Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You Gotta Have Character. But Who Has the Most?

Characters - the most essential part of any show. Without well written and well developed characters a show falls flat on its behind. It's the characters and their engaging stories that keep us coming back for more. We feel for Amy Abbott when we find out her mother has cancer and for Veronica Mars when we find out she was date raped. It's all part of the "human experience." There are numerous well written characters on television, so much so, that this list contains my top 10 favorites (however, I'll only be going into detail on the top five otherwise this entry is going to be way too long!). Before I start, you should know that I've only included characters from shows that I've seen enough episodes to get a good feel for the character and his/her development. As much as I enjoyed the few episodes of Gilmore Girls that I've seen, Lorelai is not on this list (although she is a great character). Anyway, here are my top television characters.

10. Allison DuBois (Patricia Arquette from Medium)
9. Danny Taylor (Enrique Murciano from Without A Trace)
8. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay from Law & Order: SVU)
7. Syndey Bristow (Jennifer Garner from Alias)
6. Amy Abbott (Emily Vancamp from Everwood)

And now the top 5:

5. Hurley (Jorge Garcia from Lost) - So, you're trapped on, what you think is, a deserted island in the middle of nowhere after your plane crashes. Who do you want with you? Hurley of course! Who else is going to keep a positive attitude? Or make you laugh? If it weren't for Hurley, the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 would probably have started World War III by now. Thanks to Hurley's quick thinking, the gang is now involved in a very interesting game of golf. Of course, one could argue that it might very well be Hurley who got all of them into this mess since he used the "cursed numbers" to win the lottery. Poor guy has had nothing but bad luck since, including a hilarious scene (shown through flashbacks) where he raced through the Sydney airport trying to make his doomed flight. But it isn't just Hurley's knack for humor that places him on the list, it's his compassion and willingness to help out anyone anytime they need it, plus he managed to win over the French woman.

4. Vivian Johnson (Marianne Jean-Baptiste from Without A Trace) - Viv has had a rough year, but she managed to come through it with flying colors. First, she gets promoted to Jack's (Anthony LaPaglia) position, only to learn that he decided not to leave New York to follow his wife and daughters (although it was NOT his decision). Viv went from calling the shots on a few cases to being demoted back down to her previous position when Jack came back. Despite the harsh turn of events, she adjusted well and continued her dedication to her work. Then, she learned that she was suffering from a heart condition. She tried to keep it from her co-workers as she went to numerous doctors appointments for testing, but eventually everyone found out when she collapsed on a case. She soon learned that she would need to undergo risky surgery, but the season finale revealed that she made it through just fine. Viv always manages to stay level-headed while she searches for the missing persons, and she has a great way with witnesses and suspects.

3. Dr. Harold Abbott (Tom Amandes from Everwood) - Probably the character with the most development on this list. Harold went from nothing more than a town (and Dr. Andy Brown's (Treat Williams)) nuisance to a bonafide friend, father, husband, and colleague. Rose (Merrilyn Gann) is the foundation and rock of the Abbott family, but Harold is the glue that keeps it all together. When Amy (Emily Vancamp) moved out second season because she couldn't agree to her parents' rules, it was Harold who got her to come back. It is Harold who keeps his family together now that Rose is battling cancer. And, it is Harold who has been Andy's ear and shoulder through many difficult cases and patients over the last three seasons. Harold has also provided the show with some of its funniest moments, and funny moments are a welcomed addition to Everwood's heavy theme. Take the episode "A Thanksgiving Tale" from season 1. Harold thinks he might be dying so he pulls an Ebenezer Scrooge and tries to make up for all his years of being a nasty, difficult member of Everwood. During Thanksgiving dinner (in which the entire town is attending), he finds out there was a mistake on his tests, and he's fine. Harold being Harold, turns to everyone eating at his house and tells them all to get out. Classic Harold moment, and just part of the reason he makes the list.

2. Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell from Veronica Mars) - Veronica is one tough chick. She doesn't let the boys, the police, or her father's clients bully her, and she has a knack for getting to the bottom of things. She's been dealt a rough hand, but she forges on in exceptional style. Her mother left, her father lost his job as Sheriff during the Lilly Kane murder investigation, she was dumped by the only boy she loved, and she was dated raped by an unknown assailant. But Veronica doesn't wallow in her misfortunes, instead she's a fighter. She can intimidate anyone with her quick wit and fiery personality, and she does it all using her smarts and not her cute looks. You've got to admire a character like that!

And finally...drum roll...

