Ah December. List time. When we try to quantify and categorize everything that happened in the 12 months we all just were lucky enough to live through and make some sort of sense of the chaos. This year I have decided to make a list of my favorite characters on TV because there were so so many good ones. The main trend I noticed this year in characters I loved was the struggle of gender identity. The female characters were trying to be bad-asses who maintained something essentially feminine without becoming ciphers or sex symbols and the male characters tried to figure out how to be masculine without losing their humanity. All in all, it was a great year for authentic human beings on the small screen. Here are my favorites, in reverse order. SPOILER ALERT! I mention things that happened in the most recent seasons of various TV shows. Be forewarned.
10. Jax Teller in Sons of Anarchy:
To be honest, I am pretty much over Sons of Anarchy. It was a fun diversion for the first couple seasons but at this point we all just want Clay to die so Jax can move somewhere nice with his doctor wife and their cute little boys. That said, I will never be over Jax Teller. This could be because the vessel in which he resides, Charlie Hunnam, is actually a British pretty boy who could be Heath Ledger’s (R.I.P.) baby brother, who first became known (to me anyway) as the adorable young gay boy Nathan Maloney in the original Queer as Folk. He followed that role with the dreamy ladies’ man with an accent, Lloyd, in one of the great sitcoms about my generation, Undeclared. This history makes Jax Teller’s codified commitment to biker club machismo somehow more nuanced. Sure he is leading the club now and raining down wrath on his enemies, but he’s really just a confused little boy with no idea how to be a man and some seriously beautiful eyes.
9. Mindy Lahiri in The Mindy Project:
Recently TV has been all about women in their mid-twenties to early thirties (JUST LIKE ME). In the comedy sphere, it is really Mindy Lahiri (played by Mindy Kaling) who is shining through as the character to root for (sorry Lena Dunham and Zooey Deschanel). She wears normal clothes, has a real job and her jokes are smart and not based on being on the Autism spectrum (Zooey) or the tragedy of being sooooo rich (Lena). I know Mindy Lahiri isn’t real, but nonetheless, I kind of wish we had been roommates in college and she was still my best friend and we went on whacky trips together to fun and extravagant places (sorry real best friends, you just aren’t as funny or as well-paid as she is).
8. Owen Slater in Boardwalk Empire:
Oh Owen Slater! I could write poems about your Irish accent and your soulful eyes! Owen, played by Charlie Cox, is faring better than most of the men on this list (for awhile at least) in the battle of masculinity and humanity. Sure he is a killer, but for him it’s just a job! And he’s got a really solid plan to get out. Not just that, he cares about the women in his life and not just in an “I’m here to protect you, lady” kind of way, but in a “we are both equal, imperfect human beings” kind of way. Sadly for everyone, this doesn’t end well, but it was sure fun while it lasted.
7. Jane Timoney in Prime Suspect:
Prime Suspect was short-lived here in the U.S. Blink and you probably missed it, so you might not know about Jane Timoney, played by Maria Bello, a tough homicide detective trying to make her way in the boys’ club of homicide detectivery (of all the places boys’ clubs flourish, I imagine the Homicide Department is top of the list). But unlike other lady cops on TV, she isn’t a lady. She does have to struggle to be taken seriously by her male counterparts, but that isn’t because she is fragile or clearly spends 5 hours a week in a salon or is the hot one or the bitchy one. It’s just because, as it is in real life, people with xx chromosomes have to work harder to be considered professionals. Go back and watch Jane kill it on Hulu and help me start a letter writing campaign to get this show back on the air.
6. Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad:
The thing about Breaking Bad for me is that it is almost impossible to watch without curling up in a ball and thinking about trying to score some meth. This means I generally watch it binge-and-purge style by binging on like half a season in 2 days and then purging with a full year of procedural crime dramas. After one of my epic Breaking Bad orgies, the main thing I am left with is a deep desire to cuddle with Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul. I know this is based on brain chemistry and the fact that when you watch a lot of the same character on TV, your brain subconsciously starts to think they are your friend and you develop unnatural relationships with them that lead you to do things like put pictures of them up on your cubicle walls and list them all for arts websites and stuff like that, but Jesse… He’s so cute and deeply flawed and fiercely at war with himself and his addiction and so the horrible, ingrained girl part of my brain that sees a lost little boy bunny and knows I can fix it can’t help but want to fix him hard. Seriously, thank god Jesse Pinkman is a character on TV and not a human being I know, because give it a week and I would be his enabler. Give it 2 and I would be smoking meth with him in a dirty motel room while my parents frantically called the police.
