As I say every year, some times great writing fuses with a brilliant performance to form a perfect television character. Ones who we so believe in that we’re sad when they’re sad, happy when they’re happy, root for them to find true love as if they were our best friend, and are heartbroken for them when things don’t work out for them as planned. Or it could be the complete opposite, characters who we fear as if they were a real person, criticize when they make a mistake and chastise when they behave badly. They are what make TV so much fun –we care about them as if we actually know them.
These characters pop off the screen and command our attention. I think you all know my self-imposed rules by now. All characters on my list are at least in their second season because a great character takes time to evolve – perhaps we’ll see some of the relatives from “Modern Family” or the fabulous title character on “The Good Wife” on this list next year. I also only chose characters that are on shows that are still on the air. And I stick to the rule of only one character per show. If I didn’t put some sort of limit on this, practically everyone who resides in Dillon, Texas would be on the list.
Quite a few years ago, I decided to move some characters into the TV Gal Hall of Fame to make room for some fresh faces. Currently hanging out in the Hall of Fame are Dennis Franz’s Andy Sipowicz (“NYPD Blue”), John C. McGinley’s Dr. Cox (“Scrubs”), Kelly Bishop’s Emily Gilmore (“Gilmore Girls”), Neil Patrick Harris’ Barney (“How I Met Your Mother”), John Krasinski’s Jim (“The Office”), Chandra Wilson’s Dr. Miranda Bailey (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Daniel Dae Kim’s Jin (“Lost”). They have all set the standard.
One thing worth noting is that I think this is the first year where I’ve had the same amount of women and men on my list, which I think is proof that TV is creating more and more great roles for women. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite TV characters for 2009.
1.Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope on NBC’s “Parks & Recreation:” Her show easily wins the most improved award. Poehler has delicately balanced Leslie’s gung-ho enthusiasm and naïve optimism without ever making her seem incompetent or silly. Even last week, when Leslie pulled down her pants on live TV, I was proud of her not embarrassed by her behavior. Amidst a wacky work environment, Poehler has created a character I can’t help but root for – she oozes believable emotions (no one does a crestfallen face like Poehler) and I kind of think she’s pretty good at her job.
2.Zach Gilford as Matt Saracen on DirectTV/NBC’s “Friday Night Lights:” As I stated above, it’s hard to chose my favorite “Friday Night Lights” character – they’re all pretty terrific. But Gilford gracefully rises oh-so-slightly above the rest. When he had to decide between leaving Dillon to follow his dream of becoming an art student or staying in Dillon and caring for his ailing grandmother, well I get teary and proud just thinking about that moment. He even made me believe he would take Julie back after she had treated him so terribly.
3.Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet on ABC’s “Lost:” There’s something about the plaintive look in Mitchell’s eyes that just gets me every time — the flash of hurt that crossed her face when she could see that Sawyer still cared for Kate or the way she said goodbye to James in the heartbreaking final moments of the season finale. Mitchell is one of those actresses who actually makes my heart ache. She totally made me believe that Juliet and Sawyer belonged together, a coupling I had never really considered before. I’m happy that she’s on “V” but even more delighted that we’ll be seeing her again in the final season of “Lost.”
4.Portia de Rossi as Veronica on ABC’s “Better Off Ted:” de Rossi’s comedic gift is that she says absolutely outrageous lines with pitch perfect delivery and utter conviction. I didn’t think there could be a better role for de Rossi than Linsday Bluth, but Veronica comes pretty darn close.
5. Nathan Fillion as Rick Castle on ABC’s “Castle:” As I said a few weeks ago, he is the most charming character in prime time.
6. Christina Hendricks as on AMC’s “Mad Men:” As good as this season was, every episode Joan wasn’t in was one too many. I’ve never missed a TV character the way I missed Joan. Joan epitomizes the struggle of women during that time. She’s so competent – as the finale proved, they couldn’t start a new firm without her – but so vulnerable to the power of the men around her. And Joan confronting her husband was one of the best TV moments of the year.
