaneously stay exlusively focused on herself and herself alone. As Cookie, she gets the best lines on the show and owns them with her trademarkable (yes, that's a word!) style.
7. Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia-Charlie as an idiot savant really took Sunny to great heights this season. We got the idiot Charlie who blindly followed "The Master" when Dennis, Dee, and Frank alternated to create a cult, but we also got the savant in full force when he masterfully duped the new health inspector AND made the chicken scheme run to perfection in "Charlie Work." And in Charlie's drinking contest, it was a mix of Charlie's idiocy, his fortitude, and an extraordinary liver that allowed him to beat Wade Boggs' record in the season opener. Oh and did we mention he slept with Dee and promptly relegated her to "let's never talk about this again" territory. To be fair, the decision to forget their one-night stand was mutual but that's a major step-up for Charlie.

8. Gael Garcia Bernal as Rodrigo, Mozart in the Jungle-"Mozart in the Jungle" is a love letter between an artistic genius and his hundred-member orchestra. The tortured artist trope has been played quite a bit but Bernal plays the part with enough tempered battyness to really sell it. The charisma of Rodrigo is especially important to the majority of viewers who have no idea how to discern a good rendition of Mahler from a great one or why exactly it's important for a conductor to wave his hands in the right way.

9. Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, Better Call Saul-One of the beautiful things of a sophomore effort like "Better Call Saul" is it allowed Vince Gilligan to continue exploring Albuquerque without the weighted expectations and praises of making the greatest show on TV. And no one represents the grimy sun-baked adobe underbelly of Albuquerque than Jimmy McGill. Watching him work a room and dealing with averse situations is simply magical. The first season didn't have as much of McGill adeptly wiggling his way out of holes as I'd hoped but it set up the character pretty well.
10 Miranda Otto as Allison, Homeland-An upper level State Department
bureaucrat who became an attention-getter first by trying to go against the system and retain her position. I've often imagined (in both real-life and fiction) that government bureaucrats have a big red "emergency resign" button on their desk in case of a PR disaster. It's a rarity to see someone stand up and say: "No, I'm not going to resign, damnit!" But then she pulled the wool over our eyes (or at least mine) by working both sides while maneuvering well under pressure. And bonus points for convincing us that she was enjoying sleeping with Saul.
11. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as Grace and Frankie, Grace and Frankie-It's hard to pick just one here. This show works so well because it focuses on the trials and tribulations of a different older generation without feeling outdated in its comedic style. A wide range of entries in film and TV fall into this trap: Hot in Cleveland, Golden Girls, Mr. Saturday Night, The Sunshine Boys, etc. It also helps that Fonda and Tomlin have such great chemistries, the characters are pretty perfectly positioned as foils to one another, and it's pretty apparent neither actress is phoning it in.

12. Tim Robbins as Walter Larson, The Brink-Larson first appeared as an apathetic cabinet-level secretary knee-deep in whores, but it was the other way around. He was the only person in the government who knew what he was doing and no one else would get off his back about it when he tries to save the world. There's plenty to appreciate Robbins physical comedy with the way he descends Larson into an urgent monotone and keeps his gaze fixated straight ahead when he's in serious world-saving mode.
13. Kimiko Glen as Brooke Soso, Orange is the New Black-Brooke's otherness has always been an acceptable sort even as unjust consequences were going on around her and being called out. She's a blabbermouth who doesn't know her place, so she gets a bile from Piper and the like that we as an audience have been complicit in looking past through our relative apathy in comparison to the problems faced by other prisoners. In Season 3, Brooke succumbed to a mental breakdown and suicide attempt, and facing our own previous apathy to her struggles proved an eye-opening experience. Her loneliness was a great contrast to all the storylines revolving around inmates bonding: It reminded us that prison is often a lonely place.

14. Deborah Ann Woll as Paige-Murdoch's secretary is a relatively thankless part (Case in point: try to remember who played her in the 2003 movie) but she was a memorably fierce character who was unwilling to let any of her past experiences or being a woman in a dangerous part of town intimidate her. Woll plays the part with a good mix of edginess and down-to-Earth and perfectly conveys the level of exhaustion that being constantly vigilant must exert on Paige.

15. Carol Kane as Lily, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt-Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s newest creation, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt", is the kind of show where everyone has a different favorite character but I couldn’t get enough of Carol Kane’s quirky landlord with a shady past (she has a friend named “eight ball” and sanded off her fingerprints). Her anarchic leanings would likely have given her an in with the Occupy Wall Street crowd if the show was set a couple of years earlier which made the last couple episodes, in which she was paired with 1% Jane Krakowski’s Jacqueline on a road trip, all the more sweet.
16. Zach Woods as Jared, Silicon Valley-It's all making sense now: Gabe from "The Office" was just an opportunity for Woods to workshop the prototype for his masterpiece of aloofness. Jared has the perfect bland of naïvette, eagerness, and tone-deaf responsiveness that fits in well with the kind of bureaucratic idiots Mike Judge specializes in.
17. Megan Stevenson as AJ Gibbs, Review-Aside from her nice legs and envy-inducing wardrobe, Gibbs does so much with facial expressions and small  snippets of conversation with Forrest that it's hard to imagine any other character getting so much bang for the buck. She's a little bit of an enabler, a little bit of a critic, a little of an airhead, and possibly a little sadistic. It's hard to pin her down, but it's exciting to try.

18. Sam Waterson as Saul in Grace and Frankie-Saul's place on the spectrum of flamboyance that defines gay characters on TV is entirely unique as someone who's newly arriving to gay culture in his later years. While it's easy to pigeonhole Saul in relationship to his more masculine (read: curmudgeonly) partner, the primary trait that comes through for him is that he's an unabashed softie. He is earnest, sincere, and thoughtful enough about his ex-wife that he deserves to be on the textbook cover for "How to Interact with Your Exes 101."
Where Saul is more assertive, it's in how he defines himself: He doesn't want to be gay in any way except for his love for his partner. He's just a Robertsexual and we're happy for him.
19. Cory Michael Smith as The Riddler, Gotham-As an unapolagetic Penguin fan, I spent the 2014 gushing over The Penguin but (see my top 25 characters of last year) but I tired of the fact towards the end of the season that his primary way of getting ahead was begging for his life and being in the right place and the right time. So I'm now on board the Riddler bandwagon. After all, it's the best sign of the show's writing that we had an entire season of the Riddler being a law-abiding citizen with just a few clues here and there of an abnormal personality. For a show that likes to burn through villains and plot lines at a self-defeating rate, the slow burn of The Riddler's arc is pretty compelling.

20. Emily Hampshire as Stevie, Schitt's Creek-In a town plagued by chronic boredom, no one can feign ironic disinterest as well as Hampshire’s hotel clerk Stevie. For Stevie’s best deadpanned look search no further than the scene in which spoiled man-child David (Daniel Levy) wants a job and she has to explain to him that a bagger at the grocery store is a more likely option than a “taste maker.”
21. Michael Ian Black as Mitch "Peepers" Spiritwalker, Another
Period-Let's be honest: "Another Period" was tonally jarring at first. The show's overblown absurdity needed some time to gel in the first few episodes but fortunately Peepers arrived as a ready-made creation from the get-go. Think of the most rigid school teacher you've ever had, give him the classist speech affectations of Margaret Dumont and the aloofness of a cartoon villain and that's Peepers in a nutshell.

22. Elden Henson as Foggy, Daredevil-Daredevil was one of the most gripping comic book adaptations to hit TV in the past few years and that's due to the strong character work. The part of Foggy isn't one that's easy to shine in. No superhero power, no superheroic good looks, and he's completely overshadowed by Matt Murdoch/Daredevil in everything he does. His law partnership also operates with a strange veto power in which nearly everything Henson suggests gets vetoed. Somehow Elden Henson makes the idea of playing second-fiddle endearing. With Foggy as a rootable character, it makes his more dramatic stand against Murdoch's vigilantism towards the end of the first season that much more effective.

23. Kerry Bishe as Donna, Halt and Catch Fire-Too often people are concerned about fair portrayals on media of sex and race, but I think ageism is an interesting undercurrent to explore and Donna's character is definitely a victim of that as she sort of struggles in a young person's world (doubly so). The plots of The Internship (as well as Robert DeNiro's similarly-titled film) and In Good Company deal are two of the few examples of issues of obsolescence among the older generation with working for a younger boss and Donna got some interesting moments. I like where the direction of her marriage went.

24. Christina Hendricks as Celine AKA Chair, Another Period-In a manor that's overrun with terrible people who are all sorts of psychopathic, very few characters gave me as much pleasure as Chair deviously plotting her way to the top. And that's not even mentioning how exciting and unexpected it was to see Christina Hendricks tackle a comic role with such finesse.

25 (tie). Adam DeVine as Andy, Modern Family-Other than popping out new babies (i.e. Joe), Modern Family has done little to shake up their cast which makes the addition of Adam DeVine as the Prichett family’s manny (male nanny) such a welcoming surprise. Andy sells corny eagerness like no other. On a scale of zero to Phil Dumphy, he registers a 9 in cheesiness, and yet he’s convincingly won the heart and affection of Hailey.

25 (tie). Taryn Manning as Pennsatucky, Orange is the New Black-Her odd couple friendship with Boo was one of the most hope-inspiring relationships at Litchfield and her rape storyline was eye-opening and heavy. It left no easy answers but somehow it found a way from Point A to Point B narrative-wise that felt true to Pennsatucky's character and cathartic for the viewer.

Honorable Mention:
Aaron Paul voicing Todd Chavez, BoJack Horseman; Alan Cumming as Eli Gould, The Good Wife; Allison Janney as Bonnie, Mom; Amanda Crews as Dr. Cassandra Railley, 12 Monkeys; Anna Faris as Christy, Mom; Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tasciano, The Good Wife; Charlie Cox as Matt Murdorch, Daredevil; Claire Danes as Carrie Matthieson, Homeland; Donal Logue as Bullock, Gotham; Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter, Agent Carter; Judy Greer voicing Cheryl, Archer; Maribeth Monroe as Kendall, Brink; Mary Steenburgen as Delia Powell, OitNB, Mary Steenburgen as Linda, Togetherness; Matthew Goode as Finn Palomar, The Good Wife; Max Gall as Mr. McNeil, Review; Michael McKean as Chuck, Better Call Saul; Tara Lynn Barr as Laura Meyers, Casual, Vella Lovell as Heather Davis Crazy Ex-girlfriend; Vincent Rodriguez III as Josh Chan, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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