Some say that TV is going through a quality renaissance. That might be true, but unfortunately if you have enjoyed hard-edged shows like True Detective, Broadchurch, American Horror Story, or Breaking Bad for their wonderfully complex and messed-up characters, you won’t find any of those shows on my list. I tend to enjoy the lighter, escapist fare (and really, I’m not much of a character-drama person to begin with). Nevertheless, I offer up my annual “naughty or nice” list of television characters who I have grown to “love” (maybe a bit strong) or “hate” (definitely too strong) in the past year.
Characters I Love
Well, if we’re going for a crowd-pleasing lack of edge, there’s nowhere better to look than The CW for our first two. They both headline new series that have gained a lot of success and popularity. Of course, I am referring to Barry Allen (a.k.a. The Flash), a mild-mannered scientist and police forensics expert who gets struck by lightning on the same night that a particle accelerator accident causes a massive wave of energy to ripple across the city. After the dust settles, he ends up with super-speed and a new nickname. Similarly, Jane Villaneuva was also in the wrong place at the wrong time. When her gynaecologist mixed her up with another patient and artificially inseminated her by accident, she became Jane the Virgin, and her life was never the same again. While both shows are very different (one’s a light-hearted super-hero drama, while the other’s a whimsical telenovela-style dramedy), at the heart of each show is a character who has had a lot of things happen to them (Barry’s mother was murdered in front of him by a yellow blur of super-speed, and his father went to jail for the crime; Jane’s father was out of the picture until he turned out to be latin telenovela star Rogelio de la Vega, who her mother has kept a secret all these years), but they don’t let things get them down. They are upbeat and positive, they care about the people around them, and always try to do the right thing. They are both incredibly likeable and make you want to root for them. (Thank the TV-gods that Barry’s unrequited love for long-time friend (like a sister), Iris, was finally revealed halfway into the season. Those kind of plot-lines can drag on and on just to torture our lead characters.)
As part of what’s rapidly becoming my favourite TV comedy ensemble (sorry, Modern Family and Big Bang guys) Detective Rosa Diaz (of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) gets to be my favourite female comedy character this year. Even last year her blend of deadpan semi-meanness caught my eye (but I chose the endearing Boyle over her). She reminds me of April from Parks and Recreation, but with a gun. She takes no guff from anyone but this season proved that she’s more than just a ball-busting tough chick. She also cares about her team (evident when she led a drug task force) and her friendship with fellow detective Jake Peralta. She’s just very selective with her smiling. I also think she’s the perfect antidote for the wacky Gina and the earnest Santiago. I fear she might take a bit of a back seat now that her task force has concluded, but I still look forward to Rosa’s patented “don’t even try it” looks or “don’t mess with me” zingers.
Although he’s not much of a character, I think my hands-down favourite of the year is Strax, the alien Sontaran who became one of the “Paternoster Gang” stuck in Victorian England on Doctor Who. Originally one of many clones bred to be relentless warriors, Strax fought on behalf of The Doctor, was killed and then revived by Madame Vastra and Jenny to serve as their butler (I know it sounds complicated, so if you’re not a Doctor Who watcher, just hang on a few more seconds). He is hands-down hilarious because he is so clueless about other cultures and species. Plus, he’s constantly talking as if he’s still fighting a war and using the language of battle. The combination of his fish-out-of-water foibles, his physical (potato-like) appearance, and his Sontaran warrior spirit is very humourous and original. (Plus, I know it’s silly, but I laugh every time he calls Jenny “boy”.). He always has the best lines whenever these characters make an appearance (Why they don’t have their own spinoff, I’ll never know) and he doesn’t even do it intentionally.
A few years ago, I put Violet, Downton Abbey‘s dowager countess on this list because she had such a witty tongue and gracefully took aim at everything and everyone that needed a little trimming. This year, thanks to the betrothal of King Joffrey Baratheon to the widowed Margaery Tyrell, Game of Thrones gained its own dowager countess in Lady Olenna Tyrell. Her words are just as double-edged as Violet’s were but since this is Westeros, her venom is a whole lot deadlier. She may be up in years, but she knows what’s going on. She may be physically frail compared to the younger characters, but she is far from harmless. They don’t call her “Queen of Thorns” because she likes roses. I love that she’s incredibly pleasant at all times, even when she’s throwing down the gauntlet. Plus, her scheming is so subtle that it’s virtually invisible. She shows us all that it takes an experienced old lady to clean up the messes that the young make. After all, sadistic, blonde, little psycho kinglings don’t just poison themselves, right?
Back to the cute characters, Jemma Simmons (one half of “Fitz-Simmons”, the scientific brain-trust on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD) really broke out on her own this year. In season one, she just seemed like one of those “implausibly smart for someone so attractive” characters; and Fitz-Simmons was really not very interesting as a team (plus their accents made their conversations a bit of a challenge). However, after they were left for dead by the traitorous Agent Ward, Simmons went missing and then turned up right in the viper’s den as a double-agent working for evil world-dominating organization, Hydra. Without the cushion of the rest of the team, Jemma was finally acting more like a SHIELD agent (albeit undercover). Also, with a strained relationship to Fitz (who told her that he was in love with her — poor unrequited Fitz), both of those characters became a little more interesting. In fact, my “Most Improved Ensemble” award goes to the Agents of SHIELD themselves. Last year Agent Melinda May was one of my three butt-kicking-yet-super-dull angels. This year, she really spread her wings (it helps that she’s got more to do now that Coulson is a little batty with the alien symbol carving obsession and all) and really stepped up as the 2nd in command of the team. Ward coming out as evil made him far more intriguing a character as well. It is never clear if he is telling the truth or not, and his character comes alive when being sneaky and clever. Fitz’s brain injury left him with some difficulty communicating, but his struggle gave him a real, humanizing challenge and even allowed him to reach out emotionally to the people around him. Skye, Skye, Skye … everything seems to revolve around her, but at least she became more of a serious spy character instead of last year when she was just a naive newbie who seemed way too eager to sign on to the team (especially given that she had been an underground super-hacker previously). Not that he wasn’t kind of a maverick before, but Coulson is also more interesting now that he has to make it on his own. Bureaucracy and “red tape” are death to a cool, spy-based show.
I also really liked the Hill brothers on Enlisted, especially youngest brother Randy. However, that show has been dishonourably discharged from the airwaves, so I guess there’s not much point to talk about him.
Characters I Hate
OK, over to the bad side of the fence: this fall there is not only a glut of rom-com sit-coms, but with their formulaic approach, there are also usually a male side-kick to each male lead. I don’t know why it is that he’s always wackier, needier, less-attractive, and generally more annoying — they’re all schlubs! Stu is the buddy to A to Z‘s male lead Andrew and he is frenetic, self-involved, and always getting things messed up. I don’t understand why Andrew and he are friends. I guess there’s that loyalty thing, but the guy is like a scrunched up ball of wire constantly trying to spring out. Less annoying is Gil, the male buddy on Marry Me (I guess side-kicks only get three-letter names these days). He is incredibly needy, bordering on pathetic. Having recently divorced from his wife, he’s a bit of a helpless babe in the world. Plus he always needs his friend Jake to take care of him (in fact that was the theme of the most recent episode). Add to that his quirky interests and personality, and you’ve got a character who I hate to watch (though the writers have given him some pretty fresh lines and ideas, so he’s often pretty funny — OK, I’m torn on Gil).
On Downton Abbey, they like to give us good characters and not-so-good ones (and they do it for the upstairs and the downstairs). Butler Spratt (who works for the aforementioned dowager countess) is a bit of a one-dimensional character who represents a very formal, old-fashioned kind of thinking which doesn’t really work in a small household. He’s constantly being a pain to those around him, especially the new maid, Denker, who have been at each other’s throat since they started. As for non-servants, this year, former-driver Tom caught the eye of a local schoolteacher, Sarah Bunting, who was a good influence on Tom (helping him to remember his leftist leanings) but whenever she crossed paths with the Crawleys, she would always get into a heated debate with Lord Grantham (who could not stand her). I don’t have any trouble with her politics or her personality, really, except I don’t see why she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. It’s just being polite. If she can’t be polite to the people who welcomed her to a fancy dinner, she should just stay away and stop making us (including me the viewer) angry.
Suits is full of great characters, including some formidable women. However, one female character came on the scene who just wasn’t very substantial. I don’t really understand how we were expected to believe that Dana “Scottie” Scott was a good match for legal shark Harvey Specter. They never showed any reason why she was such an amazing lawyer that she was in demand by these top law firms. Nor did they ever justify why Harvey was so in love with her that he was willing to change himself to keep her in his life. With so many other strong women around him, like boss Jessica, or assistant Donna, I don’t think it makes any sense that a designer mannequin like Scottie would have been his soulmate. So any time Scottie made an appearance, I was really taken out of the story. She doesn’t belong!
Finally, another girl character who I have grown to hate is Glee‘s Rachel Berry. I know, many people have probably disliked her for a long time, but this year she really reached those heights for me. Partly I hate it when a character can screw up all kinds of things in her life, make all kinds of poor decisions, but thanks to deus ex machina, she can still end up with all kinds of amazing opportunities and successes. That’s just ridiculous. Well, Rachel moved to New York, somehow moved into an incredible loft, got the lead in a production of Funny Girl (as if things were that easy), then screws up that opportunity of a lifetime to audition for a tv series, screws that up, but then gets offered a tv series of her own! Come bleepin’ on! Besides her totally implausible life (I do realize that they are singing and dancing in New York City, so there is some suspension of disbelief), she’s totally lost that struggle and that spark that she had in the beginning of the series (remember when she would follow a positive-thinking routine every morning on her exercise machine?). It was part of her charm. Everything comes too easily for her (and the other characters on the show as well, frankly) and it’s just ridiculously un-relatable.
So, that’s all for this year’s characters. If you agree with some of my picks, leave me a comment and we can adore or revile them together.