7. Scott Michael Foster as Cappie on ABC Family’s “Greek:” Yes my college years are behind me and yes I’m married but I still kind of want Cappie to be my college boyfriend. He gets the best pop culture lines on the series and delivers them with a lackadaisical charisma. Yet he still absolutely sells the dramatic moments.
8. Jamie Kaler, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Bunin, Reid Scott, and Kyle Howard as the boys of TBS’s “My Boys:” For the second year in a row, I’m declaring them one of the best comedy teams on TV. And one that surprisingly wasn’t ruined by having Bobby (Howard) and P.J. (Jordana Spiro) get together.
9. Chris Colfer as Kurt on “Glee:” Again it was hard to single out just one character on “Glee,” but Colfer is so wonderful as Kurt. He puts a new spin on an old stereotype (who else would try out for the football team to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”) but his relationship with his dad defies our collective expectations (I still get a little teary when I think of him purposely throwing a song). Plus his exchanges with Rachel are among the show’s funniest.
10. Glenn Close as Patty Hewes on FX’s “Damages:” I wouldn’t want to be on Patty’s bad side but her bad side is wonderful to watch. What I enjoy most is that I’m never quite sure what Patty is up to and if her intentions are good or bad. Thank goodness this show will be back for season three.
Those are my ten favorite TV characters for 2009. Who are yours? Talk about it below.
Highlights of the Week Ahead
All times listed are Eastern Standard Time for December 14-20
You can catch up on “The Vampire Diaries” this week because the CW is all “The Vampire Diaries” all the time beginning Monday at 8 p.m. on the CW. If you only pick one episode to watch, I vote for watching “Haunted” Thursday at 8 p.m. That episode was a game changer.
A lot of shows are in repeats this week, but surprisingly most of the CBS shows are new episodes starting with “How I Met Your Mother” (Monday, CBS, 8 p.m.) where Lily suddenly realizes that smoking makes her sound like Harvey Fierstein. I’m slightly wary of this story line since I don’t think we knew Lily smoked before (did we?) but the show seems to be on a creative upswing so I’m optimistic. Christine Baranski takes a break from “The Good Wife” to return as Leonard’s mom on “The Big Bang Theory” Monday at 9:30 p.m. on CBS.
Nick Lachey hosts “The Sing Off” beginning Monday at 8 p.m. on NBC. The competition will air Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and conclude next week.
Jennifer Hudson, my favorite “American Idol” contestant ever (I was a fan long before her “Dreamgirls” Oscar), has her own holiday special “Jennifer Hudson: I”ll Be Home for Christmas” Monday at 8 p.m. on ABC.
So I received a lot of mixed feedback on “Men of a Certain Age” (Monday, TNT, 9 p.m.). What I can tell you is that I’ve now seen next week’s episode and I think it’s the best one yet so the show is definitely heading in the right direction. This week, Owen’s wife confronts her father-in-law.
“Lie to Me” has its “fall finale” Monday at 9 p.m. on FOX. The show won’t return to the schedule until spring.
“Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live,” airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on FOX. Alyson Hannigan, Cedric the Entertainer and Leanne Rimes join Ramsay, who guarantees that by the end of the hour, you’ll have made Angel Hair Pasta with Shrimp, Chili Peppers and Tomatoes, Steak Diane with Sautéed Potatoes and Peas, and Quick Tiramisu. But who is going to want to eat all that at 10 o’clock at night?
“The Good Wife” is also new this week. Alicia looks into a judge who she thinks might be on the take Tuesday at 10 p.m. on CBS.
Adam Lambert performs during the two hour finale of “So You Think You Can Dance” Wednesday at 8 p.m. on FOX.
That’s all for today. I’m back on Friday with my picks for the best of everything television 2009. Do you have a favorite TV quote or TV moment of 2009? Write me at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter and let me know about it. Have a great week. Talk to you on Friday.
Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal