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25 August 2006 @ 12:21 am
Favorite TV characters  
Whoo-hoo! The post-a-month trend continues.

I found the discussion at Whedonesque about individuals' all-time favorite TV characters to be quite amusing. Joss himself even posted a quasi-list, found in a comment thread HERE (his is about 28 comments down).

It all stemmed from a list that James Gunn (the director of Slither) made of his own, found at his blog, where he ommitted Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly, played by Nathan Fillion - whom Gunn cast as the lead in Slither. Long story short, Joss responded to Gunn's post, and so did dozens of other people with their own various lists. So I wanted to make one of my own.

I'll put my long-winded choices behind a cut, so as to facilitate ease of entry browsing. 

This will be my own top 20 television characters of all time - males and females included. This is not easy for me to do, as many shows have several characters I love for various reasons, so I'm trying to limit myself to those that have had a lasting impact on me - from both the characters', development, and from the respective actors who've portrayed them. I'm not ranking them in any particular order, because some of these I could never choose amongst to actually make a preference for one over another. I'm only grouping them by characters in the same show. And again, though I may appreciate dozens of other quality character portrayals from various shows I've watched, these are my favorites.

And I will state from the onset that this list is comprised of mostly modern show characters. No disrespect is intended to those from older shows, and I'm not ignoring the quality of certain roles over the years of classic TV, there's just a limit to the actual number of shows I've seen (believe it or not). And quite frankly, though 'reality TV' has been a plague on the number of quality shows in recent production, I still believe the current "generation" (the last 10-15 years) of TV shows that have been produced has included shows of some of the highest caliber ever. So my favorites will pull heavily from the last decade.

Okay, enough with the rambling and qualifying. On with it.
  • Xander Harris (played by Nicholas Brendon) - Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Regardless of his mistreatment and under-use by the writers in some of the later arcs of the series, Xander was shown to be an integral part of the four original 'scoobies'. Brendon (in his first major role) was able to portray a layered everyman, who became Buffy's rock of emotional dependability when her life came into crisis, in spite of his lack of special powers. Always quick with a joke to cut the tension, but able to balance the relative chaos with a fiercely heartfelt devotion to "his girls", Xander was the under-appreciated hero of the show. Easily one of my absolute favorites if I had a ranking.

  • Buffy Summers (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) - Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Joss Whedon's original brainchild, and the title character of the show that evolved from a mishandled comedy farce of a film into a pop-culture phenomenon, and would forever influence female roles and overall storytelling on TV. Buffy was the stereotypical SoCal cheerleader who was atypically forced into a supernatural calling to rid the world of evil, while trying to maintain a personal life in the process. Gellar was instantly likable as a teen burdened by so much more than the average high school drama, but who always had a sarcastic quip or pun in the face of imminent danger. A layered metaphor-extravaganza for the real-world issues that teens and young adults face, the series' razor-wit in the dialogue was delivered with a sincerity that evolved Buffy into a figure who became heroic, vulnerable, and heartbreaking all at once. Gellar's chemistry with the other core actors created a visible rapport that truly made the tribulations that the 'scoobies' went through touching and memorable. One of the best television shows of all time, and one of the most iconic characters ever.

  • Malcolm Reynolds (played by Nathan Fillion) - Firefly: For a role that was (unfairly) only given roughly 15 episodes' worth of development, Mal has become an icon for scores of Joss Whedon worshippers, thanks to Fillion's nuanced portrayal of a disillusioned freedom fighter trying to just get by, after losing faith in everything he's ever known. Whedon's development of the character and his crew gave Mal a purpose he never knew he needed, and created one of the most fandom-beloved individuals of the 21st century.

  • Jack Shephard (played by Matthew Fox) - Lost: In a show that is really unlike anything else ever before, with an ensemble cast that has a myriad of backstories, Jack has emerged as the reluctant 'leader' of the survivors of Oceanic flight 815, and Fox is continually dynamic in his portrayal of the emotionally-bottled Jack. On any other fantasy show, the twists and mega-secret reveals in the plot could have a tendency to dwarf the humanistic approach to the characters' issues that make the drama compelling, but Lost manges to avoid that by crafting genuinely deep individuals, whose respective pasts are disclosed piece by piece over the course of the series. The more I see of Jack's own history, the more impressed I become with how Fox manages to evoke those emotions in scene, into the person we see Jack as 'presently' on the island.

  • Kate Austen (played by Evangeline Lilly) - Lost: I'm almost hesitant to include another Lost character, but simply for the fact that this is Lilly's first major role, and for the complexity that has been shown thus far in Kate as a person, I wanted her here. From the pilot episode, it was evident that Lilly is more than just a pretty face, and she's continued to handle the slow reveals to who Kate really is (or has been) well. Again, the ensemble nature of Lost has the potential to sometimes overshadow individuals who might stand out on other shows, but usually avoids that due in large part to the cast. Lilly has come out of nowhere to really hold her own among other veterans, giving Kate a good rapport with almost all the other Flight 815 survivors. The chemistry she has with the two male 'leads' - Matthew Fox and Josh Holloway - only adds to the anticipation for her character's next move from week to week.

