Friday, December 31, 2010

My Favorite TV Characters of 2010, Part 5

5. Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), Fringe - FOX

Olivia used to be the sane one, the square charged with looking after the psychotic Walter Bishop and his globe-trotting criminalistic gad of a son, Peter Bishop. Until this year, when it became clear that Walter's experiments on her when she was a child changed her fundamentally, giving her the ability to travel safely between realities. Then, after she rescued Peter, Walternate switched Olivias, sending theirs to our world, and keeping ours. Following a little psychological adjustment, our Olivia was convinced she belonged on the other side, and their Olivia was sent to spy on this world. Suddenly, we had two Olivias, both hiding their true selves under fear of death, each one exploring the duality of their own existence and comparing themselves against what might have been. And in the end, the reason for Olivia's travel to the other side, her burgeoning love for Peter, is betrayed when he falls in love with the other Olivia.

4. Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox), Lost - ABC

Jack was Lost. From the moment his eyeball first appeared on-screen in 2004, we were following his arc - on the island, before and after, through time and beyond. The final part of his arc, from his acceptance that he couldn't control everything to the acceptance of his destined role to the ultimate acceptance of the inevitable, Jack's journey was the most sublime. Although we might never find ourselves running from the law (Kate and Sawyer) or walking again for the first time (Locke) or pregnant with ideas of giving up the child (Claire), Jack was lost in the most universal way, within himself.

3. Gemma Teller Morrow (Katey Sagal), Sons of Anarchy - FX

Although Jax is the main character of the show, and Clay is the presumable villain of the piece, Gemma's Lady MacBeth is the character that keeps it all together, in all ways good and bad. The sins of her past, which may come back to affect everyone's future, were motivated by the same thing that motivates her today: her own rationalized version of family. Yet when her real family (read: Dad, played by Hal Holbrook)intrudes on her life, she softens and shows sides of vulnerability she'd never be allowed to show with the MC. She is the person everyone comes to for advice at the same time as being a main reason everyone is in trouble. She'll use her own rape to bring family together if she has to, but she'll wait for her own time to do it.

2. Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), Justified - FX

I can't help but be a Walt Goggins fan since his role as "Downtown" Brown in MAJOR LEAUGE - BACK TO THE MINORS. Oh, and there was that whole "The Shield" thing. But the role of Boyd seemed to be tailor-made to fit him. He uses the same smooth, calculated drawl whether he's shooting one of his aryan brothers, blowing up a church with an RPG, forgiving the man who shot and almost killed him, converting hill-dwelling criminals to God, or renouncing his own father. Goggins plays everything straight, letting on nothing, and leaving us to take everything at face value when all the other characters in the show and all our instincts tell us differently. He is charming enough to bring us into his confidence, but also capable of the kind of violence that scares us, and this is what makes him fascinating.

1. Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue), Terriers - FX

The real crime of 2010 television is that we'll never get to spend another hour with Hank. He was one of the most fully-realized realistic portrayals of male angst in recent memory. What was revealed throughout the course of the series and in flashback was that Hank was a cop with a drinking problem. If that was all there was, it wouldn't be much. But what we saw of Hank in the series was that he also had a defensive streak, especially when it came to his wife, that, combined with the drinking, caused him to make bad decisions. He was also sick of seeing rich people buy their way out of trouble. All of this combined to make him lose his job and ultimately his wife, driving him into AA. But at the start of the series, in recovery, he's still fighting for the little guy as an unlicensed PI, with an ex-con under his wing as a partner, trying to get his life back. When his wife tells him she's re-marrying and selling the house, his impulsive nostalgic side buys the house on the last big job he did for a crook. For all this good that he's trying to do, taking on the big guys brings trouble, and Hank gets stuck in a place where it's him or them. The scene in episode 12 where he hugs his sobbing wife and says, simply, "I'm sorry" holds so many layers of subtlety that the emotion comes in waves off of the screen. My favorite show of 2010? Possibly. My favorite character? Definitely.

- - - - -

So, for a little post-game wrap-up, I've got some stats for you. I cheated with three ties, meaning there were 28 characters on my top 25 list. 8 came from FX, 10 from NBC, 3 from ABC, 3 from FOX, 3 from SciFi and 1 from the CW. None from CBS, although Barney Stinson was short-listed. 9 of the 28 were women, which impressed myself. And the list is tilted toward drama, as that is my main interest. My friends make me laugh, I don't need TV for that. And obviously, I don't have a chance to watch some of the best shows on TV. I'd love to be watching Treme, Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Breaking Bad and Mad Men, just to name a few. But either way, I don't think I'd be welcome at the People's Choice Awards.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Favorite TV Characters of 2010, Part 4

10. John Locke (Terry O’Quinn), Lost - ABC

John Locke is another character that was dead for the entire season this year, but reliving his journey as a wheelchair-bound man lusting for life had greater impact after we had gotten to know him for four (or five?) seasons. When he landed at LAX after skipping his conference, only to be refused a walkabout because of his condition, then to have his luggage lost, and ultimately fired for missing the conference was heartbreaking. Then he gets to come home to the wonderful Katey Sagal, who loves him no matter what and rekindles hope within him, enough to follow the possibility that Jack might be able to make him whole again, only to be ready to pass on to the other side. Wonderful acting by Terry O'Quinn in a most unique role.

9. Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), Friday Night Lights - NBC

This year Matt decided to follow his artistic dreams, which meant quite literally abandoning his longtime girlfriend and finding himself in Chicago. By the time he realized it wasn't all it was cracked up to be without her and went back to Texas to invite her along, she had moved on. While he was home, he got the news that his father was killed overseas, bringing up all the issues he had over his own abandonment, coupled with the pressure of seeing his father as a hero, contrary to his own personal experience.

8. Clarice Willow (Polly Walker), Caprica - SciFi

Clarice was the leader of a secret monotheistic sect, the Soldiers of the One, existing on Caprica. Constantly doing battle with the militaristic arm of the sect over the hearts and minds of the youth, her aim was to convert them with the power of words. But her focus changed once she was introduced to Zoe Graystone, from whom she learned about virtual reality and the possibility of transferring consciousness beyond life expectancy, without end. She called this The Apotheosis and saw it as a way of guaranteeing life after death with monotheism, giving people the ability to not only see Heaven, but to pick their own form when they're gone, essentially eliminating faith and replacing it with a timeshare sales pitch. A fascinating exploration of just how far religion can be sold as a commodity.

7. Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond James), Terriers - FX

Britt was the younger and lighter of the pair of unlicensed detectives at the center of Terriers. Even still, he was the burglar trying to make good, not only by allowing himself to be taken under the wing of an ex-cop in order to do right, but also by committing himself to his veterinarian-student girlfriend Katie. The trouble with trying to do good is that life is inherently contrary, and will throw bad at you no matter what you do. So even as his investigations lead him to break the law again, have his life threatened and get thrown in jail, he maintains his optimism. His rooftop proposal to Katie was the most romantic moment of the year, especially considering that we knew what Katie had done. The heartbreak was felt even deeper because we had been complicit in keeping Katie's secret, and when she told Britt, it was too much for him, and he pushed everything away. Even though the series ended with a question, we get the feeling that Britt maintains his optimism and will make the right choice for everyone.

6. Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), Justified - FX

Raylan is the Elmore Leonard-based character at the center of Justified. A US Marshall with a clear moral code and enough violence inside him to back it up, he's gotten in more than a little trouble with those higher up. As punishment, he was assigned to Kentucky, from whence he came. The theme of the show is less "You can't go home again" than "Who would want to?" Raylan left behind an ex-wife and a life intimately connected with crime, including a father who always had a crooked angle and friends who now blow up churches with rocket launchers, primarily as distraction for bank jobs. His wife has a new man and his new woman shot her old man. Raylan gets intimately involved in stopping the drug trade as he puts his old friend in jail, a local sheriff turns out to be corrupt, and the drug dealer he shot in Miami has friends with long arms. The long, patient road to the violent finale made us wonder where he would draw the line to protect the two women he had brought into this world.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Favorite TV Characters of 2010, Part 3

15. Eric Taylor/Tami Taylor (Kyle Chandler/Connie Britton), Friday Night Lights - NBC

The Taylors have been the West Wing of family and education for four seasons now, the kind of people that are too good to be true, but stand as realistic portrayals of the best possibilities nonetheless. Even as Eric is forced from his old job, he finds purpose in his new one, guiding players facing difficult situations on a daily basis. By the end of the season, Tami had gone through the same fate, following her charge of providing the best possible information for a young girl who had gotten pregnant. Together, as parents, they face the prospects of raising a teenage daughter and all the problems that entails, including heartbreak, sexual awakening, and the dawn of poor choices. It is no surprise that this couple has been under the guiding hand of Jason Katims, the same man that has brought us another realistic couple on Parenthood.

14. Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), 30 Rock - NBC

Alec Baldwin has long been a favorite, but his portrayal of the self-important stuffed shirt at NBC/KableTown continues to be the role of his career. Jack's ability to skewer what is wrong with right-wing jingoistic capitalism gone wild while remaining both lovable and vulnerable is a bit of a miracle. His love triangle with Julianne Moore and Elizabeth Banks has been a high point, as has his playing off his parents, Alan Alda and Elaine Strich.

13. Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), Fringe - FOX

Fringe has been a show I've just sort of stuck with until 2010. That's when the big reveal came, that Peter is not of this world, but of an alternate Earth where everyone here exists, just a little bit different. This wasn't, of course, revealing to us, the viewers, as we've known for a while now, but when the actual moment came, and we saw Walter go over not only to save the other Peter, but to bring him back so that he didn't have to say goodbye, it was even better than we had imagined. And Peter's dilemma about where he belonged was complicated not only by his consideration of the natural order of things, but that he now had two fathers to follow, how Walter's actions affected his mother's state of mind, his growing feelings for Olivia, as well as falling in love with the wrong one, or was he just falling in love with the right one with the wrong body, and does it make a difference? Fringe this year has taken a huge step forward, and Peter is a large part.

12. Zoe Graystone (Alessandra Torresani), Caprica - SciFi

Zoe has been dead for much of the run of Caprica, but it's her "avatar," an amalgam of data, attitudes, interests and emotions that has the drive to keep on living. Zoe, a typically TV rebellious teen, a genius caught up in religious zealotry, is an unwitting victim in terrorist attack, but her extensive use and programming in a virtual reality has created an AI presence within the system that gets tranferred into an external hard-drive and married with a military robot prototype, essentially making her the first Cylon. Caught between un-dead human and re-born computer program, she still finds ways to manipulate those around her, have bouts of nostalgic human longing and kick some ass in the process.

11. Adam Braverman/Kristina Braverman (Peter Krause/Monica Potter), Parenthood - NBC

Adam and Kristina are the most realistic parenting couple on television, even if their situation is extraordinary. They have a normal (read: problematic) teenage daughter, as well as a pubescent son with Aspberger's Syndrome that doesn't yet know his diagnosis. But the most extraordinary thing about this couple is how real it feels. Despite the hyperbolic TV drama, every word that comes out of their mouths feels real, from the over-compensation to the daily scheduling difficulties to the need to have time not only alone, but to themselves. The conflict within and without, and the constant nature of it, all give viewers reassurance that not only is this normal, but there can be love, support and happiness interwoven with the vagaries of life.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Favorite TV Characters of 2010, Part 2

20. Sawyer (Josh Holloway), Lost - ABC

Sawyer, once he seemed to have come to terms with himself, settled down and found love, had it ripped away from him, and we had to wait 8 months to find out what the fallout would be. Then he had his love given back to him only to immediately have it ripped away again. His vengeance turned into action, and nearly self-sacrifice on the sub, only to be given a leadership role on the island. His reunion with Juliet in the sideways portions was unlikely but sweet, and deserving for the guy that was always going to end up on the losing side of love.

19. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), 30 Rock - NBC

My favorite comedy yields my favorite funny lady. It's hard to distinguish Fey from her character at this point. The comedy on the show is not only satirical and absurd, but "meta" as the kids like to say, to the point of confusion. Did you know Tina's birthname is Liz? Well, Elizabeth. Anyway, Liz Lemon's absurd foibles and inability to cope not only put my problems in perspective, but the keep me laughing in numerous ways. And she always has the coolest ex-boyfriends, from Dean Winters to Jon Hamm to Jason Sudeikis to, possibly, Matt Damon.

18. Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham), Parenthood - NBC

The Braverman clan is divided into the "good kids" - Adam and Julia - and the "bad kids" - Crosby and Sarah. Both have children out of wedlock, but it's Sarah that's having the tougher time of it. Not only are her kids teens, but she's desperately trying to keep them from making the same mistakes she's made, even as she insists on continuing to make them. Sarah's struggle to maintain her identity in the face of, and in spite of, having children is something that all parents can understand. What I truly appreciate about the character is that it allows me to empathize with a situation I would never be able to fully envision, much as the first season of Sex and the City did.

17. Steph Dolworth (Karina Logue), Terriers - FX

Steph came on the scene about a third of the way into Terriers and established herself not only as a way to deepen Hank's character, but as wonderful character in her own right. Blessed with a genius-level intellect and cursed with the inability to function in society, her escape from the care facility and subsequent B&E squatting at her brother's house gave Hank and Britt a caustic foil, while moving the major plot along and giving us a key glimpse into Hank's protective nature, which underlay the show's entire premise.

16. Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), Justified - FX

If there is one entry on this list that is motivated by a single reason, it is this one. Nick Searcy took what might have been a standard-issue "police captain" part and imbued it with surprising depth. His normal, steady cadence signaled a man who was used to maintaining order in a calm and methodical way, but it also underscored the passion in the character, because when Art exploded, he exploded, giving real emotion and heft to this man who loved and respected his job, without just going through the motions.