1. Lilly Rush (Kathryn Morris from Cold Case) - Lilly is a mystery, and probably the most complex and interesting character on television. We know she doesn't get along with her sister because her sister has a history of getting involved in Lilly's personal life. We're not sure about the nature of her relationship with her mother, but we do know her mother wasn't around much when she was growing up because she was too involved with the bottle and men. But what about her father? And why was she unable to completely give herself to A.D.A Kite (Josh Hopkins)? She continued to bury herself in her work while dating him. Dedication is an admirable and necessary skill in detective work, particularly solving cold cases, but it seems that Lilly uses it to drown out her past and avoid a personal life. All of these questions make Lilly utterly fascinating. She can stare down a suspect in an interrogation room or put a sexist suspect in his place in mere seconds, but she can't bring herself to face the "bad thing that happened to little Lilly." She has a way with people, and she relates to each victim and yearns for their justice. Now, she's responsible for someone else's death after she shot and killed serial killer George Marks in the season finale. How will she adjust? Knowing Lilly, she'll probably bury it deep down inside with all her other bad memories. She wouldn't be Lilly if she didn't, and we wouldn't be as fascinating.

So, those are my picks. Do you agree? Disagree? Leave me a note with your thoughts.


*The WB released episode information for Gilmore Girls' 6th season premiere. Will Luke say yes? What does the future hold for Rory now that she left Yale? If you want the answers to these questions and more, click on over to The Futon Critic, but be warned the episode description is very spoilerish!

*Mary Tyler Moore is returning to television. She signed on for a three episode stint on Fox's That 70s Show. Moore will play a celebrated anchor of Point Place's daily program who also happens to frequent the hair salon where Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) works. Look for Moore's first appearance in 2006 when she returns to the same soundstage where she taped her famous show thirty years ago. That 70s Show premieres November 2nd.

*Former Entertainment Tonight correspondent Maria Menounos is joining Access Hollywood and NBC's Today Show. Menounos will be a special correspondent for Access and a West Coast contributor for Today. Both programs are produced by NBC Universal. Look for Menounos on both programs this fall.

*And finally, it's Nielsen Wednesday. CBS snatched another win last week in total viewers led by Bruckheimer crime dramas CSI (#1), Without A Trace (#2), CSI:Miami (#5), and Cold Case (#6). Overall, CBS claimed 8 of the top 10 spots. NBC and ABC split second. For the full list of the top 20 shows, visit

That's all for today. Be sure to tune in tomorrow as I run down my favorite television actors. Of course, I'll also have all the latest television news.


Tati said...

Oh, I loved this list. I don't need to say that I completely agree with all you said about Lilly :) We want her to be more open, but if she is she won't be the Lilly we love. Quite a dilemma. Her contraditions are fascinating - like you said, she relates easily to victims and witnesses. But it's a one way street - she only gets personal when it comes to other people's feelings and facts; but if it's about her she shuts down. She is by far the most interesting and fascinating character I've ever seen on TV.
I loved your other picks too. Vivian is by far my favorite character on WaT (along with Danny, I wish you had written about him...). We've discussed recently the soapyness of WaT this season, and Vivian and Danny are the only ones who stayed "above" the soapyness all the time. Viv is completely down to earth and a amazing agent.
I liked too that you talked about Dr. Abbott because I really like him, along with Dr. Brown (they're actually the only reasons I watch Everwood every now and then). He's funny and has evolved from an apparently cold person to a nice guy (or so it seems from what I've watched).
I also liked that you mentioned Olivia Benson on your list. She's also fascinating and complex, and she relates to Lilly in many issues.
Last, I was pleased to see you at least mention Lorelai Gilmore on your post. She's another adorable, complex, intelligent character, and a real fighter.
Again, great picks and another great analysis! I don't get tired of repeating, your blog is awesome! :)

Magnolia said...

Interesting list! My own personal list would include Lorelai Gilmore and Sydney Bristow and many of the citizens of Everwood, but I would definitely put Veronica Mars at the top. (Lorelai is really one of the all-time greats, though. So smart. So funny. So amazing in every way.)

I agree that Lilly on WaT is somewhat mysterious, but that makes her somewhat cold and aloof to me, and hard to become emotionally invested in as a character. (I find this to be true with most characters on procedural-type shows, though.)

On the other hand, I felt a deep emotional connection to Veronica Mars from the very first episode of VM that only deepened over time. She is such a fully realized character, so intelligent and witty and resourceful, and I was so completely emotionally invested in her journey from the very beginning that it became almost unbearable at the bitter and painful end of her quest. Veronica is almost like a younger version of Sydney Bristow in some ways, but it's her sense of humor and biting wit that puts her at the top of my list.

Magnolia said...

Ooops - I meant Lilly on Cold Case, not WaT. But I haven't watched CC religiously, so maybe I'd like her more if I'd seen every episode. (Then again, I'm only a casual GG fan and Lorelai is great in every ep.)

Instant Ignorance said...

I agree with your list. Caught a bit of Veronica Mars yesterday and it was fun... I still haven't seen enough of it, but she seems like a really good character. I still prefer Lilly, but of course I "know" her more.
Really do think you should have included Lorelai, but I understand your reasons. Now... I know probably all of you know this, but I didn't watch the GG season finale. WHY did Rory drop out of Yale? WHAT WAS SHE DOING stealing a yacht??? Please somebody get back to me.

suekola44 said...

Brenda Johnson of The Closer is also a very interesting and complex character adn therefore would make my list if I had one.