10 Favorite TV Characters

Ok this is it: The last part of my 10 Favorite Onscreen Characters. I promise. Compiling my favorite television characters, I found my choices almost universally New School. Only two characters appeared before the 90s, and one of those continues to appear today. In fact most have seen some air time past the year 2000. While I may have affection for a lot of Old School television, the character work just wasn't the same, with few being able to evolve over time. I definitely prefer "long form" to episodic.

Note that I also made things harder for myself by limiting the number of characters from any single universe to ONE. Only one Star Trek character. Only one Doctor Who character. Only one CSI character (well, CSI didn't make it in at all, but you get the point). Let's get to it!

Sam Seaborn (The West Wing)Though not in the same universe per se, Aaron Sorkin's shows (West Wing, Sports Night and Studio 60) could easily have eaten up a third of the slots on this list, so I decided I could only pick one. On the surface, not an easy task, but it has to be Sam. The first character we meet on The West Wing, it is immediately HIS story, and I thought the show was pretty much dead as soon as he left in the fourth season (something Sorkin and Schlamme must have agreed with, as they left as well). Though endemic to the whole cast, Sam was perhaps the best example of Sorkin's "passionate politician", doing right because it's right. Eloquent, neurotic, endearing, a little nerdy... he's Sorkin's stand-in. And a pretty amazing performance from Rob Lowe who had been stuck playing slimy villains after his Hollywood scandal. That we accept Sam Seaborn so completely is a testament to his skill.

Bob "Cool Breeze" Brown (The Unit)
I must have a thing about rookies. Just as Sam Seaborn was the West Wing's junior member, so is Bob the Unit's (at least in the first season). I like all the guys in the Unit, but while Bob is the rookie, you can tell he's the smartest one there. All he needs is the experience. Deceptively disarming, cool and professional, with a Bourne-like array of skills at his disposal, and a delivery that honors Mamet even when Mamet didn't write the script. He'd be my first pick for any black ops team I needed to assemble (hm, there's a blog post in that).

Claire Fisher (Six Feet Under)
The only woman on this list (I'm as surprised as the next guy), Claire is gorgeous and quirky in a way that makes me want to fall in love with her. But at the same time, she's completely messed up, so I stay away. Over the course of the series, she's the one that probably develops the most, and we're privy to her every terrible decision. And somehow, we're never quite able to judge her.

Comedy and Variety
Geoffrey Tennant (Slings and Arrows)
After Slings and Arrows, Paul Gross can do no wrong. The brilliant and eccentric former actor, now artistic director of the New Burbage Festival, Geoffrey Tennant, embraces his madness thoroughly and we love him for it. In many ways, he's a living Hamlet, using that madness to say what we're all thinking. Misbehavior as truth. And he understands Shakespeare better than most university professors I've had.

Jack Donaghy (30 Rock)
Alec Baldwin's Republican send-up is the funniest thing on tv right now, period. And yet, if you espouse those values, he can be your hero.

Brian Topp (Spaced)
There's something to love about all the characters in Spaced, but I've known people like Brian, for whom the artist lifestyle is more important than producing art, but none of those people have been SINCERE. Brian is. Brian believes in his anxiety. He doesn't do anything to APPEAR to be an artist. He just is. He is driven by a purity of soul. So I both laugh at and admire his passion.

Dr. Will (Big Brother)
Ok, weird one here. You're gonna say a contestant on a reality show shouldn't count. Especially one from possibly the lamest of the long-running reality shows. However, Dr. Will certainly IS a character, a put-on personality/strategy by Will Kirby, and always the reason to watch both seasons he's been on. The most charming villain ever, you want to laugh WITH him at the other house guests, and you can't believe how he wins or almost wins using a two-fold strategy of 1) being hated and 2) abandoning challenges before he can ever win them. That, my friends, is flair.

Science Fiction
Number 6 (The Prisoner)
Patrick McGoohan's Prisoner is the coolest cucumber of them all. He will not be broken. His determination and acerbic sense of humor gets me cheering every time. I never even skip the extremely long opening sequence because I want to see him driving... intensely. Walk to the office... intensely. And tell Number Two he isn't a number... INTENSELY!

Benjamin Sisko (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
If I can only pick one Star Trek character, I've got to pick my namesake. There's a REASON he's my namesake, after all. Basically, I love Sisko's multi-dimensionality (no that's not a Wormhole Alien joke). He's deadly serious, but has a sense of humor. He's easy to anger, but has one of the most loving family relationships ever portrayed in Trek. He gets the most intense dilemmas, and sometimes has to do the wrong thing because it's the only right thing to do. He's no-nonsense. He'll even hit Q. Just you watch.

The Doctor (Doctor Who)
Obviously, there was going to be a character from the Whoniverse in here. I looked at a lot of classic companions, Sarah Jane and Leela most especially. I looked at New Who characters like Rose, Martha, Captain Jack and Donna. For a while, I thought it was gonna be Gwen Cooper from Torchwood. But in the end, I had to go with The Doctor himself. And I didn't even do him the disservice of choosing a single regeneration. It's the character in all his forms that fascinates me. One man who is many, and whose psychology and history are interesting exactly BECAUSE he is more than one man. And soon another layer will be added. Can't wait.

What are your favorites from the small screen (they're not exactly small anymore though, are they?).


rob! said...

Definitely Jack Donaghy!


B.J. Hunnicutt
Jim Halpert
Casey & Dan (Sports Night)
Triumph The Insult Comic Dog
Dr. Niles Crane
Catwoman (Julie Newmar version)
Tim (Spaced)
Marshall (How I Met Your Mother)
Bill Haverchuck (Freaks and Geeks)
President Santos (West Wing)
Captain James Tiberius Kirk!

Austin Gorton said...

Another great list.

Sisko would definitely be my Star Trek pick as well. I'd probably go with Matt Albee for my Sorkin pick, mainly cuz I enjoy Mathew Perry. Or maybe Dan from Sports Night (sadly, I haven't seen much West Wing).

Who else? Wesley from Angel, for sure. Maybe Mal from Firefly, but I should probably limit myself to one Whedon-verse character if I'm only picking one Star Trek character.

Brian from Family Guy. Bobby from King of the Hill. Tough to pick just one Simpsons or Futurama character. But probably Lisa and Zoidberg (or Fry. Or Leela. Or Bender...argh!).

Lily from How I Met Your Mother.
Ben or Desmond from Lost.

Probably many more I'm forgetting. Like you, I much prefer TV's more modern long form narrative format to the episodic nature of older shows.

Siskoid said...

And there are plenty of shows/characters I had to leave off. It hurt not to put in characters from Futurama and The Wire, for example. The cartoon Justice League's Wonder Woman almost made it in as well, as did Dawn from The Office.

Bagheera said...

James T. Kirk (Star Trek)
Number Six (The Prisoner)
Dexter Morgan (Dexter)
Dan Fielding (Night Court)
James Ford/Sawyer (Lost)
Al Swearengen (Deadwood)
Martin Castillo (Miami Vice)
Harlock (Space Pirate Captain Harlock)
The Baroness (G.I.Joe)
Abby Mills (Harper's Island) - Yes, the show sucks. But I don't believe I've EVER had a crush on a character or actress (Elaine Cassidy) like this... Whew!

Martin Léger said...

Brian is the best! The whole conflict with his mother proves again your point of him being sincere and living for his art. He isn't showing his mother that he wants to be an artist like most cases, he is an artist! Albeit I can't seem to figure out if he is ashamed or why he would hide that fact completely from his mother? Also the huge contrast of Twist, which she says she's in fashion even taking on a fashion persona (kinda like some artists) and yet she works in a frikin cleaners.

species 125 said...

Donna Noble (Doctor Who): Funny and fiesty. Her final scenes in the TARDIS were heartbreaking.

Stewie Griffin (Family Guy)
Zhaan (Farscape)
Anya (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Dexter Morgan (Dexter)
Sydney Bristow (Alias)
Castiel (Supernatural)
Kryten (Red Dwarf)
Lyta Alexander (Babylon 5)
Spock (Star Trek)

Siskoid said...

A nice, geeky list there, Species 125!


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