TV Gal Tallies the Top 10 TV Characters (Amy
In the spirit of the holiday season, I'm going to be positive TV Gal (can you feel the
love?). Instead of bemoaning all the television characters that have been ruined (Bobby on
"The Practice," John Cage on "Ally McBeal" or worrying about those who
are taking a turn for the worse (Abby on "ER" , I'm giving you my list of the
ten best characters on television.
Sometimes there's perfect synergy on television -- the performance, the writing, and the
plot lines all converge to create a fabulous television character.
One caveat -- all the characters I picked are on established shows (my column, my rules).
This season has offered up some great new characters (I'm a little bit in love with
Marshall on "Alias" , but great characters evolve over time and can withstand
the test of time.
Here's my list:
Andy Sipowicz on "NYPD Blue": In Sipowicz, Dennis Franz has created one of
television's most memorable characters. Each week he gives a performance so nuanced, so
developed, so incredible that I believe he could go through an entire episode without
speaking and we'd know exactly what he was thinking.
Spike on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Obviously any character on "Buffy"
could arguably make this list, but I'm adhering to a self-imposed "one character per
show" rule. I've been fascinated with Spike since he and Buffy forged a shaky
alliance at the end of season two. Even when he was bad, he was very, very good. My
obsession with Spike aside (me thinks I like the bad boys too), the way James Marsters
delicately balances Spike's devotion to the Slayer with his true nature borders on
brilliant every week. It's why I totally believed that he would attack Buffy once he
realized that he could. This season, Marsters has astutely conveyed the subtle shift as
Spike has slowly realized he's on equal ground with Buffy. There hasn't been a finer
television moment this season than the look on Spike's face when he realized Buffy was
C.J. Cregg on "The West Wing": I want to be C.J. when I grow up. Like Charisma
Carpenter on "Angel," Allison Janney holds her own among a bevy of boys (without
having to change her hairstyle every week). She's the thinking man's sex symbol (and
television so doesn't have enough of those). She deftly manipulates the press, seethes
with anger at a policy decision but always does her job, and her forays into flirting
(remember when she told Toby, "You so want to make out with me right now, don't
you?" ) are always harmless and never degrading. She's always in control. It's no
wonder the entire press corps has a crush on her.
Ben Covington on "Felicity": Watch Scott Speedman's performance closely some
time. Every gesture, every pause, every look is completely within character. The writers
have taken a stereotypical character of a high school jock and given him a resonance that
reverberates with his every line. Whether he's struggling with his relationship with his
father or shattered over Felicity's infidelity ("I want the hurting to stop," he
heartbreakingly told her last week), Speedman achieves the rarest of television feats -- I
always believe he's a real person.
Karen Sammler on "Once and Again": "Once and Again" is one of those
exceptional shows where a character slowly unfolds and people's exterior impressions often
belie their interior workings. Externally Karen is harsh, controlled and kind, internally,
she is fragile, hurt by her children's slightest pain and by Rick's new life with his new
wife. She's constantly unable to let her proverbial hair down and she awkwardly bristles
at any sexual attention. On a show full of fascinating characters, she's the most
fascinating of them all.
Emily Gilmore on "Gilmore Girls": In a role that easily could have become
nothing more than a wealthy, heartless snob, Kelly Bishop has made Emily a compassionate
character. More fascinating than Lorelai's prospective relationship with Luke, or even her
friendship with Rory, is her constantly evolving relationship with her mother. Their every
conversation echoes years of hurt and betrayal. Emily can't get out of her own way and
just let herself love her daughter.
Eric Foreman on "That '70s Show": Topher Grace perfectly captures the
awkwardness of adolescence with the innocence of first love. His deadpan delivery has a
subtext that conveys the anguish of falling in love, the struggle of being the son of a
strict but loving father and the exasperation of being the friend that everyone turns to
Robert Barone on "Everybody Loves Raymond": The best portrayal of sibling
rivalry television has ever seen (yes even better than Niles and Frasier). Brad Garrett's
droll delivery of a man who takes such pleasure in his brother's slightest failure is
Joey Tribbiani on "Friends": Surprisingly, Joey has evolved as the best
character on NBC's seasoned sitcom. As the show's resident idiot savant, he's perfected
this dumb/smart persona. Joey will eat a turkey in one sitting wearing maternity pants
("I'm a Tribbiani, this is what we do." ), but he'll also rearrange his entire
apartment so that Rachel will continue to live with him. He's makes even the most benign
line funny and has given us one of television best male friendships (even if the show too
often falls back on the homosexual subtext of Chandler and Joey's relationship).
Carmela Soprano, "The Sopranos": In Edie Falco's performance of Carmela, we have
a mob wife who loves her children and her husband, is devoted to his family, gets jealous
of her husband's therapist and his constant dalliances, and even flirts with her parish
priest. Last season's best episode came when Carmela's therapist told her to leave Tony
and to stop living this life built on death and crime and she realized, to her shame, she
couldn't. This combustible mix of emotions has made Carmela a character who gets more
absorbing with each passing season.