  • Jack Bauer (played by Kiefer Sutherland) - 24: In a show with scores of revolving characters - both regular and recurring - Jack remains the constant, bad-ass lead. The real-time serialized format of 24 creates a continual dramatic tension that is seldom as effective in most other dramas, but the focus on Jack's own personal crises in addition to his commitment to protecting the country makes his portrayal memorable. He's not perfect by any means, but his moral center is ever present in the life-and-death choices he's forced to make from one 'day' to the next, and this is by far the best role Sutherland has ever had.

  • Lois Lane (played by Teri Hatcher) - Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman: Admittedly tongue-in-cheek, but often faithful to the post-Crisis comic book canon, this show was an entertaining incarnation of the world's greatest hero, and the first show that I personally recall as an absolutely 'cannot miss' weekly requirement. While Dean Cain was more than capable as Clark, Hatcher completely made Lois her own, and captured the sarcastic spunk needed to make her comic-persona come to life, more so than any other version previously (or since). She was also able to gradually remove the emotional walls the character has historically carried as protection, to reveal the heart and the vulnerabilities that Clark Kent falls in love with, while still keeping the lighthearted stuff funny and endearing. Appearance-wise, she was a knockout, too, so that never hurt, either.

  • Vic Mackey (played by Michael Chiklis) - The Shield: Just about as far away from The Commish as an actor can get, character-wise. Vic is the ultimate anti-hero on the most gritty and realistic cop drama ever. He's morally ambiguous, with blatantly illegal activities peppered into his hard-as nails legal tactics leading the Strike Team of LAPD's Farmington precinct. Even when you know he's committing a crime in the name of the 'bigger picture', you want to root for him - and can then turn on a dime and completely question every move the character makes. Is it selfish? Or has he got more up his sleeve? Who owes him favors and how will he collect? All acted superbly by Chiklis, deserving the best actor Emmy and Golden Globe he won for the part.

  • Veronica Mars (played by Kristen Bell) - Veronica Mars: The idea of a darkened, hard-boiled, noir version of Nancy Drew may seem sketchy, but series creator Rob Thomas has pulled it off in one of the smartest shows on TV. Bell is the backbone of the series, with just the right combo of intelligence, snark, wit, sass and often-hidden vulnerability, all rolled into one deceptively adorable package. The pace of the dialogue and the pop-culture referential nature of the writing in general plays to all the actors' strengths in a very talented cast. Bell deftly navigates Veronica through both the physical, psychological, and emotional pitfalls that being the once-popular-and-later-ostracized daughter of the former-sheriff-turned-P.I. entails.

  • Logan Echolls (played by Jason Dohring) - Veronica Mars: I'll admit it. This is the first "bad boy"-type character that I've ever really loved to watch and rooted for. And I think that is owed to how Logan has been developed - from a recurring, somewhat two-demensional stereotype, into a regular character with a tragic backstory of his own. Essentially, he is a "good boy" at heart, who's had to construct fierce defense mechanisms in response to past abuse, keeping him at an emotional distance from almost everyone... until Veronica worms her way in. Dohring has also come from nowhere as a relative unknown, to unexpectedly create a supporting role that is progressively nuanced and layered - and obsessed over by fans to the point he evolved into a regular. The writing should also get a lot of the credit, as he gets some of the best snark in the show, and Dohring's chemistry with Kristen Bell makes the Logan/Veronica dynamic all the more compelling.

  • Sydney Bristow (played by Jennifer Garner) - ALIAS: An ass-kicking CIA agent who overcame the designs of a deceiving terrorist agency posing as the government to become a vital super-spy, coming from a family that re-defined the term "dysfunctional". Garner's physical prowess for the action-oriented stuff combined with her real penchant for evoking Sydney's vulnerabilities - the woman could cry on cue like nobody's business - to create a strong character who's ultimate goal was to live life on her own terms, in relative peace and safety. Which, after years of personal tragedy and later redemption, she manages to find with a family of her own.

  • Michael Vaughn (played by Michael Vartan) - ALIAS: Even though Sydney Bristow was the show's lead character, I will always associate the relationship Vaughn had with her as part of the whole - first professional, as her CIA handler, then romantically as her fiancee, husband, and father of her children. Vartan was usually spot on with the conservative, quiet yet assertive confidence Vaughn always placed in Sydney as an agent and a friend. He witnessed firsthand the difficulties she had living a double life, and he was always her proverbial light in the darkness and her "guardian angel" when she was on missions. The on-screen chemistry between Vartan and Garner was apparent, even through their off screen hook-up-then-break-up, and Vaughn's absence for most of the final season - and its subsequent drop in fan-approval - only proved his worth as a crucial character.

  • Seeley Booth (played by David Boreanaz) - Bones: With only one season aired so far, it's hard to imagine Boreanaz in a character that completely replaces him as Angel in my mind - but it's true. The procedural crime drama has a stellar ensemble cast that is anchored by the interaction between Booth and Dr. Brennan. Boreanaz is given snappy one-liners, a conservative ideology, and humor in spades as FBI special agent Booth, and he makes the most of it at every turn. Thoroughly entertaining, with a great on-screen rapport with Emily Deschanel, this role definitely allows him to stretch his acting chops, while still maintaining the 'cool' factor of the character in the process.

  • John Crichton (played by Ben Browder) - Farscape: One of the ultimate science-fiction fantasy shows, Farscape managed to explore the genre's usual themes (aliens, space travel, time-space tweaking, high-tech gadgets) while not taking itself too seriously all the time. But at the show's core, the plight of John is the primary story, with a fantastic journey showing his progression from a naive astronaut accidentally thrust into an alien galaxy on board a living ship (Moya), into an emotionally-drained and physically tortured fugitive, just trying to preserve a semblance of peace for his created 'family' - and the universe as a whole. Browder was able to take some pretty out-there plots and make them into empathetic character-driven stories, and John's relationship with Aeryn ranks right up there with any other angst-filled romance.

  • Aeryn Sun (played by Claudia Black) - Farscape: It's impossible for me to include John without Aeryn. To me, they are a package deal when I reference my love for Farscape and why it is so memorable. Aeryn's personal journey, albeit psychologically different, is on par with the scope of John's - from an unfeeling, military-trained captive soldier intent on returning to her regiment, into a woman who eventually shares a connection with each member of Moya's crew, and an emotional bond to John that becomes unbreakable. Black was able to show that progression with ever-increasing sincerity, maintaining a real independence and strength to the character, but allowing John's human influence to permeate who Aeryn becomes around those she comes to love.

  • William Adama (played by Edward James Olmos) - Battlestar Galactica: This reincarnation of the short-lived series from the late '70s brings a hard-nosed drama to the science fiction genre. Completely revamped, erasing the camp found in the original, this BSG is character-driven to the core, with relevance to current real-world culture and politics, and Commander Adama serves as the authoritative military head of the Colonial Fleet on the run from the Cylons. Olmos's emotional depth lends an immense gravitas to the role, as Adama is initially torn between his military protocol to maintain order, and to do what he knows is morally right. Compounded with an emotional estrangement from his son, Lee, Adama literally has the weight of the human civilization on his shoulders at times, and I can think of few other actors who could pull off this role with the same conviction.

  • Dr. Mark Greene (played by Anthony Edwards) - ER: A lot of the attention (mainly from the female contingent) has gone to George Clooney and Noah Wyle, but for a character arc progression, Dr. Greene's was also top notch over the course of his existence on the show. From his intro as a responsible resident, into attending M.D., then his tragic succumbing to cancer, the guy went through quite a bit, and Edwards was game for all of it. At times overbearing and strict, at other times very sympathetic and heartbreaking, I think for me, of all the various characters that ER has had in its ensemble, Dr. Greene is the most memorable.

  • Dr. Perry Cox (played by John C. McGinley) - Scrubs: One of the most underrated comedic actors of our time, McGinley handles Dr. Cox with an aplomb that is indicative of his own wit. The fast-paced tempo of the dialogue Dr. Cox recites, along with the truly outrageous sight gags that accompany many of the show's stories, could easily have the potential to make the cocky and confident but caring role into a farce, but McGinley verbally spars his way into making Cox comedic gold. And whenever it's needed, he has just the right heart and sincerity to give Cox a sympathetic streak, as he truly does care about the patients and the welfare of the hospital residents. The lack of any Emmy or Golden Globe noms for his performance is appalling.

  • Chandler Bing (played by Matthew Perry) - Friends: Being part of an essential six-person group on a sitcom - that is one of the most enduring and popular ever - already makes the character memorable. But Perry's ability to play the sarcasm and self-effacement that became a hallmark of Chandler's character made him a standout in many episodes. Though the series did have its ups and downs, the overall comedic consistency in Chandler - even through Perry's own personal life problems - is a testament to his perfection in the role. "Could this list BE any longer?"

  • Michael Bluth (played by Jason Bateman) - Arrested Development: Along with Scrubs, one of the most genuinely hysterical sitcoms ever. In a family of absolutely absurd characters, Michael was the only sane adult trying to keep it together. Bateman played the ultimate straight man in an ensemble of loons, and it worked to perfection. Although shamefully cancelled after a shortened third season, Michael Bluth is the best work Bateman has ever done.
And this is just the 20 people I could come up with in the a couple of hours (at work). I could probably easily add several more (from BtVS, Firefly, and VM, for instance) or even interchange a few I like just as well, but I figured 20 is a nice round number to leave with for now.