5. Sally Draper in Mad Men:
In the world of Mad Men transposed onto today, Sally Draper, played by Kiernan Shipka (best name of the year, clearly), grows up to be my mom. Her generation, the baby boomers, were and are an important group of people, even though they are constantly talking about the “Summer of Love” and telling us to put on a sweater because it’s cold outside, EVEN THOUGH WE ARE LIKE 30 NOW MOM WE CAN TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES. It’s great that this little maniac has pretty much become the only sympathetic character on the whole show. Plenty of times it seems like Sally is the only one who has the slightest clue what is going on. Is this because she is the only sober person in all of New York state? Maybe. Regardless, this character, played by a 12-year-old, is somehow humanizing an entire generation of mothers, by believably living through a time when girls weren’t encouraged to be themselves or reach for the stars, but were still kind of thinking that maybe that’s what they would do anyway.
4. Arya Stark on Game of Thrones:
This was the year of the little girls and Arya Stark, played by Maisie Williams, is exactly what every 10-year-old girl, including probably Sally Draper, wishes she was: a tough, secret princess with amazing sword fighting skills who is basically an orphan. In a show populated by awesome, compelling characters, Arya might be the truest hero.
3. Nicholas Brody on Homeland:
The thing people say about haters is that they like to hate. And everyone is currently hating hard on Homeland. Regardless, Sergeant Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis who is a Brit ( listen to him talk in his real accent, it will blow your mind), is one of the most interesting and complicated new characters to show up on TV. In this interview, Lewis says acting is “advocating” and he is constantly advocating for his character. That’s why this potential terrorist, definite murder, philanderer and liar is also a compelling father, lover and American patriot.
2. Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire:
As I write this list, it is becoming clear to me that I have a thing for damaged men in general and those with PTSD in particular. Richard Harrow, played by Jack Huston, is a classic case. He did not start as a major character on the show, but bit by bit his narrative is becoming more important and he played pretty much the crucial role in the Season 2 finale. I attribute this to the awesomeness of a character that may have begun as a throwaway but has developed from a sidekick enforcer for James Darmody (R.I.P.) into the moral center of the entire show, the terrifying force that will protect little Tommy Darmody at all costs. In a show that is as much about flawed relationships between parents and children as it is about anything else, Richard Harrow is the only father figure I trust, even though his half blown-up face makes him look like a monster and he is possibly the coldest-blooded and most effective killer on all of television.
1. Carrie Mathison on Homeland:
If Mindy Lahiri is the best comedic woman in her late twenties to early thirties on TV and Arya Stark is the best child and Richard Harrow is the best guy with PTSD, then Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, is the best human being. Much has been made about her crying face and her less than stellar record with following the rules at the CIA, but let’s be honest, WHO FOLLOWS THE RULES AT THE CIA? There are so many subplots and intrigues going on at that place it’s a wonder anyone ever gets anything done!
Here’s the thing about a really good fictional character: she has to be a little bigger than life, doing things a little more important than you or I do, acting a little crazier, wearing a little nicer shoes. It worked for Shakespeare, and it works on every good show on TV today. Very few of the people of America are gangsters, princesses, war heroes or CIA analysts and yet in our own minds and our own universes, we are that important.
Maybe the decisions I make in my relationships and at my job don’t affect national security, but they sure feel like they do. So when Carrie Mathison can’t help but fall in love with the terrorist she is supposedly protecting America from, I GET IT. I’m in love with a terrorist too, I think. And when she struggles at her job to be taken seriously because okay, sometimes she can be a little emotional when things don’t go her way, I totally understand, because even though nobody dies when I make a spelling mistake on Twitter, it kind of feels like they do and it still makes me want to cry. Basically, Carrie is just a girl, trying to succeed at her dream job while maintaining relationships and her sanity. And we all know, even those of us who aren’t going undercover in the Middle East, that is much easier said than done.
There you have it. My top 10 characters of the year. What did I get wrong? Who did I forget? Tell me in the comments.